Definition: Still life painting is a work of art that depicts mostly inanimate subject matter.
Mostly these are commonplace objects which can be natural (food, plant, rocks, shells, flowers) or man made (china ware, books, jewelry, money, nik-naks (or what I call "dust collectors").
It has it’s origins in the Middle Ages (who says they were the dark ages, but that’s a whole 'nother subject). And some date it to Ancient Greek/Roman art.
Prior to the 1700’s a great deal of Religious and Allegorical symbolism were tied to the subjects within the painting.
The key feature however, concerning the subject matter and this type of painting is that the artist has total and complete control! Not like in a landscape or a portrait.
Contemporary still life painting can be the entire fabrication of the artist!
For those control freaks out there today, like me, it is the epitome of the painting world. Well, almost, but I’ll get into fantasy art at a later date.
The elements within the still life are completely under the control of the artist too! You can compose at will, set your lighting which ever way strikes your fancy, place all forms of backgrounds into the picture, and add subject matter that will create a world that will delight your audience. You can add a landscape background, even add a picture of your favorite aunt on the coffee table beside the other items you're gonna paint.
You can also have a secret meaning behind the items and objects you select within your work. I have a article that talks about these secret meanings in Still Life Symbolism.
You can take the traditional approach, or you can explore new possibilities to convey a political or social statement!
From photo-realistic work, to the abstract where the object is recognized, but just barely.
Now, I can’t say that a Jackson Pollock drip painting is a still life, but as soon as you introduce something that resembles an object, well, you get the picture.
For you, the oil painter, still life opens a door into a world of almost limitless possibilities. It can be a new way of exploring and viewing the ordinary objects of life, to the priceless objects that seemingly every one is striving for, right onto the canvas. What becomes important to you, becomes a part of history, and if created using sound technical craftsmanship, the work will outlast you by many lifetimes.
In classical realism, objects that are typically depicted are already very old. Antique items of the generation or two behind us are what make good subject matter. The antique coffee grinder, or book that is leather bound and has ornate trim work on its back. (I suppose the future will have few books, but lots of Kindles!)
In contemporary art, plastic things, bottles of all sorts of colors, toys, and even a can of soup, can all be used.
What you depict within the still life can also tell a story. Many objects have some form of symbolism attached to it. As does the color scheme you utilize within the work.
You can also check out this article on still life art ideas, where I talk about how you can select subjects to use, colors, and textures to help get your creative mind set going.
Now, lets look at a typical contemporary still life oil painting below. Does the painting convey a message? Even without the note, would you understand the story being told?
In case you don't get it, allow me to give a few tips. As a child, most parents, mine included, would always keep our children's baby teeth. At some point in time, when a child leaves home, these small memento's of growing up, become a part of a heirloom box or are given to the child for safe keeping.
This entire process of growing up is symbolized within this work. For those of us that have had younglings grow up and go through this stage, this should bring back fond memories. (This painting was purchased by, you guessed it, a dentist for his office somewhere in North Carolina.)
Now, it's your turn to gather things that remind you of a strong emotion, a cause maybe, or a stand for which you really believe in, and put together a memorable still life painting!
We will also explore each others still life paintings. I have a number already submitted, and I will be crossing them over to here soon. I have been fortunate in that folks have added their works to the "Your paintings" page. So much so, it's time to split the page up some so folks can find their work easier.
Do you have a great story about this? Share it!
We would love to see your still life set up, ideas, or paintings right here! Go ahead and post it.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Still Life using the Flemish Method
Hi! Thanks for the opportunity to share my first oil painting! I watched Delmus' videos and found them inspirational & instructional!! Enough so to give …
Still Life Art, Untitled Still Life
I tried another "Method" and built a box, cut a hole in the top to put a drop light over. I then found the objects in my house. I had sea shells and …
First attempt using flemish technique!
I do have a quick question about one thing: when applying the first color layer, how do you decide how much medium to use? Obviously the canvas has linseed …
Still Life oil painting using Flemish technique
Oil painting done early this year. 50 x 60 cm Hope you like it! :) Editor's note: Hi Liliana, You bet! Wow! Absolutely gorgeous! The glass …
Flowers with peppers
Medium: Oil on blocked canvas. Size: 50cm x 50cm. I loved the colours of the flowers and the peppers. Enjoyed doing this painting. I used a …
Still Life Painting, Red Apples,
This is a watercolour painting of apples, which I took from a photograph that was given to me. I painted this in layers. Started off with Susan Harrison …
Memories of Dad's Favorites, a tribute still life oil painting. Not rated yet
This is a painting done for my father, who 83 years old. After having additional stents put in his arteries, made me really realize how fragile Life …
Harvest Not rated yet
Hi Delmus, I would like to share a new painting I finished the other day, this was done with the Flemish method. This was painted in oils and on canvas. …
Blue vase Not rated yet
This is one of my attempts of trying to paint a table cloth which I find difficult in so many ways, I do love how you really need to slow down to do this …
Replica - Bouquet on Box - Jacques Linard 1640 Not rated yet
This is a still life painting from the old masters. I enjoy the dark background and the brightness of the flowers and at the same time being very simple …
My Platter Not rated yet
Hi Delmus, This piece was painted on a canvas mounted on a frame of the size 24X30. I had decide to learn so I consulted an art teacher of the school …
The Egg Not rated yet
Title: The Egg Medium: Acrylic Canvas: Primed Canvas with sides painted black Size: 4 x 4 inches (Miniature) The Egg is brilliant in color and is …
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