30 in 30: A shadow-box still life of a deer antler teaches me the value of composition and simplicity

Why, oh why do I always gravitate towards the complex, the difficult, the ornate?

This antler (naturally shed, I’ve been assured) was just given to me. How exciting! I’ve wanted to make some antler images for a long time, but deer aren’t just dropping their horns all over the place in the Bay Area. This antler was actually the reason I finally got myself together to make a shadow box for still lives.

I will admit, this painting took me longer than the hour I’ve allowed for the 30-in-30 challenge; I worked on it for about 2.5 hours. So much for my day. But I love the shadow box!

What’s wrong with this painting

When I complain to the fiddler about my paintings, his question to me is always, what’s wrong with it and how can you fix it? So I thought I’d publicly pick this one apart a little.

Part of the problem is the placement of the antler in the space. The paper is 8″ x 10″. You can see that, while the shape of the antler is interesting, it’s not really filling the space.

The solution

With our friend Photoshop, I cropped the painting.

Antler (cropped) Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press
Antler (cropped)
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

That is much better. Now the beautiful spaces between the horns are more noticeable, and the shapes the object makes against the background are more interesting. The antler fills the space, and gives the eye a shorter distance to move to the edges of the paper, which helps lead the viewer around the painting.

Another problem is that I didn’t take time to draw the antler carefully, and pay attention to the form shadows. I’ll be revisiting this subject in charcoal, so seek a better understanding of how it takes up space.

Antler (close up) Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press
Antler (close up)
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Here’s a close up. I tried to simplify the bumpy parts of the horn, while still wrapping my mind around all the patterns of the littler forms.

Next painting? Maybe something simple. An egg?