Exercise: Fish on a plate

fishes-on-plate I chose mackerel for this because of the lovely markings on their backs (like rippling water patterns). I bought three because they are a long thin fish and one wouldn’t  have filled the plate well.

I enjoyed this exercise even though it was very smelly – definitely a project to complete in one sitting and without the heating on high! I was so immersed that at one point I had the illusion  the  smell was coming from my paper rather than the fish on the plate.

I chose to use a plain plate after experimenting with patterned dishes because I wanted to make the markings on the fish the main point of interest. I also wanted to reflect these markings in the background’ tablecloth’ and my initial sketches with a parsley patterned platter showed me that this was going to be over the top.

I opted, in the end, for a very flat plate so that it didn’t distort the shape of the fish as was the case with sloping edged dishes.


I’m reasonably satisfied with these fishes, including their rather evil looking grins and glassy eyes.

Initially I drew the fishes with their heads pointing bottom left but decided after finishing that it works better with the fish heads pointing top left. This makes them look as if they’ve leapt out of the sea on to the plate, there’s somehow more vitality.

I used Derwent watercolour pencils and Bockingford paper. Adding a water wash over helped to fill all the little white gaps in the textured paper but also diluted the intensity of colour so that I had to go back over detail again. I used a soft pencil for the plate shadow which was a mistake – from my experiments I didn’t think it would have the same shine of my graphite pencils but it did. Simply using the water colour pencils would have been better.

I could possibly have given more definition to the inner rim of the plate and, if I’m being really critical, I’d say that the inner rim is not quite correctly positioned between the fish heads.

By the way, I really like the student drawing which illustrates this exercise – particularly the way the pattern on the fish is reflected in the background trees.

Preliminary drawings




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