Exercise 31: Plants and flowers in coloured pencil
As soon as I read the requirements for this drawing, I knew it was likely to be a mighty task. Coloured pencil, control and detail, on an A2 sheet of paper – it wasn’t going to be a quick job. I was struck by the irony of encountering such an exercise just after deciding to try and work more loosely. Prior to starting, I did some visual research to see if I could find examples of loose yet detailed flower drawings. Although I found some interesting work, it seemed that flower drawings tend to fall into one of two camps – loose and expressive, or controlled and detailed. Therefore, I decided to get on with it in the way that felt most natural to me. I was keen to explore flowers in situ, rather than cut and displayed in a vase. However, being unable to get out, I chose to work from a series of photographs I had taken some time ago, featuring Japanese anemones, in the garden at Overbecks.
I had taken quite a number of pictures there, but managed to narrow the choices down to two (both cropped from a much larger photograph). From the outset, I was taken with the diagonal composition of my second sketch (see above). However, I was concerned that the section I had chosen to concentrate upon might leave too large an area of empty space. In order to work around this, I decided to include some elements from the first composition, most notably a few extra stems and buds. This was my first experience of creating a composite arrangement.
Next, I made a number of thumbnail sketches of various elements from the picture. I was working with a new set of pencils (Polychromos), and didn’t have one to match the main colour of the flowers (and no combination of colours to create it). The closest I had was magenta. I tried hatching over it with white, with little success. Next I tried laying down a very light layer of magenta, and then crosshatched to create tone. However, this tended to create darker tones than I wanted. Lastly, I tried pure layering of colour, and found that this offered the greatest degree of control, given my limited choice of shades. As I was doing this, I observed that the petals appeared almost white in places, and that the pink was strongest when viewed from behind or below a flower. I then made a little sketch of a flower centre, noting the outward graduation of colour from yellow to pale orange to a stronger cadmium orange. I used short staccato lines to indicate the tufts around the centre, and studied the magenta creases and shadows of the petals. I also made a small sketch of the tip of a leaf against the dark background. In this way, I decided to depict the background in varying layers of dark phthalocyanine green, helioblue-reddish and walnut brown. Finally, I made a few small drawings of the beautiful curves and bends of the stems. They didn’t vary much in width, but I loved the shapes they created, and the way their colours changed.
I did a quick sketch to explore how I might describe the branches in the background. These posed quite a problem, as they were very indistinct. In my sketch (see above), I was a bit too literal. It wasn’t until near the end of the drawing that I realised I was trying to include what I knew was there, rather than what I could see.
I started my drawing by making a light pencil outline, to plan the space. This took quite some time, as I made close studies of the ways in which the flowers worked – how the leaves and flowers were attached to the stems, for example. Also, I paid attention to the effects of distance on scale, with some flowers appearing to be much smaller as they were further back. I planned to erase these pencil marks as I went along, using them only as guidelines.
I was aware that the background would involve many layers to build the colour and tone I desired, so I began by putting down a layer of green, lighter at the top left where the soft light touched the blurred branches.
Initially, I marked out the branches in a light shade of green – this was to distinguish them from the darker green of the background. It was always my intention to bring the two together nearer the end, as the difference between them was minimal. You can see in the photograph above that I lightly added some blue and brown to the background. I felt my way through this process, and was guided by what was happening in the foreground – some areas needed more blue, or more brown, depending on what they were behind. I also began building up colour on the flowers, which really started to create some depth.
Given that I only had one pink pencil, the magenta one, I worked on the petals using varying degrees of pressure to create translucence and shadow. Here and there, I added touches of light ultramarine, where the shadows had a blueish tinge. While I was resting my eyes at one point, I looked out of the window at the trees in the distance, and noticed that when I focused on the mid-ground my peripheral vision perceived them as green blurs. This made me look again at my original photograph, which was when I saw that I was intending to make the background branches too distinct. I wasn’t giving the potential viewer credit for being able to read the picture with minimal background information supplied. I hope, therefore, that the fluctuating areas of green will make sense to someone coming to this picture for the first time.
Despite areas of patchiness in the background, which I struggled to even out, I am pleased with this picture. For relatively simple forms, I think I’ve created a feeling of depth. In addition to this, I felt I was able to show the differences in the flowers – all one kind of flower, yet many different shapes due to their varying angles. I also think the picture has atmosphere, some sense of how it felt to be in that beautiful garden. I like the contrast of the nebulous branches with the closely observed detail of the flowers. This medium is so well suited to precision. However, I’m looking forward to moving on to a series of far looser drawings now, particularly in light of some of the work I found during my research.