Here I will do the exercises as in the study guide from pages 57 to 62. I read that our first exercise has to focus on an arrangement of objects, found in my house, that just happens to be there. What an interesting take! It could be in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom…..time to observe and not curate a setting for this exercise! I I shall think of it as if the viewer will see that I just happened to walk into …

Drawing in paint

In our master bedroom I have a little sculpture standing on a chest of drawers, of which I have strong emotional ties – it was given to me by my sister, and is called, My sister, my friend. I love looking at this regularly and think it would make a great drawing. We have recently moved into this house and I have to admit that not a single picture has been hung onto our walls. I remove the painting which is placed behind this object and replace it with a small mirror. I am not sure about the piece of coral next to it, either. I explore this view for the sake of having a simple still life arrangment, and the idea of some reflection as symbolism. I leave my amber pendant on silver chain lying in front of the sculpture. I have previously done a drawing of the crystal parfume bottle as well as the piece of coral. I think it will be important to have a view that shows the reflection in the mirror at the back of the subjects. I do not feel comfortable to make a watercolour work, although I think this could be a really soft representation of the objects. I decide to do a small oil painting (A1 canvas paper) and focus on the objects. I also remove the crystal bottle and plan on focusing on the vertical lines of the figures.

I will start by placing the important lines and keep line work as part of the painting. The mirror behind is strong lines that fills up the composition.

In my readings on Pierre Bonnard I came upon a catalogue that I could download as a PDF , The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, Met Publication. Here I read that he looked at these interiors as an experience of passing by. I think of what I set out to do in this exercise and hope that this Drawing in paint does show what one sees when one look at my chest of drawers in my bedroom. Apparently he did not paint from life, but from a memory of his own observations – this would mean that he could ‘unclutter’ a composition.

I still need to do the background – not the white the walls are painted. I am thinking about using an analogous scheme – I used Cadmium Red and Lemon Yellow, with some of the neutral mix I used for the drawing. I decide to use red and violet with some neutral mix for the background wall . I reshaped the paper for this painting to give it a taller effect and will use the offcutt to test the colour idea.

I decided to draw a closer viewpoint and do it on a dark ground A4 paper canvas. I set out my palet with, my neutral grey(mixed with White and B Umber),Crimson Lake, BSiena, , U Blue, Cad Yellow, Indian Yellow, TerraVerte and BUmber. I feel I should make more of a drawing statement and start the drawing with my diluted neutral. By now I feel more comfortable with this composition and want the objects to come to the foreground in this study.

I think it is important in looking at the linear aspects – I try to see if I can find the relationships between the outlines of the ojbects and the spaces in between them. The reflection line in the mirror draws in the eye, but I need to define the line at the back of the chest of drawers upon which this is standing. I need to add some grain lines on the surface of the drawer as well as more detail to the dress/bodies of the two figures. The important thing is to ensure the line retains its presence in the painting. I am looking at holding the shape of the curved lines of the mirror and edges. I educate myself about line, and find the following description makes sense: “A line is an identifiable path created by a point moving in space. It is one-dimensional and can vary in width, direction, and length. Lines often define the edges of a form. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin. They lead your eye around the composition and can communicate information through their character and direction.” (website of Paul Getty Museum on Elements of Art) A battle without good fine brushes for the finer lines – almost something likea thin watercolour brush will be so useful.

For me the subject is not only the figurine, but the mirror image in the mirror behind them – how this is placed as a reminder of a memory for me about having a sister and a friend. I do hope that the reflections in the mirror creates atmosphere and that I also gave attention to these forms, colours and textures. I think about belonging and the fact that both me and my sister are not currently living in our home countries. It reminds me of a book I started reading about identifies and belonging and how this changes over the course of your life. ( In the name of identity, Amin Maalouf)

Still life with flowers

I do not have a garden with flowers and fresh flowers are not easily accessible as it is still warm.

