Category Archives: still life

part two: project two: still life

exercise four: monochrome

I had a crisis of confidence over the previous exercise and it seems to be carrying on into this one. I feel like I am not really drawing, or learning how to draw. Instead I’m struggling with new media (coloured pencils, crayons, inks, paint) and as a distance learner it’s frustrating.

This exercise is all about colour and I’ve decided on pastels – at this stage all ways of applying colour are new to me – but as pastels feel like charcoal’s cousin, pastels is it.

The exercise also asking for: tone, texture, pattern, detail, contrast.


img_1618My subject is a grenadine on a red metal chair.

I’ve been trying out the reds and not really enjoying the effect of the pastel. My objects are strong shapes and the pastels seem a bit fuzzy. I’m also struggling with the paper in my sketchbook – a second layer of pastel doesn’t stick, it just glides off the first layer and the pastel pencils make no impact at all.

In my box of pastels I did find a sample of  ‘la carte pastel’. I’ve never come across this before – it is as coarse as sandpaper – and the pastel works brilliantly on it. Unfortunately I can’t get hold of it locally so I’m sticking with plain old paper for now.

I chose grey paper for this. I don’t know why, it wasn’t really thought through, it hasn’t really contributed but hasn’t caused any problems either.

I’ve had big problems here with the pastels and pastel pencils themselves. Each pastel seems to behave differently. The brown is smooth and creamy, the purple is scratchy and seems to rub away whatever I’ve already laid down. The pastel pencils just scratch at the paper rather than lay any actual colour down. It’s been tricky!

I wonder if maybe pastels are simple not the right medium for this style of drawing. Maybe they would be better for something for expressive.


Things I’m happy with:

  • the shine on the metal chair
  • the sense of light under the chair

Things I’m not happy with:

  • the  direction of the light is not clear – I actually had the light coming up from under the chair, through the holes.
  • the holes are all over the place! not even in shape or colour – this was one of my struggles with the chubby pastels. I went over and over them, in the end nothing stuck – pastel or pencil.
  • the colours – the red of the fruit and the chair were very very close. I think perhaps I should have created more of a difference between them. The shadow is quite violet – I’ve actually got the colour pretty accurate but it’s not really an appealing colour – perhaps I should’ve made it bluer? (I had propped a piece of white card behind the chair.

What I’ve learned from this exercise in particular:

  • I need to have a more precise plan before I start on the final piece – with this I hadn’t really worked out how to manage the holes in the chair. I also hadn’t decided what my crop would be – and was frequently adjusting it as I worked. And even though I had tried out the reds in pastels before hand, I didn’t use what I had discovered in the final – I just jumped in and didn’t refer back to my tests.
  • I probably need to be more careful with choice of paper – I’m not sure this was that good for pastels.

part two: project two:still life

exercise three: experiment with mixed media

Feeling a bit ambivalent about mixed media. I’m comfortable with a pencil and charcoal, becoming friends with ink but I didn’t really hit it off with coloured pencils in the last exercise. Now I’m to throw in wax crayons, felt tips, marker pens…

I’ve chosen some ridiculous decorative fish as my subject.

I started out with biro, wax crayons and pencils but found that a mix of coloured ink and felt pens had the intensity of colour and smoothness of these slippery marvels that I was after.

I had the fish on a piece of crazy 1960s fabric but it was competing too hard for attention.  Their original home was in Cannes, right on the coast, and as an Englishwoman away from home, this naturally had me thinking about fish and chips.

Wrapping the fish in newspaper seems the right thing to do. The fish have a touch of sadness to them, having seen the inside of newspaper before; wrapped up and left behind.

Drawing them on newspaper has been problematic. Online research advised priming the paper with gesso but this has dulled the coloured inks and they don’t flow as easily. (I’m using pink and yellow to blend into orange).  A wash of watercolour helps restore the colour but it lacks the gorgeous intensity of the inks on plain white paper.

I’m also slightly bothered that the fish look like they are breaking out of the newspaper rather than wrapped up in it.

I decided to try a more conventional approach and put my fish on fabric but it all looks a bit dull and I’m irritated that the newspaper idea didn’t work out.


