Elements of a Still Life Painting

Elements of a Still Life Painting | A Step-by-Step from Sheldon Tapley

Reposted from https://www.artistsnetwork.com/art-mediums/oil-painting/elements-of-a-still-life-painting-a-step-by-step-from-sheldon-tapley/

With theatrical splendor, Sheldon Tapley celebrates excess, reinventing the still life tradition by incorporating the figure and complicating the design. Here, he gives instruction on the elements of a still life painting.

From Simplicity to Complication: Elements of a Still Life Painting
By Sheldon Tapley

 

1. Transferring the Drawing: I usually begin with a drawing (not shown here), which I transfer, using Saral transfer paper, to the primed aluminum laminate panel. I brush transparent red oxide thinly over the transferred lines and let them dry.

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2. Blocking In:
 I use a hog bristle bright brush to scrub in a thin, flat layer of color. If the paint doesn’t flow easily, I add a drop of mineral spirits.

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3. Choosing One Area:
 I choose one area, usually a key object in the composition and, using bristle brushes, add detail to it. This is just a first pass, so I avoid getting too detailed. For this piece, I made some of the edges on the table with a ruler; other edges, like those on the gourd, I kept soft. If the paint doesn’t flow easily enough, I add a drop of M. Graham walnut alkyd medium. At this point, I wouldn’t use mineral spirits in the paint because mineral spirits can dissolve the binder.

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4. Developing One Area: I worked up the gourd in greater detail; I added its shadow and developed the background around it. I wanted to see the character of the gourd clearly before I progressed to other areas.

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5. Establishing the Quality of Light:
 Still undecided about how to handle the light coming in from the window, I wondered whether I should include the shadow cast on the wall by the window wall. Eventually, I did, but here I was thinking that the table and objects should be suffused with light. I applied the green paint of the background wall generously; then blended it to a flat surface using large, soft, badger brushes. I allowed the light to flood across the edge of the pitcher to avoid building up thick paint at the boundary of the object.

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6. Developing Another Object:
 The flat, blocked-in pitcher became a three-dimensional object and acquired a shadow to attach it to the table plane.

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7. Within the Reflection:
 I worked up the table and the pitcher in greater detail. The reflection of Danville’s Main Street in the pitcher was so clear that it was like watching a little movie. I began to wonder if I was crazy to try to paint the scene! What you see here, the scene in the reflection, is the result of many tries.

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8. Making It Complex:
 I decided that the composition would benefit from including the shadow on the right part of the back wall. I described, too, the wall surface in greater detail. My initial plan, to make a simple design emphasizing two forms on the table, gave way to my persistent need for complication: I added a piece of rope.

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9. Adding Elements:
 A rope needs scissors! Not everything in a still life has to fit together thematically, but this juxtaposition is one I often enjoy painting. Also, I love the form of these scissors. The plastic handles have a dynamic, subtle design, as if the designer had been looking at Brancusi or Noguchi. I drew the scissors with blue-gray paint thinned with M. Graham walnut alkyd medium because I was impatient to finish and I wanted these last stages to dry quickly.

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10. Making Modifications:
 I was dissatisfied with the right edge of the pitcher, where the dust on it caught very strong light. I’d reworked this difficult passage so much that there was a distracting ridge built up along the contour of the pitcher, so I sanded the area gently with 600-grit sandpaper, as a prelude to reworking it with smoother paint. The scissors were nearly done; the cast shadows of the gourd and scissors would become more intensely warm.

“Dust” (oil on aluminum laminate panel, 16×20) by Sheldon Tapley
“Dust” (oil on aluminum laminate panel, 16×20) by Sheldon Tapley

11. Seeking Transparency: Some of the last layers were glazes, in which I used more medium to allow transparency in colors like the blues and purples of the pitcher in Dust (oil on aluminum laminate panel, 16×20).