Aug 6, 2009

Still Life Painting Tips

First things frist; setting up your still-life.

Experiment with your set-up, get it right from the start. One of the biggest mistakes that most amateurs make when they try to paint a still-life is to casually set up their props and start to paint. They rarely spend any serious thought about the set-up, the lighting, the mood or concept they intend to convey. Take some time, re-arrange. Choose your location: light source is the key to a strong painting. A strong lamp or bright window is perfect.
Once you get it set up live with it a while. Spend a few minutes just looking at it, or more if necessary.
Things to paint: common kitchen objects contain a wealth of shapes and textures to be captured on canvas. Flowers, fruit, and vegetables abound with both obvious and subtle color. Everything found in your home can be incorporated into leasing subjects. Machine-made objects demand an accurate rendering of form and perspective. For a traditional feel, choose fruit, vegetable and crockery, or find some old wares can be found at a thrift store. Wine bottles are always a favorite.
Check out the colors, are they compatible?
Deicide what you want as your center of interest and build on this. remember there can only be one center of interest.
Look at the colors designers use for a contemporary feel.
When arranging, consider compositional elements, avoid bland central positioning and symmetry.
Avoid piling fruit in a bowl this has been done so many times, so try letting it spill out of the bowl or a bag. You can even have a half eaten piece of fruit on a plate.
Give flowers a history - don't just put them in a vase, you can tucked in a hat, or strew them on the table top. Let one fall over the edge of the table. Maybe some of them can be wilted!
View your arrangement through an empty slide frame, or through you camera lens. Often I will take photos and look at them on my computer, I see mistakes this way easier so I can then go and re-do the set-up. Often I will turn them upside down to see any glaring mistakes, this works not just for the set-up but while you are painting.
Transparent and reflective objects, such as bottles and metal objects, can be challenging but these are excellent exercises to developed your eye to see the minute details.
Take photographs if you are using perishables, especially flowers, or where your work may be disturbed.
If you will be using natural light, take photos to refer to once the light starts to change.
Remember that everything has a distinctive shape. Get these in first and don't lose them.
Don't light all objects equally. Things in the shadow make the still-life more interesting.
Paint the shadows transparent.
Remember that your center of interest is always the lightest part of your composition.
Understand your subject. You cannot paint something that you don't fully understand.
Remember to overlap objects to create depth.
Remember that objects have a line of shadow beneath them, this "plants" them and is commonly the darkest in the picture.
All paintings will have a center of interest, or “Focal Point” It may be a figure in a landscape, a vase full of flowers or one single flower. Physiologically a viewer will always look at the light areas first, and the center of interest is always in the light.
It will often be the area of the painting where the painter has concentrated the most work, delineating the main element of interest. Converging lines or shapes or sweeping curves lead the viewer’s eye to this point of interest. This focal point may be a brighter color or stronger contrast or more carefully painted than the surrounding area.
 For that reason areas of less interest may be of a more subdued range of color, closer range of value and with edges less sharp.
You want to create a gradual transition from the Focal Point area to the background, if you over emphasize the Focal Point, you can create the bull's eye effect, and the viewer will lock onto this and have a difficult time traveling away from that area of the painting. 
 The bull's eye draws so much energy from the rest of the painting that it becomes a total distraction instead of a well-developed stronger area. It’s sort of like someone wearing bright red lipstick, your eyes are directed to that area and you don’t see the rest of the face.
In trying to make the focal point area stand out from the rest, it must be different, one of the best ways to help develop the Focal Point area of a painting is to think in terms of opposites.
A good rule of thumb is that the Focal Point area is usually predominately opposite in temperature to the background of the painting. If the background is cool, then the Focal Point will be easily recognized if you use hues that are warm or warmer than the rest! The Focal point should contrast with the background; this contrast will set it apart it from the rest of the painting.
You need to consider these characteristics when establishing the Focal Point:
Hue, value, intensity, texture. contrast, temperature, detail,
Hue – First you need to carefully plan what hues you want to use for the Focal Point. When you select the overall color scheme for the painting, you must consider if these colors that are chosen for the focal point, can be used in a different form in the painting, example can they be grayed to use in the background? Will they help to create the flow that is required to establish the harmony and balance within the painting as a whole? If you are using a red color for the focal point, could you use it again somewhere else, either on another element or part of an element? 
Value - the values of colors (how light or dark) they are, will be strongest in the focal point, any color that is used in this area will have it's darkest values, along with the lightest used in this area. If you use these here, they cannot be used at the same level of contrast outside this range. If you used in the same equal value, it will not only create distracting areas, but they will compete with the Focal Point.
Intensity - The intensity (how dull or bright) of colors will be the strongest in the Focal Point area. You need to include both dull and vibrant colors within this area because one against the other will help to create the visual contrast that is necessary to set this part of the painting apart in visual interest.
 Texture and Contrast – Using these two elements is very helpful in drawing the attention that the Focal Point needs. A smooth satin texture next to a rough one (opposites) will always draw attention to that area. That is why stripes and patterns get so much attention; it is the value between the stripes and the patterns that catches the eye of the viewer. If you paint a still life sitting on a blanket with stripes or delicate pattern, it would always be one of the first thing that a viewer will see.
Temperature - The temperature of colors (cool or warm) as they relate to each other, is of greatest contrast here in the Focal Point. Temperature change between objects also helps to establish depth or space between objects. Cooler colors recede and warmer colors advance. Remember you are trying to create the illusion of space. If you have three apples sitting one in front of the other, they will get less red as they recede.
Detail - The detail is always the strongest on the focal point.  You see all the little veins on the leaves; the edges are crisp, and sharp. The rest of the painting is just slightly out of focus, with soft and “lost” edges, but the Focal Point has the clarity of 20/20 vision. If everything was as sharp and detailed as the focal point, then the viewer would not know where to look, there would be no depth and the painting would look very jumbled, there would be no unity, it would basically be a bad painting.
Simple Composition
Symmetry is the balance of elements of your painting around a central axis or point.
Both sides will usually match.
with symmetry you can achieve beauty through harmony and balance
Inflexible Symmetry
If you arrange your picture to have mirror images of each other then you have produced a "inflexible symmetry"
Example: a painting of two people at a table having a meal.
Flexible Symmetry
If you have a painting with only similar
shapes exist, you have a "flexible symmetry"
Example: a still-life with numerous objects, all differing in shape and color
The "Golden Mean or Section"
 This is a very common Greek principal in art.
 The "Golden Mean" is accomplished by using a 3 to 5 ratio.
 I could explain the complicated method of arriving at this but as an artist all you need to remember is:
 Whenever you want to find the "Golden Mean" on your canvas, simply multiply the LENGTH or HEIGHT of you space by 0.6. This will give you the point of division without the complicated calculation.
Here is an example, if you draw a horizontal line running across the vertical line , you get the "golden Mean where the two lines intersect. 
 If you are designing your own pattern this is so helpful to know. Using this principal gives you a great composition
Golden Mean
If you place your center of interest at this point you will have a very pleasing composition. The intersection of the two lines  is the "Golden Mean" Try experimenting with this and also look at some of the great paintings that have been done, see if you can see how they placed their center of interest in the "Golden Mean" Move the horizontal line up or down and it will still show you the "Golden Mean" where the two lines intersect.

