Tips on setting up a still life painting


A still life painting refers to a work of art which typically depicts inanimate objects. You can do a still life painting of your favourite household object, or any object that really intrigues you.

Once you have selected the subject to do a still life painting, you must think about the story you want to tell. Do you want to portray history or do you want to convey a certain emotion? That story will help you to come up with a suitable title for your painting.

The set up

Most still life paintings can be done indoors as long as you have all the stuff you need to set it all up – with the right kind of lighting.

A still life painting requires a consistent light source to render the form of different objects with shadows and highlights. Avoid any secondary ambient light as it will create conflicting shadows or reflections, which will make it difficult to understand what is really going on. You can use cardboard panels to block off the ambient light.

For the right-handed artists it is best for the light to pour in from the left side as shown in the above image. The reverse is true for left-handed artists.

When it comes to still life, the horizon is not the point where the earth meets the sky, rather it is the sight line of the viewer. With the objects placed on the table, we get to decide how much of the surface will be visible to influence the ‘story’. The same setting when viewed from above can be used to focus on the space between the objects. When viewed from the table line, you will notice the objects on the table more.

Boxes can be used to raise the objects to eye-level.

Planning the composition:

Building the atmosphere:
Ask yourself what kind of a mood you want your setting to reflect. Low-key paintings are predominantly dark will help you create a somber mood. High-key paintings will invoke a happier emotional response or a feeling of innocence. Always think of the impact your background has on the final outcome.

Ideally, one part of your painting will be the ‘hero’ or the part that will stand out. It is important to note that a strong focal point will draw the viewer in and start the conversation. You can pick anything as your focal point – it can be a dramatic reflection or other interplay between objects.

Gather all the objects you need in the portrayal of your story and then place them all on the table. Move them around and then decide the best location to place them.

Once you have noted what works best in your frame, adjust the elements and put it together. In the case of the painting below, it is the marble.

It does take a lot of patience to get good at still life painting but it will be worth it!

Did our tips help you? Do share with us in the comments below!

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