Help, My Still Life is Moldy!

Moldy gourds

Moldy gourds

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!

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

Making the perfect Christmas card, starting now

Today I started the process of deciding on the design for my yearly hand-made Christmas card. I generally agonize over the subject, the medium, and then the method of reproduction. Assume that this is only the first of several attempts to decide. Only the limitation of time (insert flying December calendar pages here) will make me stop, pick one, and try to get my cards out by Christmas, or say, New Years, or Twelfth Night, at the outside. After that, you’re into the dreaded Valentines deadline.

Last year’s Agony of Xmas Card Making was chronicled in my Crappy Crafters blog https://crappycrafters.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/fun-making-the-yearly-christmas-card-the-true-story/#

I survived that, so there is hope…

Christmas card drawing of holly
Holly in a seashell

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