Part 2. Project: Still Life; Exercise: Drawing in Paint

Drawing in Paint

I chose to study a potted orchid that happened to be flowering on my kitchen windowsill along with a mix of glass and pottery objects that have also accumulated here. I was quite constrained with my view-point with this arrangement as the window is at the end of and L-shaped area and is not very wide (so can only view straight on). I started with some quick rough pencil sketches to get an idea of composition (within the limitations above). I liked the contrast between the soft petals of the orchid and the hard shiny surfaces of the bottle, ceramic dish and tiles. The leaves of the orchid were dark and shiny and quite structural,  which was a nice foil between the inorganic and organic textures.

Initial studies

The window frame provided a natural frame for the still life composition. I did a larger sketch in black conte crayon however found that the position of the flower in front of the frame removed the framing effect (unsurprisingly) and also left a large piece of glass window to deal with. At this point I was unsure what to draw of the view outside (uninspiring wall, steps and some shrubs).

Study in black conte crayon

I moved the pot further over to solve that issue and ended up drawing another sketch in conte crayon. I added colour to this image using soft pastel. On the whole I felt this arrangement worked better and went some way to fill the window space. Still undecided on what to do with the outside, I gently swirled some pastel of the various colours visible as the background. I actually quite like this study as a drawing in its own right. It has a sense of airiness and space to it and the muted palette has a certain calmness to it. Interestingly the soft pastel seems to work for the hard shiny surfaces better than for the soft petals, which is the opposite to what I would expect.

Study in conte crayon and soft pastel

Before adding soft pastel colour to the above image I took a copy of the drawing. In order to see what would happen to the image if the background was painted in as seen out the window I used this copy and drew with soft pastel the main colour shapes visible.

Photocopy of study in conte crayon coloured with soft pastel

The result is a loud messy image in which the background is fighting the focus of the painting: the flower. So I decided that in my painting some editing was necessary: the view out my window would be a soft diffusion of the colours visible, with greater emphasis on the soft landscape of shrubs rather than the hard landscaping.

Working with acrylic paints on a canvas paper I used Payne’s grey to draw my composition. It was in mapping out my composition that I discovered my first mistake – my canvas pad was a different size to my A3 sketch pad and I hadn’t noticed!!!! I then proceeded to make my second mistake which was to carry on anyway! I didn’t have a larger piece of suitable surface to use so I decided (and I am rather embarrassed to say it) that I would adjust my composition by shortening the flower stem (after all it was rather dull and spindly…!)

Once I had my composition in place I started to block in some colours. I kept to large tonal areas, so purple for the flowers, green for the leaves and so on until the canvas was covered with blocks. I then added tonal variations on top of these to introduce form trying to ‘construct with paint’. The background was created by taking the base colours used for the main composition and mixed with lots of white and swirled on without much mixing between colour areas to keep the idea of airy background loose. I then deepened shadows by glazing over where necessary and then finally added the lightest high-lights. In doing this painting I lost the general idea of the drawing I had originally done in paint, and so at the suggestion of the course notes I made the outlines stronger and more defined a the very end to maintain the linear aspects.

Still life on windowsill. Acrylics on canvas paper

Hmm…not a very successful exercise! The outlines make it look like a painting by numbers! There are so many things wrong! Compositionally, the shortened stem of the flower quashed the elegant nature of the orchid, although a viewer might not realise that. I realise looking back that I should have varied the thickness of my line and drawn more sensitively. My thick dark lines just emphasis the painting my numbers effect more!

Mostly I haven’t managed to construct with paint really – the roots and the reflections on the bottle are the two most successful examples. The rest of the painting is very flat.  with little sense of brushwork. There is a feeling of light in the painting and it retains a sense of airiness. The only specific detail that I am happy about are the orchid roots (not outlined and therefore more realistic) and the shadows they make of the pot.

Points to take forward

  • Construct with paint!
  • Brush marks matter
  • Don’t do painting by numbers

I am still not a fan of acrylics but I did get more of a feel how to handle them here and I will continue to try to use them along side oil paints in this module.

Part 2. Project: Still Life; Exercise: Drawing in Paint

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