This post illustrates how I compose a still life, and how I experiment with my subject matter until it feels right.
Still life paintings combine objects in poetic ways. They can be personal, and even magical. They can touch on themes like life, death, and love, or they can point to cultural, philosophical, or political ideas.
Composing a still life is like putting on a stage play, using objects as characters. They can act out a drama, set a mood, pose a question, or take on any number of roles. The artist auditions the available actors, and provides a good stage set.
I decided to explore the connection between time, fragility, and change. I set out to find the right objects for my theme, and to arrange them in an effective composition. The next photos show 1) my first effort and 2) my final selections. They are in black and white to make it easier to compare the two arrangements.
I started by finding items that clearly showed the effects of time and use.
But the composition felt boring, and the sickle (it’s actually a knife for harvesting wine grapes) seemed to crowd and even trap two of my main characters. I moved it here and there, and finally, regretfully, took it out. Then the scene was even more boring, so I moved the other things around.
After that, I added some things. Then I took some of the new and old things out and added other things. You see how this goes. It took about 3 days of adding and moving and searching through boxes for something I remembered that might be right, and trying all sorts of combinations.
This is the composition I finally chose.
It has more movement, more characters, more places for the eye to go. It risked being too busy, so in the painting I simplified the drapery to give the whole scene a more spacious feeling.
All of these objects auditioned for parts in my play, but they did not make the final cut.
I have a big collection of stuff, which is handy when I want to compose a still life.
It’s packed in about 30 boxes, by category, such as tools, toys, dried leaves, feathers, glassware, wooden implements, bones, bark, fabric, figures, old maps, books, kitchen items, rocks, etc.. Just for fun, I unpacked two boxes and laid out their contents, to show you some samples.
Then I decided to give you a video tour instead of a lot of photos. I enjoyed making the film, and plan to do more. If you like this one, please subscribe to my new YouTube channel.
My first video! (2.37 minutes) click here: Still Life: The Object as Muse
This week’s entry in the series How it Looks in a Frame is another recent still life, Sunflower with Ikat, oil on linen panel, 11″ x 14″. You can see it without the frame here. If you are interested in purchasing this or any other work, here is a link for How to Purchase this piece, and here is a link to the Prices page..
Being a working artist has its joys and challenges, but, through it all, your support and encouragement sustain me. Thank you so much for being my audience.