Part 2. Project: Still Life; Exercise: Still life with man-made objects

During my painting of the lemons I got thinking about the use of a repetitive motif in painting, but viewing that motif from different directions. I decided to explore this a little further with this still life exercise. I chose to draw a set of espresso cups grouped together. The only difference between the cups was their colours although they were part of a matching set so the colours all complemented one another. I started with some preliminary sketches exploring how the cups could be arranged in relation to one another.

The coffee cups reminded me of work by Wayne Thiebaud especially his cakes, where there are lots of similar shapes lined up with small decorative differences between them. I started with the concept of the cups have a ‘conversation’ with one another, from a low angle providing a bit of intimacy with the composition. However this resulted in a lot of empty table space in the foreground. I raised my view-point to alter that (to a similar angel to Thiebaud’s Cakes). This gave a greater sense of depth to the scene. I tried jumbling the cups up a little, to remove the linear array. However there this seemed to lose the relationship between the cups completely.

Finally I tried stacking the cups. This added a bit of drama to the composition whilst still maintaining relationships between the individual cups. After playing around with the framing of the composition I decided to go with this. The added height only added to the strength of the composition.

I was determined to have a background in this painting, but decided to keep it simple. I hung a white sheet up behind the table in such a way that it wasn’t directly lit. This allowed for tonal variations in the background without detail. I sketched a quick tonal study and there was in fact not a huge amount of tonal variation evident: the dark interiors of the cups being the darkest areas. I then had a play around with colours, first in water-soluble colour pencils and then in oils working on a warm ground of wash of Indian Red with a little white acrylic.

Tonal and colour studies

I mixed a palette of oil colours for the main colour areas, using with alizarin crimson and cadmium red for my red hues, cobalt for my blue hues, cadmium yellow for my yellow hues and cadmium yellow and cerulean blue for my green hues. There were quite a few tints and shades of each colour.  For the shadow areas I used mixes of alizarin crimson and cobalt blue. My palette looked like this before I started!

I liked the effect of the warm ground in my colour swatch, and decided to use this colour as an underpainting of the darker areas. and drew directly only a piece of primed paper. Once this had dried sufficiently I started to block in the main colour areas concentrating in getting the different tonal variations that would be vital to give form to these objects. What I ended up with was this:

Espresso Cups. Oil on primed paper

I was quite pleased with this, the composition worked, there is a slight drama to the piece with the stacked cup. There are some good relationships between the cups (especially the overlapping handles) and the repetitive motif is explored from several angles. However things that hadn’t worked so well are the overall tonal quality of the painting: there just aren’t enough darks in it. I have also lost the form of the red cup in the foreground. In altering my paint, I have managed to elongate the body too much and consequently the handle is too low. The oval of the rim is also not right for the viewing angle.

After a few days I went back to this and altered the position of the red cup’s rim and darkened the background to increase the tonal variation. The result was a much stronger image. I made the decision to leave the cup handle as it was.

Espresso cups version 2. Oil on primed paper

Working in oils on this smooth, primed paper is tricky. The paint slides around a lot and I find it very hard to control.Sometimes I found it hard to persuade the paint to leave the brush and actually adhere to the support! I now know that this paper is less absorbent which results in this slip sliding (and longer dry times). For this painting I found that I was applying oil paint in a similar way to that of the fast drying acrylic paints. I didn’t do much blending in this image (when I tried, rather than blending I found the paint just slide around). Consequently I don’t think this painting is as strong in technique as my Lemons with blue bowl, but it was good practice of getting paint off of my brush. I felt I learnt a lot about that in the few hours it took to do this piece. I didn’t do much glazing, most this was just wet on wet. This again was due to the tricky nature of the support and the fact that I knew it was going to take an age to dry.

I am slowly learning that I have a preference for oil on canvas paper rather than these primed papers. I just have rather a lot of the smooth stuff to use up! I would like to have a go at painting on a proper stretched canvas again now I am beginning to be more confident in paint handling. Perhaps for my assignment.


Part 2. Project: Still Life; Exercise: Still life with man-made objects

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