Re-interpreting still life course

Oil pastel textures created by layers and diluting in turpentine

The studio was full, with students searching for innovative ways to re-interpret the still life arrangement in the centre of the studio.  It was amazing to see how different everyone’s drawing looked even though we were all seeing the same objects.  Have a look at the gallery and you’ll see just how individual and personal the drawings became – each student finding a different interpretation.

The 10 students on the Re-interpreting still life course came with varying amounts of creative experience – this being the very first time for some.  Everyone came with different expectations of what they wanted to achieve over the weekend and judging from the feedback, I think everyone left happy that they had fulfilled their objectives and found personal ways of re-interpreting having traveled a significant way along the road to finding their own voice as a creative artist.

What did the students think?

Here is a flavour of what the students thought of the Re-interpreting still life course that forms part of the ‘Be more creative’ series of.

“I demand high standards from any learning experience and know they will be met with your courses, which means all I have to concentrate on is what kind of a ride you’ll take us on.  Sometimes, not often but sometimes, I think I’m an artist…” – Meg K

“Very structured, very helpful instructions, very intensive – but VERY ENJOYABLE and re-learnt a lot.” – Jayashree J

“Challenging and something very different, but lots of help and inspiration along the way.” – Lorraine W

“Don’t hesitate to book it.  You’ll meet all abilities there and Brian matches his approach to your skill level.” – Neale G

“The teacher, Brian, is very informative and knows his subject.  He is very nice and is a good manager of people and their needs.” – Janet F

The Experience

Day 1
After introducing the weekend course and explaining how re-interpreting still life is all about finding ways of developing your own style or ‘finding your artistic voice’ we began with the first exercise of the day.  I introduced the students to 3 different materials we were to use over the weekend – charcoal, chalk pastels and the star of the weekend – oil pastels.  After each demonstration we did a series of gesture drawings to allow students time to experiment and see if they could not only reproduce what I demonstrated but find out other personal ways of using the different materials.

Extracting textures and details from the still life objects
Some of the thumbnail sketches in oil and chalk pastels with charcoal and pencil

After lunch it was interesting to put these up on the wall and spend some time talking about them, over a final cup of tea and biscuits, to see what we could learn from the process.  We followed this by drawing some thumbnail sketches focusing on extracting information from the still life and making small abstract sketches relying on using all the art elements to make a small but perfectly formed little composition.  I think the students found this idea of extracting and separating information from the objects really useful

The final drawing we did was about putting it all back together again.  I was really happy to see how the students used the first gesture drawing exercise to keep their drawings loose, expressive with a sense of immediacy, combined with the second exercise which helped them draw in a more experimental way with some truly exciting mark making.

Have a look and see what you think of the work created by the students on the Re-interpreting still life course.  See the course photos on the Gallery page of my website.

Day 2
Many of the students arrived early as I had promised them some extra time to put the finishing touches to their drawings they had started the previous day. 

Once everyone had arrived, made a morning coffee and informally discussed each other’s drawings from yesterday we continued with another thumbnail drawing exercise.  This time the focus was on identifying and acknowledging the different techniques students had used in their drawings yesterday.  Too often we stumble along chopping and changing from one technique or colour range to another, not really knowing what we are doing.  This exercise was designed to enable students to focus and identify exactly what they are putting into their drawings.  I encouraged students to ‘work into’ their little thumbnails and really develop them by layering and layering their drawings so make them quite substantial.  Oil pastels are brilliant for this.


The rest of the morning was spent making a drawing using everything they had learnt from making the thumbnail sketches – focusing on technique, rather than worrying about how ‘good’ their drawing was.    It was really liberating to not to have to worry about a bottle or bowl being wonky or out of perspective for a change!  But achieving excellent techniques and really layering their drawings enabled students to make significant progress towards developing a style of drawing that was all their own.


After an early lunch, lots of chatting and a bit of relaxing, we started on the final stage of the course.  Putting everything they had learnt into one final drawing.  I was really happy to see people start their drawings being led by ‘technique’ and letting this process take them on a creative journey.  Most students didn’t get stuck in thinking they had to draw everything perfectly, right from the start thereby negating all the passion and personality from their art.  I did have to prompt a few who were a bit reluctant to release themselves to the joy of the unexpected – but we all got there by the end.


Key learning

Key learning
The key learning that I wanted students to leave with at the end of this 2-day course, along with learning ways of working with new materials was to realise that constantly concentrating on being a ‘better drawer’ and improving our technical drawing skills (perspective, composition, shading, etc) can lead to drawings that lack passion, heart and personality.  Taking time out to find ways of re-introducing passion and personality into our drawings is what will help you as an artist make a personal statement or ‘find your artistic voice’. 

Materials and techniques
We used willow and compressed charcoal, pencils and chalk pastels, but the star of the weekend was re-discovering oil pastels.  They are so versatile and expressive and a joy to use.

It was very exciting to see student discover and experiment with new and interesting materials and techniques.  I don’t think any 2 students ended up with the same results which is what I love about my courses, especially this Re-interpreting still life course.  Students are individuals and anything I can do to help them make drawings that reflect their personalities is hugely rewarding.

It’s about allowing yourselves to draw with your heart on your sleeve!

Everyone went home inspired and had traveled a significant journey on their road to finding their artistic voice.  To find out full details about this course click here to go to the course page on my website.  There are 6 other weekend courses that are part of the Be more Creative series which you can find out about by clicking here – Creative Sketchbooks, Cityscapes + Collage, Paint with textures,  Experimental drawing, Abstract art, and Colour theory.