Years before sketching became an active, regular part of my life, I used to take drawing classes sporadically or read an occasional how-to-draw book, and inevitably the subject matter would be the classic still life. The instructor would set up a typical arrangement of a vase, some fruit, a bowl or other random objects (or the author would show an example) and shine a light on one side, and I would spend many lessons drawing the arrangement. I understood the reasons why the still life was such a time-honored subject for learning to paint or draw, but that didn’t make the exercises more fun. Dusty vases from thrift stores didn’t have meaning for me, and I was soooo bored. It was usually the thing that made me quit drawing (again, since I had tried learning to draw many times).
Another thing I suffered through in those classes or books was using pencil, charcoal or some other monochrome medium to learn value. Many art instructors advise studying with black only before adding color because distinguishing values becomes more confusing when multiple hues are involved. I understood this, but I always wanted to jump immediately into color anyway. Like a child in the backseat whining, “Are we there yet?” I’d restlessly complete the assignments, all the while thinking to myself, “When are we going to get to the color part?”
|12/27/16 graphite, colored pencil|
Despite all of this, if you search for the label “still life” on my blog, you’ll see that I’ve done a fair number of them the past five years. And I’ve also made some efforts (usually during the colorless winters) to work on monochrome value studies. Because even though I resisted and protested, some part of me must have been learning anyway. That part of me realized that those teachers and books were right, so I might as well accept the lessons.
The most surprising thing about this is that, over the years, I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the studies I resisted so much – making both still lifes and monochrome drawings. A single piece of fruit with a light shining on one side (tip: I polish the fruit or vegetable to get a strong highlight) is always a remarkable lesson in highlights, reflected lights, cast shadows and form shadows. Trying to render any three-dimensional form, no matter how “boring” it seems at first glance, is always a challenge – and I realize now that the challenge is what keeps it from being boring.
As for monochrome drawings, you’ve seen how I’ve gotten into graphite lately, even for urban sketching. (Ironically, I think it was my comfort with colored pencils that gave me an easy transition to graphite.) In addition to being such a simple tool to use, a pencil teaches observation and rendering of value like no other medium (well, maybe it’s second to charcoal, but you won’t find me using that voluntarily). And as much of a color junkie as I am, I admit I see beauty and elegance in the strokes of a soft pencil.
I guess it just took five years for the lessons to sink in.