Saturday, 22 January 2011

How can I Make my Still Life More Interesting?

A stereotypical still life setting may result from the subconscious collation of images depicting fruit, a bowl, a bottle or a vase of flowers to be requisite subject matter for still life painting. The artist may place such objects in a row and standing to attention beneath artificial light. On reflection however, the artist may suspect that opportunities for making the still life stand out may have been overlooked. How can an interesting still life painting be created?

Troubleshooting for a Captivating Still Life

Original Ideas for Painting
Rachel Shirley
Although the aforementioned objects can in fact be used to create an eye-catching still life study, the following practices and assumptions may lie at the core of a still life painting that lacks interest:
  • Not trying other possible object combinations and merely opting for the first objects that present themselves.
  • Going for the most orthodox viewpoint without shifting the angle from which the objects can be seen, such as a setting viewed flat-on.
  • Low visual awareness, consigning various elements to invisibility such as the background, the lighting and the shape of shadows may result in a painting that reflects this view.
  • Fear that the still life may look silly to othes if trying experimental techniques.
Ideas for Still Life

The following ideas may open up more possibilities and further inspiration for creating original and quirky still life art:

Try viewing the objects from bizarre angles rather than just eye-level. View them from directly above or from a vantage point below eye level or even below if placed on a glass tabletop. Of course, painting from life may not be possible from such an unorthodox angle, so good quality photos might be necessary.

Try placing objects containing contrasting elements or those in unusual contexts within the composition. A rusty old engine or an animal skull within a setting of fruit could make the viewer see the objects in a new light. Provide contrast in other ways, such as warm colours against cool; rough and smooth, sunlit and shaded. Provide a quirky focal point by placing just one bright-coloured object within a setting of subdued ones, or one point of sunlight within a shaded view, which might fall across a carefully-selected object.

View any object as possible subject matter for a still life, no matter how kitsch. Trawl Ebay, car boots, second-hand shops or house clearances to find truly unique objects or those of yesteryear. A Micky Mouse clock or Rubik’s cube could provide the ideal focal points to an otherwise ordinary still life.

Try out different backgrounds rather than that of one of just one colour. A partly-open curtain; a window revealing a dramatic sky or light filtering through lace could bring the background to the fore. Brick, tiles or embossed wallpaper (or peeling wallpaper) will exhibit interesting textures if obliquely-lit.

Still Life Shadows and Reflections

Make unorthodox use of the shadows. Look out for bizarre and weird shadow shapes that may stretch across the table when the light source is shifted around. Bright sunlight filtering through a neighbouring window will often transform the most somber subject matter and bring out bright colours, contrasts and reflected light. Who said the still life had to be completed indoors? Try placing them on a patio table. Lace or lattice material can be used to create a dazzling soupcon of sunlight and shadow over part of the setting.

Drawing Sharp Focus Still LifesA split view of a still life can be exploited if part of it is distorted by a glass tumbler, a brandy glass or bottles. Try partially filling vessels with clear fluid to optimize this effect. Mirrors and other shiny surfaces will open up the view, otherwise invisible for new compositional possibilities. Unusual patterns over surfaces can be seen if sunlight is filtering through lace curtains or an embroidered lampshade.

Original Ideas for Still Life

New possibilities for still life ideas may often become apparent by simply trying things out. Practice is often more illuminating than theory. Mix and match objects; don’t exclude possibilities if they seem farfetched don't write-off objects as too mundane or kitsch. Trawl second hand shops or Ebay.Shift the light source and the viewpoint; juxtapose the still life against different backgrounds. Don’t stop if a good setting is found if it can be made great by a few simple adjustments. Experimentation and exercising visual awareness is often the key to finding original and compelling ideas for painting; still life is no exception.

Relevant Links to Matters of Still Life Art

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