We haven’t often addressed painting a still life in these commentaries. There are some things I would like to reference in case you are planning a still life in the near future. If you are somewhat of a beginner, still life is a good place to start. 


Keep the composition simple and uncluttered and progress from there as you feel more confident. Of course, an important element in a still life is composition. Composition is important in any painting, but especially still life. There are a lot of things to understand when putting a still life together. If you haven’t had a lot of experience with still life, what I would suggest is to google still life and study. Study the masters to see what they have considered as priorities. 


If you are using actual items to work from you can move them about until you find the ideal setting. Choosing items to put into your painting is also important. Depending on the message of the painting, they may or may not be related images. 


Sometimes these images are not related if you are trying to make a statement other than just a still life. It all depends on what you want the painting to “say”. Another consideration would be overlap. This means what is in front of something else, which creates overlap. The items that overlap another piece, in front of them, are closer to the viewer than the piece behind. Depending on how far behind makes a difference on size. 


Now one thing to mention here, in a still life the distance from the front of the picture plane to the back would usually be rather shallow, unlike a landscape which could have a lot of ground between the front and back. Your objects are sitting in a much smaller space. 


Figure out where your horizon line, or baseline of the drawing will be. If the items are sitting on a table, they will be in front, or closer to the front of the paper than that line. Drawing them right on the line would make them look like they are close to falling off. They need space between that table edge in the back, and some space in the foreground as well. Lack of foreground is a common error, unless you are “bleeding off” an object, which is perfectly acceptable. If it is not done well however, it will look like a mistake. 


A good exercise for a still life would be to draw a rectangle on your paper, located in some well-chosen area where it is not blocking the still life itself. In this rectangle, pick one specific detail from the images to enlarge immensely, picking up minute detail of a flower, sculptural piece, or book for instance. This will be a focal point and a good opportunity for you to draw with minute detail and precision. Make sure you pick something in the set-up you are confident to draw. 


Adding color to this piece finishes it off. What you can do for emphasis on your focal point is to make all of the drawing black and white, such as pen and ink, and then add color only to the focal point. The base of the still life will be much bigger, but switching the emphasis to the focal point will add some dramatic effects to the drawing. It is sort of a play on people’s minds to take this approach, changing dramatically with color and detail where the focal point really is located. 


This style, however, is rather graphic and may not be appropriate if you are shooting for realism. I hope this has helped you in some way with your still-life work. What I write in a commentary is opinion and from my own experience. You may have a better way of working which is perfectly fine.

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