This month, I urge you to try creating the age-old “still life.” What is a still life? A still life is a piece of art that features an arrangement of inanimate objects as its subject. Usually, these items are set on a table and often include organic objects like fruit and flowers and household items like glassware and textiles.
I would argue that there have been still life paintings for as long as there have been, well…paintings! When an artist needed a subject, he could simply grab a vase or some fruit. As opposed to landscape or portrait painting, still life gives an artist the freedom to arrange her own composition at any time.
Why am I suggesting this for you? My goal, each month, is to remind you that your creativity wants to come out and play. That it needs experiences through which it can do so. This idea is another one that is low-cost, enjoyable, open-ended and can be done with the children, too. Try it as a family activity. Set up your still life in the middle of a table, remembering to put things in the eyeline of each person participating, and seat everyone around it. Everyone’s perspective of the items, and therefore everyone’s picture, will be different.
Start with something tall, then find some medium-height items with interesting shapes or lines, and lastly, add some smaller items like fruit or shells. I’m sure there are plenty of vases, pitchers, and pieces of pottery already in your home that you can use but if nothing’s inspiring you, run over to the Copper Cricket in Haymarket or Stuff! Consignments in Gainesville. You’re certain to find the perfect still life subject among their treasures!
Another fun thing about painting still lifes is that the ideas are endless. How about a summery set up with a pineapple, a tropical flower and some sunglasses? Try a fall theme with pumpkins and gourds. Or try representing a passion or hobby—how about a guitar with a Fedora and a wine bottle. There so many possibilities.
Once you have your set up, it is time to make some art. Don’t get nervous about getting it “right.” There is no right or wrong in art. We aren’t even necessarily shooting for realism.
My suggestion for beginners is to use a Sharpie Ultra Fine point marker. If you use pencil, you might get lost in so-called mistakes and lots of erasing. If you go for it with permanent marker, you are embracing the playfulness of the experience. I might also suggest using watercolor paper so you can paint it afterwards. (This is another reason to use permanent markers as they don’t run when you add water on top.)
Here are a few tips:
- Pretend you’re an alien who just arrived on this planet and are seeing these objects for the first time ever. You don’t know what they are but you’re going to draw these shapes the best you can. In other words, draw what you see, not what your brain is telling you a vase should look like.
- Draw the object that is closest to you first. Objects that are closest to the viewer should be lowest on the paper as well. Then draw in the item behind that one, and so on. Be sure not to let your lines intersect.
- Lastly, draw a horizon line in the middle of your paper, skipping over the drawing. This will make it look like the arrangement is sitting on a tabletop.
Above all, have fun with it! You could leave it as a line drawing or paint loosely over it with some watercolors. If you do more still lifes going forward, experiment with different media like crayons or pencil. Stretching yourself with new activities will open up and release those creative juices. Like most skills, creativity can be developed and will improve with practice. I would love to see your still life pictures if you want to share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.