Part 1: Assignment 1: a personal still life

The Brief

You have spent a little time at the beginning of this course considering how artists convey feelings through their art work, and also practice in creating believable shapes through the use of tone, using light and shadow. In this assignment, you are asked to find a few objects that have some meaning for you; objects that interest you, and perhaps say something about you. These objects can be ordinary, funny, practical or ornamental or a mixture of all these. They can be natural objects, made objects, big or small. Place these objects together to form a still life. Set them up on a table so that they create interesting shapes and angles. Make sure you set the objects up in a place where you have some good light hitting the objects at an angle, in such a way that they make the tones on the object obvious and the light and darks clear. A window with natural light is probably best but you could use a lamp to throw light onto the objects instead. Look at the spaces between the objects as well as the objects themselves. Working on a sheet of A3 or A2 paper, and using a range drawing tools, create a still life. Write a paragraph about why you picked the objects you picked, and what the objects say about you as well as reflecting on the drawing that you have done and what you think went well and what did not, and why. Use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself to your tutor as well as to show your tutor what level your drawing skills are at this point in the course. These notes can go into your learning log (or online blog).

Reflection on your progress:
Before you send this assignment to your tutor, take a look at the assessment criteria for this course, which will be used to mark your other assignments when your work is formally assessed. The assessment criteria are listed in the introduction to this course guide.

Review your work using the criteria and make notes in your learning log. Send these reflections to your tutor, along with your drawings, sketchbook, supporting studies and your learning log or blog url.

The Process

Assignment 1 personal still life sketch 1
Assignment 1 personal still life sketch 1

My first attempt at a personal still life composition – objects that meant something to me – a collection of beach and river detritus from the Outer Hebrides to home:

• a rusty iron impregnated stone (needs colour to appreciate)
• animal bones x 3
• crab claw
• drift wood
• small bird skull

For this learning sketch I used a sheet of A3 90gsm paper, an HB pencil, soft, medium and hard charcoal pencils and white chalk. My view was from a standing position looking down onto the composition.

The ground surface was too shiny and thin to hold the charcoal easily and some of the lines are just a bit too obvious. The tonal areas are also pretty mixed in application – a bit smudgy and not very well blended. My putty rubber just couldn’t pick out highlights so I reverted to a cheat – white chalk.

I have an affinity to natural found objects and I think this composition is pleasing to my eye and overall is a reasonable sketch using the materials I chose.

Assignment 1 personal still life sketch 2
Assignment 1 personal still life sketch 2

I chose to try another version of this composition and this time I used an A3 380gsm canvas block sheet, a soft charcoal pencil, conté colour sticks and white chalk. I took a lower, forward facing perched position for this composition – between standing and seated.

The ground surface held the different medium better than the paper in the first sketch and after sketching in the contours of the shapes lightly with the soft charcoal pencil I then blocked in the major blocks of colour, added shadows and highlights. Fingers for smearing were OK, but much better were different sizes of paper stumps for blending and picking out highlights.

I think that the addition of a bit of colour has also helped to add a different dimension to the drawing. This took about one hour to complete and I stopped because I felt I was in danger of over-working it and getting a wee bit ‘muddy’ in places.

However, for the final drawing for this assignment I decided that I wanted to try out a different still life arrangement, this time using some boat related items – a link to my passion for all things to do with the sea:

• An old brass bilge pump nozzle
• 2 x buoys (1 x worn out orange and 1 x worn out cork)
• 1 x cork float with Clyde Mooring number tag (red) attached

Before committing to a coloured version I first made three charcoal sketches to try out the positioning of the objects.

Assignment 1 sketch 3
Assignment 1 sketch 3
Assignment 1 sketch 4
Assignment 1 sketch 4
Assignment 1 sketch 5
Assignment 1 sketch 5

Final Assignment Work

My choice was to use the composition of objects in Sketch 4 for the final drawing, which I decided to make on an A1 sheet of Daler-Rowney 190gm Saunders Waterford paper. The reason for this choice of composition is that I felt it offered a more pleasing flow through the objects, including being able to catch the light coming through the tap throwing out an interesting shadow.