I’ve decided on a different tack: Because of the problems I had with the ink losing its vibrancy on newsprint (theoca forum was very helpful on this issue, but I couldn’t find what was needed in the nearest shop), I’ve kept the fish on the plain white cartridge and added the newspaper around.  I am worried that this will end up looking a bit ‘craftsy’ but I needed to get on with the project with what I had to hand.



So they they are: the ridiculous fish

Things I’m happy with:

  • I’m reasonably happy with the use of newspaper. It does seem to add instant interest and texture to the fabric.
  • I’m happy that I’ve let the fabric fade out at the edges – my tendency is to go even all over – this is something I’ve been consciously thinking about.
  • I’ve met the brief by using mixed media: newspaper, coloured pencil, felt tips, coloured inks.

Things I’m not happy with:

  • I don’t really like any of it, though I’m pleased to have tried out the newspaper. At the beginning I was motivated by the fish. Though ridiculous, they are quite satisfying objects, but I think putting them on their own as the star of the show has made them more serious somehow. They’ve lost their quirkiness.
  • It feels crafty and a bit school project. My lighting was quite flat and I think this is part of the problem. If I had created something more dramatic – so the fish could gleam out from the darkness – it may have looked more sophisticated?
  • The fish don’t look that solid, and they are not really sitting in that fabric (though the shadow under the forward fish has worked OK, the other tail was off the fabric and seems to be floating – I think I should have cheated a shadow maybe)

When I look back at the preparatory work I can see how much I have tightened up in the final piece. I prefer my looser ink-splotchy fish of my sketchbook, they have more spontaneity. Not really sure how to get around this, once a certain amount of work has gone in to a drawing, it’s hard not to be bothered about messing it up.

Some time later….As I look at this again, at a later stage, I realise a couple of things I can do to improve the image: the lower lip of the fish is wrong, but more importantly in the sketches I had the fish appearing out of the fabric, but somehow in this final version I became obsessed with having the shadow of the underside of the fish show. If I have the perseverance I will see if I can fix these mistakes with added newspaper.


Ridiculous fish revisited: the joy of mixed media like this is I could fix my problem areas by gluing more newspaper on, however it did create problems with the surface and I’m not sure why. I glued more newspaper, added coat of gesso as before, and the surface became super slippery, not allowing the coloured pencil to stick.

I haven’t done a great job here, the material looks weirdly bunched up, but it was tricky to alter the small area to fit in with the fabric already down.

I’ve been thinking about how I can prevent these kind of mistakes in the future. I don’t know why I became blinded to the composition by my obsession with the shadow under the fish. I suppose I was so determined to make sure it sat properly. Ideally of course I would do more preparatory sketches, but the idea of adding fabric on newspaper came late in the day and my time was up. I hope that each experience will alert me to possible stumbling blocks, and next time I’ll be ready.

part two: project two: still life

exercise two: still life in tone using colour

I struggled to find the enthusiasm for this exercise. I went into it happily enough, reading up on colour theory and getting used to using colour pencils in my sketchbook. When it came to putting coloured pencil to paper however, nothing very exciting happened. I spent what felt like hours scratching away at the paper, at risk of tendonitis. I’m not sure if the results are disappointing because I’ve chosen unexciting colours or I simply haven’t applied enough colour – though adding more colour seemed to deaden everything further.

On the whole this is probably just testimony to my inexperience with colour…and I’m hoping things can only get better!


I had two or three goes at the above – all ended up in the bin – but I stuck it out with this one.

Things I’m happy with:

  • the shadows: I had stolen my boy’s reading light and got some dramatic shadows, unfortunately when he reclaimed it I found it impossible to replicate but I had enough to go on and I think they’ve worked out well, even if they’re not entirely accurate.
  • the two objects on the left seem to have form
  • there is a sense of strong light coming in from the right

Things I’m not happy with:

  • the colours – especially the green – makes me feel slightly ill
  • the tall vase, which in reality is a very odd shape, doesn’t look very solid. It’s relationship to the other two objects is not clear.
  • I had put the objects on a chess box butted up against a piece of cardboard on the wall. Because the chessboard was in quite dark woods I wasn’t really sure how to handle this – the dark colour, but the bright light.
  • the whole is timid and unsure

Frustrated I decided to try smaller versions in different styles and colours. Yes I realise I should possibly have done this first but I thought the messing about I’d done in my sketchbook would be enough.


