Beware small boys bearing gifts. 

My son presented me with a pinecone last Friday. “He’s called ‘Pokey the Wooden Hedgehog,'” he told me. With all the stuff my boys bring into the house each week,  I came close to calling Pokey the Wooden Hedgehog ‘Kindling’ instead, but then had a change of heart.

I had to wait for my primed canvases to dry before painting (a procrastination technique if ever I saw one), so I searched out my chalk pastels, propped Pokey artfully under a spotlight and set to work:

At about this point I was wishing my son had presented me with ‘Roundy the Smooth, Spherical Ball.’

But it’s pretty typical to hit that dead patch in a drawing where it looks a bit rubbish and I feel like ditching it, amd I’ve learned that if I persist, it often comes right. So I didn’t abondon the Pokester just yet.


Then I put in a background, stepped back to survey the effect… and retched.

Apparently cool colours recede and warm colours sit forward in a painting, but the greens I’d used as base layers in Pokey were now competing with the Kermit pelt background I’d just laid down. This is where having a larger selection of pastel colour choice may come in handy…


I deepened the contrast of lights and darks and added in Pokey’s highlights to try and bring him out more from the page. Darkening the background seemed to help stop my retching too. I hadn’t quite botched it, but I wasn’t nailing it either. It all looked a bit insipid.

At this point, I figured I’d done my dash with Pokey the Wooden Hedgehog. He might sit still without complaint, but he’s a lousy conversationalist. Besides, this was just meant to be a drawing exercise; let’s not get too precious.

But then I did some research and looked at other still life paintings out there – in particular, the treatment of background styles and colours – and I made some final changes which seemed to do the trick:


The darker blues echo Pokey’s shadow area, balancing out the composition and tying  it all together better.

I’m not saying it’s the strongest still life I’ve ever done. I mean, it’s a solitary pinecone on an improbable (and suspiciouly amphibious) coloured surface. But I learned a lot. Particularly, to be wary of young sons presenting me with natural objects they’ve named.


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