Exercise Still life group in tone

Aim of the exercise: To set up a still life group and using a different colour for each sketch in the dark, mid and light tones. We were to use a variety of effects in the drawing and to work quite fast to keep the drawing spontaneous and full of energy.

What I experienced and what I learnt from that:

Completed 31/08/12. I found this an incredibly difficult exercise at first to complete and I pretty much lost a week while I struggled to find a way forward with it. Lack of confidence and my propensity for procrastination certainly won the day to begin with, which was difficult as I had thought that I had managed to make a little progress with tackling these two aspects since starting part two of the course and it was very hard to once again find myself so stuck.

I made incredibly heavy weather of composing this still life. I knew that I had ended up with a really poor and clumsy composition for the previous exercise and wanted to try and improve this time. But this was definitely easier said than done. Everything that I tried looked poorly composed when I viewed it through a view finder. So I would try again with a different set up and have another look and find that that looked rubbish and so I would try again. And this went on and on. I had finished reading by now The Simple secret to better painting by Greg Albert that had loads of really useful and clear  information on improving composition skills but I seemed totally incapable of translating that into action and I ended up feeling incredibly useless.

I then looked at Pastels from scratch by Paul Taggert and he had written something that I found very helpful “All too often lack of confidence restricts a person’s ability to develop, largely brought about by setting high goals of achievement from the onset. This rapidly leads to frustration and self-doubt. Rather than have such expectations, it is far better to enjoy the process of discovery and give yourself a fighting chance.” Page 10.

Figure 1
Thumbnails of possible set ups for Exercise Still life group in tone

So I tried to take that bit of advice to heart and just got on with setting up some still life’s, drawing a page of thumbnails of the still life’s and then choosing one and making a start (please see figure 1). It had taken a while but I was finally back on track.

I was puzzled by the apparent instructions to only use three colours (and I may have misunderstood them) but went for it even though I had no real idea how to approach it. I chose a dark red pastel paper, 9  by 12 inches, and for my three colours I chose a light yellow for the light tones, a medium red for the mid tones and the darkest blue that I had for the dark tones. I used Conte crayons. I tried to follow the instructions to work quite fast to keep the drawing spontaneous and full of energy and to have a variety of marks. I don’t think that I have managed full of energy but I certainly tried for it and I have produced a drawing that I think is different to anything that I have produced before (please see figure 2, my camera has struggled a bit with the red and the blue). In places I felt some added definition was needed so at the end I used a black pastel on some edges and a little white pastel on the brightest highlights.

Figure 2
Pastel drawing in three colours, exercise Still life group in tone

I think the following have worked reasonably well. I think that I have made good use of my three colours and tonally it appears to work quite well. I think that it is quite a lively drawing and I feel happy with the range of marks that I used.

I think that there are several things that have not worked so well. I think that I could have made the marrow look more rounded. I am not sure if my marks are too ‘rough’. I was trying not to get bogged down with detail and go for energy instead but perhaps a bit more detail would have helped to show the forms better. My composition could definitely be improved. There is too much space on the table and the pepper and the Scots bonnet are almost the same distance from the edges of the paper. I think that the negative spaces could be much more interesting shapes. My problems with composition is an aspect that I find quite hard. I can often see that something does not look right. I am much less sure how to improve it. Hopefully I will be able to develop that skill with practise and time. I tried to follow my tutors advice in her report about cast shadows being darker but on looking at the drawing now I think that I could actually have gone darker still with them.


Despite initially finding it so hard to find my way with this exercise I ended up really enjoying doing this drawing. Because of the restriction to three colours it looks rather unusual but strangely enough still seems to work. I tried for a fast and energetic drawing and I think in a small way I have succeeded to a certain extent, well at least for me anyway, as normally I work in a much tighter way. The main thing though that I want to take away from this experience is that when I was obsessing about trying to find a good composition and dismissing everything I was trying as not good enough, if I had carried on like that I would still be stuck. Instead, I have had the experience of drawing in a way I have never done before, all the things mentioned above in the post and more may be wrong with it, but to repeat the words of Paul Taggert “all  too often lack of confidence restricts a persons ability to develop…it is far better to enjoy the process of discovery and give yourself a fighting chance” and it took me a while but finally I did that with this drawing. I have no doubt that this is a battle that I am going to have to have over and over with myself, but I feel that I have made a step forward during this exercise. My tutor in her report said that her most important comment was to have confidence and that is going to be something I need to really try and get on top of.


Taggart, Paul  Pastels from scratch, Sandcastle Books Ltd 2006

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

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