What have you learnt from drawing the details of fruit and vegetables?
All fruits and vegetables have different surfaces from smooth and shiny to rough, hairy and spiky so every object is a challenge not only this but its very difficult to get familiar with the shape of a certain fruit or vegetable as the surface differs from one to another taking into consideration ‘ripeness’.
What did you find most challenging about this part of the course?
Firstly, I really had problems using dip pens and creating tone with this medium it is something I really have to work hard at getting as much practise in as possible.
Secondly composition arrangement and that arranging a composition with fruit and vegetables takes more time than arranging other objects; not only for fear of repeating a similar composition you drew in a previous exercise but for fear of arranging a composition that will not allow you to capture the full details of the objects.
Born in to an artistic family in Denham, Buckinghamshire in 1894 Ben Nicholson was the son of artists William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde. In 1896 the Nicholson family moved to London where Ben was educated at the Tyttenhangar Lodge Prepatory School in Seaford before becoming a boarder at the Gresham’s School for boys in Holt, Norfolk. Ben Nicholson began his training as an artist in London at the Slade School of art, where he studied from 1910 – 1911, then from 1912 to 1914 he travelled between France, Spain and Italy.
In 1920 Nicholson married is first wife, painter Winifred Roberts to whom he had three children, two sons, Jake and Andrew and a daughter Kate, who also became a painter. From 1923 Ben and Winifred split their time between England and Switzerland spending their winters in the southern Swiss town of Lugano and the rest of the year was divided between Cumberland, where they made their home for that decade and London While In London following an exhibition with his wife Winifred he was invited to join the 7 & 5 Society, he was made chairman of the society in 1926.
Nicholson’s early paintings were still-lifes influenced by the works of his father but then after his first solo show at the Twenty-one gallery he began experimenting with abstract painting influenced by Synthetic Cubism which he implied in all his works thereafter. His works throughout the 1920s were of deceptively simple table top still-life’s and landscapes painted in Switzerland, Cumberland and Cornwall, making his first visit there in 1928.
While visiting France in 1932 and 1933, Nicholson became familiar with the works of artists such as Hans Arp, Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian and Alexander Calder who had settled in Paris in the 1920s. Nicholson was successful in fusing the European trends into a new style that would become identified as his own.
He made these visits to Paris with Barbara Hepworth; Winifred and Ben were divorced in 1938 a break up that was brought on by his growing relationship with Wakefield born sculptor. Hepworth had kids to Nicholson in 1934, three triplets and after his divorce in 1938 she would become his second wife.
Together they moved to Cornwall in 1939 and in 1943 he joined the St. Ives society of artists. Following the Second World War Nicholson lost faith in the ‘utopian promise of geometric abstraction’ and resumed painting landscapes adding colour to his abstract reliefs to emphasize the fundamental unity between nature and abstraction. Hepworth and Nicholson were divorced in 1951.
Throughout the 1950s he achieved international recognition as an artist through a series of awards which included the first Guggenheim International Painting Prize in 1956 and the International Prize for Painting at the São Paulo Biennale in 1957. From 1954 – 1961 retrospective exhibitions of his work were held throughout Europe including shows at the Venice Biennale and Tate Gallery and in several cities in the USA in the 60’s and 70’s.
Nicholson married his third wife, German photographer Felicitas Vogler in 1957 and the two moved to Ticino in Switzerland in 1958 where he again began to concentrate on painted reliefs. In 1968 Queen Elizabeth awarded him the O.M. (Order of Merit) and in 1971 after the end of his third marriage he moved back to England where he died in London in 1982 at the age of 87.
Researching this Artist
I used many different websites researching this artist as the information I found was confusing and contradictory, with information differing from site to site and so I chose to gather information from the websites of establishments that I found out at shown his work, The British Council, Tate Gallery and the Guggenheim comparing the details with the biography www.oxfordartonline.com.
I have never heard of Ben Nicholson before although his second wife Barbara Hepworth is very familiar to coming from Wakefield I have seen her works in West Bretton (Yorkshire Sculpture Park). Since I have been living in Thailand they have opened the Hepworth Center in her name in my home town so it was interesting to read about their relationships, both personal and professional.
Why does he simplify still life forms and negative space and superimpose them on a Cornish Landscape?
I think the answer to this lies in the above text where it says Nicholson ‘resumed painting landscapes and added colour to his abstract reliefs to show the fundamental unity between nature and abstraction’. Which maybe reflected in what he said in a letter from Nicholson to Patrick Heron (9 February 1954) ‘All the “still lifes” are in fact land-sea-sky scapes to me.’
For me this was a stressful exercise that took me over two weeks to complete. I initially wanted to focus more on dip pens and ink for this exercise but it was a mediu I would continue to have problems with.
I started with markers as I already had a good choice of Kurecolor Markers, with a composition that consisted of vine tomatoes, bananas and an apple however I failed miserably looking down at the apple at that angle plus I didn’t have the right colour for the apple.
My second composition consisted of a red pepper, bananas a rose apple and plum tomato set on a back drop of two different coloured materials used to make monks robes; but then when I drew the composition in markers on the watercolour paper there was too much red in the picture and the colours weren’t brilliant enough for me.
I setteled for a simple composition made up of the bananas, red pepper and lemon that I managed to find in an international supermarket as the Thai lemons are very small and green kind of like a lemon/lime hybrid.
