When you’re painting or drawing a still life scene, composition is everything. While technique and expertise are crucial, it’s the subject of a piece that draws the viewer in and makes them want to study your work. Wondering how to compose something interesting? We’ve got a few ideas for you to consider before you begin setting up your still life scene.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Composing a Still Life Scene
But first, a few questions to ponder:
- What’s the tone of your piece? Art elicits emotion. Is your piece going to be serious and somber? Exciting? The tone will affect your composition as well as your color palette. Will your elements be placed in such a way that they communicate action and movement or stillness and contemplativeness?
- What’s the focal point? Which element of your composition should the viewer’s eye be drawn to first?
- Are you attempting to tell a story? Will your elements lead the viewer’s eye from one object to another to communicate a message?
Composing a Still Life Scene for Painting or Drawing: 13 Tips
Keep your answers to these questions in mind as you review the following tips for setting up a still life scene and don’t forget to employ the key rules of design, BRUCE (balance, repetition, unity, contrast, and emphasis).
- Compose your piece with an odd number of elements. The old rule of designing in threes exists for a reason – odd numbers create imbalance, which creates interest.
- Vary the textures of the objects you choose. Too much of the same is boring and texture can add just as much interest as shape, color, and placement. On that note, the objects you choose don’t need to be pristine, or even clean. Wrinkles, dents, even trash can all add interest to a piece.
- Consider the shapes, colors, and sizes of the pieces in your composition. You’ll want to include a variety to provide contrast, particularly when it comes to your focal point.
- Yes, you want contrast, but watch the patterns you’ve combined – you want just enough to be interesting, but not so many that it’s distracting or overwhelming.
- The placement of the elements in your composition can serve to direct the reader’s eye, either from element to element to tell a story or pointing the eye directly to the focal piece.
- Many artists follow the Golden Ratio or Golden Spiral. Based on the mathematic concept discovered by Fibonacci, this is simply a means of keeping elements in proportion to one another.
- Likewise, many artists employ the Rule of Thirds, dividing their scene into three roughly balanced sections, either horizontally or vertically. This prevents the artist from composing a piece where the focal point is front and center (boring) and forces a bit of imbalance (interesting).
- You’ll also want to make sure your composition has a clear foreground, middle ground, and background to add depth and perspective to your piece. In the case of the ubiquitous fruit basket, you might want to show the floor, table, and wall, rather than just the fruit basket in your frame.
- At least some of your pieces should overlap. It’s not necessary to see the whole banana.
- Pay attention to the negative space created by your objects. The shapes and shadows of your negative space should be just as interesting as the positive space.
- Playing with the angle from which the viewer sees your composition is a good way to add interest. Check out your composition from above, below, and the side – any of these might be more interesting than the head-on view of your set up.
- While you’re reviewing your angles, be aware of your light source and the shadows and shine it’s creating. If you don’t have any shadows, consider using a light source that will create some, adding both depth and interest.
- Once you’ve reviewed these rules, go back and look at your composition again with fresh eyes. You’ll likely need to play with it to get it just right.
Do you review still life composition with your classes? What other advice do you have for setting an interesting scene? Let us know in the comments!