Monday, 15 November 2010

My still Life Painting looks Uninteresting and Stilted

Part of painting a still life is setting up the objects. The beginner may agonise over the oil painting technique, overlooking the composition, which could contain jarring or unnatural elements that do not please the eye. What are the secrets to a great still life composition for painting.

How Not to Compose a Still Life Setting

Ideal Objects for Still Life Art
Rachel Shirley
Making changes is the key to making improvements to a still life painting, which often entails reflecting upon why the setting does not work. The following issues may need examination:
  • Artificial light or flash photography may make the objects look flat or cast an unwanted hue.
  • Not treating shadows as subject matter, resulting in shadows falling off the edge of the painting.
  • Placing two objects of similar shape next to one another, creating unwanted echoes within the still life setting.
  • Orienting objects with projections in the same direction. An example might be allowing a teapot spout and a cup handle to point at the viewer.
Not watching out for clashing colors which contain similar hues. Peach, beige and cream may collectively appear jaundiced; turquoise, cobalt and sage may look insipid.

Ineffective use of negative and positive space could cause lots of problems with the still life setting.

Negative and Positive Space in Art

Negative space is the area surrounding the objects within a painting or setting. The background can be seen emerging within enclosed shapes as well as around the objects, such as a cup handle. Positive shapes are the objects themselves. A good composition is one that contains similar amounts of negative and positive elements throughout the painting. Look out for too much negative space in one area of the setting, which may result in a lopsided composition. Adjust accordingly

A Natural Still Life Composition

Making the arrangement of objects look natural is the key to an effective still life painting, but this is not easy to achieve. Expect to spend half a day or so moving the objects around. Looking at grouping of objects in everyday life may help the artist find the aesthetic in the mundane: disregarded children’s toys, a row of plant pots, used shed tools or cosmetics on a dressing table.

The Best Objects for a Still Life

Contrasting objects will create focal points within a still life. Contrast may mean color, tone or texture: soft and hard, rough and smooth, bright and dull, or curved and straight. An ideal grouping of objects could be a broccoli, a glass tankard, an eggcup and a brass ornament. Each contrast with one another in terms of color, tone and shapes, and also provide opportunities for the artist to explore shadows, reflections and distortions through glass.

Never disregard any object for a still life. A NatWest piggy bank, a teddy bear or a crocodile skin purse are all potentially interesting subject matter. Taking an object out of context will force the observer to see an otherwise mundane object in a new light.

Lighting for Still Life

Consider shadows as part of the still life subject matter. To the eye, shadows have shapes, hues and outlines, just like the objects themselves. If a lamp is at hand, try moving it around to see how the shadows stretch out, shrink and shift about. Look at how they fall over neighbouring objects and how the outlines differ. Natural light is often best. I favour placing my objects next to a sunlit window. Backlit, side-lit and front-lit present different challenges and create their own brand of light and shadow.

Ideal Backgrounds for Still Life

Always take consideration over the background in the painting. Pale objects may contrast nicely with a forest green or indigo cloth. A wooden jug can be brought out with cream or pale blue. But the background does not have to be the same color all over. A streak of sunlight falling over the wall or part of a window will inject a sense of space to the still life.

Great Still Life Art

Still Life Painting Atelier: An Introduction to Oil Painting
Still Life Art Book
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A good still then, is one that contains contrasts in objects, and great use of lighting to bring out form. Taking objects out of their normal context will make the viewer see the objects in a new light. Making the setting appear natural is not as easy as it looks. Some artists spend hours setting up a still life. If things do not work out, leave the objects where they are (use chalk marks as a reminder to their positioning if they have to be put away) and leave for a week or so to gain a fresh perspective.

Helpful Links on Still Life Oil Painting

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