VIS13 – Painting Assessment 2 – Still Life

Still Life sucks. There’s simply no other term for it. Apart from a few really interesting still life pictures, the majority of these pictures are mundane, ordinary and pointless paintings. I will never understand the type of person who hangs a still life on the wall. A photographic still life… I completely get that… but a painted one? Obviously I need some work on my ‘art appreciation’ skills!

So for this assessment, we needed to paint a still life. I spent ages trying to create a combination of items that belong to my dog. I had thought, rather cleverly, that I’d call this artwork “It’s a dog’s (still) life” and was oh, so impressed, with this concept.

It's a dog's (still) life Composition 1

It’s a dog’s (still) life Composition 1

As you can see from the images, however, even creating a ‘look’ that worked ended up in futility so eventually I decided to go for something a little simpler, less complex, more ‘me’.

It's a Dog's (Still) Life Composition 2

It’s a Dog’s (Still) Life Composition 2

I chose bowls. Three of them. And I shoved shit in them. And then, because I knew I’d be painting at different times of day and night, I photographed them exactly how I wanted them to look. Then I blew up the image and painted them from that. Is that wrong? To not paint from the objects themselves but to paint from a photo? Anyway, I kept the bowls with the crap in them next to me so i could pick them up and study them up close etc, but I pretty much just used the photo as a guide.

The bowls contained a) 3 flowers, b) a bunch of shells and c) lots of red bugle beads (these are tiny weeny sausage shaped beads in case you didn’t know, from my jewellery making collection). I was ready. Or so I thought.

photo 1 (Medium)

I read the brief. It said paint a still life. In oils. And to get the light right, and the shadowing right and the shapes right and the so on and so on. Basically it was saying, take a photo, make it look a little bit painted and send that in. As an abstract styled artist, realism is NOT my good suit, in fact, it’s not even my ‘I could almost get away with it on the perfect Tuesday’ kind of forte so I knew I would struggle.

Add to this, my amazing inability to see 3D and it becomes a nightmare. What’s that, you say? I don’t see 3D? Well no, actually I don’t. I am totally aware of how weird that sounds, but when you see a photo of railway tracks going off into the distance, you know that they form a triangle. Even I know that but it’s not what I see. What I see are two lines going into the sky. But because I am not stupid, and realise that trains don’t fly, I compensate for how I perceive it and tell myself it really must be on the ground. When I go to draw what I perceive, I end up with two vertical lines representing the train tracks. No triangle in sight. So the easiest way to explain this phenomenon is to say I don’t see in 3D. Yes, that effectively means that everyone I know looks like they should be in the Simpsons tv show. Except you aren’t all yellow. (Well apart from this one lady I met, but that’s another story!)

So on with the fun of attempting to paint photorealistically, in oils (which I’ve learned to truly despise by now) and off I start. I paint the background and then wait four days for it to dry. I have a total of three weeks to do this painting so I’ll be fine. I then begin on my darkest points… the shadows and outlines. I now need to wait another two days for these to dry. Damn, they haven’t dried, so I’ll just keep painting and hope for the best. I add the colour to the bowls but because the shadows haven’t dried, the red and the white are just continually being added to the brown and blacks of the shadows and becoming horrible colours of bleargh! I scrape them away with a palette knife and wait for them to dry.

After numerous days of this type of work, I am halfway through my painting when I realise it just isn’t going to dry in time. There’s no hope for it. So I put the canvas in the sun, as is, and grab a fresh one. Yes, I’m going to begin again! I didn’t take a photo of this one for you – surfice it to say it was teal and unfinished LOL.

I try a different technique this time. I dab small amounts of colour onto the canvas and then, using a 2 inch dry brush from Bunnings, do this cross hatch kinda sweeping motion and try to spread the tiny weeny dabs of paint into as many cracks of the canvas as I can. It certainly doesn’t give the background any depth and the coverage is shitty and lots of white still shows through but what the hell…. at least the fucker will dry. I then decide to do my ENTIRE painting this way. To ensure I don’t use too much paint and to make sure it will dry in time.

The beginning of Attempt 2 (and 3 as it turns out)

The dry brush technique…. draw in the shadows BEFORE putting the background in. Dab on paint and then dry brush it into position.

The background is terrible compared to my first attempt but I’m already beyond caring and really just need to try and get it done… completed, finished. I start on the first bowl, then the top bowl. I resist the urge to attempt the shells, because that’s where I came undone on the first attempt. It’s okay, I’ll just keep going with the other bowls. I end up relatively happy with the flowers, even though I later realise I’ve screwed up the shape of the first bowl and then have to try and ‘correct’ it. However, because I’ve used speed dry glazing gel, and used so little paint with so little coverage, I have to paint ‘over’ it and the error becomes very noticeable. Oh well, don’t care, keep going.

