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10 Reasons to Paint Still Life

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would be painting grapes, lemons, glassware and crockery day after day, I’d say “No way!” Well, it turns out I never tire of observing the variation, contrast and detail found in familiar objects that make up still life. There are moments of unexpected color and reflection, and so much more to discover.

hue and highlight in still life

Full Moon Radish photo via Dorothy Lorenze

So, why paint still life? Here are 10 reasons:

1. To begin with, convenience is a factor. A still life can be set up just about anywhere, using pretty much any objects! With the exception of food and flowers that wilt, your subject patiently waits and you can paint whenever it suits you.

2. Subjects are readily available: food, books, tools and more. You can choose objects for a composition that reflects your mood or vision, from subtle and serene to bold and energizing. Or quirky and humorous!

reflection and humor in still life

How YOU Doin’? photo via Dorothy Lorenze

3. Still life provides unparalleled learning opportunities for a painters. Working with actual objects allows you to observe subjects closely to see exactly how forms connect or how they vary. Depth perception is important in realistic rendering and it’s easier to observe from 3-D objects than a photo.

4. Observing the distortion of a surface pattern as it rounds an object like a teacup or fabric fold is a lesson in perspective as well as the effect of light and shadow on a form. Different every time, while following the same rules!

Pattern and form painting on tea cups

Three paintings showing how pattern appears on a form via Dorothy Lorenze

5. Learning to mix colors of every hue, value and intensity is not only possible, but it’s inevitable as subjects are so varied.

6. By choosing a variety of objects, texture, translucency and luminosity can be studied and rendered. Man-made materials like sheer fabric, colored glass and metal provide challenges that differ from organic forms like flowers, fruit and wood.

7. Even when painting realistically, abstracted forms occur in reflective surfaces like metal or glass. They are some of my favorite details, adding interest and contrasting with the “real” thing!

abstract shapes in reflective surfaces

Orange Reflections photo via Dorothy Lorenze

8. You are the master of your composition and can determine where the viewer will focus and how their eye will move around the painting. And you choose to focus on the things you love whether it’s luscious fruit or nostalgic heirlooms.

9. Still life allows more time for observation than any other genre. The more you look, the more you see. The subtle details that give character to objects comes into focus. And, as we know, the devil is in the details!

tarnished brass and fabric embroidery details
Almost Wine photo via Dorothy Lorenze

10. Still life is “simply” an arrangement of ordinary inanimate objects, natural or man-made, with a stable light source. It’s also a genre where the subjects, highlights and shadows all stay put and are controlled by the artist. Oh, the possibilities!

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6 Comments

billie millard

I am interested in some of the oil painting classes and books.

Reply
Dorothy

Billie,
There is a wonderful instructional video by Tony Curanaj available from Craftsy. He takes a classical approach to still life painting and is very thorough. I highly recommend Tony’s classes!

Reply
Derek

ok it’s theraputic to paint gets your vision looking for lights and dark, shadows reflections etc, then who wants the finished painting, no one as it is so uninteresting, let’s face it you would not frame it hand put it in your lounge, it’s an exercise for us to learn from I have done a few for learning and was pleased with the result, no way I would frame them or hang them

Reply
Dorothy

Hi Derek,
From your comment I guess that you are not a fan of still life. Or perhaps, just not my style of still life? So be it – variety is the spice of life. Many artists have found great satisfaction in creating representational still life paintings from the Flemish masters to Impressionists to contemporary greats such as Richard Schmid, Jacob Collins, Sadie Valeri and others, whose work is avidly collected. It’s a great big world out there with plenty of room for personal perspectives on art styles.
Enjoy your art practice.

Reply
Miss Jack Haines

Still life painting is just like taking pictures on your phone and posting them on instagram! I have learned about this genre of painting and love the idea of taking a “slice of life” and hanging it. Teaching a class on it soon at my art shop job. Thank you for the info!

Reply
dorothy

Hi Miss Jack Haines,
Thanks for writing. Still life can certainly be “a slice of life”. I also enjoy the opportunity to explore texture and the effect of light and shadow that is afforded in still life set ups, where you can chose many subjects and surfaces to master.
Best of luck with your class!
dorothy

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