I began the assignment piece by considering the media that I wanted to use. I had thought of using soft pastels and so tried these against some possible backgrounds (black, white and transparent gesso, blue, red and yellow acrylic paint, black gesso applied roughly over the paper surface, yellow paint applied likewise, and violet ink. All except the last were applied to a cheapish rough watercolour paper (220 gsm). I had done an early study on black card and liked the way in which the background set off the bright pastels. However, when I began exploring the coloured backgrounds, I liked the potential for some of these, too. I tried out soft pastels, Neocolor II crayons, and oil pastels on the various backgrounds. Crayons and pastels do not work well on thickly applied acrylic but will hold on a surface that has been painted and then wiped to leave a thin, matt layer.
I decided that I wanted to work with a background that was bright but not overpowering. I was also concerned that the underlying colour would affect the colour that overlaid it. In the end, I decided against the watercolour paper, which was rougher than usual pastel paper. However, I did not have any A3 pastel paper and decided to use a good quality cartridge instead, with coloured pencils. Initially, I intended to stain the paper roughly with a diluted red-violet / magenta wash. This colour was chosen because it was evident in the shadows on the flower petals.
Then, I began to consider the composition. I wanted to close in on the orchid, bringing it to the edge of the frame, but not to focus on a single flower. I liked some of my earlier drawings which approached the plant from almost directly overhead. It created quite an energetic composition and avoided the problem of “stranding” the plant in the composition.
Here are two initial sketches of the idea:
This second composition was too far from the viewer. I needed to get closer until I was practically sitting on top of the orchid. The next sketch formed the basis of the final composition, with some later tweaks for proportion.
I was happier with this composition, although saw that it required a few adjustments, notably to the flower bottom left, which is too small. Getting the angles right was tricky, not least because holding a constant position was difficult. I placed a meter ruler in front of the pot and used that as a horizontal reference for all of the angles, lining my pencil up against it every time I needed to judge an angle. I also placed post-it notes on the floor where the edge of the front legs of the chair should lie. I tried to ensure that I sat straight so that the angle didn’t change but this was challenging and I am not sure that I fully managed it. Adjustments were made to this composition, which will show up later in the A4 grid used to scale up to A3.
The next stage was to select a palette. I thought to use a limited palette of analogous colours, although the spread chosen is a little wide to be considered analogous. Having selected a red-violet / magenta background, the palette had to include this. Light green was chosen as the complementary colour (in order to produce some neutral shades) and the rest of the colours were chosen to harmonise with the green, as well as produce a spread of values. The process was documented over four sketchbook pages:
This process was lengthy because I cannot yet easily relate colours to their values but black-and-white photographs helped and, eventually, a palette was selected that represented a range of six to seven values, although I have read somewhere that it is a good idea to use no more than five. The cadmium yellow and light green were very close together and sometimes one of them showed up as being of higher value, and on other times the other. In the end, I treated them as being of approximately the same value but decided to include both for their colour, as much as for the value they represented. The final palette in order of lowest to highest value was: light yellow glaze, light green / cadmium yellow, light ultramarine, ultramarine, magenta and dark indigo. The pencils were Faber Castell watercolour pencils (although I did not in the end use a wash, I wanted the flexibility to include one at a later stage).
I then printed off a copy of the scanned drawing above (before adjustments) and tried out the palette. I was satisfied with the colours. I tried to suggest the rough texture of the soil with abstract marks using the colours with the lowest value. The wash seemed slightly dull to me, possibly because its use prohibited the use of the white paper for the highest value. Therefore, I decided to abandon the wash and use plain cartridge paper.
The next stage was to check the values in the drawing above, which was achieved using a black-and-white photograph. The monochrome image below shows that there are not enough darker values in the flowers themselves: there needs to be more tonal contrast – I need to be braver with the lower value colours. The soil worked quite well, though, and I decided to include this in the final drawing.
The next stage was to make some adjustments to the basic drawing in the A4 sketchbook and then to print this out and superimpose a grid onto it. The drawing below was then scaled up on to A3 cartridge paper.
The final drawing took 5-6 hours in one main session – with a break – followed the next day, by a further hour or so after checking the values. In this second session, I added some darker tones to produce more contrasts and a better spread of values. Using the white paper as a background proved better than the red-violet wash. However, it would be interesting to compare this subject against other more dramatic backgrounds, such as the yellow or black.
The drawing was photographed under artificial lighting and is too large to be scanned. When it comes back, I will have another go. Efforts at enhancing the image digitally produce a garish yellow colour in the flowers so I have foregone this.
The drawing is not as pale as it appears here but the colours are fairly delicate. I decided that, given that the plant is clearly situated in the pot, that this was context enough and to add an abstract rug design in the background would be to detract attention from the flowers so I have kept it simple and neutral. The addition of indigo to the light green / magenta semi-neutral shades has helped to project the flowers towards the viewer. I am generally pleased with the shape and movement of the flowers themselves, especially the main one on the right. I like the lines of the flowers, which echo the support and the pot; the eye is carried around the composition. Coming in close and bringing the composition to the edge has heightened the energy and produced a largely unfussy drawing which is recognisably orchid-like. I was aiming at a degree of realism, although the colours are not intended to be realistic. There is a sense of the whiteness of the flowers, even though white only appears as an accent where light is reflected from the surface.
The image is a bit clearer in black and white. I am pleased with the values in the flowers, which resemble the texture of orchid petals. The upper leaves are still not dark enough. Unexpectedly, this was the hardest part to judge. The leaves are deep green but lustrous. In places, they reflect light, notably at some edges and around the central vein; my drawing could show this more clearly. I am also pleased with the foreshortening, which has worked quite well. I could not have done this six months ago.