Still life natural objects

I like the idea of painting a still life with natural objects. I have made a few sketches of my potted garden and the idea of doing a series of coloured studies intrigue me. I love sitting there with my morning coffee. Reading on the symbolism of the cacti type plants I found that they symbolise endurance as well as maternal love and can also set a great example in our current lifestyle of global warming, as they are a reminder of using little water – I also do like the natural shapes of my small collection. Here in Dubai I have to protect them from the scorching sun and heat in the summer months – the weather is cooling down and soon we will have a mild winter. These plants are in an enclosed courtyard at the entrance to your home. I decide to use my artistic freedom and ‘open up the wall’ as if a window to the outside. I am located near the sea, on a man made canal, but our view is protected by rows of densely planted trees. It is an ongoing building project to create a palm fond style island and our area is called Veneto. This project is currently on hold and the canals are closed off from our community for obvious safety reasons. I am thinking how I will be engaging with this subject and using it to explore other layers of interest and how this would be understood by the viewer. Ideas about expressiveness and having a powerful meaning hangs in my mind. I feel I can be sensitive to the geographic location and use a visual narrative for exploring the landscape…( and representational incoherence that afflicted Impressionism, in which an over reliance on color weakened the distinction between figure and ground and left the painting open to whatever the spectator projected onto it)

Whilst I was doing these drawings for the idea, I read more about the process to create these palm islands and discovered that a lot of land was dredged as well as redepositing of sand for the construction of the islands. This must have had an impact on the marine habitat like coral reefs, oyster beds and subterranean fields of sea grass, threatening local marine species as well as other species dependent on them for food.

I will be able to work from life and, like the Dutch Still life artists of flower paintings did, I plan to use photos or other reference material to add to my composition. I know that we are adjacent to a Wetland Sanctuary ( 20 square km sanctuary) which was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance during October 2018. This wetland is located between the Palm Jebel Ali and up to the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border to the South West of Dubai. It is also where the Ghantoot Marine Reserve is located. It is home to many marine species such as the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, the green turtle and the mottled eagle ray, as well as it being a coral area with at least 34 species, a variety of birds and other flora and fauna. Worldwide the populations of the Hawksbill turtles have experienced decline because of a history of intense commercial exploitation for shell and stuffed taxidermied whole animals, and harvest for eggs and meat. Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) were once abundant in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. The species is now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN as a result of global declines in many populations across all ocean basins. Hawksbills also are the only sea turtle species collected for the shell (tortoise shell or bekko) by craftspeople, who turn them into combs, pennants, sunglasses and other trinkets. Other threats add to the problem, including pollution, large-scale oceanic nutrient shifts and global warming.

Thinking about sketching possibilities and how I could bring them into my still life paintings. I search for more images and material on their appearances. I applied to the local authority to have access to the area and are awaiting their approval and hopefully the necessary permits.

I had visitors and we have done some sightseeing around Dubai – the visit to the Aquarium at the Atlantis Hotel influenced above ideas. At first I thought of graffiti on the wall behind the plants, then the idea to open up the view towards the sea and have the cityscape as background. In the meantime I heard that my application to visit the Jebel Ali Nature Conservation area has been declined. I did however find a great research article on the Hawksbill Turtle and it covers the work in this conservation area.

In a National Geographic article I read that, ” New research suggests that nine million hawksbills were slaughtered in the past 150 years, mostly for their fiery red and gold carapaces, which were fashioned into hair clips, eyeglasses, jewelry boxes, and furniture.” (

Newspaper clipping for ideas for painting a still life of natural objects
sanchez cotan reinterpreted
all images courtesy of quatre caps

I could gather some of the vegetables from my kitchen and also make use of the photo images. Keeping my wall in mind, the reinterpretation of work of Juan Sanchez Cotan intrigued me. I decided to use this as my inspiration. The original work was made to lay on a window sill – as if the birds could come right in and eat some of the fruit/vegetables. I love the use of negative space and the setting within a ‘frame’.

Naomi Robins – (

I came upon above work of a student – her interpretation led to photographic studies – of the fruit in a process of being consumed.

I tried several small drawings/ watercolour studies and attempted to bring everything of the above images into my own interpretation – it lacked spatial relationships and my colours were not effective as per the suggestions for this exercise.

Building my own still life idea after above works I want to interpret

I do like the smaller garlic hanging from the line, but would shorten the string and hang the iceberg salad next to it. I decide to keep the apple – colours would compliment. In my kitchen window I experimented with a cabbage, lemon and a cucumber. This was as near as I could get to the Coton scene – but with my own interpretation and subjects.

