The Still Life: Still Lively

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Here's a photograph of a possible still life setup. Old and new items tell a cheerful story. Note the repeated circle shapes, analogous colors, and variety of sizes in the composition.

A  still  life  lets  you  express  the  vitality  of  painting  from  life  in  the  comforts  of your studio. Forget those boring vases you drew in art school. Set up whatever delights you. Simple  shapes  and  solid  colors are  easiest  to  portray,  but  there  are  no  rules.  Some suggestions:

  • Home: Kitchen  utensils,  framed  photos,  perfume  bottles, stuffed animals, even piles of laundry. The phrase, “doing your laundry” has a new meaning to an artist! 
  • Closet: Handbags of various shapes, a rainbow of scarves, sprawls of hangers, and vintage jewelry;
  • Yard: Rocks, muddy boots, rusty tools, and fallen leaves and fruit;
  • Found objects: Flea market and thrift store finds, broken or not, offer great shapes and stories;
  • Packaging: Cereal boxes, canned goods, board games, and more put words and designs into your statement;
  • Art supplies: Paintbrush bouquets, palettes, and paints are colorful props every artist has on hand;
  • Unexpected: Add  a  jolt  of  interest  to  a  traditional  still  life  with something  unexpected,  such  as  a  toy  robot next to vase of flowers

Composing a Still Life

A pleasing arrangement is the foundation of your artwork. Determine a vantage point (eye level or slightly above eye  level works well)  then arrange  things  on  a  flat  surface. Use a piece of cardboard, maybe draped with cloth  for a backdrop. For well-defined lights and shadows, use direct light from a window or lamp on your subject.

Play  with  the  placement  of  things,  arranging  overlaps  and  varying heights  and  sizes.  Contrast  your  darks  and lights, including shadows. Fabrics offer pattern accents. Use floral clay or earthquake gel to hold things in place. 

Have fun expressing your personal take on the classic still life!