Plaid, Polka Dots, and Prints

So Many Still Life Possibilities

So often with still life paintings, we focus on the objects in the painting first—and rightly so; they do take center stage. But still life artists know that backgrounds can play a major role in the look and feel of a painting as well.

A still life composition against a patterned background can work well together if colors correspond, but objects don't come as sharply into focus as they might against a neutral surface.
A still life composition against a patterned background can work well together if colors correspond, but objects don’t come as sharply into focus as they might against a neutral surface.

Positioning a still life painting or still life drawing on a patterned surface may give the overall composition more visual interest. But objects may also get lost on such a surface, especially if they are delicate in form or of the same overall color scheme as the surface they rest on. Patterned surfaces can also make the space in a painting appear shallower or flatter than you might intend.

Against a neutral background, objects are all clearly visible and there’s less competition for the viewer’s attention. You are better able to control how the viewer’s eye moves through the work. The tradeoff lies in the challenge of painting such a background in an interesting way, which is where gestural marks and more energetic brushstrokes can come into play.

A neutral background allows still life objects to command all the viewer's attention.
A neutral background allows still life objects to command all the viewer’s attention.

Still life art that is shown on a vibrantly colored or shiny surface can complicate a composition, as the color or reflected light bounces off objects and skews the colors of the objects themselves. But against a black surface, still lifes lack cast shadows, which can severely limit a composition.

There’s always a trade off, but there are also plenty of ways to go! If you are after ways to incite more still life painting ideas for yourself, take the ArtistsNetwork.tv workshop, Lifelike Drawing with Lee Hammond. I was pleasantly surprised with how much variety there was to the workshop, and the quality of Lee’s drawings is just incredible. You’ll watch it again and again, I can almost guarantee! Enjoy!

 

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “Plaid, Polka Dots, and Prints

  1. Hey Paul,

    No sermons here! Just ideas, and I would never box a genre as big as still life into any one corner. But thanks for the feedback. I’m glad I have you to keep me on my toes!

    Courtney

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