Project 1, part 2. Exercise 1&2. Compositional sketches of man-made objects/Compositional studies of natural objects

My first group of objects was an espresso cup and saucer and a silver coffee bean spoon. these are objects that to me are beautiful in their simplicity, I hankered after a set of Silver bean coffee spoons for quite a while, then received them as a family secret santa gift ( I asked for them). I love the weight and balance as well as the shiny surface which tints the reflective shapes because of the patina in the metal. Placing the cup and saucer below the eye-line produces the most noticeable shadows and I think the spoon on the table to the side is more indicative of the ritual that is a good cup of coffee, however I like the eye level view too, especially as it was drawn after the sun had gone down so the back light on the wall was much lower, it becomes a much more thoughtful piece. I would probably choose that over the other images, the misplaced saucer over cup whilst having a lighter attachment has too many comedic connotations I don’t want to associate with a well drawn still life at this time. I would aim at A3 and go with pencil crayon, I think that could accurately depict the delicacy of the porcelain.

IMG_6790 (1)

I have also tried a second grouping with a mostly empty bottle of wine and an open box of Alker Seltzer. This seems much more cause and effect for a meaning, even if it is cliche´d. As its presenting the morning after I could aim at A1 for the final image, glaring light from the front and a harsher brighter medium, oil pastels, brighter soft pastels on a rough paper or marker pens.

Or maybe aim for a dirtier effect with a back wash of colour and fine-liner? its either the loud effect before the medication kicks in, or the story, that ‘Oh my god! What did I do?’ moment. If the latter, smaller size could work well. maybe down to A4, On the basis that the memory may be better forgotten?


Of the two group options, I prefer the wine bottle and the bottom left picture, some residual wine in the bottle, the lid on the table and the box open in front. It really could be drawn either way, hangover bright or remembering small. Or both and then decide after.

I read about the grid method in The new drawing on the right side of the brain  by Betty Edwards (published by Harper Collins 2001) Its presented in early exercises while drawing the hand, and is effective for measuring out accurately. I’m not happy with drawing the lines on the paper though because I have then got to remove them. If I am using lines for measurements, (Jacksons art shop has a grid app that tells you what the measurements would be for the lines and overlays them on a photo that is customisable to the size of paper you are using, I have used it to get the general distances in the final assignment piece in part 1, however, I put the tool down to look at the still life in front of me as soon as I was happy it was mostly accurate because I wanted to work with what was in front of me instead of the photo, something I knew I would have to do when I started doing this course) I tend to mark off the edge of the paper and the crossing points only and lightly. It does give greater accuracy, which when working to a large size can be preferable, it depends on how accurate you like your work to be. I’m not a huge fan of hyper realistic work, Photography is a skill that you have to learn much the same as painting and drawing, observation in sketching and drawing and an accurate technique is mildly addictive, for the satisfaction you get at the end, however, I think it then lacks the thing that makes it recognisable as the work of someone specific, it can lack the potential voice a picture can have.

Exercise 2

I picked an aubergine a marrow and a pepper as my natural objects as I liked the contrast in the colours. I expected my finished picture to have the pepper as the most prominent item due to the bright orange, however I’m not convinced the Aubergine didn’t become more focal.

IMG_6808 (1)IMG_6810

I toyed with the base, just table, (I tried this sketch in my sketchbook, in a Henry Moore style as recommended by my tutor, I have now read Blitz and Blockade: Henry Moore at the Hermitage.Fontanka; 1st Edition edition 2011. Its a good start, but its unrefined and flat to me) glass cake stand then napkin on cake stand to separate the veg from the brown wood of the table this brings the strong colours of the veg out and the napkin complements the negative space of the wall almost making the veg float.


The light ended up coming from above as I could get a starker almost clinical feel to the objects in front of me, this has not come across in the final piece which is infinitely softer and underworked.


I tried to create a pencil watercolour sketch in the style of Cezanne and I think I achieved the pallet if not the post-impression perspective, however, I think the overall colour is more reminiscent of  John Cotman without the almost paint by numbers effect I see in his work. I could have worked back through in pen and ink to attain a stronger sense of form, I don’t think the pepper has enough oomph to bring it forward or make it a believable, however, the aubergine a the focal works for me. I like the purples I think that the shape is both multidimensional and has an almost unreal shine to it that I like.

