Exercise 29: Drawing using oil pastels
As directed for this drawing, I used oil pastels on A3 paper (in this case, a dusty pink sugar paper). I chose a selection of vegetables that offered contrasts in colour, shape and texture, and arranged them on a tea towel. Apart from the mark-making exercises, I hadn’t worked with oil pastels before, and was concerned that they might prove difficult to use. Looking at other students’ blogs suggested this is often the case. The note in the course book, advising that this exercise might take a while, didn’t exactly chime well with my new-found resolve to work faster, either!
To start with, I made a few compositional sketches in pencil, trying to make optimum use of space and arrangement of colours.The first worked best for me. In the others, there was either too much greenery on the radishes, which competed too strongly with the cabbage, or all the pinks/reds and greens were next to items almost the same colour as themselves, which created a deadening effect.
Next, I used a neutral colour to lightly sketch the main shapes (see below), making sure things sat where I wanted them. At this stage it looked as though everything was too high up the paper, but that’s because I hadn’t sketched in the detail of the tea towel or the shadows.
The next step (below) was to start adding colour, using very sketchy hatching and squiggly lines. It was tempting to add more detail at this point, but I wanted to get the colours mapped out first.
Aware that the pastels were likely to smudge easily (especially in the incredibly hot weather we’re having just now), I worked from top to bottom (see below), with the intention of adding finer details towards the end. As I was trepidatious about using oil pastels for the first time, I decided to keep the background as simple as possible, allowing me to focus on the main subjects. You can see a few darker areas in the background – they’re where I attempted to smudge the pastels, which only resulted in a rather unpleasant bruised colour.
I kept reminding myself that pastels can take a while to build up, and tend not to look like much until highlights and shadows are added. This started to become evident by the stage below. Adding a highlight to one of the tomatoes, for example, suddenly created a greater feeling of depth. The course book suggested using different, but related, colours over the initial layers to strengthen tone. I have a fairly limited number of oil pastels, so improvised as well as I could, relying on colours blending to achieve new shades. Allowing glimpses of the paper colour to show through helped to maintain a degree of liveliness, too.
In the finished drawing (below), you can see that I worked over several layers. Concerned that the shadows were looking too heavy, I hatched over them with a lilac blue, which softened them considerably. I also added touches of blue and yellow to the cabbage and the tomatoes, to give a greater feeling of depth. The cabbage seemed an impossibly complicated thing to draw with something that felt like lipstick! However, I think I got somewhere with trying to create the leaf curling over the main body of the cabbage – edging it with yellow helped there, as did darkening the tone just beneath. The radish leaves, and their shadows, were tricky – quite a tangle of slender lines, for which oil pastels did not seem terribly well suited. I simplified them slightly, as they could easily have looked a mess of green. The background and (particularly) the foreground were the most difficult areas, strangely enough. For the tea towel to make sense fully, it would have taken a long time to pick out the subtle gradations of shadow and, as I’ve noted elsewhere in this log, I’m attempting to work faster and looser just now. In light of this, I chose to stop once I felt the vegetables were ‘done’. Hopefully, the tea towel has enough detail to ‘read’ properly. Curiously, I felt the potato worked well, even though I did the least to it – a salutary lesson, maybe. The carrot feels substantial (it was a mighty specimen), and the tomatoes (especially the one in the foreground) feel as though I could pick them up and squelch them.
I think it’s imbued in me to feel I could do more, and it was hard to call this one finished. However, that’s a lesson I need to learn, so I put it into practise here…