Part 2 Project 3: Detailed observation of natural objects. Exercise 1

Using markers or dip pens

The Aim

Chose some natural objects and work out at least three alternative compositions. Test colour combinations in your sketchbook. Experiment using a collection of markers with different sized fibre tips and inks. Select the best image and recreate as an A4 or A3 image (or equivalent).

The process

I was confined inside on a very wet soggy day when I attempted this exercise. In searching for suitable bright, garish objects (of the type suitable for this medium)  I was aware that the only natural subjects in my vacinity that fitted the bill were the usual suspects of fruit and veg. I was thinking that I would have to resort to these whilst I unpacked my daughter’s lunch box. In it were the broken peel of a clementine and a half eaten apple core. This made me think of using fruit as a still life, but instead of the luschious, plump specimens usually used I would use left overs as if from a packed lunchbox.

Testing colour overlays with markers
Testing colour overlays with markers

Whilst pondering this idea I thought about the media I was to use. Unfortunately I have (hopefully temporarily) lost my box of bright coloured inks, so I was constricted to using markers for this exercise. I had a variety of fine-liners, medium and broad tipped pens in a variety of colours. Whilst they are useful for block colouring in I have never really tried overlaying them or blending them so the first thing that I did was to experiment. I tried overlaying a selection of colours to see the colour effects and also added a water wash to see how the ink behaved. I quite liked the result – a bit like a vibrant water-colour palatte.

Study 1 for still life with left overs
Study 1 for still life with left overs

Back to my objects, I had hoped to be able to include a clementine with a lovely curl of bright peel, but the oranges we had were not of the loose skin variety and the skin only came off in  small, boring little pieces. I resorted to tearing the segments apart to create a clementine that had been half ‘opened’, with a loose segment and some bits of peel nearby. I then added a banana skin and a half eaten apple. I sort of ‘dumped’ this assortment of less than perfect fruit bits onto the table for my first composition, as if I had just tipped them out of a container. The exposed surface of the apple was facing me and the orange segments scattered in front of the banana skin. It was a very dull day so I added some artificial lighting from the left to create some strong shadows. The problem with strong shadows with marker pens is that they become very harsh and in the resulting study sketch I felt that the shadows were too black. I also didn’t like the way the apple cut surface was facing me full on. It was a difficult texture to portray with the brightness of marker pens. The shadows defining the broken apply pulp was full of very subtle shadows, something I was unable to recreate with marker pens. I had the same problem with the inside of the banana skin. It was difficult to represent as it was full of subtle markings.

Study 2 for still life with left overs
Study 2 for still life with left overs

Taking these factors into account I rearranged for study 2 so that the apple showed an oblique view of its cut surface, the banana showed very little of the inside surface and the orange was reduced to the main body only and not the individual segments or the scrappy bits of peel. I sketched this study in pencil first (this was probably cheating) then added marker pen. I liked this view of the apple and banana better but for some reason the orange is not facing the right way to relate to the banana or the apple. I am not entirely sure why but I think it has something to do with the plane of the core of the orange being in the same direction as the cut face of the apple. I liked the fact that I gave the fruit a background and the bright foreground rather than stark shadows sitting out of context of a surface (study 1).

Study 3 for Still life with left overs
Study 3 for Still life with left overs

For study 3 I kept the orientation of the apple, but moved the banana skin behind it.. I rotated the orange I through 90 degrees. I drew the sketch in fine black marker. I like the outline showing. I feel that it goes with the rather block-print like quality of the markers. The relationship between the fruit was better: axis of the orange (as determined by the direction of the pith) is perpendicular to the cut surface of the apple. The image is still too linear here though. The banana skin needs to come out of the picture more.

Study 4 for still life with left overs
Study 4 for still life with left overs

I did a fourth, non-colured study, with the banana skin upended to give some height. This orientation is an almost cartoonish depiction of a banana skin. The problem was that it was too fresh and that the loose flaps of peel a little too springy to hold the shape in an artistic way. The skin perched on the table as if coiled ready to spring away. If time had been of no essence I would have left the skin a day or so to blacken and soften, but I wasn’t sure i would be able to return to this in that time frame, so resorted to lying the skin down.

