The brief, in outline, was to set up a still life, taking care to contrast natural objects in size, shape and texture. An understanding of colour, appropriate choice of medium, composition, variety in mark-making and accuracy and understanding of form must be demonstrated.
Initial choice of composition
I chose to draw shells as I had not used these yet and have a small collection with some variety of colour and texture. I also wanted to include a small basket for the texture of the weave and the opportunity to explore negative space.
I made four sketches looking at the objects from different vantage points and adapting the composition each time.
Sketch 1: I set the basket on its side and had the shells tumbling out of it. ( I had earlier drawn a shopping basket with fruit falling out of it and had liked that composition). I added a feather, a sea urchin, a piece of coral and a piece of white netting for additional texture but, after sketching, thought that there were too many competing textures and shapes and the netting was not very visible – it seemed to get lost in amongst the shells. I concluded that the composition needed to be simpler.
Sketch 2: This was a more compact and simpler arrangement of objects sitting inside the basket, with the sea urchin outside and the feather on top. I abandoned the netting. The viewpoint was from overhead. Apart from problems in perspective in this sketch, I was not happy with the sea urchin but the loose threads of the basket were more visible from this angle and I decided that I wanted to include these in the final composition for their, asymmetrical, untidy aspect and interesting negative spaces.
Sketch 3: I abandoned the sea urchin and adjusted the position of the shells so that some of them protruded from the basket. I liked the feather but was still not sure that it fitted with the shells. The viewpoint was still from above, which I quite liked but the angle did not seem quite right. Overall, there seemed to be too much negative space around the basket.
Sketch 4: I abandoned the feather and, while retaining the basket on its base, took a lower viewpoint, only slightly above the basket. I reintroduced netting but this time used a bright orange netting (from a bag of oranges!), which complemented the orange-brown tones in the long, twisted shell. I placed a shell outside the basket, using it to anchor the ends of the netting and bring the composition into a loose “circular” shape, leading the eye out of the basket and back into it. This composition made better use of the format and I decided to use this in an A3 sketch.
The final drawing was to be an A3 drawing and so I decided to make a sketch this size to get an idea for how the composition would “sit” in the format. I left the sketch unfinished but it was complete enough to make decisions about what worked and what didn’t. I liked the basket’s shape and depiction of the weave and decided to retain these but the twisted shell was drawn too long and dominated the composition (although I liked the colours used). Apart from this long shell, the basket seemed too empty. The gap between the basket and shell also seemed to be too wide and it was difficult to show movement in the netting fibres – which were not very flexible accurately.
Before beginning the final drawing, I filled the basket and changed the position of the shell outside the basket , bringing it closer to the basket, and also brought the viewpoint lower so that only the shells protruding from the basket were visible.
The final drawing
I drew the central image as planned using coloured pencils. I started with a light pencil drawing of the main shapes using an old 35mm slide frame, whose inner edges I divided into four and marked. I used this format to help with proportions and relative positions of shapes, proportions, edges and angles were correct. This first stage of the drawing took several hours. I was pleased with the outcome but could see that, as a composition, it was incomplete.
Developing the composition
Composition is one of my weaker areas but I could see that something needed to be added. At the same time, I was nervous of doing this because I was quite pleased with how I had rendered the basket of shells and did not want to risk ruining what I had already achieved. I spent a week thinking about it and made some photocopies, from which I cut out the basket of shells and stuck these in my sketch book in order to play with compositional possibilities. I had vague ideas of placing the shells in a beach setting with distant sea or in a simple abstract setting in which I blended and changed colours.
Neither of these worked as I had visualised them – at least partly because the photocopied image and added coloured pencils worked more like a collage than a drawing – but I did get the sense that the basket could work well against a dark blue background. I had a dark blue shawl which I draped around the basket, arranging it into folds but without obscuring the basket so that I did not need to change what was already on the paper.
After drawing the shawl, I was then faced with the last stage: what was to go underneath the basket. I still liked the idea of sand, but a flat surface would not have enhanced the drawing. I looked for a photo reference of sand ripples and used these to create a more interesting textured surface – smooth ripples left by a retreating tide – and provide a more authentic context for the shells. I’m not sure where the shawl fits into this scenario – perhaps it was washed up by the tide…
The sand appeared perhaps a little too smooth and I tried to develop a more granular appearance where it is close to the viewer but abandoned this when it seemed it danger of becoming fussy / messy. Lastly, I deepened the shadows: the light falls from the left.
My tutor asked me to photograph the finished drawing with an object, to get a sense of the scale. When I see the drawn shell against the actual shell I can see that I could further intensify the colour – the brown markings on the shell are much richer. This may have been the result of drawing under a strong lamp which could have bleached out the colour somewhat, but it is more likely that I was not being sufficiently observant. However, the intensity of the shell fits the value range in the rest of the drawing.
I scanned the sketches and final drawing but sometimes the scanner seems to have bleached out background detail.
I need to work on intensifying colour when using coloured pencil. This is easier when applying a wash to water-soluble pencils but there is a trade-off, because a wash seems to limit the texture range and there is a fine line between artistic and messy…
This assignment was a stressful one because it didn’t flow but proceeded via a series of points where time was needed to consider the next stage and the various options, and there was always the fear that what was already on the paper would be ruined by the next step. I enjoy problem-solving but even so am glad to be able to look back on this particular process.
And so to the next one….