Assignment #4: Still Life with Potted Plant. Take a relatively small potted plant, with or without flowers, either in a plain terra cotta pot or something more decorative. Create a pleasing and balanced design by incorporating two more objects – a piece of fruit, a shell, a stone, for example – into the composition. The two objects should be subordinate in size to the plant and vary in size relative to each other to add interest. --from Braldt Bralds
The Process: I set up a composition incorporating three elements: an orchid in a decorative pot, a small celadon teapot and a ceramic Asian plate in plate stand. The photograph, shown on the left, was taken outdoors against an adobe wall. After transferring the image onto watercolor paper, I added graphite details and shadows to the pot and the wood-grain tabletop. I applied liquid frisket to mask the white orchid blossoms and some of the lightest highlights on the pot, plate and rim of the teapot. Using a mixture of Burnt Sienna, French ultramarine and sepia, I applied several washes to the background walls and a lighter wash to the tabletop. To create the celadon color of the teapot, I used a mixture of Naples yellow and Cobalt blue. I applied a light wash of the celadon mix to the teapot and a second wash after removing the frisket. After adding more Cobalt blue to the mixture, I applied several washes of color to the decorative pot, adding dark shadows under the rim and the diamond-shaped insets; the same color was used in the abstract design on the plate. The plate was completed using a light wash of Naples yellow with a wash of Burnt Sienna along the rim. Lastly, I painted the leaves and flowers of the orchid plant after removing the frisket. By adding a bit of Gum Arabic to the shades of green paint, the leaves took on a glossy glow. The delicate orchid flowers were completed with touches of white gouache, a mixture of Alizarin crimson and gouache, and touches of grey to outline the pedals, while leaving some of the white paper show through as the brightest highlights.
The Critique: This was my most successful work of the four assignments. It is also my most realistic painting, a clear departure from my typical loose, abstract style. The painting is successful in part because of its composition, an orderly arrangement: the orchid provides a strong center of interest and there is good variation in the proportions and shapes of the three elements. The painting incorporates a good degree of light and dark elements. The orchid pedals could be set off further by darkening the shadowed wall.
Lesson Learned: The elements of design are the building blocks; they provide the structure for a successful painting. Values create gradation in light and contrast; without them, the painting would be flat.