I had read about blenders, so bought one and I think by my fourth try I understood what it could be used for – actually blending colours together (duh!) so I am beginning to see what could happen. I still think my choice of colours is suspect but I have been fired up by my visit to the Camoin exhibition with all those gorgeous oranges and lilacs sitting happily together.

One exciting thing has happened here though. From my last feedback I want to work on not always having an ‘edge’ to objects, I’ve been trying to give variation to my line and let things ‘tail off’ though somehow my heavy hand always forgets this. In the top right however, I suddenly found myself with no edges to my objects, none at all, and I really like the effect – my objects are bathed in light.

part two: project two: still life

exercise one: still life using line


I came into this exercise with not much of an idea but it quickly took some shape. I had an urge to sketch shoes – they have so many lovely lines and curves pushed into shape by feet while the laces are always breaking free. I sketched the shoes just where they were, on an ancient terracotta floor.

What intrigued me most was how the lines of the shoe could slip in and out of the honeycomb pattern of the floor. This tiled floor holds the ghosts of so many footprints and when we move on, when my boys grow out of their shoes, something of their footprint will be left. Day after day their feet tapping, slipping, pushing into these tiles. The way ancient stone steps dip in the middle has always delighted me and though this floor doesn’t dip and sag (though some tiles are cracked and chipped) it has held the weight of many.


I’ve tried a few different options in pencil and ink and as I do so I realise that it will take some planning to integrate the lines of shoes and floor. Ideally I want to work straight in ink rather than pencil first. I notice a real difference in line if I go direct into ink rather than tracing over a pencil line.


My delighted youngest made these prints – standing in charcoal and then on the page. I sketched the shoes on top – looking for a feeling of the footprint escaping the shoe.


I’m so happy with how the detail of the footprint has come out and the echo of lines I have made on the shoe.



Messing around with more textures, using diluted ink and dabbing charcoal over the top.


Composition (paves), Jean Planque

Today I popped in to our local gallery which holds the collection of Jean Plaque, himself an artist. This tiny watercolour came to mind later on when I was thinking about my terracotta floor, and inspired me to add colour.


I think this will be my final version for this exercise. I’m not absolutely sure. I’m still interested in the idea of ghostly footprints across the tiles.

Things I think have worked:

  • I’ve met most of the requirements of the exercise: thinking about how the objects relate to the background, concentrating on pattern, shape, line. I haven’t captured texture though, except perhaps the slipperiness of the smooth floor and the rubber of the soles. And if I’ve understood correctly what it is to tackle an exercise conceptually as well as practically, I think I’ve also done that.
  • I wanted a ghostly quality to the shoe, the feeling that they were being incorporated into the tile – yet another footprint passing through – and I think I’m almost there.
  • the dissolving of line – tile and shoe – the interchange.
  • the wateriness of the tile that adds to the feeling of the two elements merging.

Things I don’t think have worked so well:

  • I find the colours a bit garish and unfortunately I think it looks a little like blood stain. I should maybe be bolder with the terracotta colour, to make it clear that this is the colour of the entire floor.
  • the composition. I tried various combinations of shoes. All the way along this line of four, pulled in opposite directions by the straying laces, seemed best. But in this  final version it feels a bit unsettled. I may try cropping in closer.
  • as mentioned already, I haven’t got across texture though there wasn’t a great deal of texture – things I have missed are the canvas of the shoes and areas where they were fraying.
  • the drawings feel a bit cartoon like.

The project asks specifically:

‘did you manage to get a sense of depth in your drawings?’ Well no, I didn’t really. I was purposefully playing with perspective to meet my ideas of the floor and shoes blending together. Despite that I do think the shoes standing upright have still managed to retain some depth.

‘what difficulties were created by being restricted to line or tone?’ It did take some discipline to resist from shading too much. I did throw an earlier version out because I felt that line was being lost in the hodgepodge of cross-hatching. My doubts about keeping to line only are that as I mentioned above, it does have a cartoon type quality – I think this is also because I’ve used my line quite sparingly, without adding marks for texture or expression.