Compelling Still Life Art
- 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.
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
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.