Friday, 28 February 2014

Lemons and ellipses and composition.

This week I gave my class a big challenge. Nothing new there then... I arranged a lot of white and off-white bowls on a dark cloth, and popped a couple of lemons inside. But the challenge was not about drawing, but about composition. How to select the most interesting section, and portray only that..? 

the set up
Students began by drawing on cartrige paper, with a time limit of around 30 minutes to get the whole thing drawn in. This caused some anxiety, as the arrangement was large.  I showed no mercy... And didn't allow them to use a rubber either. This meant that lines had to be free-flowing, with the whole arm contributing to the arcs required to draw round the ellipses, altering and ammending as they went along, leaving the 'wrong' lines in place, and carry on regardless. Phew! 
Stage 1, full drawing (student work)
The next stage was to place layout paper over the top of the drawing (layout paper is thin and semi-transparent, so you can see through it even though it is white), and draw small 'boxes' - squares/rectangles - then move it round the image to isolate interesting smaller sections and draw over them. 

Stage 2, on layout paper,  zooming in to select a varitey of cropping options (student work)
This cropping and zooming stage is very interesting. If the original set-up is busy enough, then often there will be potentially half a dozen possible variations of cropping. Zooming in creates a more intimate view point. Zooming out, therefore including more of the objects, is colder and less personal. Once each student decided which image they preferred, then they drew it out afresh on water colour paper (they couldn't directly trace as their initial drawing was not accurate enough - this was because of the time restraints of a two hour class). Below is the painted version of the students chosen composition. it was around 8 inches square. 
Below - this photo shows the first and third stages, before it was completed.

By T. Raju, student

Below the finished painting, which is so interesting, full of tonal values. By T Raju, student - he did attend for a second session, giving more time for completion.

Stage 3 - painting of the chosen favourite composition, water colour, student work

Third stage, by Liz C, Student

It is important to note that the paintings are not finished - the exercise was in composition, and the many stages involved menat that there wasn't time to finish painting, but much was learnt.
This is an interesting use of the background 'box, by allowing all the bowls to break out of the boundary. By Pat F, student 

lots of circles in the kitchen
One of the up sides of using food props of course, is the recycling. Tonight, as a break from college work, I used some of the lemons to make lemon curd (note - it is aways worth making time to make lemon curd), and chopped up another to tart up my drink. 

Up coming - Oil painting weekend workshop, Belfast. For info email

This summer - Julie is organising a Drawing Event called Draw In, which includes two 5 day workshops (in figure drawing and Oil painting still life) and a weekend Symposium of talks, demonstrations and workshops with artists P.J. Lynch, Paul Foxton, and Classical Realist painter  Colleen Barry (from New York). More info soon! The dates are 25th August - 5th September


  1. That's a good idea, I will have to try that. Your classes sound like fun.
    I totally agree on the gin topic too :-)

  2. What a great idea, and some lovely results. I love this blog - so informative.