Wednesday, 19 January 2011

How do I Paint Still Life Objects in Foreshortening?

How to Draw Objects in Foreshortening
Rachel Shirley
A still life painting containing an object in foreshortened view may appear skewed. Long objects pointing at the viewer such as chair legs, breadsticks, grinders, cutlery, shoelaces clothes pegs or tin openers do not appear to inhabit three-dimensional space as it should. Regardless of how well the other objects have been painted, the skewed object continues to draw the eye, spoiling the effect. How can the artist paint objects foreshortened in as still life convincingly?

Foreshortening in Still Life Painting

Trying to draw an object in foreshortening or in other words, pointing at the viewer, is a common stumbling block for beginners trying to paint from life. The “long” object appears squashed to one side, or out of true. The following culprits are often to blame for such an unwanted focal point in a still life painting:
  • Giving in to the inner voice that insists that the object is long, regardless of how it appears in foreshortened view, causing the artist to artificially lengthen the object in an attempt to satisfy this inner dogma.
  • Illustrating all sides of the object in an attempt to make it look as though it is projecting from the page as it does so in real life.
  • Granting the object lines which may not be discerned in real life, just to illustrate a long edge or series of edges.
  • Due to the ineffective methods just described, the artist may fiddle with the area until it looks a confused mess.
How to Draw Objects in Foreshortening

The problem with objects viewed in foreshortening is that the brain becomes split in view. The object is long and yet it appears short in real life. If taking on board both pieces of advice, the dilemma of how to illustrate the foreshortened object cannot be resolved. The following drawing exercise might help with foreshortened objects in still life art.

Forget labels for objects and forget any attempt at rendering what the object “is.” The object is no longer an object but a series of abstract contours and tonal shapes. Similarly, forget that it is long or other descriptive labels for how the object “should” look.

Watch out for the parallax effect. Viewing the object through one eye and then the other may reveal two completely different views, where an outline may be visible in one view, yet invisible in the other. If the two differ significantly, it might be best to shut one eye whilst attempting to render the foreshortened object.

Remember that objects in foreshortened view may not resemble the object viewed in familiar ways. A teapot spout may appear round; a breadknife a triangle; a breadstick as a stub and clothes pegs as squares. Regardless of how impossible the shape may appear, trust what the eye sees and forget what the brain “knows” about the object.

A foreshortened object may often not exhibit lines, but areas of light and shadow. Resist the temptation to illustrate lines to demonstrate length if no lines can be seen.

How to Draw Foreshortened Objects for Still Life Paintings

Keys to DrawingPractice drawing simple objects in foreshortened view. If no objects are at hand, simply drawing a pointing finger is a good start. Close one eye to eradicate the parallax view. Imagine the object is not three-dimensional but a flattened jigsaw of lines and tonal shapes. Retain this abstract view during the drawing process forgetting what the object is. Work lightly at first, working steadily darker. Follow the contours faithfully, regardless of how bizarre they might seem.

Try other simple objects in isolation such as bottles or beakers. A first attempt may not always yield a satisfactory result, but practice of drawing objects in foreshortened view is a great way of raising visual awareness whilst rendering other objects in a still life.

Relevant Links to Still Life Art


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