Felicity House, Red Peppers, pastel on paper, 18x21cm
Just when we thought our enforced stay at home would mean we had plenty of time to make our art, we discover how difficult it is to be motivated. A lack of motivation is familiar to many of us, especially when worrying thoughts fill our mind and we need to get over the task avoidance.
A way forward I found helpful was to establish a 15 minute-a-day routine of drawing, setting myself a particular time to do this every day. Regular drawing practice improves our coordination and observation skills, and 15 minutes is an achievable amount of time to set aside.
Start with a fresh new sketchbook. So many different drawing tools are available, but I recommend reacquainting yourself with a pencil. There is something very calming about pencil drawing, it’s easy to forget how good soft graphite feels on paper – a 2B or 4B would be great.
Draw something small, simple, and to hand. It should also be something you like – a leaf or two on a plant, half a tomato, a shell, a sofa cushion. There’s no need to be too ambitious. You might draw a family member watching TV. A pet is another great subject. If he or she moves a lot, make several small drawings on one sketchbook page in the 15 minutes.
Begin lightly, making marks as you see them. Draw over these softer lines with harder marks to correct or improve the drawing. Build up tones using a series of close marks.
Set a timer and always stop after 15 minutes. Get used to what can be achieved in that time. As you begin to draw faster and more accurately, a confidence and fluency develops. Stay with pencil for as long as you like before moving onto another drawing tool, such as a biro, a conté pencil or a fineliner pen. Keep it up, 15 minutes every day; the habit quickly establishes and becomes a part of the day you can’t be without.
Having established a regular warm-up drawing routine, add into the day a quick, hour-long painting in pastels, oils, gouache or watercolour. When choosing a still life subject, I often use a simple formula of three particular things.
Firstly, choose a “surface”. It might be an interesting piece of fabric, a piece of attractive wrapping paper, or a familiar tablecloth. Next choose a container – a favourite cup or mug, perhaps, or an interesting jug, basket or patterned bowl. Finally choose what I call a “natural” object, such as a fruit or vegetable, a shell or a seed pod, maybe some feathers or flowers. In selecting each of the three objects, I’m always looking for shapes and patterns that work well together, as well as colours that either contrast or harmonise.
Felicity House, Jug of Cream, pastel on paper, 22x25cm
Set things up by placing the surface on a table, the container on the surface, and the natural object in or around the container. Move the components around until you notice a grouping you like enough to paint. Looking through a viewfinder helps here – even just looking through a makeshift rectangle made from your thumbs and forefingers allows the eye to finalise a composition. Seeing through a frame helps you to choose a more interesting composition which may be off-centre or involve items being cropped.
Next use the viewfinder to roughly plot your chosen composition on the support. Rest the viewfinder and paint the composition you plotted. I like to use soft chalk pastels, often with tonal watercolour washes for an underpainting on a support that is generally no more than 20x25cm. If I use oil paints, I go smaller still.
In time, you can use this formula to tackle more complex still life with growing confidence. Our homes are full of things we’ve liked and bought, been given or kept as a memory. With some forward planning our daily food preparations can be paused to provide other lovely subjects.
I’m particularly fond of domestic interiors so lockdown provides time to give a whole day to work on a more ambitious picture, like a kitchen view or a dining table. The challenge of relating one item to another makes for an absorbing day’s work. www.felicityhouseartist.co.uk ■