Sunday, June 2, 2013

Back to Pencil, Back to Basics

This post is meant for my Monday night Learn to Draw class at the Y. At our last class, (which seems like ages ago, due to the Memorial Day Holiday), I brought in a partially completed drawing based on a still life which I had set up in my home studio. I had chosen a few objects specifically for their color, or should I say, lack of color. The two eggs and the plate are both white, but each has a different value (comparative lightness or darkness of color). The spoon, salt shaker and hour glass were all chosen for their reflective qualities.

Those of you who attended the last class might remember that I had shown a series of thumbnail sketches which I used in helping me to determine the best composition. I had made about 3 sketches and chosen the one which I felt worked best: a close-up view of the eggs, spoon and plate. The salt shaker and hourglass have been cropped.

I had also had a partially visible "rule of thirds" grid on the paper to help me with my composition. The grid was also used in my thumbnail sketches. I completed the drawing this week and would like to share some thoughts and observations with you.

In working with very light colored or white objects we often leave them without color/shading. But when several of the objects in the composition are white, we need to decide how to treat the white areas. When we work in graphite we translate color into various shades of gray and black and white. We decide on how dark or light a shade of gray might be by comparing the values of colors to each other. Even colors that are the same, like identical reds, will have variations due to how the light might be hitting it.

So, in a still life which contains a few white objects we need to look at the value of the color. Usually one is slightly darker than the other. In this case the plate was a bit darker and due to the way the light was hitting it a nice shadow had cast itself over the surface. The rim of the plate was catching the light, so that remained an untouched surface or pure white, which was the color of the paper. The eggs have a very soft shadow on them created by smudging the pencil shading and picking out highlights with the kneaded eraser. The shadow on the eggs reinforces the illusion of volume. The pencil strokes used to create the shadow on the eggs were curved, which reinforces the shape of the eggs.

The still life is sitting on a place mat which I have elected to treat in a more abstract way, as a contrast to the realism of the rest of the composition. The place mat has a floral pattern which emphasizes stylized flowers. I left the flowers white, with just a bit of stylized detail. The white of the flowers echoes the white in the eggs and in the highlights on the metallic objects. The spoon is a hard metal object, so the reflections are made with hard solid lines. It is quite a bit darker than the eggs in value, so it is nearly black in some areas.

The salt shaker is very old and in need of some TLC. It does not have much of a luster, so the reflections are softer and more diffused.

The hourglass is plastic, so not quite as reflective as glass would be. Smudging the shading and using the kneaded eraser to pick out highlights created the illusion of a reflective object.

After I had finished shading and detailing the picture, I checked to see which areas might need to be a bit lighter or darker and adjusted them accordingly. I darkened the grains of sand in the hourglass to balance the darkness of the spoon. I also darkened the shadow at the bottom of the salt shaker and in a few places on the place mat like under the plate to distribute the very dark values around the composition. If there was only one area with a very dark value, then our eyes would go directly to it and not move around the composition.

And when I was done with the picture, I ate the eggs...of course.