Exercise 14: Composition of natural objects
This drawing was a long time coming. Between my shoulder problems and a mental block, I began to think it would never appear. To complicate matters further, I chose to do it in coloured pencil – a medium I haven’t really used before. Knowing my tendency to be reserved in drawing, I was concerned that working in this medium would only exaggerate that. It doesn’t lend itself to broad sweeping movements or bold statements – at least, not obviously so. Just writing that makes me wonder if it could be used in that way. Need to experiment with that. However, I knew that I’d have to get to grips with coloured pencils at some point, so I thought I might as well make a start now.
I began this exercise by making some very scribbly sketches of possible subjects and arrangements. As I drew these, I was aware they may not make much sense to anyone else, being a kind of shorthand for myself. One of the curious aspects of working in sketchbooks, knowing they’re going to be assessed at a later date. The photo is not very clear, as some of my pencil marks were quite light.
Initially, I had planned to use feathers and seashells. However, none of the arrangements really worked, and so I left the shells for another day. Then I moved on to making some preparatory sketches of individual feathers.
I began by using Inktense pencils, experimenting with marks and varying pressures. I also tried Derwent pastel pencils, smudging the initial application and then drawing on top of that. I preferred the second effect, but felt it was not particularly well suited to the subject at hand, as the feathers seemed likely to require a fair amount of fine detail. Next, I switched to a 4B pencil, making a couple of quick sketches, and a slightly more detailed sketch of a peacock feather. To the latter, I added some coloured pencil strokes (Caran d’Ache). I actually liked the combination of ordinary pencil and coloured pencil, and considered working in this way for the finished drawing. On reflection, though, I decided not to, as I wanted to see what I could do working with the latter alone – I felt I might rely too heavily on the graphite pencil, otherwise. As I sketched the peacock feather, I noticed that the lower strands were in fact white for about half an inch as they departed from the shaft of the feather. I achieved this in the finished piece by leaving the space blank.
Having decided on using feathers for this exercise, but abandoning the seashells, I then had to think about composition. I deliberated between having some of the feathers upright in a small glass vase, with a feather lying on the table in the foreground, and drawing a flat arrangement from overhead. The second idea turned out to be less inspiring, as there were almost no shadows that way.
In addition to the stronger shadows of the upright composition, there were verticals, horizontals and diagonals, which made for a more interesting outcome (I hope). It doesn’t show up particularly well here, but I tried applying a light dusting of blue pastel in the upper part of the background. I wanted the background to be very simple, as it seemed any detailed background would detract from the delicate details of the feathers. Also, the actual background was rather cluttered – but this was the most suitable place, in terms of light and mobility, for me to do the drawing. In the finished piece, I also used a little yellow pastel in the background, to bring warmth to the largest area of negative space.
I began drawing the vase lightly in pencil, and then moved on to coloured pencil alone.The vase was the most complex part of the drawing, partly because of the swirling indentations on the glass. The blue marks inside the glass were a blue ribbon tied around the two feathers. The curve of the glass gave them an undulating appearance. The speckled brown feathers were propped on their side on the table as, again, they were bound by ribbon. This way, they also created stronger shadows on the surface of the table (which I had covered with white paper, to get more defined shadows). Both these pairs of feathers were of a neat and rather sleek nature. The peacocks feathers were far more enjoyable to draw, allowing more fluid movements and irregularity of form. Before embarking on the drawing, I had anticipated I would be using mostly blues and greens for them, but on closer inspection, brown was the dominant colour, flecked with green, yellow, purple and touches of red. The blues were a relatively small part of the whole. My blue pencil got some exercise, though, as I decided to use it for the shadows, along with some green as reflected colour from the vase. As will probably be obvious, the (lamp) light was coming from the upper right hand side.
It’s a huge relief to have this one out of the way. I had to remind myself that it’s only one drawing. Time to move on.