Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On: Why Paint a Still Life?

Many students say,"I don't like still life's, can I paint something else"?

"Untitled Study", 12x9", oil on canvas

Learning to "see" is the first and most important skill a beginning student must learn to develop.  By far, the humble still life is most emphatically the very best place to do this for several reasons.  No where are color, value relationships based on light more consistent and straightforward than in a still life.  Everything the student needs to learn is long lived and clearly stated in a still life without deviation or distortion as in a photograph.  This gives the student time to study, see and perform without the stress of the ever moving light found in the landscape or of subject matter that twists, turns and moves through the scene. It far exceeds the convenience of painting from photographs which fall far short in providing this information. As the well known and respected  Russian born American artist, Sergei Bongart, is known to have often said:

  "Still Life is best school, best exercise for artists."

Bongart is most definitely not alone.  Few well known contemporary and old master artists would disagree with him. Most  have hailed the still life as the place to learn light and to see value and color correctly.  I believe that if a student can paint a good still life then he or she will have the tools to paint anything else that might present itself as subject matter  It is for these very reasons that all of my students begin by painting still life's in my classrooms. I care greatly about my students and want them to grow and be all they can be and I know of no better way for them to prepare for a life of painting then by learning to see from life in an environment in which they have total control.

The aluminum pitcher in the study above was done in a short time during one of my classes as I painted along with my students.  My painting focus was totally on the light and its play across the surface of this graceful object as it reflected the beautiful colors of nearby influences.  It is studies such as this that I find most valuable to me as an artist in developing my "seeing" skills and improving my painting technique.

A student who puts subject matter ahead of learning creates an enormous rift in their growth that ultimately slows them down to a snails pace in advancing as an artist.  In my studio, I practice with these small studies more often than I paint paintings.  I believe the humble still life is what makes my ability to paint my passion for the landscape possible. No, I don't love painting still life's....I am after all, a landscape painter.  Like my students, I would frankly prefer to be painting something else. BUT, I am grateful for the still life and hold it in the highest esteem for its ability to develop my eye and technique beyond the mundane.

 If you want to learn how to paint, paint the still life...paint life. You wont be sorry!

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