I chose to recreate study no. 3 but move the banana around a little more. As I wanted to try blending with water I chose a 140lb watercolour paper (14 inches x 10 inches) to work on. I drew the main shapes out in black fine-liner before adding tone and form with layers of medium and broad marker pen.

Still life with left overs First attempt Marker pens and water
Still life with left overs
First attempt
Marker pens and water

I washed the shadow areas with water. I then realised my first mistake, I had drawn the shadows in outline, which didn’t blend in. The result is quite a stayed image of the shadows. Whilst I wasn’t attempting to achieve a high level of realism in this drawing, there is a mismatch between the level of representation of the fruit and the shadows : the two don’t go togther! In isolation I like the effect of the outline and markers in depicting the apple and the orange (the banana was  bit of a disaster). Am I allowed to cut them out?

My second mistake was in my choice of paper. I erroneously thought that using a watercolour paper would be better if I was adding water. However, the lovely patterns created by adding water to the markers on smooth cartridge paper was not mirrored on this paper with a tooth. The water didn’t sink in but the marker did, so a wash effect wasn’t achieved! Furthermore as I tried to encourage the ink to blend the surface of the paper started to be damaged. So far not so good!! My third mistake was to allow the water and blending to wash out my highlights, so we have a very dull banana end and to a lesser extend dull highlights on the apple (although overall I really like the apple). The orange was more successful as I used a bright yellow to represent the pith which acted as highlights themselves.

Whilst rather despondently reflecting on my disaster I happened across a newspaper article on recipes for children’s packed lunches. Since I was recreating a still life with packed lunch left overs I wondered if I could use this as a found surface. It was a little larger than A4 in size so I decided to try again.

Still life with left overs from lunchbox on found surface
Second attempt: Still life with left overs from lunchbox on found surface

I used a medium black fibre tip to create the first drawing as I was worried that the fine tip would not show up against the type. I also decided to do a completely different composition as I was rather annoyed at my previous attempts. this time I put the cut surface of (a different) apple in the shadow. I also used the natural light this time to reduce the really contrasting shadows. The newspaper couldn’t hold a wash, so I didn’t try to blend. There is still a lot wrong with this image: the furthest bit of banana skin looks as if it is floating and I didn’t realise how hard to was to put the image on the page in a useful relationship to the dark tones of the text. here I have ended up with a dark shadow area in the middle of the banana skin on the lightest part of the page! This doesn’t help with the ‘floating’ problem. The markers also did’t draw so well over the coloured photo inks. On a good note however, I love the way the photo of the apple nestles in with the remains of the drawn packed lunch!

Determined to get something that I was happy with I used a different article in the same section of paper to repeat the process, this time going back to the original composition. I also had unearthed a bottle of natural indigo which I tried to use as a wash around the fruit. The results were still not satisfying.

Third attempt: Still life with left overs from lunchbox on found surface
Third attempt: Still life with left overs from lunchbox on found surface

This time I was so worried about getting the banana right that I failed to notice until I put the black outline down that my bright  (although by now quite brown) cut surface of the apple was situated right over a grey part of the image instantly throwing it into shadow. I continued anyway although my heart wasn’t really in it. Newspaper really doesn’t like water, hence the crinkly look. My ink was also very watery and hasn’t come out very well in this scan.  Definitely time to move on from this exercise!


I am not really happy with the outcome of this exercise. Rather frustratingly I can see the issues with my drawings but don’t really know how to rectify them. Drawing like this doesn’t really suit my personality which comes across I think by the fact that my studies and my final drawings are not much different to each to other in terms of their sketchyness. To me markers are a medium for using quickly, resulting in scribbly type work. Compared to the beautiful illustration in the coursework material, my attempts at using markers are just that, attempts. I do not feel any accomplishment in using them. I did however enjoy experimenting with found surfaces and playing around with compositions. I do feel that my drawing does need to have a story attached, or a purpose.

What I have learnt

  1. To keep going
  2. Found surfaces are fun to work with but you do need to plan and practice, especially with the placing of lights and darks.
  3. I need to practice A LOT more to feel comfortable in using marker pens
  4. Watercolour paper did not behave in the way I was expecting it to. The smooth cartridge paper suited marker pen better.

Part 2 Project 3: Detailed observation of natural objects. Exercise 1

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