Archive for April, 2014

Casting Light on an Important Consideration

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

In preparing a new still-life setup, I always have to consider the lighting. Do I want it to be harsh or soft, from a single lighting source or from more than one, to intentionally cast multiple, splayed or intersecting shadows?

If I plan to work from a photograph of the setup instead of working directly from life, the quality of light is especially important. If the light is too harsh, or a flash is too close to the subject, as it is in the illustration below, the photograph will record only limited reference information. Although the shadow patterns may be interesting, many of the details and subtle colors will be lost in the overly lit areas. That might be sufficient if it provides the desired effect. But if it doesn’t, the photograph will prove an unsatisfactory reference.


Flash lighting can be difficult to use. If the flash is either directly on the camera or very close to it, shadows around the subject will be minimized, effectively flattening the appearance of the subject’s form, as exemplified here.


Even a more distant flash can unexpectedly change the composition’s balance by casting shadows into areas unanticipated before the flash was activated, as it did here.


To compensate for shadows in the composition, either the framing can be changed to try to achieve better balance,

or the flash can be moved.


Sometimes the shapes of cast shadows add an interesting element to a composition. This effect can be exaggerated by either increasing the angle of the light to the side, or lowering the light source, as I did in the illustration below.


Lighting is critical. Strength, quality, and position of lighting contribute crucial information in establishing key, mood, and balance in a painting.

Cultivating Inspiration

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

As I indicated in my previous blogs, I find inspiration for my work in a variety of ways. Sometimes from other artists’ work, sometimes from places I go, and sometimes from epiphanies that come from … well, who knows where?

140208w Red Chopsticks

I’ve found that still life setups work best when they follow a theme, when the elements are unified in some way, whether through color, shape, purpose, or some other commonality. With that in mind, I began collecting groups of items that I thought might work well together or lend themselves to multiple themed setups.

In this original setup, in which I selected Japanese dining elements to unify it, I wanted to use a secondary fish theme, reflected not only in the motif in the china but in the quilt backdrop and in the woven decoration.


Early stages are the time to determine whether incidental background lines or textures may be distracting and what needs to be done about them. That’s also when I consider balance of form and value and color. And I continually ask myself if the setup is saying what I want it to. In the process, it’s important to allow the original theme or concept to evolve as I recognize thematic clutter or as more ideas occur to me. Not all changes need to be made with the physical elements within the setup; some can be incorporated during the painting process. But the closer the setup can be made to approximate the desired result, the easier it will be to work from.


Perhaps surprisingly, it’s often more difficult to decide what to omit from a setup than what to include. A certain element may support the theme, and it may be a favorite item for any of a number of reasons, so it seems like a shoo-in to incorporate. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that its inclusion enhances the still life. It may even detract from the overall design. In that case, it should be removed. Unfortunately, that determination is not always an easy one to make.


So I prepare a setup, adjust the backdrop, rearrange the elements, substitute one element for another, and consider endless alternatives. This work alone can continue for a long time before I ever pick up a pencil to begin sketching the design.


And even then, I may continue to revise its “reality” both as I prepare the drawing and throughout the painting process.

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking mental note of alternative setups suggested by the elements rejected for use in the one currently under construction. These elements may be used later in totally different compositions.

So where do ideas come from? Not just from the garden right outside the window or from exotic travels. I find them also on my studio shelves, in my kitchen pantry, a child’s toy chest, amid sewing supplies, and jumbled in unearthed storage boxes. Anything may plant the seed of an idea. Over time that seed may begin to germinate. And with a bit of care and cultivation, it may eventually grow into something of note.