This is a demo. I don’t often do them, but it seemed like the best way to address some of the points that come up in the process of executing a picture. I first presented it to the group in PowerPoint.
Last week I was making a point about shadows. Generally we ignore shadows because they have no substance nor significance. But artistically speaking, shadows are just as real and important as the objects that give rise to them.
So while the left brain dismisses shadows, the right brain appreciates them. And an artist or photographer should welcome them as valuable elements in a composition. So often shadows provide visual comment, as it were, upon key objects in a picture.
The potted nasturtium in sunlight was an excellent example, and I decided it made for a promising picture. This is what I saw:
By photographing it like this I was already creating a composition. It is instinctive, but here’s the thinking:
I look for a cornerstone from which to built up the picture. In this case, clearly it is the black bowl, and the plastic flowerpot sitting in it.
From this cornerstone, the nasturtium flows upward and the shadow flows outward. The background has a simple division – the table edge. These are the elements of the composition: a cornerstone, two related rhythmic flows, and a background divided into two areas by a curved edge.
So I’ve placed the cornerstone quite tight to one side in order to create a bit of tension on the left and plenty of space above and to the right for the plant and its shadow to flow.
It’s often a good idea to use a part of the subject as a unit in measuring out the rest of the subject. The obvious example is the head in figure drawing – a standing male figure is typically 7.5 heads high.
So here I used the black bowl as a unit of width to map out the extent of shadow.
And I map this out on my sheet of paper. Now I know I won’t find myself sprawling off the edge.
So, what kind of paper have you decided to use, I hear you ask.
Well, I’m not sure I got this right. Obviously you choose your paper to suit your technique. My technique today (which I am not at all used to, by the way) is water-soluble coloured pencils. So some areas may get quite wet, which suggests a thick paper. I chose water-colour paper. You’ll see how that worked out.
As you see, the other bit of early-stage construction is the ellipse of the black bowl, after which I can draw the ellipse of the flowerpot.
The crossing horizontal and vertical lines are the scaffolding for ellipses.
Now I map out the shadow…
…and the plant. (At this point I decided to shorten the flowerpot a bit.)
And since it is important to be thinking about the background from an early stage, I now draw in the division between the two areas of background. This is the edge of the table, of course, but I don’t want to be quite so literal, so I make the curve reflect the overall composition: tight on the left and more relaxed on the right.
As you see, I have also sketched in the border of the picture. That can be adjusted, but the important thing is to have a boundary in mind.
Now I just fill in some basic colour. The bowl will be the darkest point, so i do that early. I’m also paying attention to warmth. The flowerpot will be the most vibrant spot, so i put a little red in.
Although the shadow will be very dark I want it to have some warm brown in it. It may be a lot darker than the table, but the shadow is still part of the table.
I would love the leaves to have the luminosity they have in actuality (see the photo). The way to do this is to contrast them strongly against the background. So I try some dark blue in the spaces round the leaves.
It’s good to build a picture on contrasts. I had the cool blue in mind for the background as a contrast to the warm brown tabletop. But it needs to work distinctly against the leaves and the flowerpot too.
I decide to add some warmer purple to the blue on the right-hand side, as a bit of balance to the hot red of the flowerpot. Don’t know whether that was the right thing…
Now I get a wet brush ready to do the watercolour thing…
I have realised by now that this may not have been the best choice of paper. I think the way to use water-soluble coloured pencils is to allow both the pencil marks and the wet brushmarks to show. This water-colour paper adds a third texture which I think is in conflict with the texture of pencil strokes… I didn’t really want that sort of texture conflict, but never mind.
I continue to darken the background, making the leaves stand out more and more. It also brings the table top forward.
Finally, I darken the shadow… and that’s it.
Ok, so it’s not Cezanne…
And it’s not a formula as such. Just an indication that there should be this sort of thought process. Otherwise you can be wrong-footed. At least I guaranteed that I would arrive at something I more-or-less intended.
I hope this was some help.