 Hue is color, such as red, green, yellow, etc. If you add blue to yellow you produce green therefore you have changed the hue.
This is the lightness or darkness of a hue. Simple as that. Pink would be a light value of red. This is the most important dimension of color for the artist, if you have a good knowledge of this you can simulate form and effect emphasis through contrasts in light and shade.
Color Harmony:
Harmony is the result of a balanced relationship between all of the elements of any stimuli. The organization of a harmonious color pattern relies upon a pleasing relationship of the three dimensions of color: Hue, Chroma (intensity) and Value. A simple way to achieve harmony is to use complementary colors.
This is the "intensity" or brightness or the dullness of color. If you were to measure intensity, you would score a neutral grey as zero because it has no trace of chroma or hue. As you increase the brightness of a hue a 0 to 5 would indicate a low saturation. This increases above 5 and with a rating of 10 or above you would have a very vivid color.
Complementary Colors:
On the traditional color wheel complementary colors are found directly across from each other. You can dull or lower the chroma of a color by simply adding a bit of it's complimentary color to it. Two compliments placed next to each other often appear to be much more vivid than they do standing alone.
 This is the result of mixing a color with white.
Here are some things you should remember:
A color cannot be right until the "value" is right
To make something look like it has "dimension" you need to paint 6 values. Light: Halftone: Shadow: Reflected light: Cast Shadow; and Highlight.
Colors are affected by how the light or reflected light is striking it.
Everything that has light falling on it will cast reflected light onto the other less brightly lit areas.
Colors in shadow will receive reflected light from other colors and change accordingly.
A good rule of thumb for "reflected" light is to keep it cool against a warm color and warm against a cool color. You can also apply the compliment theory here and use a complement color against one another for the reflected light. Example: Orange shadow---Blue reflected light. ( my favorite color for reflected light is Bahama Purple by Delta or Ultramarine Blue+ White for oil painters.
These are never painted black. The shadow will always retain some of it's local color. I like to glaze the shadows in by applying the complement color over the area that is in the shadow.
Cool Colors recede
Warm colors advance
Never tone or grey down a color with black, this will only "muddy" the color, to keep the original color rich tone it down with it's complementary color.

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