Part 2 – Project 1 – Exercise 1 Detail and Tone

Project 1 was on the topic of detailed observations of natural objects.  I initially focused my attention on shells as I had some sitting in the garden that had some interesting weathering effects to them.  I experimented with different media, initially starting in my new preferred media charcoal and concentrated on trying to show the texture of the shell.  I then tried soft pastels, pencils, ink, frottage, pencil and chalk experimenting with loose and tight strokes.
One thing picked up in Assignment 1 was not showing in my sketchbook how I was experimenting with compositions and layouts.  So I took this as an opportunity to experiment, both with physically moving the shells and doing quick sketches of the layouts.
I also experimented with using sandpaper as a background material and so stuck a piece of this in my sketch book.  It really didn’t work as well as I had planned and needs much more experimenting with.
I then re-read the task we were asked to do and realised it was more about tones and colour.  Although my shells had some colour I felt like I needed to use something with more varieties of colour so I went back to something I had experimented with early in my sketchbook.  I picked out a selection of oranges and first played with different media.  I used crayons, pencils, ink pens, oil pastel and soft pastel.  I liked the watercolour nature of both the crayon and the pencils but felt the crayon worked best with water on this paper.  The pens were a disaster as the colours did not blend at all and my mark making was not as effective as it could have been.  I liked both the soft and oil pastels as the colours layered and blended well so show all the orange tones in the fruit.
I used the oil pastel to draw one composition:
However, upon reading the task again I realised we were supposed to use pencils and so I reverted back to my coloured pencils to draw another composition.
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Research – Natural Objects – Shells – O’Keeffe

In the initial section of Part 2 we are asked to focus on natural objects.  As I have lots in my garden (no idea why, they were there when we moved in!) I initially focused on shells.  Whilst  working on my drawings, Georgia O’Keeffe’s work on shells was brought to my attention.

In ‘Red Hill and White Shell‘ the white shell is the key image of the painting and it is placed in front of a red hill and magnified to look oversized compared to the hill.  It is a painting where either the shell is enormous or the world around it is miniature.  The words that spring to mind when looking at the painting are: miniature, oversized, smooth, cool, hot, contrast, wonderland, sea, atmosphere, thunder, fantasy, dream.

I was attracted to this piece as it has a shell as the main focus but also because I like the contrast in colours between the cool, pearl shell and the red hot mountains.  The choice of colour helps to magnify the shell even more and make it pop against its background.  Although the drawings in the coursebook seem to be getting us to draw based on observation, this painting has made me think a lot about the choice of background for our natural objects.  Do we have to stick with a realistic ‘in situ’ background or can we add interest by placing our natural objects in a stranger world?

This piece of art by O’Keefe makes me think of Alice in Wonderland and I do question the proportions of the hill and the shell.  Is the shell really that big or is it drawn from the perspective of something much smaller?

The thunderous, dramatic sky also add to this fantasy illusion, as do the soft folds of the ground around the shell.  Again, the use of colour is interesting, the folds appear to be a mix of the red used for the hill and the white used for the shell, to help link everything together in this otherwise distorted world.  I am also drawn to the spiral of the shell, it seems to suck you right into the centre of the painting as if you are falling down a spiral staircase.

Shells traditionally are symbolic of love and fertility, placing this in front of soft red folds that could almost be uterine in nature could be significant.  O’Keeffe always rejected any feminist or freudian symbolic meaning to her work but countless others have attributed symbolic meaning to her work, could this shell be another of them?

O’Keeffe used oils to paint this piece and the original is a big piece of work at 36inches square.  The use of oils has given the shell a very smooth texture and the colours are blended perfectly to add to the smooth appearance.  It gives the impression that the painting would feel just like that type of shell.  The shells I have been looking at are different in their nature and especially as they’ve been in my garden for some time they are rugged, rough and full of imperfections.

References:

http://www.georgiaokeeffe.net/red-hill-and-white-shell.jsp