Still Life with Natural Objects

I have been unable to work on course material for some months, partly due to work commitments and partly frustration with painting fruit and veg. I have continued to sketch but have not worked on the course for a long time.  I have decided to try to complete this unit in order to fulfil a commitment to the OCA and also to myself.

I became “stuck” on this exercise because I find still life difficult to conceive in a novel / imaginative way although I have come across some wonderful examples by other artists.  It is still possible to depict fruit and veg in an imaginative way but I have been frustrated in attempts to do this.

I began in a very conventional way. I chose the composition for its relative simplicity: the rounded shapes of the fruit and the sharper edges of the table on which they sit, with a contrast in size and tone.  I have wanted to learn how to apply glazes using acrylic, and to use these to build up of colour while retaining a translucency. I have not yet found a way to combine glazes with a looser style, the problem being that the glazes are quite viscous and, although they take a while to dry completely, become quite “sticky” to the touch relatively quickly.  Therefore, it seems as if one has to be very clear on where the paint is to go because, once applied, it is not easily moved. Mistakes can be corrected by covering with gesso and beginning again with the layers…but this creates uneven build-up of paint on the surface. The glazes were created using Winsor & Newton’s Artisit’s Acrylic glazing medium. I also added Golden’s Flow Release to incresase the fluidity without diluting the colour.

The image below is an A3 sketchbook page.  I glued newspaper to the surface to produce a more sustantial ground which could stand up to several layers. I sealed these using an acrylic medium. The ground may also be part of the problem.  The final surface is dense and uneven, partly due to overlap of underlying newspaper and partly through correction of mistakes.

I am aware that the “painting” below is far from finished but I do not have the skill at the moment to put it right and so am abandoning it for now in order to move on. I am including it here for completion of the record, not because I am pleased with it…



What I have learned from using glazes:

– a smooth ground is important for even application of paint layers.

–  patience is important – layers must be allowed to dry thoroughly!

–  it can help to have several paintings on the go at once so that there is always something to work on.

– more practice needed – I still like it as a technique and would like to master it.

Somewhat disillusioned, I felt that some kind of experimentation was in order where the process was more important than hanging on to an outcome.  I applied some watercolour ground to an A4 sketchbook page and then drew the composition into the ground using the end of a paintbrush.  Once dry, I coated the ground with water and then painted the same composition by dropping fluid watercolour on to it rapidly, so that colour became more important than shape and outline.  although the image is necessarily careless, it does have a sense of light.



Recently, I have come across the work of Urban Sketcher, Sanjeev Joshi, who often uses slashes of ink/ paint on the page before he goes sketching and he integrates his drawing with the ink already on the page.  There is a calligraphic quality to his underlying colour and he may use an automatic pen for this, or maybe a broad brush. Some examples of his work can be seen here.  I wondered whether this approach would work for still life, in order to create a looser approach and to create more enjoyment in the process.

I have a pile of small shiny pieces of card (11.8 x 13.2 cm) and decided to try a miniature still life using one of these.  The surface was chosen because the ink would move around fairly easily and might take a little longer to dry.  I used Ecoline fluid watercolours in prussian blue and deep orange.

I began drawing a random selection of lines with some balance in shape, colour and width.  While the paint was still wet, I drew the outlines of the fruit and table top using a dried up fineliner (although this pen no longer works dry, it did release remnants of ink, creating a more defined outline than intended. Ecoline is a watercolour and so can be re-wetted and moved around the surface, which reduced the intensity of the initial colour.  I found the technique more satisfying because there is an element of unpredictability due to the increased flow characteristics of the paint on this surface.  The image below shows a mid-stage and the final image.


Screen Shot 2014 09 28 at 18 03 00


The next step was to develop the composition in a larger format.  The card in larger format was not an option (I am still searching for A2 and A3 card which has the same finish) but I had some LANA polypropylene “paper” (not the most environmentally-sound option, but…).  This surface slightly repels water making it even more difficult to control the paint – perhaps oil could be used if more control is desired?  However, this lack of control was what was wanted in this context.  I used vermilion and spring green, plus a deeper green and then prussian blue.  Addition of water created the lighter blue patches.  I did not photograph the underlying structure but some is visible in the finished painting.  The outline was drawn in pencil, which is not easily erased from the polypropylene.

These images convey some idea of how the paint appears when applied to this surface.  The fluidity and long-drying time means that the paint continues to move while drying and that there is a considerable amount of time to play with the image.  The disadvantage of this is that it is tempting to go on, when perhaps the image has been optimally worked already…


Screen Shot 2014 09 28 at 18 23 35


The final image (22 x 32 cm):




Having enjoyed working with this surface and the watercolour, something odd happened: I discovered that I wanted to try another still life!  As autumn has arrived, I chose some gourds with a variety of colours and shapes.  Here is the initial sketchbook page of ideas:




However, these ideas again led to a dead end and I reverted to using the polypropylene surface and following a similar process to the first one tried. Here is the initial stage, showing the outlines, this time drawn using the end of a paintbrush.




The paint was then moved around with a brush and more was applied.  Prussian blue was applied for contrast and shadows.  A little more was added to the dried surface.  I like the fluidity of the image, even after it is dry!  I am torn about using polypropylene as a ground but it is a very useful surface for letting go of an idea of a finished product.





Finally, a composition was created in A3.  I used grapes again but this time contrasted red with green and used a box to produce a contrast of line.  I decided to use colours close to the actual fruit and began with a selection of random lines and marks using a 2.5 cm automatic pen, as before. The surface was a piece of card whose surface approximated the initial piece of card used. However, this surface is more matt and did not have the same characteristics but I attempted to work wet-in-wet.  However, the paint did not flow to the same extent.  I used candle wax to repel the paint in places and create highlights.  This was more successful in some places than others.

I tried to recreate the bloom on the surface of the grapes.  This was easier with the red grapes than the green, due to the tonal contrast for the former. The green grapes are unsatisfactory – it is their size that identifies them rather than their skin texture.


Screen Shot 2014 09 28 at 18 51 53


This is the final image.  I like the way that the initial lines “contain” the image and act as a stage, and also with the range of marks.  I am less happy with the quality of some of these marks.





What I have learned from this exercise overall is that I seem to have to make a choice between attempting to depict objects realistically and using the objects as a starting point for exploring paint, colour, texture, shape, line…   I feel happier taking the second path and fel as if I have turned a corner.
















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