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This Month's Challenge
Introduction to Still Life: "The Pear"
This is workshop is an introduction to the art of still life painting. The following workshops will expand on this topic with progressively more advanced concepts. Every great artist has spent hours staring at the apple. Now it's your turn. :-)
Set up a still life of a green/yellow pear so that is resembles my photo as closely as possible, paying close attention to the position of the light and shadows.
Get one pear and slice the roundness from it with a sharp knife, so that it is not much smaller, but you now have a pear that is made up of straight edges rather than curves.
Click image to enlarge.
Here's how I set mine up - pretty simple. Note the card over the top which is casting a shadow onto the background. The pear is placed just forward of this cast shadow so that it is in full light contrasted against the darker background.
Challenge 1: Seeing Light and Shade.
Replace the pear in your still life with this planed pear. Using a black marker pen draw the pear on paper in just black and white areas, separating the light from the dark. Remember the half tone (the area between light and shadow) belongs to the light. Include the cast shadow in your drawing. Squint at your pear to help you see the large masses. When we are painting later on we will be looking first for the light and shade areas in this way. You will notice that the black base is part of the light family except where a shadow is cast upon it. The brown background is in shadow so it too becomes part of the shadow family.
Now you should have something that looks like this...
Challenge 2 : Seeing Value Planes.
Using the planed pear, paint a value study using only black and white paint on a 6x6" canvas. Feel free to mix your own black with Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna, or Pthalo Green + Cadmium Red or something similar. Use a fairly large brush so you don't get carried away with detail. You should just be trying to capture the individual value of each plane in correct relationship with the planes next to it. Keep squinting! Use a colour isolator if you wish to help judge relative values.
Now you should have something like this...
Challenge 3 : Seeing Colour Differences.
Replace the planed pear with the normal pear and paint a 6x6" colour study using an extended primary palette of Pthalo Green, Pthalo Blue, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Light and Titanium White. Again use a fairly large brush and try to segment the pear in your painting into large planes of separate colour as in the previous challenge. Make sure every plane is a different colour. You may soften edges between planes but do NOT paint large blends. Start with your darkest dark and lightest light. When you're trying to see colour differences between planes it's better to defocus your eyes rather than squinting because squinting darkens all the colours. Closing one eye helps too.
Challenge 4 : The 10 Minute Challenge.
This exercise helps you to learn to see and paint the large colour masses and to simplify your brushwork. (It can also cause fits of despair and hopelessness and short but sweet moments of absolute clarity).
Using the same setup and colours divide a 10x10" canvas (or similar) into 4 quarters and give yourself just 10 minutes to paint the pear in the top left quarter. Use a timer. Stop as soon as 10 minutes is up. (No cheating!) Next, change something about the colour arrangement in your scene and give yourself another 10 minutes to paint it again in the top right quarter. Repeat in the bottom left and bottom right.
Note: If you can't see the videos on this page (above) or on Youtube, I can't help with that sorry - there will be something wrong with your computer settings, but I'm no computer wiz. You would need to contact a computery person to fix that problem.
Gallery of the Month's Workshop Challenge Entries
Here are some broad comments about this month's studies as I didn't see the value in individual critiques this time around. Tricky! Some of them were very good (as good or better than mine), and some weren't so good, not for lack of trying, which is the key ingredient. The more advanced painters displayed a more solid understanding of value plains and how they effect colour around a form and were not overwhelmed by the visual complexity, but rather more careful to state each large colour shape simply and clearly. The best of these went a step further and got the relationships between all these colours correct which gave a truer sense of light and shade and they could then focus on the finer points of softening and sharpening edges to add interest and form and using more expressive brushwork, lending their spirit to the work. Some less experienced painters really struggled with matching colours and the battle was uphill from there, which was really shown up by the 4x 10 minute studies.
But hey, it's all relative! One painting that I consider not so good might have been a big leap ahead for that artist, and each of you will know if that's the case or not for yourself. Our hope is that each new painting will be better than the last. That's not always the case, but that's the persistent hope.
Every time I do a painting I can sense in myself some of the frustration and yearning for improvement that I felt in my beginning days. All that confusion about how to match a colour in paint, how to draw the proportions correctly and just WHAT ON EARTH to do with all that complexity!? If you let your mind get away with those thoughts the problems can seem like an insurmountable wall. The only way to chip away at that great dark wall is to put some paint on the canvas. Each brush stroke removes another stone and soon enough you can see some light. If you keep chipping away in the same area you'll eventually make hole that you can see through to glimpse the promised land of painting freedom.
No-one has enough years to break down the whole wall, but we each can work on a part of it. Seeing colour subtly and transferring it to canvas is one of the fundamental painting challenges and the exercises from Workshop5 allow you to focus purely on that, which means you're chipping away at a very specific area of knowledge. I encourage everyone to continue doing these 'simple' exercises so that your confidence in this area grows quickly. Some knowledge seems to clunk into place at specific times when we have an 'aha!' moment, and other knowledge like colour mixing seems to seep in gradually and becomes more potent with use. If your pears studies weren't as good as you would have liked them to be this time around you know exactly what you need to do to improve that - try again, look harder and longer and be more methodical about your learning. eg. 'This time I'm going to get the drawing right… now I'm really going to focus on matching the colour I'm seeing… now I'm going to try harder to get the colour shapes in the right place… and the edges soft or sharp, and so on. You have my video to work with and many other fine looking pears to compare your work with so there's nothing to stop you becoming a master of the pear and improve your drawing, colour, form and edge work along the way. Enjoy!
Painting Workshop 5
'Pears' - Introduction to Still Life
We're starting with a single pear in a simple setting to start exploring the key concepts of light and shade families, value plains, and colour relationships.
All prices are in US Dollars.
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Running time: 24 minutes.
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