Jan 16 2009

Staging a Simple Still-Life

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still-life stage in boxSetting up a simple still-life is one of the best ways to learn about the visual relationships of color, volume, and the effects of light and shade.

The most common problem is starting with something too complex, so think simple.  You will be surprised how much information is present in a simple egg, fruit, flower or shell.

One great idea is to stage your still-life in a box.  If you’d like to control the light, cut a window into one of the sides.  You might also choose to hang some draped fabric on the back wall, softening the corners and giving a gentle backdrop.  Try a color that will make a nice compliment to the object chosen. (Hint: to hang the fabric, cut slits in the top corners of the box, pull the fabric corners through the slits, then tape the fabric to the outside of the box).

For more info on creating your still-life stage box, visit this link: www.wetcanvas.com/Articles2/2514/127/


Linda Mahoney, Magnolia on Blue

If painting something as complex as a flower, try something with large petals and leaves.  If you prefer, you can simplify the painting by taking a very close-up view of the object.  Georgia O’Keefe is particularly known for the paintings she created in this manner, of flowers, shells, and bones.


Georgia O’Keefe, “Sunflower”, and “Two Pink Shells”

An egg or shell might seem like a very simple still-life, but focusing on something simple forces the viewer to be aware of all of the varieties of shadow, cast shadow, and reflection.

Apples, pears and onions and garlic are wonderful subjects for a simple still-life painting.


Be aware that objects that are transparent or translucent offer added challenges of reflection and bounced light.

If similar objects are paired together, you can focus on the repetition of forms while adding some complexity.


In general, steer away from objects that are overly complex, or which offer too many planes and colors.  However, if you do find yourself attracted to painting something that is somewhat complex, find a way to simplify it by abstracting some of the details.

Video Demos:

Grapefruit painting by Robert Bissitt, begining with an umber underpainting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_8WSy08leo

Egg painting by Dan Carr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=971ah6e5Pr4

Art Inspiration Articles:
View the index of all of my articles that are created specifically for class projects: www.robinurton.com/blog/?page_id=540

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Staging a Simple Still-Life”

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