Thursday, March 11, 2021

Still Life with Scissors

3/6/21 vintage Derwent colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook
(experimental crop) 

In winter I often occupy my indoor-sketching time with small still lives. I’m not particularly interested in the fruits and vegetables that I usually put in these compositions, but they are easily available and often brightly colored, so that’s good enough for me. My primary interest in still lives is that they offer practice in form, value, color and composition when I can’t leave the house.

Up until now, I’ve been OK with using a sketchbook flat on my drawing table. Using my portable desktop easel for the tree-drawing class I took last month, however, showed me what a huge difference it made in how my body felt after each working session (sometimes lasting a couple hours at a time). It may have even improved my work because the angle of my paper was the same as my photo reference.

A typical crop

This spring, I’m considering taking a still life class, and the assignments would likely be more time-consuming than the typical still life sketches I am used to doing. To avoid fatigue and for best results, I would want to use the easel for that class.

The issue is that the easel would block my still life, which would otherwise be in front of me on the desk. So I’m trying out different desktop arrangements to see what’s possible and most comfortable. This still life, placed to one side of the easel, was a first try. It was a bit tricky because the easel can also block my desk light, so I’m working on the logistics of where to put that, too.

This year I want to up my still life game by thinking more about composition and cropping than I have been. I’m pleased with myself that I made several thumbnails first to try out compositions instead of diving right in and later regretting what I ended up with! Also, it’s no coincidence that I chose three objects that would enable me to use a secondary triad palette. I wanted to use it more last winter, but then I lost track of that as a focus. This spring will likely be long and wet; I plan to do a few more variations of this green cup, orange scissors and (the same) head of garlic that shadows well with purple. 

Imagine that -- I actually made thumbnails before beginning!


  1. Problem-solving with backdrops sketching or painting: It occurred to me I could set up a tiny easel in back of the still life to hold a draped fabric, or maybe a cardboard box to allow for a wider small backdrop and still do sketch on worktable. Gonna try it soon.

    1. Yes, a box would work great. That's generally the way I've seen it done in still life classes so that each student has their own still life. The lighting is critical, and the box will help block out overhead and other sources of light.

  2. Looks like you're working out a plan to make this work. Good for you!


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