Choosing Subject Material For Your Still Life

If you’ve decided that it’s time for a still life, don’t just grab the first shiny bauble that comes along.

Nor should you wander around the garden, flower market or meadow trail snatching whatever brightly colored posy falls within your grasp.

The items you are choosing are going to be a permanent record of your skill, creativity and vision. Do you really want a misshapen flower, dime store vase or shabby figurine to become the focal point of your latest masterpiece?

Be Moved By Your Subject

Use an artist’s critical eye when selecting the items for your composition. Do not grab the first thing you see, but also don’t talk yourself into a less-than satisfactory subject. Let your muse inspire you. Leave yourself open to new compositional directions and subject matter. Intending to compose a cheery kitchen table with a bowl of the summer’s harvest, you may have gone shopping for a pile of red and golden apples . You come across a special on onions and tomatoes, which immediately inspire you with visions of white and red orbs contrasting with a blue-checkered tablecloth. Go ahead and shift your focus.

Now is the time for your artist’s eye to leap into play. Choosing your subjects shouldn’t be just opening a plastic bag and scooping up a couple pounds of vegetables. These potential models must first audition for you. Do you want perfectly round globes, or some with unusual shapes to break up the monotony? Do you want varying degrees of ripeness or include other varieties that are different colors?

Don’t Be Shy Auditioning Your Models

Once you have chosen your theme, it’s time to choose your models. Don’t be shy about spending time getting just the right shapes and sizes. Also, do not let a produce manager intimidate you or the curious looks of shoppers bother you. So what if you’ve laid out a row of a dozen kumquats and are squinting down an invisible plumb line at them? You are an artist.

If flowers are your subjects, spend time examining and comparing the shapes of the blooms. Flowers have specific characteristics, and each one looks similar. However, you will find variance and mutations and some will be more suitable. One may have a particularly open face, while another may have full and robust leaves. Choose a group that you will be able to use well. You may use the leaves from one, a bud from another and the full countenance of a third. Just keep looking for particular pieces that are right for you and your planned painting.

Making Your Models Feel At Home

You’ve perhaps had an inkling of an idea for your composition. Get some ideas down on a sketchpad. Using your new acquisitions, you can set up various layouts for your composition. Snap photos, make sketches, then sit back and ponder your choices. This is the preparation of the blueprint for your next painting. You wouldn’t rush the design of a house and there’s no need to force the creative process with your painting. Yes, it’s tempting when you’re excited to start painting, but don’t hurry for the sake of flinging paint. Get out your sketchpad and some colors. Make quick studies to compare composition and lighting layouts. Get a feel for the spatial tension and dynamics of the components of your painting and the lighting you are using.

When your composition is right, set up your final lighting, get your background in order and arrange your models. Get some good reference photos with a variety of lighting intensities from different angles. Not only will this be helpful to the current work, but also the photographs will make good additions to your morgue. You can never have too many reference photos.

As you begin with your new work, explore the physical elements and the emotional draws of your subjects. You are spending a lot of time and effort with your subject, and you want to give your audience a unique angle to make your painting memorable. The more you know your subject and the more thoroughly you understand its makeup, the more successful your interpretation will be. Knowledge of your subject allows you to paint with great intimacy and thus providing viewers with a thought provoking piece that makes an impact.

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