Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first sketches)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 May 2016. Right. This time I am going to do this properly. Originally I had planned to use soft pastel crayons and sand paper for this exercise, but since there was so much to be explored regarding the behaviour of acrylics after the last two exercises that I could not just leave it as it is.

What I learned from the last exercise:

  • start with a uniform but coloured background, it can always be changed later
  • do not prepare a background with gloss medium, it is awful to paint on without the right type of practice
  • avoid mixing brand of gloss medium and brand of acrylics. They do not seem to like each other.
  • keep diluting with water, just keep spraying water on both support and tray
  • choose SIMPLE objects (I just realised that a reason for my wrong choices may be the fact that I keep returning to the great images in the study guide, but most of them are way beyond what I can achieve at my stage of development)

I had a look on the internet for artists who paint in a way I would like to explore in line with my list and found a number of paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld (Rehfeld, 2016-17), whose style I find appealing. She explains that she uses black gesso to prepare her support, then paints on that with bold strokes, leaving some of the black background to serve as outline of the painted objects. I was also impressed by her daily paintings (Daily Paintwork, n.d.), where the simplest everyday items appear to come to life. Since her style reminds me of that of some impressionists and my all-time favourite Expressionist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria) (Fig.1), and I think that during the last few exercises I seem to have worked towards, inconsistently and with the wrong colours, a style reminiscent of the above, I am going to do my best to stay with what seems to be developing anyway. So, another attempt at strong lines and “dirty” colours.

Egon_Schiele_004
Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Old Mill”, oil on canvas, 1916. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via malerei-meisterwerke.de
When coming to the choice of items, I will try the “less is more” principle, but will be still be looking for unusual shapes and setups. For example, Picasso’s  “Still Life with Pitcher and Apples” (Picasso, 1919) could not be more straightforward in choice, but the shape of the pitcher and position of fruit attract the attention of a viewer because of the unexpected arrangement. The same applies, in my opinion, to his  “Still Life with Skull and Pot” (Picasso, 1943): It is deceptively simple, but catches the light in an admirable way, while knowing skull and cheeky pot appear to be engaged in some act of important communication. What I also found was a still life by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945, USA), from a three generation dynasty of painters, called “Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle” (Wyeth, 1922): again, simple objects, the most straightforward of arrangements, and all the beauty of it coming from the incredible background and use of light on the objects. It seems as if the shape of the bottle consisted of black background only, its outline defined by wall and table, and only a hint of light on its neck.
This is all well, but I think a big point where my planning goes wrong may be the ACTUAL choice of objects. We do not seem to be a household with stuff that lends itself easily to posing for a still life, so I will need to take my time.

8 May 2016. I took my time and finally came up with a driftwood salt and pepper holder made by my sister, a silver spoon and, as a contrast in material and colour my son’s plastic egg cup. I am not too pleased with my choice, because it will not tell a story beyond “waiting for my boiled egg to arrive”, but this is an exercise and I will concentrate on improving my technique to leave the message for Assignment 2.
Bearing in mind the beautiful choice of background by N.C. Wyeth, I used a dark grey wooden board to serve as wall and a piece of dark brown paper taken from a Nespresso bag to cover the table (Fig. 2):

Setup1_08052016
Figure 2. Objects chosen for this exercise (setup discarded later because of weak shadows und unfavourable distribution of darkest tones)

With this arrangement, my viewfinder and a desktop daylight lamp I experimented until negative spaces, distribution of colours, shadows and highlights looked satisfactory to me. In fact the latter did not come true, but after a day I made up my mind to go for the setup which in my opinion came closest to the requirements. For my sketches I used three different ink pens, a fineliner, a calligraphy pen for the darkest tones and a brush-tip one for the mid tones. The latter unfortunately started to run out of ink and so the last, and most interesting, of the following sketches is lighter in tone than I would have liked it to be (Fig. 3-5).

First_sketch_ink_pens_v1_08052016
Figure 3
First_sketch_ink_pens_v2_08052016
Figure 4
First_sketch_ink_pens_v3_08052016
Figure 5

The above sketch I recreated in my sketchbook at a slightly larger scale with a dark watercolour background and soft pastel crayons, a combination which produced some very beautiful effects (Fig. 6):

Sketch_watercolour_pastels_detail_08052016
Figure 6. Watercolour and pastel sketch emphasizing darest and lightest tonal values

With this sketch to work from I decided to choose an A2 painting carton, portrait format and a coloured background. Report to follow.

References:

Daily Paintworks (n.d.) Cathleen Rehfeld [online]. Daily Paintworks. Available at: http://www.dailypaintworks.com/Artists/cathleen-rehfeld-206 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1919) Still Life with Pitcher and Apples [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée National Picasso, Paris. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-14/picasso27s-still-life-with-pitcher-and-apples2c-1919/3664892 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1943) Still Life with Skull and Pot [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-1594.php [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Rehfeld, C. (2016-17) Cathleen Rehfeld Oil Paintings [blog] [online]. Cathleen Rehfeld. Available at: http://crehfeld.blogspot.co.at/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

Schiele, E. (1916) Old Mill [oil on canvas] [online]. Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Wien. Available at: http://www.malerei-meisterwerke.de/bilder/egon-schiele-alte-muehle-08818.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Wyeth, N.C. (1922) Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle [oil on canvas][online]. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eoskins/5598698301/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

 

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