Art Techniques | 29 August 2016How to Set Up a Still Life Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Setting up a still life is an art itself. These tips from The Art of Pastel will help you set the perfect scene every time. Composing a still life gives you a great deal of control over the subject because all the decisions are up to you! You can choose the lighting, the background, the type of objects you want to include, and what textures you want to depict. Try selecting objects with a variety of shapes and sizes, and be sure to overlap the elements to avoid a stagnant composition. Also keep in mind that it’s easier to control an artificial light source rather than relying on natural light—with artificial light, the shadows will remain constant throughout the painting process. Because careful observation is so important in still life painting, I place my setup slightly below eye level, and I stand close to it so I can see the details. For this painting, I tested a number of light sources and arrangements before settling on the most visually interesting setup—a slightly asymmetric arrangement with a strong light source coming from the left. Color Palette SOFT PASTELS: burnt umber – fern green light Naples yellow light sap green – light turquoise blue light warm gray – nut brown – viridian green white – yellow ochre HARD PASTELS: carmine – cold deep gray lemon yellow – light blue light sap green – light turquoise blue peacock blue – salmon pink – sanguine shell pink – warm medium gray Step One I set up the elements on several different levels, and I choose objects with a variety of textures and colors to help me create a compelling composition. Then I tone the support with a wash of yellow ochre acrylic. (See page 46.) For the initial drawing, I use a cold deep gray hard pastel that will be easily covered by the subsequent layers of color. I draw the basic shapes of the bowl, the fruit, and the drape, paying particular attention to the ellipse of the bowl. I also outline some of the objects’ shadows and contours. Step Two I continue using hard pastels to block in the basic shapes, working quickly and using the sides of the sticks so I don’t fill in the tooth of the paper completely. I cover the background with shell pink, then paint the green apples with light sap green, the lemon with lemon yellow, and the peaches with layers of salmon pink and shell pink. I use light sap green for the green pears and a mix of sanguine and salmon pink for the red pear. For the stripes on the bowl, I apply light turquoise blue in the light areas and peacock blue in the dark areas. I also block in the cast shadow on the wall with warm medium gray. Then I use carmine to add some dark values between the pieces of fruit and on the shadows. Step Three Next I block in the drape, using shell pink for the light areas, light blue for the shadows on the drape and the wall, and medium warm gray for the shadows on the fruit. Here I use the length of the pastel sticks to apply color, but I don’t press very hard; I allow the texture and the color of the toned paper to show through. Step Four I observe my setup carefully to determine where each piece of fruit has a form shadow (a shadow on the object itself that helps to define its shape), a core shadow (the darkest part of the form shadow), and a cast shadow (a dark shadow that the object throws onto another surface). Some of the cast shadows fall on other pieces of fruit, and some fall on the drape or on the background. But each one follows and reveals the form of the objects they fall on. When I add the core shadow to each piece of fruit, its reflected light—the light bouncing off another object onto this one—is also revealed. The reflected light is a lighter value than the core shadow but slightly darker than the highlight. I use fern green for the core shadow of the lemon, and I switch to viridian green for the core shadow and the cast shadow of the green pear. Step Five Once I have the forms of each element worked out, I begin to focus on the nuances of color and value that initially intrigued me in this scene. I add some light sap green to the top of the red pear. Then I layer the background with light Naples yellow in the center, adding light turquoise blue and warm light gray as I work toward the edges. Here I’m actually blending by layering, so I don’t use my finger to blend at all. Next I darken the cast shadows against the wall with burnt umber. Step Six Now I make some final adjustments to the drape, using a bit of white for the highlights and blending some areas with my finger to soften the transitions. I apply yellow ochre to the center of the bowl, and I add some highlights to the fruit with a mixture of white and light Naples yellow. I also make sure that the highlights on the shiny fruits are more defined thanthe highlights on the surface of the fuzzy peaches. I create the stems to the fruit with nut brown, and then I add burnt umber on the shadowed side of each stem. Finally I blend the backgrounda bit with my finger to smooth out the strokes. Lighting Your Subject When you’re working with a controlled light source, you can experiment with different angles to get various effects. But rather than lighting your subject simply from the front, try establishing your light source to one side and slightly above your subject, as I’ve done here, to create form and cast shadows that are more distinct. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: The velvety strokes of pastel have enchanted fine artists for more than a century. From airy strokes to bold marks and soft hues to vibrant shades, the versatility of pastel makes it suitable for a wide range of subjects and moods. Now anyone can experience this multi-dimensional medium with The Art of Pastel. Inside this comprehensive guide, five artists provide instruction for using soft, hard, and oil pastel—each sharing his or her unique approach. From portraits and landscapes to rich floral scenes, this book contains a wealth of inspiring images that artists can re-create step by step. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.