I returned to my studio after a long break and found these fall gourds have turned all moldy. Yech!
If you ever wondered why artists paint still life subjects, you probably realize that everyday objects are cheap, available, they don’t fidget like live models, or run away like children and animals. But flowers wilt, candy gets eaten, and produce can get disgusting after a while.
Someone told me that the painter Soutine, known for his still life’s of raw meat, would keep the meat until the stench of rotting meat was unbearable and meanwhile he really was a starving artist because his stomach ailments made it difficult to eat.
And another still life anecdote, Cezanne demanded of his model, ‘you must sit like an apple!’ Which explained why he painted apples so often – more cooperative and uncomplaining.
So work quickly and take pictures. Just think what Cezanne and Soutine would have done with an iPhone!
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…
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 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!