Exercise 13: Still life with made objects
Create a still life composition from a small themed selection of objects. With a pen, pencil, or ballpoint, use a technique such as hatching. Draw 2 or 3 thumbnail sketches in your sketchbook of different arrangements from different viewpoints. Use your light source to help create strong lights and darks. Try to include tonal values to indicate form in your sketches. Make notes on or around your sketches about the drawing technique you have used, and why you used it.
I haven’t been able to do much work on the course lately, due to damaging my arm, however I decided to give this exercise a go as it only asked for thumbnail sketches. Optimistically, I had thought this might be easier than a resolved picture. Hmm.
I began by doing a couple of pages of small thumbnail sketches of composition ideas. (Are thumbnail sketches small by definition?) I tried to include a variety of viewpoints.
I realised only very recently that I don’t tend to use my sketchbook in a very sketchy way, seeming to feel that every drawing must be a ‘finished’ one. Not sure where that idea came from – it’s an annoying one, anyway. How can I experiment if I don’t allow myself to sketch? So I set out to be sketchy with these thumbnails. Consequently, they seem like infantile scrawls to me, but I resisted the urge to begin again! Really, they were just efforts to work out what might make interesting compositions.
I decided to start with a couple of closely-cropped viewpoints of a group of old glass bottles. They live on my bedroom window sill, and I liked the grouping they were in already so I began by drawing that (in red biro), from a viewpoint slightly above the bottles. They were lit from the left, by daylight. Given that they vary in colour, this created an interesting selection of shadows and tones. The two central bottles turned out pretty well, I thought, but I was having trouble balancing my drawing board so felt I’d hurried the sketch overall. I was trepidatious about tackling hatching again, as I’ve not had great success with it so far. I decided that it helps to keep the hatched lines short wherever possible, as longer lines betray many wobbles.
The second sketch (in black fine liner) was drawn with me sitting on the floor, looking up at the bottles, with the light coming directly from behind. Being lit this way, there were relatively few shadows, but the options for places to put them, where I’d also be able to draw comfortably, were limited. Being old bottles (Victorian-1920’s mostly), they were quite irregular in shape, with crooked tops and chips, and so on. I tried to indicate this, and succeeded for the most part – although the sulphur bottle is more lop-sided here than in reality. As well as hatching, I tried a bit of stippling too, on the smallest bottle. This was an old ink bottle, and is speckled here and there by its past contents.
I then moved on to a couple of thumbnails of bottles and an old book. I also included a necklace in the first sketch. This drawing was done in 4B pencil, again attempting hatching. I was sitting looking down on the objects, which were lit by lamplight from the right hand side. I used an anglepoise lamp, and had it tilted slightly so the light was coming from the back a little, too.
In the second version, I used a 2B water-soluble graphite stick, using a water-brush to enhance the darkest shadows. By this point, my arm was hurting quite a lot, so I rested the sketchbook almost flat on the table. This resulted in my perspective going off-kilter somewhat, and the bottles appear to be leaning to the right. I had the anglepoise lighting the objects from low on the right hand side. This meant there were very few true highlights – just a marginally lighter patch on the right of the small frosted glass bottle.
I did as the course book suggested, and included more notes on these sketches. That’s something else I intend to do more…. write in my sketchbook. I’ve been far too precious with it so far. My aim is to use it as a kind of visual ‘brain’, rather than trying to fill it with pretty pictures. Obvious when you think about it, but these things take time to sink in, it seems.
I then did a few individual bottle sketches, in pastel (sticks and pencils) and water-soluble graphite. The pastel pencils in particular are a relatively unknown quantity to me, so I wanted to try them out. As I say in my sketchbook, I’m hoping that using it (the sketchbook) as more of a workhorse will go some way towards helping me to ease the discomfort of sketching loosely. It also occurred to me that a smaller book might be more functional. My current one is A3, which seemed a good idea initially. On reflection, though, A4 might be better. A smaller book more frequently used has to be an improvement on a large barely-touched one…