When I said, “I guess I have to learn how to draw” four years ago, I didn’t think my efforts would last beyond a week — at best. Surprise, surprise. Here I am, still learning, and actually having fun with art, most of the time, at least.
And when I picked up a paintbrush and did my first oil painting (except for one disastrous attempt I made when I was fourteen), I really had no idea where I was going. Except that I knew I would never be a still-life painter. While I love looking at an awesome still life — like Festoon with Flowers and Fruit by John Davidszoon de Heem — no way would I ever attempt to paint any such scene.
Even the very idea of arranging a still life has always made me shudder a bit. I’ve read of artists who spend weeks setting their table or taking hundreds of photographs of an arrangement before ever picking up a brush! No, I do not have patience enough for that.
Of course, in some respects, learning to draw necessarily involves a little bit of still life work. How many exercises in how many drawing books begin with “gather a few common household objects…” ? So, all right, maybe I’ve laid out a few things — apples, bananas, an occasional pear — and have attempted to draw them. That doesn’t make me a still-life artist.
Maybe you recall my frustrations when I attempted this little scene:
I did try one still life in acrylics. Remember this disaster? Mercifully, I let it remain unfinished. I quickly realized that I don’t like working with acrylics, so this pitiful attempt never moved beyond the initial underpainting stage.
And, of course, I did my poster-paint-on-newsprint exercises on shapes — a still-life of sorts.
So, as you can see, I’m definitely not a still-life artist in graphite, acrylic, or poster-paint (although that was merely a fun exercise and not intended to be a serious painting.)
The point in all of this is that I never thought I would ever — for any reason whatsoever — do any still-life painting in oil. Of course, by the same token,I never thought I’d ever try painting factories, tug boats, and cranes — which quickly devolved into another just-for-fun painting exercise. I could not take myself seriously with that.
Both of those poster-paint exercises came from Oil Painting Step-by-Step by Arnold Fletcher. I hadn’t opened the book for a while. Between holidays and lots of real life things-to-do, Mr. Fletcher got set aside. Plus, I’ve been enjoying myself with the woodland scenes and all those spacious skies I’ve been painting.
But it was time to get back to Mr. Fletcher, and thankfully, time to move beyond the poster paints and newsprint. I’d come to the first actual oil painting lesson. While I was excited at the prospect of learning more about how to actually use my paints and brushes, I gulped a bit when I saw the subject of the lesson. Yep. A potted plant.
Well, all I could do was try, so that’s what I did. I followed Fletcher’s instructions, drew in what’s supposed to be window with a potted plant sitting on the sill. Oh, but Fletcher says not to actually draw the plant yet. Just the pot.
I drew my window, and I drew my pot. I followed along with the instructions on how to make the pot actually look like a round pot. And…I did it. It’s not the best pot that’s ever been painted, but a pot it is, indeed.
It’s crooked. It looks a bit wobbly. But it’s a pot, a real pot, and you can tell that it’s rounded, right? You really can tell that, can’t you?
Of course, my painting techniques still need a lot of work, and that’s exactly why I’m going through Arnold Fletcher’s book. Even from this first step in this Oil Painting Technique lesson, I’ve already learned a lot — not just about brush stroke techniques (I’m working on that, obviously) but about laying out paints, about how to best mix those paints, and how to work as easily and efficiently as possible.
That’s a lesson I’ve really needed for a long time. I’m a messy painter, and left on my own, I’ve developed a lot of bad habits. Arnold Fletcher is now teaching me better ways to do things, and for that I’m grateful.
As for this still life exercise, I’ll finish it up soon. I haven’t yet painted the shadow, there’s an edge to the windowsill, and sooner or later I’ll have to get around to putting a plant in the pot. That should be fun.
For now, I’m just going to be very happy that I painted a pot — and a pot it is, indeed.