The man made objects are easier to create 3 dimensionally, mostly because of the uniform shape. I could have picked more difficult objects, like the perfume bottles from the last part, or a twisty vase I have that would have been more complex to render from the start. I also picked the veg based on colour, not texture. I have created a simple un-complex watercolour sketch that is pleasing on the eye but not challenging. I’ll have to make sure I don’t do that again, see if I can get the point just before a picture is ruined by doing too much to it.  Mostly because I am not going to learn if I don’t start pushing the working in and studying to re-work to make a picture take longer to create.

changing the composition around created different pictures, formal versus natural, portrait, square and landscape, different shadows, as much as the aubergine is the star of the picture, it is the same size as the marrow and definitely takes away from it, the pepper only became potentially prominent by moving it away from the dark of the aubergine, this means more observable reflections between the two.

Interesting exercise and nice to draw on the research, however, in doing all the reading I am leaving myself less time to fit in the drawing. This week my plan is two exercises and a book called Looking at the Overlooked (Reaktion Books LTD reprinted 1995), as a suggested book by a fellow student. As its payday on Thursday I will be ordering up my tutors other suggested artist to study which is Picasso.  I have however got my children and my schools summer fayre at the end of the week, so its dubious as to how much I will actually fit in…

Amendment. I went back into the veg and worked it with the pencil crayons which created a more pleasing 3d effect.


Pt 2 Project 1 Composition. Reasearch point, negative space.

If positive space is the object, then negative space is the area around it. In a picture, the surrounding element can make or break the image, too much information could take away interest from the main focus or can help ground it and define it.

We are asked to look at Gary Hume and contemporary artists to see how they deal with negative space. Gary’s work shows a variety of approaches, bold colour is obvious , as well as highlighting the positive space by leaving it blank and concentrating on the negative, like, Love Loves Unlovable 1994 and Vicious 1994 Gary Hume at Saacthi gallery do this with a rich bright pattern and blacked out central objects. This creates a void your eye is drawn to in the centre. His style owes a lot to Paul Caulfield This work done in the 70’s, the background pattern managing to remain negative, but only just

This is all very reminiscent of pop(ular) art as a stylised movement starting in the 50’s taking a lot from advertising. Gary’s work is a move beyond this as his images have a different point to make and I feel probably took longer both in thought and creation.

However, the pattern in the background isn’t new. This painting from the 1920’s by Fernand Leger, its classified as abstract art, yet is still obviously a still life

Looking through the available images in the Tate online, I am taken with the works of Adrian Stokes, they are heading towards Turner in the ghostly nearly not there-ness of the still life forms, the negative spaces having more potential to be positive space articles themselves. Its a subtlety I like.

I would like to point out here, that I am finally getting a handle on the art of the last century that had eluded me previously. I can enjoy more of the pictures not just because of the skill that has gone into creating them, but partially because of the history that I am beginning to realise has led to their creation.

Pt 2 Project 1 Composition. Research point, still life.

We are asked to do some research into the still life genre, with a starting point at the dutch painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. stopping off after this at Cezanne, followed by Picasso and Cubism before seeing how we represent the inanimate objects today. With those directions I feel we are being asked to look at the content of the image, the technique applied to the depiction and the concept of still life for the artist.

