Still life study of natural forms. Assignment 1

I completed the first part of the assignment on the 11/07/12. I found it quite difficult to settle on an idea for the still life of natural forms. I knew that I wanted to use a monochrome media as the next section of the course is on colour and therefore I wanted to concentrate on monochrome as it would help to consolidate what I have learnt already. I also wanted to use graphite pencils as I am still finding these difficult to capture tone with and knew that trying to use them on an A2 size picture would be a challenge. So far so good but then I came to a complete stop. I felt under a lot of pressure to come up with a good subject, a good composition, to be inventive with my drawing and to make sure that it was good enough for an assignment piece and to be honest I really did not feel that I was good enough to achieve even a fraction of those. Confidence in my ability was definitely at a very low ebb and all the time I was also aware that time was ticking away.

To try and help to get some ideas I had a look on the Bridgeman Education website and did a search for still life. The range was breath taking, both in subjects and approach. One artist that stood out for me was William H. Hunt. I thought that his still lifes were beautiful and I liked the natural backgrounds that he used in some of them for example in Grapes and a Pineapple (gouache on paper) where he used a hedgerow background which against the fruit looked really great. The fruit were so beautifully painted and though the hedgerow was an unusual background it complimented the fruit beautifully. He is an artist that I would like to look more at in the future. I was still though no nearer to knowing what I might do.

I lost several days while I tried to come up with an idea and realised that basically I was really too afraid to start and as I now appeared to be procrastinating big time I got some vegetables together and had a go setting a still life up using those. Initial ideas seemed to be a little boring so I got a box and then tried a couple of set ups with the items at different levels and did a couple of A4 sketches of those, A4 sketch book pages 36 and 37 (please see figures 2 and 3), trying both landscape and portrait mode. I preferred the portrait version but many of the tones appeared to be very similar and I was really struggling to make an interesting composition, plus there was no real connection between the objects. I also found that the pak choi had already started to droop by the time I had finished the second sketch. With the speed I draw I felt that there was a real chance that I would have to keep replacing objects as they went off before I got all the drawings finished so I decided to think of something that would keep better to enable me to keep it set up for longer.

Figure 2
Sketch of possible set up for still life study of natural forms

Figure 3
Sketch of possible set up for still life study of natural forms

After a visit to the seaside I wondered about a still life with a beach combing theme and decided to give that a go and see what I could come up with. The first set up I put on a low table and sketched the set up. Once again I found it hard to draw the set up small enough to make a thumbnail and ended up with an A4 size sketch. I will need to practise more at drawing small thumbnails and also how to make them effective. I decided to possibly crop the A4 sketch and shaded the area that I liked. There were a lot of elements and it seemed quite cluttered, A4 sketch book page 38 (please see figure 4).

Figure 4
Possible set up for still life study of natural forms

Next I tried removing some of the elements and moving things around a little. It was now less cluttered, A4 sketch book page 39 (please see figure 5) but I wondered about putting the set up on the floor so that it was even more like the view that I would get with beach combing.

Figure 5
Possible set up for still life study of natural forms

I rearranged a little and then placed the set up on the floor and sketched it again. A4 sketch book page 40 (please see figure 6).

Figure 6
Possible set up for still life study of natural forms

I felt this view had potential and outlined the sketch in pen and drew a grid over the sketch and one onto an A2 piece of paper and transferred the image onto the A2 paper to see what it looked like to size. I then checked it against the still life and corrected the drawing where necessary. Once again I found using the A2 paper very difficult. (Please see figure 7).

Figure 7
A2 initial design for still life study of natural forms

I am unable to stand and use an easel so I have to work with the board on my lap. However I put it, whether resting against a chair or tilted on my lap I found that I couldn’t then see the set up and was also very uncomfortable. Hopefully I will gradually be able to find something that works for me as at the moment using larger size paper and board is proving to be both physically difficult and frustrating. I tried sitting sideways but cannot physically repeatedly turn either so that wasn’t helpful.

Next day I tried another couple of possible set ups with the set up raised to just below eye level this time, A4 sketch book page 41 (figures 8 and 9). I quite liked these as they looked quite interesting and quite natural but decided to go with the idea of having the set up on the floor. I preferred the idea of it reflecting the view you would have when beach combing.


Figures 8 and 9
Possible set ups for still life study of natural forms

I then tried a set up with fewer items and did a colour drawing of this on an A3 sheet of paper. I decided to try marker pens as apart from using them for a couple of craft projects I haven’t used them for a drawing before. I used Promarkers and also Stabilo fine liner pens. I drew the picture first in pencil and then used the pens. The main things I found when using the Promarkers was that they dry lighter, they bleed through the paper but not so much on the paper  unless going over the same area repeatedly when they would then tend to bleed at the edges of the item being shaded. If I wanted to add more colour afterwards they sometimes seemed to actually lift some of the colour leaving a lighter area. Fine lines were difficult with the Promarkers as the line tended to spread very readily. If I wanted a narrow area without colour then I needed to leave a larger area than I needed as the colour tended to spread and cover the narrow area otherwise. If I wanted a deeper colour then I could layer the colour but this was done better before completely dry because otherwise I could run into the problem of colour lifting instead. Because the colours appeared to be transparent I could layer colours but some lifting and softening of line was apparent when I did so. Even though it was only at A3 size the drawing still took me several hours to complete. A3 sketch book page 23 (Please see figure 10).

