Thursday, 27 February 2020

The Art of Still Life

As I am limited to what I can produce without a studio I have been challenging myself with learning the discipline of painting Still Life's.
Discipline is certainly what is required. As I have spent many years taking absolutely no notice of technical aspects in painting it has been an eye-opener to have to consider and think through problems before I have even put pencil to paper or brush to canvas.
While the process of painting has been relatively straight forward, thinking about space, composition, colour and most importantly the control of light has certainly not. Each aspect of surface has to be considered in relation to another and changing light throughout the day and light direction have caused numerous problems. I think I'm set up and ready to go then realise what I organised at ten in the morning looks very different at one in the afternoon. So here is an update of my attempts and pitfalls that I have fallen firmly into so far. 
Plums and Silver Vase, Oil on Board

My first attempt was to paint a vase with plums. I tried to keep it simple by keeping neutral and plain backgrounds, I chose the plums because they were nice spherical shapes that I felt I could control and a silvery vase because I had read somewhere that shiny objects were always good in Still Life. Lesson number one; think about the space you are working with. I had to add in a branch as I hadn't thought about the shape of board I was painting onto and the composition looked unbalanced. I think the overall painting was not too bad for a first attempt, if but a little under-developed.

Jug, Grapes and Books, Oil on Canvas
Excited about the possibilities I moved swiftly onto attempt number two. This was a slightly more complex ensemble of books, a jug and grapes with a grey cloth in the background. I liked the set up with the mixture of textures and colour tones, but as the light moved in the room the jug kept changing. One time it had grey/blue shadows then it was very white, then the shadows moved and if I had the lights on it reflected yellow back at me. Urrgh!!
Lesson number 2; create a set up that has one defined light source and control the way it falls on the surface by using a box or boards. Natural light on this occasion is not helpful.

Sliced Melon, Oil on Board
Onto the third painting. As I was still overwhelmed by the possibilities of different set ups I decided to try one with a dark background to see if I could enhance a more dramatic composition. This time I used a bright orange slice of melon against a dark background with a shiny surface of a wooden box to give some reflection. But I didn't have much time, only managing to get the underpainting sorted out before I had to dash off to work so here is lesson number three; choose a subject that will not deteriorate and go mouldy! This painting had to be put in the reject pile before it even got going and again as I hadn't set up a single light source I'm not sure it would have been terribly successful anyway.
So now I am waiting for an angled floor lamp to be delivered. I have a box to set my objects in and boards to work onto rather than canvas because its easier to apply paint accurately and get a smooth finish than on canvas (lesson number 4). It has left me thinking about numerous compositions and colour options that can be explored. In order to try and get a grip on where to take it I have started taking photos of ideas in the hope that once I am set up I will be more productive than lurching from one composition to another!

Experimental photos of set up

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