Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Indoor Lighting Makes my Still Life look Dreary

Poor lighting may make the brightest still life objects appear dull. The artist may find colour mixing more difficult, which will have a knock-on effect on the painting. Artificial lighting serves only to make the still life setting appear lurid, creating fuzzy shadows with no contrasts. But outdoors, even on a cloudy day, the contrast can be breathtaking. How does the artist prepare for still life painting en plein air?

Painting a Still Life Alfresco

Tips for Alfresco Art
The artist does not have to go traipsing off into the landscape to paint alfresco; one’s own back yard is ideal. The light that floods the garden is often far brighter than the light that filters indoors, even on a cloudy day. Objects appear more vibrant and contrasts between colour and tone more intense. As a bonus, new possibilities for still life subject matter seem to open out: tomato plants, wheelbarrows, deckchairs, trellises, gardening tools, swings, hanging baskets, urns, water-features, bird tables, garden ornaments, fish ponds, bird boxes – and natural light.

However, the simplest everyday objects can be used and when carefully arranged in the garden, exude a beauty rarely seen indoors.

Still Life in the Garden

Setting up a still life outdoors need not be difficult. A patio table and chair can be used as the painting station. I often use as tripod stool as used by campers or fishers, as it allows unlimited elbow room. Adjust the seating so the thighs are parallel to the floor. This will also make the paints easier to reach if placed on the ground.

An informal setting with minimal clutter is best. An easel need only be used if working large. Otherwise, affix the painting to a backing board via bulldog clips and prop against a patio table or similar. Place all art materials on an old sheet so that it can be gathered up quickly if the weather changes. Weigh down with stones if it turns breezy.

Practical Advice for Painting En Plein Air

Beware of hotspots in the garden and also of bright sunlight bouncing off the painting surface. If possible sit in the shade or under a parasol. Wear a hat and sunblock. A cool drink always comes in handy. There is nothing wrong with wearing sunglasses, for they cut out the glare and make the still life stand out. But take them off from time to time to check the colour mixes.

Optimum Use of Light for Painting

Plan ahead for such a fickle thing as sunlight. Conceive and sketch the composition on a dull day. This will negate pressures to get the paint down before the light fades.

Finding an interesting still life composition in the garden will involve viewing, walking around, taking notes and sketching. Swapping and changing the objects might sometimes be necessary. Take the time to get the drawing right. Make a note of where the drawing took place and how the objects were arranged. Taking due thought over this will ensure a successful painting on the day.

Oil Paintings from Your Garden: A Guide for BeginnersIf the weather forecast is good, prepare the art materials in readiness. Consider where and when the shadows creep in on certain times of the day. It would be pointless to begin a sunlit painting in late afternoon if the sun sets behind the house.

Allow more time to complete the painting than one thinks. I find early morning or teatime in spring or late summer allows the artist ample time to record the shifting shadows. Diffused sunlight as seen beneath a parasol will take away the element of transience if the artist wishes. But if the painting does not turn out at first another can be tried without too much preparation, but painting alfresco in the garden is arguably one of the most unique ways of producing still life art that may prove addictive.

More about producing still life art in the garden can be found in my book Oil Paintings from your Garden, as signed copy of which can be purchased from Ebay (see visual link on the top right of this blog) or from Amazon.

Articles on Still Life

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