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Author Topic: Still Life Basics  (Read 2247 times)


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on: July 12, 2010, 06:50:26 AM
One of the subjects that is quite popular is the Still Life. These can be just plain objects grouped together, or perhaps a group of vegetables, or a group of objects plus vegetable, etc.. Another type is the Floral Still Life where we normally see flowers arranged in a vase.

There is no specific rule that says how many objects may be grouped together. Each grouping belongs to the "Personal Preference" file. There is also no rule that says just what objects may or may not be grouped together. It all boils down to the ingenuity, imagination and creativity of the artist. There are many different ways of grouping Still Life paintings - some good and some not so good.

TIP : Don't just use the first arrangement you make with the selected objects - shuffle them, rearrange them several times before deciding on the final arrangement. This is called Planning! If you have a digital camera take a shot of each arrangement and print out on one page the photos in small format. You are, after all, only after a rough indication of which one to select for the painting. Also no need for high resolution prints!

In my many years as an artist I have seen many paintings of Still Lifes and in many categories, but nowhere have I seen or read any real explanation of what constitutes a Still Life, and also how a Still Life is put together - no rules and regulations! I decided to do a bit of research and analyzing and came up with the following:-

There are several ways of doing this:-

Loosely Arranged

The objects are placed randomly, or otherwise, in a group but each are completely separated from each other.

Next to Each Other

When viewed, all objects are not completely separated but appear to touch or "kiss" each other. This arrangement is better than the loose arrangement and is tending to form a unity but still not quite.

The Overlapping Principle

This can also be called the "Embracing Principle" where each object is "embracing" or overlapping at least one other object. There can only be unity when there is a very close relationship.

General Information

You are not forced to use one or the other but you may combine them in any way you choose. You are, after all, the Captain of your Ship and you may sail wherever you want to. Only you are responsible for your actions and decisions. This sketch shows the overlapping principle and the unity of the arrangement. A few loose minor items may well be loose from the major arrangement.

Practical Examples

Here are some objects randomly selected with no intention of making a painting, but rather for illustration purposes only. No flash or bright lights were used. Still Life Paintings are best portrayed using natural lighting. The arrangement here is the "Loose" or "Unfriendly"type. Note the camel walking out of the picture. It is also like a story without a serious plot.

This "Loose" arrangement has been improved because the camel is looking into the picture and is much more pleasing . This is not the best arrangement but does not mean that you may not paint it. There are occasions where the "Loose" arrangement makes for a very pleasing painting. One example is a long narrow shelf with a row of, say, apples. Sometimes one needs to "break away" from the traditional!!

The "Kissing" arrangement. Here the objects have been moved closer to each other. Either almost or just touching. You can see that this arrangement is starting to become a bit more friendly and closer to being, but not quite, a unity.

The "Embracing" arrangement, or more commonly known as the overlapping technique. There is no doubt that a unity, or bond, has been formed here. This is the most common of the styles used. These objects may be rearranged to suit the effect wanted in the final painting. Each arrangement may be suitable but each will give a different story and effect.

Use of a Shadow Box

Where one wants to portray an "Old Master" style Still Life the use of a shadow box is very useful. This box can be any size and shape according to your requirements. More about this in a later tutorial. Here I grabbed an empty A4 cardboard box that contained 5 reams of photocopy paper. I used another arrangement of the previous objects in the "Embracing" type and the lighting is natural light from a window on the right hand side.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2010, 10:43:55 PM by nolan »
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Reply #1 on: August 11, 2011, 02:28:51 PM
This is great information!