Lets start with the Dutch. The reformation happened in the 16th century and changed the art that painters where paid to do. before this point, commissions where largely religious in nature, even if they did sneak in references to the patron, their families and friends. the style of painting was influenced by the italionate rennaisance artists and was beautifully realistic. After the iconoclasts had destroyed huge amounts of art, the purpose of painters took a turn and the patrons requests went in a different direction. The picture – Still life an allegory of the vanities of human life by Harmen Steenwyck ( is a perfect example of the vinitas painting. Beautifully rendered books hinting at learning, a ‘musical instrument and liquor bottle to signify a pleasure of the senses’ (according to Erika Langmuir, OBE authur of a closer look Still Life published by National Gallery Company Limited 2010) and a compass a knowledge of the world perhaps or a well travelled person? ‘The Japanese sword , for military might – although, like the exotic shell, it is also a costly collector’s piece and thus an attribute of wealth’. (Erika Langmuir, OBE)Which brings us to the skull…Steenwyk was taught by his uncle David Bailly who is credited with inventing the style. The other main category of still life the Dutch did well included a representation of a meal on a well laid table. As an example Still life with a lobster (and there are a couple with that title), by Willem Claesz. Heda. Everything on the table shouts wealth, from the exotic foods to the fine linens under the beautiful imported porcelein and glassware. I find it difficult to work out who’s benefit this is for on a wall, is it the owner, to remind them of their fortune, or the visitors, as a boast of how lucky they are to be invited into this residence of oppulance? Meanwhile, each object has another meaning that subtley showed the links between people, or the occupation, from the herbs on the table to the patterns on the fabrics in the background. In contrast, Quiringh van Brekelenkam’s picture Interior of a tailor’s shop (Erika Langmuir, OBE discusses this painting too) a simple artisan, not overly wealthy, has a work of art on the wall, and its a still life of a meal, although more simple than the grand affair with the lobster We mustn’t forget that each picture also acted as a calling card for the artist, so cramming in as many textures into a painting whilst making it as lifelike as possible could potentially attract more patrons for further commissions.

Cezanne wasn’t limited by what a patron wanted and judging by the still life pictures of his (I have found online and in books) was mildly obsessed with peaches, apples and pears. His work was a world apart from the Dutch, as a post-impressionist painter his style and technique owes a lot to the previous movement. The images to my mind simplistic yet jewel like with colour. each object has a different perspective to it and even though they aren’t as realistic as the rennaisance fruits, I can tell his peaches from his pears. The objects may not have been as symbolic but Cezanne chose them and placed them carefully. then rearanged and painted again.

He doesn’t appear to have found light and shade as important to note in his work, but has still achieved depth. With a warmth to his work that I probably would prefer on my wall over the dutch works.
Cubist art from the turn of the last century was a reflection of the time. ‘The art deco style was a more structured approach to design and cubism took it a step further’. according to From expressionism to post modernism, (Author John Musgrove, editor Jane Turner Macmillon Reference Limited 2000) Having seen a Braque still life at the Ashmolean last Saturday, I can understand why the cubist movement caused such a stir when it arrived. The approach viewed objects from many different angles, like their forerunner Cezanne, then in some pictures drew them all onto the one picture for the viewer to puzzle out. The pictures are challenging to look at, but I can now understand the point, I see a harmonious use of colour as it fades into and out of lines and the lines themselves both straight and curved create images that are strong.
Where are we now? Studying art involves looking at the movements before us, taking on elements we like and mixing them up. we now have digital art that is a step on from pop art as a new medium and a whole history of options to create anything. Looking through Saatchionline at contemporary work is like an art history lesson. So what do I take from this? Cubism isn’t a message I want to communicate. I think objects can have their own unique beauty in a simple way without challenging the viewer to guess what they are. I am also aware that any given still life I create may only have meaning to some and none to the rest, thats the nature of people. I think I can take more from Cezanne’s work and use of colour and free-er style than anything else, but I have to carry on working into pieces to give them the depth that gives them life. While looking at this subject my sketchbook has become a fruit and veg display, my family has to eat, and food is never far from my children’s thoughts. As still life’s go, they aren’t very experimental but I’m getting my head around some new mediums so they’ve been useful. the course continues…
IMG_6754To call this a still life, I need to add more interest, a plate, a napkin, a wider view maybe. This was made with a Koh-I-Noor clutch pencil (2B I think) and watercolour paints applied with Chinese brushes, they are a learning curve in their own right, the bristles are incredibly soft so I’m now trying to paint with a different hold on the brushThe top left tomato is a bit mangled but overall I like the lighting effect I’ve achieved and I can see where the light is coming from.
On to Exercise 1