Part 2, project 2, exercise 3 – still life natural objects

I am on something of a treadmill at the moment and so I’ve taken the brakes off. This exercise is the second in this project leading towards and eventual still life assignment, and requires the use of natural objects. I found two lemons and a courgette in my fridge and pressed them into service.

First the sketches where I used Derwent’s Inktense blocks to get a feel for the shapes. I’d put them in a small bowl and found after a while that this complicated the arrangement, making it difficult to process the items themselves, and at this stage, I really wanted to focus just on them. I became rather fond of the lemon and the courgette is a familiar subject to me from the Drawing module, but the lime seemed amorphous whatever I did with it, and the clementine was just another roundish shape. Sometimes the simplest things require the most sophisticated skills, I think.


Inktense again and with some stippling using a flat brush initially, then a stencil brush. At this point I felt I had enough of a grasp on the shapes to tackle the exercise itself in acrylics. I prepared a sheet of recycled A3 sketch pad paper with white gesso to give it substance and weight.


This time on a plate, I arranged the lemons to show the calyx and the growth ends, and the courgette to sit behind at an angle. I hadn’t thought to include the plate but did so when it became apparent that the background I was making didn’t really give the items the weight they needed. I had problems with the plate at first but, using a mixture of wash, undiluted acrylic, and some finger-blending, I feel I have given it passable substance. I used a number of flat brushes for spread and dry brushing, a  rigger (I think) for detail, and what I’ve discovered is a round which can carry a lot of medium for smooth washes and sweeps of colour where I thought I might want to blend. All synthetic. The paints are shown below. lemons-still-life-resizerimage806x604



Thinking back to the first still life I made (below), I can see I’ve taken quite a different approach to brushwork and colour, the sense of volume and weight this time. I’d impressed myself on that occasion by simply making a decent jug shape, but I’d also been relatively happy with my application of the paint too and now it looks rather crass and clumsy.


What problems did I have with the natural objects I chose? I suppose the first question is which ones I rejected and why – this included peppers (there were two in the example and I felt this would influence my approach); kiwi fruit, rather dull and with an odd texture I wasn’t sure I was ready to tackle; an apple, it was a candidate but in the end I went for a limited palette of greens and yellows to constrain my tendency to ‘creep’ along the hue scale. The lemons were particularly tricky because of their dimpled texture, and also their different aspect – growth or stem end? I decided on one of each. The courgette was easier, partly because I’ve drawn these several times in the Drawing module, but also because there is a long sweep of smooth surface which is also partitioned and has a shine. I found it a satisfying thing to paint.

What I learned from this is first that simplicity suits me better than trying to tackle multiple elements. I prefer this in other contexts too so it isn’t just a contextual issue. I found I could move paint around in unexpected ways – with a brush, my fingers, a damp cloth – and that this would influence the effect. I think I’ve also confirmed that I have a preference for impressionistic detail rather than the ostensible linear kind. I am not good at precision so this is probably predictable.

Time taken, around seven hours.

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