I wasn’t *greatly* looking forward to the still life in watercolour workshop last weekend, as I always think still life is a little uninteresting, no matter how well its painted, but I still went along, and was happy to attend……
It was mostly women there on the day, which is understandable, as I think still life does tend to be quite a feminine thing on the whole, pictures of flowers, or fruit, or jugs and bottles, are very peaceful objects to paint and enjoy looking at. The tutor had chosen a cut glass bowl filled with licorice allsorts to paint, on a white linen tablecloth, a difficult task to capture on both the cut glass aspect and the white linen cloth. She didn’t finish the picture, but at least we were able to start to see how the beginning of her painting began. Then it was our turn to put paint to paper. We’d all been given the chance to take our own still life objects to paint, which I thought was a good idea and meant we could paint the objects that interested us most. A few had taken flowers, one woman had taken balls of wool and some knitting (to paint, I hasten to add, not to knit with!), and the majority had bottles and vases to paint. But I’d chosen something a little different, I’d taken some sea shells, picked up on various beaches in Devon and Cornwall on long distant half remembered holidays. I like shells. I like the intricate shapes, the pretty colours, the rough outer shell as opposed to the translucent inner parts where the sea creature lived, the gorgeous beauty and sense of natural history attached to them. So shells it was, for me.
I started by picking the shells that interested me for colour or shape and laid them out in a composition that pleased me, noting the negative shapes next to the positive shapes of the shells, and liking the formation of the design I was making………………… then I started drawing it out, and made sure I was happy with my design on the paper before I did any painting. We stopped for lunch then, and I sat and ate my ham sandwiches, chatting with my friends as we ate. It was as I returned to my table, that I found the woman at the next table peering over my shells and bending down for a closer look. “What sort of shells are those?” she asked “I don’t know” I replied and she bent even closer and asked me if the flat shell was the same as the rounded one next to it, I wasn’t sure if this was a trick question, since shells are always the same symmetrical shape……………. and then, she did an astounding thing………………she lent forward…….. and I could tell my her body language what she was about to do “PLEASE DON’T touch them!” I said urgently, and she drew her hand back, at my words. I couldn’t believe she was just about to touch my STILL life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The whole point of it, is that it DOESN’T move!!!!!! Especially after I’d drawn it all out and was just about to start painting, it doesn’t bloody move!!!! Rule one, of doing a still life workshop, don’t touch anyone else’s still life, and be careful as you walk past the tables, incase you barge into the table and knock it, inadvertently rearranging all the oranges and apples, flowers and feathers onto the floor!
So, on to the painting, and I decided to do a wet wash to start, to get some background in, and pull the image together before I started on the tiny details in the shells, and as I did the wet wash, I had that lovely piece of serendipity, as the paint wove its magic on the paper, it created the lovely wet beach effect before me – sand and water, light and shadows appeared, so it was easy enough to paint the shells afterwards, to pick up the contours of the shells, their shapes, and patterning, the way they sat together, the depth and form of them, and how they related to the shells around them, and the beach they were sitting on, and as I painted, and the afternoon wore on, I got more and more positive and admiring comments from the people around me, for the effect I’d created in my still life. Its got a life. It may be still, but it told a bit of a story, of the way the shells had been collected together on the beach, for their interest and natural beauty. I had to do a bit more work on it when I got home, but it all came together nicely. I’ve called the painting “Beach treasures” as that’s what I think they are…………….. and I really love my still life, after all!!! LOL