Still life with man-made objects

The brief for this exercise was to select man-made objects to create a still life. Objects were to be linked by common use, have interesting textures and relate well to one another.

Aims

For the exercise I chose ornaments made of pottery and china. I was, initially, going to choose from a selection of piggy banks which I have acquired over the years, in the way that you do when you buy one for yourself and friends and relations gleefully embrace the concept.

While playing with ideas for composition I began  to consider including another china ornament – a small doll – and decided to use two of the pottery pigs (one a piggy bank and the other an ornament) and the doll.

As I have been finding backgrounds difficult I decided to arrange the ornaments on the window sill to give a context to the picture.

Sketches

I worked on line drawings and tonal studies for the china doll, Delft pottery piggy bank and a pig ornament decorated with polka dots.

Sketches of Delft pottery pig and china doll

Sketches of Delft pottery pig and china doll

I found the doll and the polka dot pig difficult because of the foreshortening and after several attempts checked through some books on drawing techniques for suggestions. Peter Gray’s Complete Guide to Drawing and Illustration offered some useful advice.

Line drawing of pottery pig showing foreshortening technique

Line drawing of pottery pig showing foreshortening technique

One of the techniques was to draw a box around the object and use this as a means to gauge measurements. I tried this and it did help to produce a better effect than I had achieved by trying to gauge the space myself.

Tonal and colour studies

Since the objects were on the window sill there was strong direct sunlight and contrasting light and shade. The tonal study focused on the objects and sill and the relationship of the tonal values. As well as strong light and shadow there was a lot of reflections from the objects themselves and the window frame.

Tonal study for man-made objects still life

Tonal study for man-made objects still life

For the colour study I roughly blocked in the colours. My aim was to use warm colours that would evoke the sunlight. At this stage I blocked in the view as blue sky. My aim, at a later stage, was to create a simplified version of the view to ensure that the focus stayed on the objects.

Colour study showing pottery pigs and china doll

Colour study showing pottery pigs and china doll

Brushes: Pro-Arte Prolene ¾” flat brush, Daler-Rowney ½” flat, Daler-Rowney size 4 round brush.

Colours: cadmium red, titanium white, burnt sienna, raw umber, Prussian blue, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, Naples Yellow.

Initial drawings

For the initial session I used a wash of yellow ochre over the main shapes and blocked in the main areas of the window blind, window frame and sill and the objects.

Initial development of Delft pig

Initial development of Delft pig

Using ultramarine blue and titanium white I worked on the Delft pig and found some of the modelling on this difficult. Using darker washes of ultramarine for the shadows looked overworked and flat. Eventually I felt that ultramarine wasn’t the right colour and changed to Prussian blue. Having reworked the body of the pig, it did look better though the face seemed too fragmented. At this stage I decided to work on the other objects and review the Delft pig at a later point.

Development – china doll, polka dot pig and background

For this session I worked up the background. The blind has a textured surface and I used the 1/2” brush to apply yellow ochre and burnt sienna using the flat of the brush. The window frames and sill were also developed to highlight light and shade.

I started to work on the detail of the doll though I was beginning to think that, perhaps, the doll wasn’t working and that she was too detailed compared to the looser shapes of the other objects.

Delft pig, china doll and pottery pig on window sill

Delft pig, china doll and pottery pig on window sill

I worked a little on the polka dot pig adding highlights and shadows.

Detail of china doll and pottery pig

Detail of china doll and pottery pig

Change of direction

At this point I decided to replace the doll with another pottery pig. I liked the idea of the doll but felt that she was, perhaps, too different in style to work in this context. I used a smaller pottery pig which I thought, in shape and tonal value, would balance the other two pigs.

Initial work on additional pottery pig

Initial work on additional pottery pig

I still had difficulty with the foreshortening of the smaller pig. I eventually got that working to a certain extent but noticed that the positioning was a little out and that the pig was sitting further back on the sill than in actuality. I tried the box technique but, in this instance, it didn’t seem to help. After a check online I found a useful article that made my subsequent attempts better (though not perfect).

I worked again on the foreshortening and repositioned the pig slightly. For this smaller pig I’d been using a mix of yellow ochre, titanium white and raw umber but this wasn’t really close to the actual colour. After a bit of experimenting I used Naples yellow, raw umber and a hint of cadmium red which was closer to the original.  I further developed the polka dot pig adding in more light and shade.

Detail of pottery pigs

Detail of pottery pigs

Background

In previous sessions I had blocked in the view from the window in blue. The window faces on to our neighbour’s garden on the left and the gable end of their house to the right. As this is the upstairs bedroom window sill the tops of trees can be seen and hills in the background.

Still life without development of view from window

Still life without development of view from window

I didn’t want the view to be overly complicated or to detract from the objects in the foreground so decided to do a variation on the view using the hills and trees and missing out the brickwork of the house. Initially I included trees but, as I worked on the final version, decided to simplify this even further.

Still life showing development of view from window

Still life showing development of view from window

Final session

For the final session I simplified the background by removing the trees and worked more on the window frame and sill and added a strip of shadow to the blinds.

The varnished wood was picking up the reflections of the Delft pig and smaller pottery pig and I added a little more detail to these areas. The light was also reflected on the sill and I tried to show this by dragging titanium white over the sill using a drying brush and rubbing some of the paint off again. Some of the white stayed on the surface giving the effect of light on the wood.

Final version of still life

Final version of still life

I also worked on the face of the Delft pig, adding white to soften some of the shadows. After a bit of consideration I left out the polka dots painted on the pig to the right as I liked the looser brush work and felt it was best left like that.

Finally, I added in more shadow around the objects themselves, and on the window to try and convey the rounded edge of the sill.

What worked:

  • Overall, my time management was better with this exercise. I find longer sessions at the easel tiring and alternated short sessions of painting with prepping images and making notes for the learning log.
  • I was prepared to make changes when I thought something wasn’t working – in this case the china doll. I like the idea of using the doll again and will think about different options for this.

Learning points

  • I need to do some more reading and practice examples of foreshortening in my sketchbook
  • I found the modelling of the pigs difficult as there were a lot of reflections as well as shadows. I’ve been looking at articles on painting ceramics and glass to try and work on this.

References

Gray, P. (2006) The complete guide to drawing and illustration: a practical and inspirational course for artists of all abilities. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited

Mize, Dianne. Foreshortening can fool you: 3 tips for accurate foreshortening. Available from http://emptyeasel.com/2009/03/17/foreshortening-can-fool-you-3-tips-for-accurate-foreshortening/ [Accessed: 18/07/2014]

 

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