Try Your Hand at...

The Italian Job

Malcolm Cudmore hopes that his recent series on coloured pencil will inspire you to try your hand at this exercise.

One thing that can discourage new users of coloured pencils is that work seems to take a long time to complete.

The answer is to paint small pieces and to increase interest by controlling the amount and quality of the light on your subjects. This simple still life exercise is a great example of the results you can easily achieve.

Making a shadow box
For my workshops, I have made a number of ‘shadow boxes’ from 20cm square pieces of mount board. Each box is made from three pieces (one is very dark, one a mid tonal value and the third is a pale grey). Used on their own, or in combination, they form a versatile setting for simple still life subjects.

Camera and setup

By combining them and moving them around until the lighting appeals to you, you can create interesting, simple compositions that give loads of scope for practice and a much greater chance that you’ll be satisfied with the results. In fact you could use any small cardboard box with a dark interior (paint the inside dark brown or black).

You can get additional interest by using a loose piece of white card in your spare hand to give extra shadows or create shafts of light on your subject.

For this Try Your Hand at, I used a couple of my shadow boxes and an extra piece of dark card to create a ‘classical’ style of still life with controlled, dramatic lighting that I’ve called “The Italian Job”. It contains just one tomato, a basil leaf, an oregano leaf and a clove of garlic.

Photo squared up (2.5cm squares) with white pencil

To make life easy, I printed the chosen photo at the size I planned to make the CP painting (17.5 x 13.3cm) and used a standard grid system (using a white pencil as the photo was quite dark) to transfer the essential shapes (noting the main shadow areas) to my paper with a 0.5mm 2B clutch pencil – taking care not to indent the paper.

Once I was happy with the drawing, I erased the grid lines and then carefully used a soft eraser to remove almost all the graphite leaving a very faint guide to the drawing.

If you prefer, you can transfer your image using Tracedown paper, which saves time over using the grid system and is a little more gentle on your paper.

Tonal reference

Tip:
If you can, it is worth printing out a black and white copy (or get a photocopy) of your chosen picture as well as your colour reference. It will help you to identify all the relative tonal values in your painting.

Grid lines

As described in my previous articles, I then set about rendering layers of coloured pencil until I was happy with the outcome. As a fairly quick exercise, I kept the level of detail to a minimum and aimed to lose edges where possible in order to create a sense of the objects co-existing in an intimate space.

Grid lines erased

Tip:
Before you work on any elements separately, aim to fix the overall balance of the background and shadows first. This will give coherence to the whole picture.

First layer - Burnt Umber for all shadow areas

Tip:
Can you identify a ’base’ colour for the objects in your setup? In this case, I chose yellow for under-painting the leaves – leaving my greens and blues to develop the texture and contours.

First layer - Burnt Umber for all shadow areas

I used a limited palette and, as usual, started with Burnt Umber to describe all of the main areas of shadow in the whole picture. This was followed with a layer of Ultramarine in the darkest areas.

For the third layer, I chose to give a yellow under-painting to all the greenery. Only then did I start to work on each of the principle objects in turn with a small number of additional pencils. Although the tomato stem and garlic bulb did have some tiny hairs and bits of root that would be ideal candidates for indenting in a larger CP painting, I chose to leave them out so as not to detract from the overall soft, impressionistic feel of this small work.

Second layer - Ultramarine

Tip:
I have included some reflected ‘warmth’ (reds) in the shadows falling on the leaves and some ‘cool’ (blues) in the shadow side of the tomato.

Towards the end, I made occasional use of my electric eraser (sharpened to a point) to tidy up elements of the tomato stalk, one or two veins on the leaves and the tip of the garlic bulb. I finished off with limited use of a blender pencil on the tomato to help with the ‘blush’ and to soften its edges as they turned away from the light into the depths of the shadow area.

Third layer - Lemon Cadmium Basil and Oregano leaves - Mineral Green, Cedar Green, Deep Cadmium, Indigo. Stalk and garlic - Mineral Green, Cedar Green, Deep Cadmum, Indigo, Crimson Lake

Tip:
If possible, soften (or even lose) the edges of objects like the tomato to ensure that it doesn’t end up looking like a flat cardboard cutout. If an object recedes into shadow, don’t describe it with sharp edges.

Tomato - Deep Vermillion, Scarlet Lake, Crimson Lake


Try Your Hand at...

The Italian Job

Malcolm Cudmore hopes that his recent series on coloured pencil will inspire you to try your hand at this exercise.

One thing that can discourage new users of coloured pencils is that work seems to take a long time to complete.

The answer is to paint small pieces and to increase interest by controlling the amount and quality of the light on your subjects. This simple still life exercise is a great example of the results you can easily achieve.

Making a shadow box
For my workshops, I have made a number of ‘shadow boxes’ from 20cm square pieces of mount board. Each box is made from three pieces (one is very dark, one a mid tonal value and the third is a pale grey). Used on their own, or in combination, they form a versatile setting for simple still life subjects.

Camera and setup

By combining them and moving them around until the lighting appeals to you, you can create interesting, simple compositions that give loads of scope for practice and a much greater chance that you’ll be satisfied with the results. In fact you could use any small cardboard box with a dark interior (paint the inside dark brown or black).

You can get additional interest by using a loose piece of white card in your spare hand to give extra shadows or create shafts of light on your subject. For this Try Your Hand at, I used a couple of my shadow boxes and an extra piece of dark card to create a ‘classical’ style of still life with controlled, dramatic lighting that I’ve called “The Italian Job”. It contains just one tomato, a basil leaf, an oregano leaf and a clove of garlic.

Photo squared up (2.5cm squares) with white pencil

To make life easy, I printed the chosen photo at the size I planned to make the CP painting (17.5 x 13.3cm) and used a standard grid system (using a white pencil as the photo was quite dark) to transfer the essential shapes (noting the main shadow areas) to my paper with a 0.5mm 2B clutch pencil – taking care not to indent the paper.

Once I was happy with the drawing, I erased the grid lines and then carefully used a soft eraser to remove almost all the graphite leaving a very faint guide to the drawing.

If you prefer, you can transfer your image using Tracedown paper, which saves time over using the grid system and is a little more gentle on your paper.

Tonal reference

Tip:
If you can, it is worth printing out a black and white copy (or get a photocopy) of your chosen picture as well as your colour reference. It will help you to identify all the relative tonal values in your painting.

Grid lines

As described in my previous articles, I then set about rendering layers of coloured pencil until I was happy with the outcome. As a fairly quick exercise, I kept the level of detail to a minimum and aimed to lose edges where possible in order to create a sense of the objects co-existing in an intimate space.

Grid lines erased

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