Still Life

Donuts and Red Onions

Red Onion 8x6" oil on canvas

Red Onion
8x6" oil on canvas

I hadn't painting any still life paintings in 2018 through now. This was disappointing, but it has been a plenty busy year and it is really difficult to divide up my time among my different genres. But, as soon as I found an opportunity, I jumped in.

One thing I love about still life painting (and this applies to my Hearts for Hardware series, as well), is the way that beholding an object in paint causes you to look at it formally, detached from your usual context of seeing the thing. A donut appeals the eye only insofar as it excites the appetite. A red onion appeals to the eye for the way it signals that it is in good shape, fit for cutting up and cooking or adding to a meal. But the objects themselves aren't usually behold for their own visual properties: their colors, textures, contours and so on. It takes removing the item from its original context, and placing it in another.

Painting is great for this because even apart from photography, paintings are meant to be beheld. The strokes and texture of paint overlay and cue to the mind that this is something that is supposed to be looked at for itself.

And since these particular visuals of a donut and a red onion cannot be consumed or chopped up for stew or whatever, you can behold them without temptation.

Chocolate Cruller 6x8" oil on canvas

Chocolate Cruller
6x8" oil on canvas

The Same, But Different

While my work has shown changes over the past few years, notably in a spreading out of subject matter, it is also true that I tinker a lot behind the scenes. Most of these experiments are not game-changing ones, and most are not even really intentional. But sometimes, at the start of a piece I'll just decide to do something different for no reason in particular.

"Pine Cone" 6x8" oil on panel Sold

"Pine Cone"
6x8" oil on panel

The last time I did a couple of still life paintings, I did them in a limited palette, as discussed in the videos that resulted. I don't always work in limited palettes, but have done so more often in the past year or two.

When I painted this still life at the very end of 2016, for no particular reason I decided to choose a limited palette: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Perylene Red, and Ultramarine Blue. I hadn't used that Red much, and wanted to experiment a bit more with it.

Happy with the result, when a few days later I did another small painting, and my first of 2017, I took my palette out of the freezer (where I store it between sessions) and, noting that I had quite a bit of paint left, decided to just continue using it, albeit with a very different overall color cast.

"Concha" 6x8" oil on panel sold

6x8" oil on panel

So this second piece uses the exact colors as the prior one. It's been fun to do this from time to time. I don't know if it'll stick long-term or just remain a way of working on occasion. What I do know is that following this piece, I then worked on a larger 18x24" landscape piece for my Times and Seasons series, and what do you know: I just kept on working with that palette, although in that case I did add Cadmium Yellow Pale because Medium did not have the punch needed for some of what I was doing there. I look forward to sharing that with you soonish.

From there, I took a few days away from the easel to do an event and start working on taxes and stuff, so that paint won't be usable anymore next time I sit to paint. So it's off to a different thing.

Two New Still Life Paintings and Videos

One of the things I like about still life painting is painting seasonal things, so, a couple weeks back I sat and painted two still life pieces appropriate to the season.

"2 Pumpkins" 6" x 8" oil on canvas

"2 Pumpkins" 6" x 8" oil on canvas

A friend of mine has some small kids tending a little pumpkin patch in the backyard. These still life paintings are usually small, so I needed some small pumpkins and theirs were perfect. I purchased them from the boys and brought them home. My main intent was to carve one or both to paint, but before I potentially ruined them, I figured I should get at least one painting out of them. So I set them together and got to work.

That night, I carved up one of these with a traditional jack o' lantern face. These were small pumpkins, about actual size as portrayed on the panel. Carving small pumpkins is a bit tricky, but it was a simple pattern. My wife got a kick watching me carve this tiny pumpkin with an Xacto blade--we have never carved pumpkins together since we don't really acknowledge Halloween in our home. Therefore, I hadn't carved a pumpkin since the 80s. I kept the second pumpkin as a back-up in case I demolished the first.

The next day, I sat and painted a very different still life painting using just the one pumpkin. It appears larger than life on its canvas, owing to wanting it to fill the space more and having it closer to me as I painted so it just looked larger, too. 

"Classic Jack" 6" x 8" oil on canvas  Available at Every Day Original

"Classic Jack" 6" x 8" oil on canvas
Available at Every Day Original

In addition to painting these two pieces back-to-back, I decided to film the painting of them. Adding some narration to them, they make nice little inexpensive painting demos. I think of it this way: buy me a fancy coffee and in the time it takes to enjoy it, I'll talk to you about art and you can watch me paint. There are two videos, though some of the concepts in each build on what is said in the other video.

You can see all my demo videos on my page at Gumroad.

Still and Not-So-Still Lives

I've greatly enjoyed painting still life paintings the past couple of years, and have endeavored to make them a more regular part of my work. They are great as experiment labs and also low-commitment ways to explore lots of subjects. Lots of happy accidents can happen, and they also result in art that is a bit affordable, at least when contrasted with more full-sized, fully-realized studio paintings.

Traditionally, the subject matter for still life paintings tended to revolve around common objects found in the pre-industrial age. Because that consisted of centuries worth of paintings, the objects portrayed in those paintings became synonymous with still life painting: flowers, food, small household objects, etc.. And since those objects still exist, they still provide good subject matter for still life paintings. For instance, my painting of mistletoe painted during the past Christmas holiday season was received well by the jurors of the Oil Painters of America, who selected it for their Annual Salon. It will thus hang and be available from May 13th, 2016 at the exhibition held at Southwest Gallery in Dallas TX.

"Come Here, You" 6x8" oil on linen sold

"Come Here, You"
6x8" oil on linen

But still life painting has and should continue to include new items and objects, as new items and objects are created. I'm not one who thinks the old should be abandoned, but definitely if new things come up, artists should paint them! To that end, my Hearts for Hardware series has been my contribution to the broadening of the scope of still life by including these modern objects.

"The Standard: True Colors" 8x16" oils over acrylic on canvas sold

"The Standard: True Colors"
8x16" oils over acrylic on canvas

But what of objects that aren't portrayed as being still? While any artist could observe objects in motion, and through repeated observation could try to cobble together the impression of motion, now with photography we have lots more options. By combining photographs with imagination and having the objects present to work from, there is also I guess what one might call not-still life painting.

"23d" 8x8" oil on masonite  Available through Every Day Original

8x8" oil on masonite
Available through Every Day Original