How to Paint a Still Life?

academy cornelia stillleben 03 - How to Paint a Still Life?

Before we talk about how to paint a still life, let´s talk about what still life is. When you think about still life you think about the paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, in which the painter composed flowers, fruits, venisons, poultry, fishes, sweet things, utensils, copper dishes, books, musical instruments, glasses or silverware from an esthetic and functional point of view.

However, still life cannot be attributed merely to this period of time, there were probably still lifes at all times and in all cultures. As, for example, the paintings of silk and porcelain from China and Japan, or the decorative mosaics and frescoes of antiquity. The Greek mosaicist Sosos in Pergamon is believed to be the inventor of still life in the form of decorative mosaics. It was common during this period to paint food waste and kitchen waste, scattered on the floor and put in an intentional messy way so that they were visually remarkable. This tradition has its origins in the old religious notion that the deceased ate food rests. Thus, the selection of compositions in the ancient and Baroque periods was often dictated by symbolic and aesthetic aspects.

In a nutshell, still life is the depiction of inanimate and trivial objects (for example, flowers, fruits, etc.) arranged according to formal and aesthetic considerations.

As Paul Cézanne once said:

             “I’ll astonish Paris with an apple.”

Today we want to impress you with an orange, painted by our Swedish teacher Ricky Larsson. Watch the video to see how to paint a still life step by step.


Step 1: Set up the still life

The object of the still life, here an orange, is placed in a so-called shadow box according to the aesthetic ideal of the painter. The Shadow Box has the advantage that you can decide the size of the representation according to your own wishes, using the “sight-size” method. Furthermore, with a Shadow Box, you can set up the light effects in such a way that they do not change until the end of the painting process. The set up is successful when how you place the objects, light and shadow, as well as the colors, harmonize together. When you´re done with this part, you can start to draft the orange in the background color. Our teacher Ricky Larsson uses color pigments.

Step 2: First drops of paint

The color palette for the still life varies from the darkest to the brightest shades of the picture. So the colors are only roughly applied on the canvas and you always start with the shadow and work your way to the brightest point. At first, you only use a few shades of the prepared palette. At this point, you can decide whether you want to paint the highlight, for example, the brightest point in the picture, now in order to better tune the nuances, or whether you want to do it at the end of the painting process.

Step 3: Refine and Correct

At this stage, corrections and refinements are made, by using the entire range of colors you have on your palette.

Step 4: Final details

Now concentrate on the last details such as the grain of the orange surface and the small brown stem. If no highlight has been set before (brightest point in the picture), you set it now.

Finally, Ricky Larsson recommends to work in a dust-free room and, depending on how thick the paint stroke is, you should let your painting dry for a few months before applying the final varnish.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *