Exercise Still life group using line

Aim of the exercise: To set up a still life group and using pen and ink, marker pens or fine black pen draw the still life principally in line referring to the patterns, textures and shapes and showing an understanding of the forms and the connections between the forms.

What I experienced and what I learnt from that:

Completed on 24/08/12. I was nervous of starting this exercise as I find composition so difficult and wasn’t sure what to use, but since I have started part two of the course I have been working on reducing the amount of time that I spend procrastinating and trying instead to turn that time into action, so I gathered some vegetables together and tried my first set up and drew a thumbnail of this. This confirmed that the set up was stunningly boring with a total lack of interest in the negative shapes and the items arranged in rather straight lines. I cropped the thumbnail into an area that looked a bit better in portrait mode, A4 sketch book p.71 (please see top set up, figure 1).

Figure 1
Thumbnails of possible set ups for Exercise Still life group using line

I remembered that I had tried some thumbnails of a two tier portrait mode set up as one of the possible set ups for assignment 1 and I wondered if something along those lines might work here. I added a box in and covered it and the table with a table cloth, having the table cloth going up the wall at the back as well and then rearranged the set up and tried another thumbnail. This seemed to work better and I felt it was a possibility, A4 sketch book p.71 (please see bottom set up, figure 1). At this point I decided to have a play with a second idea that I had and tried a set up based around a log that I had found on a walk in the wood. Neither of the log ideas really worked at this stage so I went back to the vegetables, A4 sketch book p. 72 (please see figure 2).

Figure 2
Thumbnails of possible set ups for Exercise Still life group using line

I had previously found, when using thumbnails, that when I tried to draw the arrangement at the proper size that I could find that it did not fit onto the paper as well as it had appeared to in the thumbnail. I think that this is due to me finding it difficult to either enlarge or make smaller the scene to a fixed size so that the thumbnails do not necessarily end up fitting the proportions of the paper. This is something that I will need to look at further and practice. I tried using a viewfinder to see if that helped me draw the thumbnails this time but still struggled to draw them to a set size. I therefore decided to do a quick A3 drawing to see how successfully or not the composition would fit onto the A3 paper.

I sketched in very roughly, in pencil, the positions of the objects to check positioning and then drew quickly with the Rotring art pen. This drawing in total took about an hour and a half which for me is really jet propelled and I tried to just go for it. I was reasonably happy with how it fitted on the paper and with the marks for texture that I had tried out but felt that the celery rather overpowered and detracted from the rest of the drawing and would need to be replaced. I had also found that I still struggled with accuracy while drawing at speed, A3 sketch book p.30 (please see figure 3).

Figure 3
Quick drawing to check positioning at A3. Exercise Still life group using line

The instructions for the exercise had asked me to think about how I was going to tackle several things and I tested out these ideas out in the study. I decided to treat the objects as a connected group and tried to position them so that they would help lead the eye to each other and around the composition, (I learnt from the study that I would need to change the position of the cut pepper as its stalk was leading the eye out of the composition). As the exercise was about line I decided to try and capture the shape, essence and texture of each object with as few lines as possible, otherwise I knew that I would start getting into tone, the more lines that I added (I learnt from the study that the lines I had chosen to show the internal part of the cut pepper were clumsy and looked awful but the other lines I had used worked quite well). I chose to relate the objects to the background by lines to suggest the folds in the fabric and to give lines that led the eye in and contained it within the group. One of the questions to think about was how would I reference colour within the drawing. I couldn’t see how I could do this without adding a lot of lines, with which I knew I would then start getting into tone, so I decided not to reference the actual colours, only any demarcations where colour changes occurred if relevant to capturing the essence of the object. The instructions said that I could indicate tone but that this was principally a drawing about line, not tone, so I decided to try and see just how much I could suggest with just line alone.

