We are asked to set up a still life, deciding on the format, scale, medium etc. for the painting. Pay attention to viewpoint, direction of light source, highlights/shadow (tone), relationship between objects and background, mood (if applicable).
My understanding of what constitutes a still life
Traditionally, these were paintings depicting a display of wealth. This could be elegant expensive items such as fine china, crystal glass ware and rare flowers, to lavish tables set with all kinds of exotic foods, such as lobsters and juicy, fresh fruit.
Our 21st century perception of what is deemed ‘wealth’ has changed considerably since the 17th century, when still life paintings were at their peak in popularity. The painting genre has changed accordingly. Some artists continue the classical tradition, e.g. flower arrangements in the Dutch manner, such as the work of Sharon Core – where she painstakingly recreates a still life, sometimes having grown the plants herself and titles her photograph based on the date of the original work, which may have been created by Bosschaert, for example.
A subject for a still life today can be anything from a toaster and kitchen paraphernalia to an arrangement of car parts. In our home, we have a system of disposing of recyclable items that I find a bit annoying but it has ended up being the inspiration for my assignment work. A small aluminium pail (which was used to house a beer hamper at Christmas time) is used as a temporary repository for small items that have to be recycled. Once the pail is overflowing, it is taken outside and emptied into our green recycling bin. I like the shape of the pail and as i am drawn to shiney objects, I decided to use this as the focal point for the composition. The day that I chose to use it as a reference, it was filled with bits of paper and toilet roll tubes, there was also an empty bottle of stasoft standing behind it. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic lock down, there are several things that end up on the table inside or next to the pail that are stark reminders of how we are all living in this ‘new normal’.
View 1 – A3 – Composition 1 Oil on paper
Source photo, sketches and ideas
I decided to work with complementary colours – so chose orange-yellow and blue-grey.
This was done with Cobra water-mixable oils on very thick mixed media paper. I used yellow, yellow ochre, magenta, pyrrole red, black, ultramarine and white for my palette – i went a bit away from straight out complementaries. I used a ¾” brush throughout.
View 2 – A3 – Composition 2 Oil on paper
I chose a different day and used as a reference the pail, plus empty hand soap bottle, toilet roll tube, empty bottle of bleach.
For this one I also used Cobra water-mixable oils and stuck to a complementary palette, so no magenta or red in this one. This was a different arrangement of items and I forgot to take a photo as I was working the process of the painting, so I only have the final view to post on here. I quite like this composition, it had more visual interest and I like being able to convey the illusion of the complete pail.
View 3 – A4 on A3 paper. Composition 2 Water-soluble oil pastels on paper
I decided to see what the second arrangement would look like in monochrome, so I produced this using Caran D’Ache water-soluble oil pastels. I quite like the monochrome version, although it is a lot smaller – the actual painting is A4.
View 4 – A3 Composition 2 Acrylics on paper
I decided to look at trying a different idea for the ‘ground’ and wondered what it would look like if I wrote key words that I’ve been making notes of in my notebook since the Covid-19 pandemic started. So, I wrote them all over the A3 paper using different types of markers, pens and pencils, sort of like graffiti. I would normally have used collage to apply the words, perhaps taking them from the internet in the font they are most commonly associated with. However, I decided that if I used collage this time, it might detract from the composition and make the background just too busy. I painted over the words I’d written down on the paper with a thin wash of white acrylic paint, to try and even out the tone. I decided to continue using acrylics for this piece – my palette was a little larger, in that I used black, white, ultramarine, cerulean, yellow, orange, red and green. I enjoyed working with acrylics again because I haven’t done much work with this medium for a while.
View 5 -digital
I recently came across the Infinite Painter app and have been fiddling around with it on my android tablet, I used it to create a mock up of an idea for this still life. I have not printed this one out.
View 6 – A4 on A3 paper – Composition 1 oils on paper
I am quite fascinated at the moment with monoprint work and have been following an artist on YouTube called Dan Tirels, it was whilst watching one of his videos that I thought about trying a very basic monoprint technique for this assignment. I only used two colours of oil paint, thinly applied to recycled plastic shopping bag – ultramarine and yellow ochre (second print).
When I had done the print, I outlined the main shapes with a Pitt Brush pen but I still didn’t think that there was enough definition, so I worked over the ‘bottle’ shape with orange water-soluble oil pastels. I decided to leave it there. I need to do a lot more practice with masks and different types of inks etc. to get a pleasing result but it was interesting trying out this concept during the work for this assignment.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills
I have used a variety of different materials and techniques in creating these pieces, which stand together as one statement (I think). I have been careful with the observation of the objects, as well as overall design of the compositions. I have used complementary colours and my understanding of perspective to make the objects appear 3D. There is a good balance in all compositions, as well as depth of field and variegated tone.
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
I am satisfied with the outcome of the pieces, they all have something interesting going on and I believe the work is coherent. I think I have adequately explained my reasoning behind choosing the subject matter.
Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
I think I have used my imagination in coming up with the concept, I have experimented with a few different approaches to the composition and tried to be inventive with my processes.
Context reflection – research, critical thinking.
During this part of the course, we have been encouraged to do a lot of research into the still life genre and I believe I have used my new-found understanding of the genre to come up with something that is unique to me and my circumstances.
Sharon Core photograph source: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2013/oct/19/10-best-contemporary-still-lifes