September 25, 2008

Sketching from life

I generally work from photographs, using them as references and most of the time sticking to the photos faithfully. Once in a while I change some stuff in photos, go in for some crops etc. Rarely do I have the urge to work from life. My only sketch from life experience is that of doing a lot of portraits, where my friends pose for me for couple of hours, and I have no issues in getting the resemblance right, I have done a pretty good job of it so far. 

Pomegranate and Peppers                                       colored pencil on paper, 4 * 5 inches.                 (c) Nithya Swaminathan

Other than portraits, I have never attempted sketching from life n a big way. The sketchcrawl was the first time I actually worked from life doing people and places while on the move and I loved it. It was very liberating I should say. I have always wanted to try setting up my own still life and trying to work from it. I was hesitant to give it a shot coz of my lack of knowledge of composition. 

Recently, I have been reading a lot of art blogs, articles, forums etc and want to sincerely avoid working from photographs, especially those taken by others. I want to call my work 100% my own from conception to execution. The first step in that direction was to pick up a good book on composition (review coming up soon), and then start working from life. This is formally my first composition from life, and I am happy for taking that step. 

I don’t have a specified studio space for myself, so I don’t have a space to create an elaborate set up with a light source etc. It sucks that the lighting always seems uniform in my house. It then flashed me that there was a reading bulb in my bed, that I could use! And that was it, I set this up on my bed J 

Some quick learnings for myself –

  • Setting up a simple, bare bones still life isn’t rocket science. This is not a learning as such, it is a reassurance. I picked up the 3 objects and tried some combinations, with a reflector, without one etc, and finally settled on this one. It took me less than 5 minutes! I realized I needed to get used to the paradigm shift of working from life by doing more of these studies, then move on to better and bigger set ups.
Grayscaled Version (c) Nithya Swaminathan
Pomegranate and Peppers

  • It tremendously improves my observation – note the red reflection of the pomegranate on the capsicum? I am sure this would not have been captured in a normal point and shoot camera, which is what I use. The reflection isn’t as intense in color as I have depicted, but I could observe that it is there. And it adds a good punch to the painting on the whole.
  • Working with a limited palette helps to get a better understanding of color theory as such. I have used only one green and one red pencil. Value changes have been depicted only with varying pressure and by building up layers using the complements.
  • I still have a long way to go in mapping color to value! Have a look at the grayscale version of the image, and there are only 2-3 values, not a wide range. In real, the shadow of the pomegranate was the darkest, the shadow of the capsicum in the front was mid tone, and that of the capsicum behind was lighter in value. I thought I had achieved it (if you see the color version they look different), but in the grayscale they all look like a mid tone. I hope this improves with practice. 
Next on my agenda is to create a painting, having only my sketch as a reference, without seeing the actual set up. It will then help me evaluate what all I have missed capturing in my sketch. 


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