Figure 10
A3 drawing Promarkers and Stabilo fineliners

I added in some definition with the fine liners but I think that I have been quite clumsy with this and in places possibly outlined too much. I wasn’t sure how to approach the background and in the end decided to use some of the colours that I had used in the drawing to dot and scribble to represent the sand. I think that the drawing shows my continued struggle to use a wide enough range of tones. I think that I am using a good range and then find everything is high key yet again. I certainly need more work on this aspect. I enjoyed the challenge of using the promarkers but will need to try them out more to see how best to utilise them. I wasn’t very inventive with my marks either, on the whole using shading and colouring rather than hatching etc, something else that I really need to become more adventurous with.

Next I moved onto setting the set up for the main drawing and used the outline I had scaled up to decide on the changes that I wished to make. I sketched some items onto paper and after cutting them out tried them in place. This helped to give me some ideas on how I wanted to change the set up and having done that I then started a new drawing onto an A2 piece of paper. I had found it difficult to draw the shells and wanted to see whether I could draw them at a larger scale rather than drawing at A4 and using a grid to scale up to A2. This initial drawing took a very long time. I found it very difficult to draw the items accurately and needed to make multiple adjustment. I think that I struggled to keep the scale at A2 consistently across the drawing and also have discovered that I am really useless at drawing shells, they take me forever to get right but eventually after a lot of trail and error I had an outline that I was reasonably happy with. It might actually have been more sensible to have used a grid but I did feel that I had achieved something by being able to draw directly onto the A2 paper. But it had taken several hours to get to just the outline stage and it meant that that was another day gone past. I was really feeling pressure of time by now and confidence was at a very low ebb. And I was still struggling physically to use an A2 drawing board.

The next day I started work on the drawing and ended up working on it on and off over the next few days. It took a very long time. For the items themselves I used a range of graphite pencils from H to 6B. I found that I still needed to adjust the shape of some of the shells as I went along as I still hadn’t got some of them quite right. For the background I wanted to give the effect of movement to reflect wind and waves. I started hatching the background with directional hatching using a range of graphite pencils. It gave the sense of movement that I wanted but wasn’t giving the depth of shade that I wanted. I decided to give Lyra graphite crayons a go as I needed the background to be quite dark to make the shells stand out. I shaded the whole background using a 2B graphite crayon. This gave quite a patchy effect, with a lot of white, because of the grain of the paper so I tried smoothing over it with a hanky. At this point I really thought that I had killed the picture as the background completely lost any white and now looked quite a dead shade of non descript grey. Definitely not the effect I was aiming for. The instructions said not to start another drawing if things were going wrong but to keep working over the initial drawing so I tried to work out what might be a good next step. I decided to start the hatching process again and hatched the whole background with  2B and 6B graphite crayons. This appeared to help as gradually I was getting back an effect of light and dark to a certain extent. Some areas I shaded a little darker as well as hatching to help shells etc to stand out better. I used the 6B graphite crayon for the shadows as well as an 8B graphite pencil which though this meant that the shadows were very black it was the only way of getting them to show up against the background. I tried strengthening the tones on some of the elements and continued to try throughout the drawing to use a variety of marks to show the different elements. (Please see figure 11).

Figure 12
A2 FInal drawing for assignment 1 still life drawing of natural forms

Upon completion I was pleased to finish the drawing but feel that I have not drawn a good assignment piece and feel that I really was just completely out of my depth. It is the best that I can manage at present but I think that it demonstrates very well several things that I find very difficult at present. I think that my composition has not been successful. I had aimed for a flow that mimicked to a certain extent the flow of a wave but the items have really ended up too spread out and I have lost the directional flow. I have come very close instead to having 3 lines of objects that are similar distances apart. I will need to work a lot at acquiring more knowledge on composition. I tried to improve the composition as the drawing progressed but realised that I really didn’t have a clue how to. I tried to link the elements more by adding in more stones. I also added in the shell in the bottom right hand corner but actually feel that this was a mistake as it detracts from the flow rather than adding to it. I wanted it to look like you could bend down and pick the objects up, and I think that on the whole they do but that unfortunately it all looks rather false. My range of tones is not wide enough and this aspect will need a lot more work on. Again though I am not sure how to overcome this. I think that the elements look reasonably like they are meant to and I like the feeling of movement in the background. Though I tried to be inventive with my marks I don’t think that I have been inventive enough. I fear that the drawing is actually quite boring. I have found doing this quite a stressful experience. Part of me was so keen to do well that I think that I have felt very under pressure and forgot to just try and enjoy the process. I find that it is easy for me to compare myself against other students on the course and find myself seriously lacking as the the standard on the student site is tremendously high. Battling against a lack of confidence has been one of the biggest hurdles to overcome to get this completed. But what I have learnt is that though I haven’t produced the really good assignment piece I would like to have, I have completed a drawing that I really didn’t think that I could do and I can recognise where I have gone wrong to a certain extent, even if I am not sure at the moment how to improve on those things. The whole purpose of doing the course is to learn and improve and I can only improve if I allow myself to make mistakes so that I have the opportunity to learn from them. If I let it my lack of confidence and fear of failure will seriously hold me back so as well as working on my drawing skills I will need to work on that as well.

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