Assignment Two: context, composition and reflection


I wanted to draw a selection of objects that had more meaning than just simply a still life of fruit, and one in which all of the objects had a relationship to each other. Paganism is something that I am very interested in and my friends collection of ritual objects have fascinated me for ages. The object’s immediate context is their status of items on a contemporary Germanic Pagan altar, but I liked the notion that the way the objects are framed in the picture means that they become more ambiguous. These items that I included in my composition are very personal to my friend, and I very much appreciated him allowing me to draw them for this assignment.


Arranging all of the items in a way that reflected the context was very difficult, as there was quite a range of shapes and textures, and at first I thought it looked too ‘busy’, so I removed a few of the ‘less essential items’ from the altar, and took numerous photos of the various arrangements.

After narrowing it down through taking photos on my phone, I then started some composition sketches in my sketchbook to narrow it down further.


I really liked this composition at first, but decided it wasn’t an interesting enough viewpoint, or challenging enough, as there didn’t seem to be as much depth to the composition. After looking at this sketch, I then decided to remove the incense burner from the altar.


I then looked at the composition again after removing the blue bowl and bag of runes and took some photos from different viewpoints.

I really liked the viewpoint from above the altar, but wasn’t sure how I would draw the three ‘aegishalmr‘ shot glasses, so thought I would attempt sketching these in my sketchbook first before starting a larger piece.


I sketched the three glasses from both angles with charcoal, though the second one took me a lot longer to draw, as it was not drawn from an viewpoint I was used to drawing from!

I decided to draw the still life from above, as it was a more unusual and challenging view to draw, and after playing with lighting, I decided to draw it with the light source in front of the altar, so that a shadow was cast on the wall behind it.


Esoteric Still Life


Chalk Pastels, dark grey pastel paper.

I found this drawing very difficult to create, having to stop numerous times throughout the drawing process and go back to it. This was my main reason for using an artificial light source to draw from.

Things that went well:

  • I used a limited palette of colours, which worked well for this composition, and the pastels gave the impression of the softer, yellowy tone of light I used as a light source in the evening.
  • The paper was a different texture to that I was used to using, but I think that particular texture worked well, especially when trying to get a more realistic texture on the black embroidered altar cloth.
  • I think the cow drinking horn worked very well in pastels, especially with the texture of the paper.

Things that didn’t go so well:

  • It was difficult to differentiate between the different textures using the chalk pastels.
  • The thing I found the most difficult to draw was the wand: it was very difficult to depict the texture of wood as well as the twisted shape of the wand.
  • I think I could have cropped the composition further after finishing the drawing.

Esoteric Still Life, in Black and White

After completing the colour assignment piece, I was then inspired to draw a second picture, of a different viewpoint of the same composition using charcoal, and using natural light, so I was much more limited by time.


Willow charcoal on heavy cartridge paper, approximately A2 size.

Things that went well:

  • The use of black and white worked very well with the context of the items.
  • Used various techniques including stippling, shading with the side of the pastel, and a putty eraser to lift out highlights.
  • The lighting was a lot more subtle and colder than in the previous – using daylight meant that there was a different contrast between items.
  • I found myself using a putty eraser and blending stumps to bring out highlights more effectively – I also used my fingers to bring out subtle highlights in the black alter cloth. The putty eraser was essential for lifting out the highlights made by the embroidered symbols on this, and for blending with the glasses.
  • The grain of the paper worked very well with charcoal – it had enough ‘tooth’ that the charcoal adhered to it.

Things that didn’t go so well:

  • The middle shot glass ended up slightly distorted when I tried to draw the wand around it.
  • The horn this time was a lot more difficult to draw, partly because of the shape and perspective of it, partly because I couldn’t get the charcoal to blend the same way I had with the pastels – I now think that it could have been improved by using a white chalk to blend some of those bits as well, but I wanted to challenge myself to use the putty eraser to blend charcoal with (something I’ve not felt overly comfortable doing!).
  • Although the cloth has been blended, I am still not quite happy with how it falls down the front of the altar – I’m not sure how to resolve this, whether it is the drawing of the embroidered symbol or whether it is a tone/shadows issue!

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