As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve been working on some still life paintings recently (I started posting them here about a week or so ago and, at the time of writing, I don’t know how long this painting series will be).
These are gothic paintings that usually also feature cute stuffed animals. In case you haven’t had a chance to see any of them, here are a couple of my favourites:
Anyway, whilst I was working on these paintings, I started to think about how accurate still life paintings should be. This was because many of the still life paintings I made were sometimes wildly “inaccurate”, when compared to the original scenes I’d arranged in front of me.
For example, I used dark backgrounds for all of the pictures (to emphasise the foreground) and I’d occasionally add or change other things too. As long as the “core” parts of the picture were accurate, I didn’t mind changing everything else if it improved the painting as a whole.
It’s perfectly ok to do things like this in your still life paintings. Seriously, it isn’t “cheating” or anything like that – as long as it improves the painting and as long as the central part of your painting looks reasonably accurate.
The important thing to remember here is that still life paintings aren’t photographs, they’re paintings. Whilst a photo is a totally accurate depiction of whatever is in front of the camera, a painting is – first and foremost – a creative (in the literal sense of the word) work of art.
Yes, photographs can often be art too – but the art in photography comes primarily from things like the lighting, composition etc.. rather than from re-creating whatever is in front of you.
So, you should think of your still life painting as a painting first and as a still life second.
What this means is that it’s ok to use a lot of artistic licence in your still life paintings, as long as there’s a good artistic reason for doing it.
Going back to my example earlier, if I’d actually painted whatever was actually in the background, then the items in the foreground wouldn’t have stood out as much. They’d obviously still be visible, but they wouldn’t be the main focus of the picture in quite the same way they would be if I used a plain black background.
However, it’s important to have a good understanding of things like lighting and shading if you’re going to make major creative alterations to your still life paintings. If, for example, you add something from your imagination to your still life and it doesn’t cast the right shadows, then it is going to look odd.
So, if you’re unsure of your artistic abilities, then either make your changes slightly smaller or look very carefully at references (either from life or in photos).
To give you an example of how to do this, here’s a painting of a cute tortoise and some random objects:
The green wooden surface in the foreground and the two pencils weren’t actually part of the original scene that I’d arranged. But, since the real foreground of this picture would have looked too similar to my previous still life painting, I decided that some changes were needed.
So, I started by placing a brown pencil in front of the original scene and sketching it (making sure to note where the shadows fell).
After this, I looked down at the keyboard shelf of my computer desk (which has a green wooden texture) and copied this, before finding a smaller pencil and drawing a copy of it, with virtually identical shadows to the other pencil I’d drawn.
If I’d tried to make these changes from my imagination alone, then they’d have probably looked wildly unrealistic. I’d have probably got the shadows and perspective completely wrong and it would have ruined the painting slightly. But, since I used reference items, it fitted into the rest of the painting seamlessly.
So, in conclusion, don’t be afraid to be creative with your still life paintings… as long as you do it well.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