Figure 4
Final drawing, Rotring art pen Exercise Still life group using line

Having decided on the above I rearranged the setup a little, making the changes I felt were important following the study and then started the drawing again. I changed to Winsor and Newton 170 gsm cartridge paper as the ink lines had bled a little in places on the paper I used for the study. I roughed in the rough positions of the objects in pencil (still not being brave enough to jump straight in with the ink) and then used a Rotring art pen with extra fine nib to draw with. I found that the hardest object to draw was the cauliflower as I struggled to capture the roundness of it (I had found this difficult to do in the study as well). I think that this is partly down to not observing the large thick veins on the leaves accurately enough and will need to try this again in my sketch book. I think that I have drawn the cut pepper a little too small, it was leaning back and slightly turned and again, I don’t think that I have observed it quite right. I used a Rotring art pen with a fine nib to strengthen the relevant lines on objects to make them read better, either as a 3D object and to help give the impression of depth. When looking at the work of Walter Crane for a research point I had seen how his use of variable line strength had really helped to make certain areas stand forward and give more depth to his drawings. I tried to use the same principles here to help to create depth. I think in places I may have been too heavy handed with it and outlined some objects too much. I gave the butternut squash a solid outline to reflect the hard smooth skin but it looks a little mechanical and more variation would have been beneficial.  I added in some broccoli at the end as I felt that the drawing needed something to help separate the pepper from the squash and to break up the line and make the negative space more interesting by the background leek. I also added the background long pepper in to also make the negative space more interesting and I really should not have as it looks awful. At this point I could have carried on fiddling with the drawing but decided I had done enough damage already and that it was better to finish! This drawing took me several hours to finish. I don’t think that it is actually any improvement on the study, if anything I’ve made the composition quite a lot worse and far too muddled and crowded.


This has been a challenging and enjoyable exercise and I feel that I have made progress with some aspects, while still needing a lot of work with others.

The things that I feel I have made progress with are as follows: I think that the drawing works quite well as a line drawing and that the forms are reasonably clear (if you discount the really bad composition that I made, and then made even worse for the final drawing). I was pleased that I was able to procrastinate less and worked steadily to get on with the exercise. Deciding to draw the study at A3 really helped with this as it gave me a positive way of attempting the exercise and then using that drawing as a learning tool. I was really surprised that I managed to draw the study in such a relatively short period of time and it shows that I am capable of starting to work quicker. I got bogged down several times in the final drawing and then found that I drew in a very tight and fussy way and I needed to remind myself to just try and concentrate on getting as much as I could out of the exercise and to not worry so much about the outcome and though the final drawing took me several hours this is still less time than it would have taken me up until this point in the course. In many ways, though it isn’t as accurate, I think that the study actually works better than the final drawing, it is less fussy and crowded and has a bit more life to it.

Things that I feel still need a lot of work are as follows: I think that my composition is not  successful (an understatement if ever I heard one) and I managed to make it steadily worse for the final drawing and this is an area that I need a lot of work on. It is too crowded (I kept adding objects when setting up because I knew that I needed to fill the paper) and I would have done better to drawn fewer objects but larger. I think that I have too much space at the top. I don’t think any of the items in the back of the composition work at all and the ones I added at the end just made it worse. The overall arrangement is also very poor. Hopefully as I work through The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert my composition skills will improve. I think that the focal point is rather muddled, is it the cauliflower or the central mushroom? The cauliflower as the focal point is too centrally positioned on the paper and the front mushroom fights with it for the spotlight as this has the most contrast and detail within it. I will need to keep in mind what the focal point is and make this clear in future drawings and position it better. I have varied my line strength in the drawing but I do not think that I have done it enough and in most cases have outlined the objects too much. I decided to just suggest the shadow shapes with dashed outlines but feel that this has not worked and may have done better to indicate them with some parallel lines.

I tried a further couple of line drawings in my sketch books. A5 sketch book p.63 (please see figure 5) and A4 sketch book p.73 (please see figure 6). With the Sweet chestnut drawing I didn’t observe the pattern of the veins on the leaf carefully enough and redrew a section to record the pattern more accurately. I also didn’t observe the log carefully enough and flattened it when I drew it. Both drawings were fun to do but demonstrate the need for me to really work on my ability to observe all aspects of the object and draw those rather than still drawing at times what I think that I see.

Figure 5
Sweet chestnut

Figure 6
Log line drawing

This entry was posted in Part 2 Observation in nature, Project 3 Still life - Part two. Bookmark the permalink.

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