Firstly I drew them in marker pens which wasn’t too difficult but getting the colours right before putting pen to paper was almost impossible as the markers reacted differently on the watercolour paper especially when layering at this stage I wasn’t really looking at the shadows and light formations of the surface of the pepper and just added a bit of depth with a dark blue which didn’t work well enough for me.
I finally got round to using dip pens and at this stage I felt like packing in. Firstly I started with liquid water colour which did not stay well on the pen nibs I made several attempts which all got binned before going out to look for higher quality watercolour paper that wouldn’t get saturated as easy and some proper drawing inks.
My first attempt with dip pens, ink was a disheartening mess and I was trying to work out what I was doing wrong, inks were running into each other and the paper was still getting saturated. Realising that I wasn’t giving the inks on each object enough time to dry before adding different colours I decided to have another go.
My second attempt with ink and dip pens was an improvement but I decided that I would use markers on the final piece as I could capture the reflected light and shadows on the pepper a lot better with different coloured marker pens and so started work on my A4 piece,
I did use a bit of ink on the final piece with a lemon yellow was over the lemon and a dark wash for the shadows which was a bad decision and a couple of ink splashes finished it off. The final piece is not brilliant but I do feel it is an improvement to the earlier drawings and I think I did really well to capture the patterns on the peppers surface.
For this exercise I used approximately 13 different colours of oil pastel and a white textured sheet of A3 watercolour paper and I’m kicking myself now reading the brief where it says use coloured paper. However further down the page it does say leave gaps to let the white break through so it’s easy to see how I got confused.
I set up a colourful group of fruit which included a quarter of watermelon, a red apple and two ramhutan or ‘gno’ as they are known in Thai, concentrating on creating a group of contrasting colour and texture I set them on a stainless steel reflective plate which I bought with the intention to use in the earlier exercise ‘Shadows and Reflected Light and Shade‘, and placed the composition on a piece of folded cloth used to make Thai monks robes.
First of all I lightly sketched in the main shapes of the group doing my best to fill the paper including the main shapes of the cast shadows on the cloth underneath, I think this was my best attempt at filling the paper so far.
I then started to block in the darkest areas using a sketchy hatching technique, I’m trying to be more fluid in this part of the course and I think I’m doing well so far. From there I went on to sketch the light areas in a different colour, on the watermelon and apple at least.
Once the initial layers of colour were blocked in I worked back over them to strengthen the tone using related colours on each object to strengthen the tone.
Approximate breakdown of colours used on objects
On the flesh of the watermelon I used pink, red, a very dark red and a dark blue to create shadow as well as black and white for the seeds. For the skin I used a dark green a light yellow and a grey-blue colour.
For the red apple I used ultramarine, red, orange and pink for the skin and green, yellow and orange for the core, these colours worked really well together.
On the rambutan I worked from light to dark then back again and they were probably the hardest thing I’ve drawn so far. For these two objects I used all of the above colours but it took me a very long time to build up the layers and to get them looking anywhere near they did in real life. Although they are not perfect I really love the effect I have created while working on them. They are a very irregular shape and yet I have still managed to make them look round and spiky.
Same again on the plate, because it was so reflective I used a lot of the colours utilized for the fruit plus a light blue, grey and white.
This is the first time I have worked with oil pastels other than experimenting and I found that you have to know when enough is enough for danger of messing up your drawing.
I’m very impressed with the finished picture, but what is worrying me now is how I am going to preserve it, I have sprayed it a few times with an expensive fixative already but I used cheap pastels by Pentel and it doesn’t look like the fixative is not going to do any good…
For this exercise firstly I was to select some pieces of fruit and vegetables and draw each of them individually in my sketchbook in a medium of my choice paying attention to the shapes or planes that make up the objects outline.
I decided to use colour pencils for this exercise as I needed more practise and have yet to get used to blending. I initially chose an onion, a cucumber and some strange Asian mushrooms for my composition but all that was to change.
Then I was to write my thoughts and ideas next to the sketches including some notes about tonal values and ideas about the arrangement of a composition and use a view finder to crop some of the shapes in different positions.
As a view finder I used my camera sometimes looking at a photo of the composition you notice things that you wouldn’t notice with the naked eye. It took me at least two hours to decide on the composition and what fruits and vegetables to change and the angle from which I would draw from, trying my hardest to stay away from similar layouts to the compositions I had used in earlier drawings.
I swapped the Asian mushrooms/toadstools for an orange and an apple as I could use them in different positions and together with the onion the three spherical objects looked great with the cucumber. They also picked up the reflected light from the pink cloth that I decided to use as a backdrop very well.
On an A3 sheet of paper I lightly sketched the outline of the objects with a 2H pencil and began to hatch working on the cucumber first but not finishing and then moving to the other objects to see how the cucumber looked against them this helped me decide on tone and colour of the cucumber being the more awkward of the 4 objects.
After working on the other 3 objects I came back to the cucumber which I had to reshape a little bit with an eraser. I’m quite happy with the finished drawing I think the composition fills up the picture plane quite nicely, and I think I did quite a good job with the hatching which I think is more fluid than anything I have done before. Probably the most difficult part of the drawing is the props I used the slightly transparent cloth and the straw basket.
The only think I am not satisfied with really is my photo skills and will try and get a better photo to send in for assessment.