Listen to part of a lecture in an art class.
This week you’re going to be starting something new…a painting in still-life.
First I wanted to give you a little background…that might be helpful when you start working.
We spent a lot of time on portraits in this class, and moving from painting people to painting objects, might feel like a big shift.
But… I think it’s important for you to understand that you can pack just as much life, and vibrancy, and excitement, into a painting of a bowl of fruit, as you can into something more dynamic.
And you know, still lifes don’t just need to be straightforward representations….
A lot of still-life painters really use the simplicity of the style to send a message, or...or tell a story.
Even portraits sometimes include elements of still-life paintings; for example, in a portrait there might be a map hanging on the wall, or there might be some books on a table next to the subject.
These objects tell you something about the subject, like, uh, maybe that person was well- educated.
A big part of still-life painting is the use of those kinds of symbols. The objects you include can provide more context and help convey your message.
I’d also like to show everyone an example of still life, that we can talk about a little and…ah, and use to get some inspiration.
This is by James Peale, one of the true masters of the art of still life.
This piece is called Still Life: Balsam Apple and Vegetables, and it’s a really, really great example of what I’m going to be looking for in your painting.
Now, Peale did his work in the early nineteenth century, and painters of that period approached still-life painting from a scientific perspective.
Let’s look at this painting to help you understand what I mean.
See the red tomatoes in the foreground, and how vibrant that color is?
And if you look at the large heads of cabbage farther back, every detail, every crinkle in each leaf, all the folds, are so precise, they’re almost like a sketch you’d see in a field guide.
Peale, and other painters of his era, used still-life painting as a way of, ah, of exploring the natural world, and satisfying their curiosity about nature.
So now we can take some time to discuss a little more of, more about the…the actual process, of uh… still-life painting.
Now, before you paint a single stroke, you’ve got to plan the composition of your painting. You know, the arrangement of the objects to make sure everything is set up the way you want it.
I remember a still-life piece I painted when I was at university.…
It was vegetables, I think, and I had created sketches of the setting, but then realized that the arrangement of the vegetables in a basket just, ugh, just didn’t look right…so I had to start over.
So I can say from experience, it’s really important to make sure your arrangement is just right before you even start painting.
Now, what are some ways to make sure the composition of your painting is the way you want it to be?
Well, it’s important in a still life to make sure you’re not overdoing the amount of positive space, the amount of stuff, in your piece.
A still life really is not just about the subject matter….
If you make a really cluttered composition with too much going on, it can throw off your painting.
That’s something you notice in the James Peale painting.
Notice how it really, you know, it makes great use of negative space.
You can see how he…sort of embraces those little empty spots on the table…and-and that adds a really nice sense of balance.
Also, try to make your still life look natural. If it looks contrived, and if...if it’s obvious a person deliberately arranged everything, it takes away from the simplicity and the natural feel of the work.
Basically, the best still life paintings are the ones where the objects don’t look arranged for the painting at all, but that those tomatoes are near that cabbage on a table by accident.