Pastel Demo on Bark Paper – The Sketch

Well, seven glass bottles later the sketch is complete. In my last post I discussed why I chose to draw these bottles. Here I would like to point out how much thought should go into, not just what to draw, but from where to draw it. Making this decision effects your painting’s vanishing points. Since I am standing very close to my setup, slight shifts in my position change the perspective on the wooden tray quite a bit. Let’s first discuss up and down movements. I have decided to have the bottom edge of the tray perfectly horizontal in my painting, but do I want to see more or less of the inside of the tray? What about more or less of the bottle openings? At a higher vantage point I can see a little more of the inside of the tray and more interesting shapes in the reflections and distortions on the bottles. This higher vantage point also provides a bit of variety in the view of the bottle openings; looking into some of them, while looking up at others. In fact, I added a small stack of papers under the tallest bottle to give it even more height. 

Slight movement to the right or left changes the vanishing point of the sides of the tray. It would be simple to just have both sides vanish equally into the distance at some point centered on my paper, but who wants to make this simple? I’m going to try something else. Positioning myself to the right of my still life directly in front of the corked bottle causes my vanishing point to be in the distance directly behind the top of the cork. The result will be that the left and right top edges of the tray will point to the cork. Hopefully this will reinforce this bottle as my focal point rather than the tallest bottle in the tray. I guess we will see how successful this is later. So… up, down, left, right, the end result is a one-point perspective with the vanishing point behind the top edge of the corked bottle. 

Other more interesting problems had to be solved like how to get a convincing 3D effect within the restriction of bottles in a wooden tray. I tried positioning the corked bottle in front of the tray. That seemed too obvious, so I just couldn’t do it…may regret that later. Instead, the tray was wide enough to allow me to get spaces between some bottles and overlap other bottles. I wanted the height off-centered, so the tallest bottle went to the left, while the corked bottle went to the right. The reflection of the tray on the table top should also reinforce the 3D feel of the piece.

The biggest issue that surfaced in the sketching phase was getting the correct symmetry on the bottles. Each bottle has a different shape, which is good for the composition but tricky to do right seven times. I’m sure I will keep adjusting them as I go.

So, how do I like working on Mexican Bark Paper? Well, I was very careful to go into the sketch with very light marks. I used a light brown pastel pencil, wanting to be careful not to damage the surface of the paper. This isn’t any different than the way I would start any other pastel piece. But, as you may recall from my previous post, I want to show off this paper. It needs to remain clean to act as the finished background without any pastel added to it. I did have to fight, maybe that’s too harsh a term, the texture of the bark fiber. This needed to be a fairly precise sketch, and sometimes the bark fibers decided where my marks were going rather than me. Also, I found that darker colors were more difficult to remove from this paper. I believe this is due to the softness of the surface. The paper does not seem fragile at all, but the fibers want to hang on to the pastel pigments more than Canson Mi-Teintes, which is what I normally use. This is a good reason to know what you want to do before starting the sketch.

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