Part 2 Project 1 Exercise 2 Compositional studies of natural objects

The Aim

Select some natural objects. Explore different viewpoints and lighting to assess which composition works in the most interesting way. Use information from the previous exericse to make informed decisions about the organisation of your drawing. Draw the subject with your chosen medium and technique on your paper.

The process

Oddly enough considering I live in a house stuffed full of all manner of natural objects I found choosing some for this still life exercise quite difficult. I didn’t want to draw bones as I had included a skull recently for my first assigment. The course literature suggested avoiding the usual fruit and vegetable arrangements, and I couldn’t quite envisage a ‘story’ behind the plethora of stones, fossils, shells and feathers that inhabit my space!. In the end it was my youngest son’s seed collection that I turned to for inspiration! My husband is a tropical ecologist and through his work he has collected a variety of interesting shaped seeds which, when finished with, have been appropriated by Joe who loves their shape, their surface textures and their colours.

Seed collection
Seed collection

The ones chosen for this exercise have interesting shapes or patterns –  which became the reason to draw them rather than any story connecting them together. The two large seed pods came from (I think) Borneo. The smaller loose seeds were collected by my son in Panama last summer whilst accompanying my husband on a field trip.  Joe spent several hours helping to sort seeds in the makeshift lab.  Unfortunately I do not know the species of any of them, although the open seed pod is a legume of some kind. These seeds are the few that survived and haven’t gone mouldy!!

I started by choosing the two big seed pods. They had interesting shapes and textures and were quite different from one another. Right away I realised that I wanted to show the open seed pod with its ‘boat-like’ characteristics.

Outer surface of legume pod
Outer surface of legume pod

I did a quick sketch of it outer-side up, but whilst the texture of the pod is smooth, shiny, and very satisfying to hold, it wasn’t going to add a lot of interest to my composition that way, so I was pretty much constrained to having it propped up on the larger seed pod so that the interesting inside shapes were evident. I did some quick sketches of this arrangement, altering the direction the long pod lay on the table and the height of the light source. The shadows cast by the open pod over the one underneath were interesting once I moved the light source up high enough so that it spilled on to the table on the other side.

First arrangement
First arrangement
Second arrangement, with added loose seeds
Second arrangement, with added loose seeds

Due to the different texture of the pod’s stalk I preferred the long pod to have its stalk nearest in the foreground. The open pod had two seeds. I placed one in the upper cup but let the other roll onto the table in front.

My sketches showed that the relationship between this seed and its pod was very important: too far away and they seem unconnected (as in the first arrangement). The relationship of the seed’s shadow with the base of the pod was important, creating a negative space that held the two together (seen in the second arrangement).

I played around with the idea of showing all the parts of the open pod. Unfortunately the other half of this seed pod is missing so to do this I would have to artificially construct my still life, using the one half I had as a template.

Artificially adding the other half of the seed pod
Artificially adding the other half of the seed pod

I tried to draw the missing half in by doing a sketch of the arrangement, then moving the open pod and redrawing it as if it were the other half (I also changed the angle of the larger supporting seed pod to give a more foreshortened view).  As with the loose seed, the negative spaces were very important in connecting the parts together, however as I couldn’t see the negative spaces, I found this very unsatisfactory and decided against using this idea. I also didn’t like the foreshortened view of the larger seed pod. it made the image feel ‘tight’. So I was left with my original idea of the two pods with the loose seed. Just as in my previous exercise I felt that some interest was needed in the foreground so went back to the seed collection and added 3 groups of different sized seeds, each with interesting colours and patterns on them (added to the second arrangement shown above). These loose seeds needed to be part of the composition as a whole but not necessarily have a direct relationship with either of the seed pods. I placed the larger patterned seed in a position that complimented the positioning of the other large loose seed (to balance the image), then arranged the smaller seeds in front. As there is a botanical air to this still life I felt it important to keep the seeds in their species groups rather than mix them up.

My arrangement of seeds was on a white piece of paper to allow the brown tones of the seeds to stand out from the brown table. This posed the problem of what the background to my final image should be.

Trying a dark background
Trying a dark background

I didn’t want to lose the cast shadows in a shadowy background. I wanted to keep the definition that the white surface gave the objects so decided to draw on a mid-tone coloured surface that would allow me to lighten the foreground whilst leaving the background the darker mid-tone.

Arranging on the page
Arranging on the page

Landscape format seemed a sensible option due to the near-lateral view of the supporting seed pod. I used the rule of 1/3rds to arrange the composition on the page so that the background occurred at a natural ‘height’ in the final drawing. This also would allow the top of the open seed pod to protrude into be that background, giving a sense of depth to the drawing.

I chose to do the initial mapping out in B pencil and then to use soft pastels to introduce colour, tone and form. I thought that soft pastel may allow me to depict the different textures of the seeds and their pods. My final drawing was on A3 tinted pastel paper.

Still life with seeds and seed pods. Pencil and pastel on pastel paper.
Still life with seeds and seed pods.
Pencil and pastel on pastel paper.

Reflections

I am pleased with how the composition worked out although I am very aware that I have ended up with something that is very similar in format to my last exercise, the still life of man made objects: Large things at the back leading to smaller objects at the front. I am not sure how successful the differentiation between the foreground and background has been. I think it adds depth to the image and I like how the open seed pod protrudes above the line and stands out because of it, but I worry that the background appears too uniform and unfinished (in that it has no pastel on it!)

Still life detail
Still life detail

I found that thinking of negative spaces was really very helpful in positioning objects relative to one another, and realised that those negative spaces can define such relationships (as was the case of the loose seed from the open legume pod).

For this exercise I tried drawing in a different medium than in  previous exercises- no charcoal in sight! I have used soft pastels before but never in quite such a structured way, and usually monochromatically. I did map out the main areas of interest in pencil first as I find pastel can be quite clumsy for small objects! Unfortunately I could not get tinted pastel paper locally in size larger than A3 which meant I was working at smaller scale than I would normally be happy with for this amount of detail.

Detail of smooth texture of seed
Detail of smooth texture of seed

To depict the smooth textures in the drawing I was able to smooth and blend the pastels like charcoal to achieve the shiny surfaces as seen in this detail of a smooth seed. The open legume pod exhibited a variety of textures from smooth and shiny (inside the ‘seed bowls’ and on the outer surface, to more rough and fibrous such as found on the outer parts of the internal surface.

Detail of different textures of legume pod
Detail of different textures of legume pod

For this I feel that I was quite successful in allowing some of the coloured ground to show through, adding a fibrous-like feel to this part of the image. This contrasts with the shiny nature of the seed-bowl inner and outer surfaces, both of which had a lot of shiny highlighted areas from both direct and reflected light).

However my efforts to depict the spiny nature of the long bottom seed pod didn’t work. I applied too much colour too soon so that any tooth from the paper (which in my mind would help with the texture) was lost, and realistically I didn’t really know what I was doing!

Detail of spiny texture of seed pod
Detail of spiny texture of seed pod

I have ended up with a texture that looks rough but flat, and doesn’t really indicate the bumpy, spiny nature of the surface. I tried to use different marks with the pastel to capture the essence of the texture, but that hasn’t really worked either!

What I learnt

1. When doing my initial sketches I should try out some ideas in how to depict texture using different materials. 2. Negative spaces are a really good way of judging the relationship between two objects.

Part 2 Project 1 Exercise 2 Compositional studies of natural objects

4 thoughts on “Part 2 Project 1 Exercise 2 Compositional studies of natural objects

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