I started with putting the shapes down and and then worked on the negative darker shapes. I mixed some green to see how the colours would look – the cucumber is too light, but I am happy with the shapes and grey tones. By this stage I decide to hang only the cabbage and stay with less complicated shapes. I would like to focus more on tonal variation of these shapes.

By this stage I decide to hang only the cabbage and stay with less complicated shapes. I would like to focus more on tonal variation of these shapes, but find it difficult as it is small. I work wet on wet – in the image below the lemon and cucumber needs to become three dimensional objects and more realistic.

Still life in Kitchen window – work in progress
Veggies in plastic

Looking at the work of Sanchez Cotan below I am more aware of the naturalism and reality in this work, combined with the artist’s use of negative space and the interesting hanging of the objects. But I learn about how his composition, interesting curved shape and use of colour and texture of these fruits/vegetables also contribute to this paintings beauty and interest. I read that Cotán utilized this window ledge like a stage creating a deep space which lent itself to the illusion that the fruits and vegetable he rendered were actually entering the viewer’s space. This hanging of food would have been a common practice during the time as it protected the food from bruising and from pests. This string was a useful visual device, as the artists, by cutting off the top of the window and not allowing the viewer to see from where the item is hung, he creates an interesting perspective which adds to the illusion that these foods are actually popping out of the frame. And now the dark space of the background makes more sense – as it helps this effect. It makes me wonder about the artist intent. I look back at my own box I created in order to understand this painting – the fact that i could create my own idea in the window frame made me see other things this artist brought to front – use of space, geometric forms, texture and colour.

Juan Sanchez Cotan: Quince Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber, Oil on Canvas, 1602

Still life with man-made objects

Recent visits to the beaches around the UAE made me more aware of the seriousness of the problems with plastic and rubbish pollution in the oceans. We went camping on a beach and the sight of amount washed out items/rubbish was worrying. A camping night in the desert made me more aware of how us humans pollute our natural environment. I took many photos and did water colour paintings on both these trips. On planning this painting I am confronted with how I will successfully use colour and tonal values.

I decide to make use of the heap I made after collecting mostly plastic waterbottles and plastic bags in a small area where we were camping in the desert. ( We took all this rubbish with us when we left) I think the red plastic wrapping is an interesting colour of contrast in this early morning scene. The sad part is that these plastics show local water supplier’s branding and is used by the many operators of the Desert Safaris in this area.

The idea is not to shame or blame other people, but to create awareness of how our visits to nature impacts negatively if we do not take care of how we utilize single use plastic. It is my attempt in finding a solution to this growing problem. I used a prepared piece of mounting board for the painting and washed it with yellow ochre acrylic paint. I am tempted to use other means than just a brush to paint with – it is as if the desert sand shows flows that could be brought about by layers of colours and moved about the surface – I explore the use of a toothbrush to apply paint. I like the boldness of the tool and contemplate if this would work better on canvas and also look better on a bigger size canvas. I apply yellow ochre for the desert sand and mix it to a buttery paste consistency, add burnt sienna, indian yellow and cadmium yellow to create the dunes and tonal value. It is difficult to find the edges of the objects with this brush, plan to work on the plastic bottle the other plastic bags. I will also focus to get the red colour of the bottle wrapping more realistic. I am thinking about getting a bigger round bristle brush – softer marks and strokes could be achieved.

I am contemplating the idea of ‘hanging’ these objects on string. To me this is more a reminder that it does not belong in this area and that ‘we’ need to take action to remove it. I could also use this together with the previous exercise as a group of still lifes which could be further developed.


  • planning and working methods focussed mainly around that I felt the need to paint something that caught my attention and focussing on my own awareness as to why I do art. I took photos which I could use later in my studio. I used found objects which is man-made plastic items. I realise in hindsight that highlights and reflective quality of these objects was not in my mind as much as the story behind why these objects were in the location I found them. It was early morning and some reflected light was captured by my photos.
  • I think the format and scale puts the attention on the objects of this still life. I do think a bigger canvas could make a greater visual impact
  • I arranged the objects after collecting it and had the red plastic wrapping plays an important role in terms of colour, tonal variation and and interesting texture within the landscape it was placed.
  • the colours are basically three primary colours, yellow, red and blue.

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