Exercise 8: Supermarket shop
Using about six objects, create a still life group based on the sorts of items you might have in a shopping bag. Include a couple of cylinders such as cans, plus some boxes and packets such as tea and rice. Draw your group of objects this time using some colour. Don’t forget to compare one thing with another.
For this exercise, I used a tin, a bottle, a jar, a packet, a carton, and a box. I began by making a rough pencil sketch to work out composition, viewpoint, and relationships between the objects (see below). I had intended to do this in the form of a thumbnail sketch, however it became a more protracted process, as I struggled to work out distances and scale. I decided on a vertical format with the objects arranged ‘coming towards’ the viewer, as I hoped this would help create a feeling of depth.
I then moved on to a quicker sketch in charcoal, in order to look at the tonal values (see above). Also, I put in a few shadows and reflections (as the objects were standing on a marble table top).
Next, I made a pencil/pen drawing on A3 sized watercolour paper (see above) – I chose this as I was planning to work with either ink or watercolour pencil, and knew the paper in my sketchbook was too absorbent for either of these. Prior to doing the drawing, I made a couple of small alterations to the composition – namely, moving the packet of lentils inwards slightly to tighten the arrangement, and moving the Marmite jar a little to the left in order to create an area of negative space between it and the orange juice carton. In addition, I made the tin can a bit taller, but noted that it was narrower than the Marmite jar, although the top of it was wider than the jar lid. I realised that, to give the lentil packet a sense of volume, I would need to put in areas of tone – I did this with hatching. To keep things relatively simple, I decided not to include all the text on the labels. The bottle’s labelling was hidden behind the lentils. The cannellini beans were easy enough to sketch in, but the lentils posed more of a challenge. I ended up using a series of small random squiggles, which worked well I thought.
Next, I made a quick sketch (from a different perspective) using coloured inks, to see how they might look (see above). The bright clear colour seemed a good choice for what were very graphic objects. As I did this sketch rather rapidly, the colour was applied in a slightly haphazard fashion, but I found I quite liked the ‘messy’ going-outside-the-lines look. (I didn’t opt for this, in the end, but will bear it in mind for future drawings where I want a looser feel.)
I made a second sketch using watercolour pencils (see above), but felt that the colour would be too weak for this particular subject matter. So I began to apply Winsor & Newton drawing inks to my pencil drawing ( see below) – I had selected canary yellow, nut brown, emerald, scarlet, orange, blue, violet, and black.
I hadn’t had any experience of using the drawing inks before, but found them easy to blend. I wasn’t entirely happy with the scarlet ink, though, as it appeared pinker than I had hoped. I did a quick test in my sketchbook to see if I might be able to produce a redder shade by adding yellow and a hint of black (see below). There was a marginal improvement, but I must make a note to find a stronger red ink.
I continued applying colour, making adjustments to the various shades as I went. Initially, the blue on the oats box was too bright, so I tempered it with a little violet ink. The most nerve-wracking part was putting in the darkest tones. I had purposely set up the composition to contain two diagonal aspects – the ‘orange diagonal’ of the lentil packet, Marmite jar (in the little pot on the label), and the orange juice carton (running bottom left to top right), and the ‘black diagonal’ of the vinegar bottle, Marmite jar, and cannellini bean can (running top left to bottom right). However, once I had started painting in the black of the bottle (which is absolutely jet black in reality), it seemed a terribly stark contrast. It was balanced out a little once I’d painted in the Marmite jar and the tin can. On reflection, though, I would probably have diluted the black for the bottle, just a little, so as to not have it stand out quite so much. Also, I added some stippling to the oats box, to suggest the texture of the photo on the packaging, and added a little more hatching to create stronger shadows. I wish I hadn’t put in hatching for the shadow on the wall, but it seemed to need something to balance with the shadows on the table. It felt like I’d messed up the drawing at this point, but I’m still not sure what I could have done that would have worked better.
Once the main body of the picture was completed, it felt as though it needed to be a bit more grounded. So I did a light brown/grey wash on the lower half, to suggest the table top, and a variegated green wash for the background colour. Once I’d finished, I was reminded of the journal work of Danny Gregory, with the pen outline and bright colours. Overall, I enjoyed using colour more than I had expected to. I was concerned at the mix of colours in these objects, although they were the least clashing ones I could find! Given that both the subject matter and colour combinations were things I would never have chosen left to myself, I was reasonably content with the outcome. Despite it’s weaknesses, it offered plenty of opportunities for learning.