I go to paint the bugle beads. Bugle beads are tiny. Each one is about 3mm long. How the hell am I meant to paint that? I try, using the smallest brush I have (some fancy dancy liner thingy sized 0000) and end up with a mess. I return to playing with the middle bowl. By now I have the reds going in the right direction and the shading is working (so long as you don’t look too closely). It’s time to add the shells. I can do this! I mean, I’ve just got to copy a few shapes and get plenty of beige in the right spots. I can add the other bits later.


No, actually I can’t do this. The shells ended up looking like beige used cotton balls, especially after I applied the dry brush technique I’d done with the rest of the painting. Can I just pretend that the bowl contained dry beige cotton balls? Well, not really because unless you KNOW it’s cotton balls, you weren’t entirely sure WHAT was in the bowl.

I scour the house for a new object. I found a purple-grey stone heart. Great. It fits, it will be fine, right? I have by this time, lost all recollection of my own personal style, my own abstractness. I am fighting to recreate a photorealistic painting that isn’t realistic, and isn’t photogenic. I’ve even faked in the background (which was boring white). And I’m fast running out of time. I need to mail this out on Wednesday after Easter and it’s Easter Saturday. So I take a stab at painting the purple heart. It all goes horribly wrong and I no longer care, hearing instead the resounding boom as each hour continues to pass, leaving me more panicked than ever. With a dash of desperate inspiration, I start to overpaint the third bowl of bugle beads, giving it an impasto look with loads of texture and I use a palette knife to mix three colours together in a marble like way (two types of red and an umber or some kind of brown). And I pat and pat with the palette knife, giving the illusion of denseness. I add white highlights. It’s going to be okay. It will be done!

Attempt 2 completed

Attempt 2 completed

I test the paint, oh so thinly spread and filled with speedy dry glazing gel. The fucker is still fucking wet! What the fuckity fuck fuck? Now, I expected the bugle beads section to be wet, sure, because I mean it’s almost a centimetre thick with paint… but the rest??? NOOOOOOOO.

In the end, I walked away. I stuck it in the sun and told the whole painting to simply SOD OFF.

Attempt 2

Attempt 2

And then I sat, in front of my neighbours easel (who has graciously leant it to me) and tried to remember about my passion for painting and why I enjoy expressing myself on canvas and how the brush always has a mind of its own….

And I decided…. FUCK with their photorealistic styles that want to kill me. Fuck with their impossible brief. I’m going to do this painting in MY style, in MY way, using MY techniques… things I’m comfortable with (well apart from still painting in oils, which I normally would never do). So I drew three circles in pencil on the canvas, and added in some brown shadows. I dry brushed them. I painted in some flowers, a concept art of a heart and did the same impasto look for the bugle beads. Twenty minutes later it was done! And two hours later, it was dry (apart from the bugle beads part which made total sense).

Attempt 3

Attempt 3

I walked away very pleased with myself.

And then I saw them next to each other the next morning. I realised how similar they both were. That the one in ‘my’ style wasn’t really in my style at all. I normally never would have painted using dry brushes (I’d never heard of doing that before this course), and I would have never not had a background on it and I wouldn’t never have done the darkest shadows first and ……

Side by Side

Side by Side

…and then it hit me! I’ve just recreated the same damn picture using all the techniques they’ve made me do and I’ve completely lost my own unique style and yet I still can’t paint photorealistically. I have learned so much already with what I’ve done, but none of it is true to my own artistic vision. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to not paint like me so I can learn to paint differently. I don’t NEED to pass this unit, I just need to know I’ve tried.

And so, even though I have three versions of this stupid damn painting, it will be the second one I submit. The one I spent 10 days slaving over, and panicking about and trying desperately to work out where the highlights and lowlights were. Not the one created in a twenty rush. Because this unit deserves my hard work, not just my passion.

Then, finally when all was lost, I received my incredible feedback for my previous assignment. It basically said I should start over because I’d made lots of mistakes. So I emailed my tutor who said that feedback is really designed for changing what we do AFTER the unit, so I waited for Attempt #2 to dry and then mailed it in…. still slightly damp but submitted!

2 thoughts on “VIS13 – Painting Assessment 2 – Still Life

  1. Hi December, I would have submitted the second as well, the images seem clearer, and I like the blue background! Isn’t it amazing how the image changed from your initial Dog’s (still) life? A bit like poetry eh? Good luck 🙂

    • Thanks for the good wishes, Cheryl and yes, it is quite astounding when you go through all the changes. I think the photo makes the painting look better than it does in real life, but either way, it was the right choice! I will be putting my latest drawing assignment up shortly… would love your feedback on that too!

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