Oct 22, 2010

Still Life Painting Tips

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.

21 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,

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