Continuing our History of Art project with the Post-Impressionists, we turned to Cezanne. I particularly drew the boys’ attention towards his non-naturalistic use of colour, his use of bold outlining of figures and objects and his approach to still life. I was particularly keen that the kids have a go at drawing a still life but we also looked at The Bathers and The Card Players. In the end, two plumped for still life and the other two chose to take their cue from the latter paintings. And I am still losing my battle with getting them to explore different media, especially wet media.
I think largely because he was looking for something he could transform into Minecraft, my oldest chose to work from The Card Players. He used coloured pencil. Yet again. But at least his insistence on replicating a painting meant that he was paying close attention to all the detail. I need to encourage him to work bigger, however, as this was a very small drawing.
My 8 year old was in a “minimal application” frame of mind. He was like a grizzly bear. I, therefore, decided not to push his buttons and try to persuade him to try adding colour when he drew a line drawing of various sea creatures. Apparently inspired by The Bathers, it looked more like a casting call for Adventure Time. The hashtag is a family in joke because my youngest brother’s nickname is Octopus and we all take photos of any octopus things we find to tag him as on Facebook.
My 9 year old and 6 year old did decide to take me up on the idea of a still life. They scurried off to collect objects to organise so they could draw them as a group. The youngest chose a handful of his Gogo toys and the 9 year old chose an Iron Man mask, his Iron Man Disney Infinity figure and a rubber spider. Despite rushing, the 9 year old did a pretty good job of producing a still life sketch. The 6 year old, however, found it a real struggle and was not happy with his outcome so asked me not to share his drawing.
I decided not to work in a Cezanne style and instead to take my cue from the subject matter of The Bathers. I need practice with rendering water with watercolour paint so I decided to draw a female figure floating on the surface of a pool. I had a hard time getting the paint to look remotely like water but finally, after many glazes of watercolour and after almost chucking the whole thing, I finally got an effect I could be content with.
This week’s Life Book lessons were all about light and shade and creating contrast.
The primary lesson was by Lynn Whipple who had taught the Jar of Favourites lesson earlier in the year. The idea was to create a monochrome study in light, dark and intermediate tones and consider how the visual might suggest something about other types of contrast such as perception of human qualities or lists of pros and cons.
Lynn Whipple’s demonstration was a study of an apple but I decided to use another subject for my still life. After looking around the house, my eyes finally settled on a little stone carving of an owl that I bought in Crete years ago. It seemed appropriate as a nocturnal creature that it should be the basis of a study in light and shade and it also has some nice nooks and crannies that would create contrast.
I decided to sketch directly with the India ink, no pencil outline, and worked the ink with a wet brush. I liked drawing with ink on top of the book pages. I think that is something I will return to again. I should also endevour to do more still life studies to hone my observational skills.
The second lesson was a bonus lesson taken by Tamara Laporte. It was another still life of an apple and this time I decided I would stick with the apple as the subject. I used my Liquitex acrylics to build up the red tones of the apple, six different colours of paint excluding the white for the highlights. I could not get the camera to capture the darkest tones accurately. They are actually quite maroon.
I took a completely left field approach to this week’s Documented Life Project prompts. One prompt was to use acrylic paint and the other prompt was the song lyric “cry me a river”. I thought about crying, about emotional upset, and then I thought about rivers and streams. Nothing inspired me. Then I thought more broadly about things that make me cry and I thought of onions. I have not drawn a still life for many years and I have not painted a still life for even longer so this seemed like the perfect time to have a quick practice in my art journal. I gave myself ten minutes and this was the result. I think I need to practice my still life skills.
This week’s lesson on Life Book was all about field journaling. The tutor was Alisa Burke and she demonstrated one approach to painting a field study of found natural items which in her exemplar were feathers.
The exercise transported me back to my High School art class where the teacher would have us make studies of objects he had stowed away in his room for just that very purpose – boxes of pine cones, seed pods and driftwood, gnarly old leather shoes and boots, assorted glass bottles and bleached skulls and other bones were my favourites to draw. Apart from the odd skull, I don’t think I have drawn any of those things in the intervening decades. Still life has apparently just never been my thing. I ought, however, to do it more, these studies of things, in order to hone my observational skills.
The kids are all choked up with rotten colds so a nature ramble was off the cards. Instead I went out into the back garden and gathered up a few things I found lying around: a twig from a tree, a piece of bark, a lump of white quartz, a goose feather, a small and scruffy blue jay feather and – improbably – a mussel shell. And don’t worry: I abided by the law and put the feathers back where I found them after I had painted them.
I am not sure how successful I was with this painting but I enjoyed the process. I am not entirely convinced still life is a great fit for me but I definitely think I will try field journaling again, not just with natural objects but with bits and pieces from around my home just to practice drawing exactly what I see again.