Plaid, Polka Dots, and Prints

22 Mar 2012

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 plenty of ways to go! American Artist magazine has incited many still life painting ideas in me over the years, which is no surprise given the variety and quality of the work they show and the instruction they deliver. The only trade off here is you'll find any excuse to flip through the pages again and again. But to an artist searching for excellence, a subscription to American Artist is worth it! Enjoy!

 


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Comments

on 26 Mar 2012 12:03 PM

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