Adventures with Still Life


Illustration:  Watercolor and gouache first draft by Black Elephant Blog author

It’s already fall and that means getting outside as much as possible to enjoy the light and the weather. Sometimes, to save time, rather than seek out the “perfect” view or landscape elsewhere, it seems like it’s great practice just to set up a still life on the deck nearby.

In my experience, sunflowers always make a great subject, as they seem to last a while and have so many different shades of yellow and green. Just staring at a bunch of them and figuring out how to present them is fun.

In this case, I also experimented with Pitt-brand hard slightly waxy crayons–similar in look to the Conte crayons.  These turned out to be just fabulous for sketching..and, for sure, a new favorite!


Illustration: Sketches in bistre, sepia, and sanguine Pitt crayons by Black Elephant Blog author

In the process of sketching, it was possible to see the foreshortening challenge presented by observing the blue vase with sunflowers from above. The vase would have to be presented as roughly half as high as its width from this angle even though the brain tells you this cannot be so!!!   In addition, the shadow cast by the vase onto the deck floor seemed to call for “losing edges” between the vase and the deck boards.   Initially the shadows seemed perfect for the use of Daniel Smith’s Moonglow watercolor but I still found myself having to darken up the shadows with deeper mixtures, suggested better planning was needed at the outset.  Leaving in some white untouched paper after first seemed to be reasonably successful in the area where the sunlight reflected off the side of the vase.  However,  a dribble of paint from above soon forced me to tidy up this area with white gouache.

After all this, efforts to paint this scene took on a bit of urgency when it was clear that someone else nearby was looking at this still life from a different angle, and clearly contemplating eating it.


Illustration: Photo of a snacker enjoying a still life

As a reminder of the need for adaptability discussed in earlier posts,  I watched several of the fallen petals I’d already painted in to my picture disappear in front of my eyes.   Fortunately, there will be more sunflowers and sunny-day opportunities to paint them, and maybe next time I’ll be faster.


Innovation, Risk, Uncategorized

View from a Schoolhouse Window

Things have been quiet(er) on this blog as the new school semester gets underway, and snow and icy conditions have made our class schedule slip and slide a bit. But in that class, despite a delayed start, we are putting our best foot forward on some challenging subjects.

Illustration:  Watercolor and bistre ink wash, "View from a Schoolhouse Window" by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and bistre ink wash, “View from a Schoolhouse Window” by Black Elephant Blog author

In addition, “feeding the beast” (more on that soon) tends to get in the way of efforts to sustain a creative environment (the promised look at obstacles to creativity is therefore still pending). On top of this, learning how to do portraits in watercolor (a very high bar to cross) is taking up considerable time and effort these days; getting those skin tones just right, and learning what to leave in and what to leave out is super difficult.  But our teacher is inspiring, to say the least, and some colleagues in class are taking this course for the third time!  I myself am in it for the second time. It makes sense, though, that capturing the reality of the human spirit with a few dabs of cadmium red and yellow (with some yellow ochre for good measure) and raw sienna, and perhaps some cerulean blue for the shadows,  would not (and should not) be easy.