Friday, 7 January 2011

I Have no Interesting Objects for a Still Life Painting

The artist struck by an itch to produce still life art may loot the cupboards for something interesting to paint and pass up apparently mundane objects, such as bottles, fruit or toys, for something more exotic. In the hunt for the unobtainable, the artist may assume that objects present will not produce a good still life. What are the ideal objects to include in a still life painting?

Compelling Still Life Art

Selecting interesting subject matter for a painting may prove a challenge if the artist is unsure of what to include. Making assumptions and generalisations about objects can often result in a still life that fails to live up to expectations. The following ideas need challenging when selecting still life objects.
  • The ideal still life must include exotic or unusual objects; an artefact, a valuable piece of jewellery or other item exhibiting convoluted shapes, textures or bright colours.
  • Including objects at their best; a showy bouquet with big blooms; polished silver or flawless china.
  • Including “challenging” objects which might exhibit intricate shapes, detail or elements of perspectives in the belief that such objects will contribute to a still life to be admired.
Objects to Include in a Still Life

The truth is, any object can be made interesting with the right approach. An invisibility to mundane objects mean the artist is seeing only a fraction of the possibilities available for creating a great still life. The following might help.

An object does not have to be at its best to earn its place into a still life study. In fact, old, broken, dirty or wilted can add interest in regards to texture, colour shifts and contours. Used tools, an old engine, a broken pot or a scrunched up coke can, could contribute to a still life that will make the viewer look twice.

Objects in relation to one another will create interesting contexts: old and new, rough and smooth, bright and dark or patterned and plain. A waxy lemon against a pewter tankard or a glass bottle against a cuddly toy is likely to create contrasts in hue, texture and tonal contrasts not so apparent when viewed in isolation.

A still life consisting of the most mundane objects will make the viewer see the everyday with fresh eyes. A snow globe, a hairbrush, a teddy bear or a pair of glasses on close inspection has interesting reflections, contours and textures which can be explored with various art techniques.

Still Life Lighting

Lighting conditions will have a fundamental effect upon how objects look. Moving a desk lamp around will show how shifting shadows make objects appear to shift in hue, tone and even shape. Oblique light will bring out the textures of orange peel not visible if lit from the front; pots lit from the top will exhibit extreme tonal shifts where punchy shadows pool at the bottom; light streaming through thin objects such as petals or paper will make the object appear iridescent. Natural light, particularly sunlight from a window, creates bright colours, reflected light and deep shadows that far surpasses artificial light.

Still Life Shapes from Different Angles

Take a look at a still life setting from different angles and notice how the outlines change radically, not only the objects themselves, but the shape of the spaces in between. The two are known as positive and negative shapes and are explored in another article. A teacup lying on its front facing the viewer loses its familiar “cup” shape, but appears simply round as only the lip and the inner part is in view; the handle, a stubby limb.

Still Life Elements in Oil Painting

Still Life Painting Atelier: An Introduction to Oil PaintingAn interesting still life often consists of the most simple objects. Never overlook the mundane, as with the right lighting conditions and set against contrasting objects, will create a dynamic still life. The trick is simply to try the items out. Take out a dozen or so objects and place three at a time next to each other on a table. Mix them up, shift them around, try them out under different lighting conditions. View the setting from different angles. The selection and setting up of the objects is part of the painting process and should not be rushed, as the best painting technique will not mask an uninteresting or unbalanced still life. If unsure about anything, leave it and return later. New possibilities or solutions will present themselves with a fresh view.

Ideas for Still Life Objects

The following ideas may spur new possibilities for a still life: toys, tools, food, food containers, boxes, bottles, ceramics, glass, ornaments, plants, fruit, vegetables, shoes, hair accessories, toiletries, money, clothes, footwear, perfume bottles, pots, batteries, electronics, musical instruments, bags, books, magazines, newspapers, other paintings. And the list goes on.

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