The next decision was what medium to use for the drawing and for this I chose soft coloured pastels. Having drafted in the object outlines lightly with a 5H pencil I began to lay down layers of colour using the side of the pastel sticks and a paper stump and fingers to blend them :

Assignment 1 work in progress
Assignment 1 work in progress

The ‘work in progress’ drawing is the point at which I stopped in order to check progress, the overall look of the composition and then lay the paper flat outside the studio to give it a spray of Daler-Rowney Perfix Colourless Fixative to fix the pastel chalk to the paper. I wanted to try out this technique having read about it to see what it was like to lay down further marks on top of a ‘fixed’ drawing: “If you’re working on a paper without much tooth and you’ve filled it to a point that no more pastel will adhere, an application of fixative will let you add at least one more layer. It’s also useful when you want to prevent blending—for example, if you decide to add clouds to an already-painted blue sky. Because most fixatives darken the colors of pastel somewhat, you can also use it to deliberately darken or mute colors.”
Price, M. (2007) Painting with pastels: easy techniques to master the medium. [pdf] Ohio: North Light Books. p.68.

My paper did have tooth and was holding the pastel fairly well, but I wasn’t very sure just how much ‘tooth’. In any case I wanted to take this chance to try out as many techniques as it was reasonable to use with the medium.

The drawing took about a half-hour in the open air to dry – so back to the drawing board for a further session:

Assignment 1 - final drawing
Assignment 1 – final drawing

I am pleased with the final drawing and although I could very likely have done more to improve some of the lights and shadows, I felt I was in danger of over-working it . Although pretty messy, working with pastels was a joy, exploring different blendings and mark-making. Not much waste though as I used a portable vacuum cleaner to sook up the dust so that I can make use of it again.

I’m happy with the composition and can see a flow from the left through to the right and upwards – almost circular – from the worn screw end of the pump body and the frayed green rope (both left) over the small cork net float upwards towards the worn out cork buoy and under the body of the pump in front of the cork float buoy, again leading upwards to enter the worn out cork buoy. The greyish rope through the orange buoy also connects the objects – all leading to the worn out buoy and its cast shadow. The focal point for me is the red Clyde Moorings tag CM1882 as it means a lot to me personally – it was the number of my Clyde mooring in Loch Long in Argyll and it brings back many happy memories of enjoyable and sometimes exciting times on the waters of the River Clyde and its many lochs, particularly in bad weather!

I loved working on this paper and I have two other sheets for future work. I think my work with the pastels is reasonably good for a relative newbie to this medium.

The source of light was from the upper left of the composition using a 30w bulb and I think I managed to capture the atmosphere of the arrangement. I’m happy with the placing of the shapes and the transition into more three-dimensional forms. I know that I have still a lot of work to do to get the feeling of light and shadow more natural, but all-in-all this first Assignment drawing gives me hope for progression.

Assignment 1 finished drawing and reference still life
Assignment 1 finished drawing and still life reference photo (taken from a slightly different angle from the actual standing drawing point to get it all in the photo)

Assignment 1 pdf file

Assessment criteria points:
● Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (35%).
● Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%).
● Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (25%).
● Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays) (20%).

When I review this assignment through the various exercises to the final piece of work I think that overall I have demonstrated a degree of technical and visual skills that for a relatively new drawing beginner is observant and compositionally aware.

From the excitement and enjoyment of the temporary drawings, through the fun of expressive mark making and thinking about shapes and forms, to the personal still life assignment, I believe that I have been ambitious, stretching my basic skills and learning thus far to achieve a presentable overview of my output to date. I have learnt much from my work on the OCA Painting 1 course and this has helped to bring some previous learnt knowledge to assist with my drawing.

I think that my compositions are inventive and the use of various drawing medium shows a willingness to experiment.

The research I have carried out in this part of the course has assisted me in progressing through the exercises to the assignment – a better understanding of expressive feeling, use of line and tone.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
5 June 2015