Frame a Still Life

The drawing exercise here was to set up a still life, prop a window mat in front of it, set my desktop easel and point of view so that it would not move throughout the time I was drawing and to capture it in exactly in the same proportions in the rectangle on the paper as the mat/viewer has. I’m afraid I can’t describe that better without a photograph of the studio setup. which I forgot to take. Just think: capture the reality in front of you exactly on the paper in front of you, including the size. Sketch in pencil, then fill in with gouache. Aside from trying to accurately draw the flocked bunny toy and his glass bowl of candy, the challenges were the furry/fuzzy bunny texture, the glass reflections, and the eye reflections, and of course, the bane of my drawing existence, the elliptical shape of the bowl. When I came back to class for my next session with this drawing, other students had eaten the Skittles and my teacher had to run around finding more to fill up the bowl. They might be M&M’s mixed with Skittles…but my devotion to realism gave up after two classes and I started to eat my own still life too.

Painting of bunny toy and bowl of Skittles

Flocked Bunny and Bowl of Skittles, gouache

Keeping a Sketchbook: value studies

This 9 by 12 sketchbook doesn’t travel with me, but stays on my drafting table. The top three sketches were made with a range of pencils from 5B to 5H. What I really needed to punch up the dark values is a super-duper dark, almost charcoal, pencil. So that’s on the art supply shopping list. No matter how many layers I put on, I just could not build up really velvety blacks with my old pencil collection. I don’t like to mix my charcoal pencils with the graphite pencils. They seem to resist each other. The shiny graphite makes a weird base for charcoal. The charcoal just floats on top.
To draw the ducks, my teacher loaned me her darkest pencil. You can see the very dark necks on the ducks are darker than anything in the previous sketches. The finished duckies will star in a future post.
Sketch of fruit

Apple and orange, pencil

Flower sketch

Black-eyed Susan, pencil

Flower sketch

Daffodils, pencil

Sketch of ducks

Ducks, pencil

It’s September- back to art class

After a summer of swimming, gardening, and traveling, but not much sketching, today I started art classes for the semester. Our teacher rightly figured that her students might need a little warm up after our relatively art-free summer. Thankfully not asking for a picture of what I did on my summer vacation, she had set up still life stations, each with a silver or pewter pitcher set on a white cloth. The choice of medium was charcoal or oil. Below: my one hour charcoal sketch of a silver vase. What I was hoping I remembered from before summer break was how to really catch the dark and light values and the reflections in the metal. I think those turned out well enough – exaggerated for dramatic effect. The drawing itself is fairly accurate although I would have futzed around endlessly, but ran out of time. I’m calling this piece finished and I’m ready to move on to…further art adventures…

Silver vase drawing

Silver Vase, charcoal on paper

Still Life with Gourd…and problems

What can you learn from a painting with problems? I knew the glass bottle I picked for my still life would be challenging with its transparency and reflections, but I decided to face the challenge with the help of my teacher. I did not anticipate that the folds of the black cloth and the elliptical shapes of the plate and bottle would also be tricky. I felt that the gourd would be forgiving – what’s a bump or curve here or there going to matter? You can draw a gourd that looks gourd-like even if it doesn’t look like that specific gourd in front of you and no one will be the wiser. But if you draw the perspective of a cylindrical bottle or round plate inaccurately, the drawing will look amateurish.

The photo collage shows (clockwise from bottom left) the still life in the studio, an early version of the drawing and a later version after two 2 1/2 hour classes and quite a lot of work at home. The drapery is toned down and blended, the black drape shows through the bottle and the sky is darkened. The whole drawing reminds me of some artists I like: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Charles Burchfield, but I can’t claim that was intentional.

Still life with gourd

Still life in progress

I learned that I need a lot more practice with basic drawing. I learned that folds of drapery are really tricky and that’s why all those Renaissance painters went wild with their virtuoso renderings of draped figures. I learned that using black is worth a whole study of artists like Whistler and Manet. I realized I was right about the gourd. Gourds are forgiving. Just don’t put them on a reflective, white plate seen at a foreshortened angle. Oh, the ellipses!

Still life with gourd, pastel

Art is never finished

“Art is never finished, only abandoned,” Leonardo da Vinci

This quote came to my attention recently on a day I had finally decided a drawing was as finished as it was ever going to get. The journey to get to that point follows.

Here is the drawing in its first incarnation after an evening at a charcoal drawing class.

Still life conch charcoal

Still life conch, charcoal on canvas

I drew this using soft vine charcoals sticks on a stretched canvas. I sprayed it with a home-made fixative, a mixture of water and gel medium which gave it an interesting drippy, watery background and some vivid white craquelure effects. Then I dried it with a hair dryer and went back at it trying to get darker, rich, velvety black charcoal effects. I repeated the homemade fixative but lost the vivid whites in the process, never to be regained. So that was a disappointing materials failure just as the class ended.

The homemade fixative is less toxic than store bought workable fixative and the idea is that it also produces some happy accidents with its watery effects. The unhappy accident of losing the lightest effects might have happened because the canvas was not primed enough. Regardless of the cause, the drawing had gone from good to not so good in one studio class. Ugh!

Still life conch

Photo of conch on books

Here is the photograph I used as my source. The conch has featured in many of my drawings and paintings over the years and my mother’s paintings before that. In addition to the very old shell, it is perched on an ancient Larousse French dictionary my father gave me. I arranged the still life, shot it with my iPad, turned it black and white and cropped and edited it a bit and then printed it out and took the printout to class.

The problem, as Leonardo said, was, should I try to finish the drawing or abandon it? The beautiful whites and watery effects were gone for good and the drawing lacked oomph. I left it on my drafting table for weeks and would add more charcoal marks to it and scrub at it with erasers and a stiff oil brush dipped in water as I wandered by over several weeks, but it continued to look blah.

With nothing to lose, I added some color using conte crayons. The black, sanguine and buff colors did the trick and I was finally happy enough with the results to spray on store bought fixative, (outside and careful not to breathe it.) I affixed a sawtooth hanger to the stretcher and hung it above my drafting table. Here it is. Not abandoned, probably finished. For now…

Conch still life

Conch still life, charcoal and conte crayon on canvas