Exercise: Still life with natural objects (1)


Three apples in bowl with chair, A3 acrylics

I had Cezanne’s wonderful apple paintings in mind when I chose this still life arrangement and although I haven’t achieved anything like the beautiful simplicity of his work I am reasonably happy that I have captured the essence of the objects. I struggle with backgrounds and experimented with various  approaches before settling on the use of the chair which was in fact in a holiday cottage we stayed in recently. The painting is more representational than I had hoped for – I got quite bogged down with the detail. My sketchbook drawings are looser. On reflection I have to say that are not a lot of natural objects in my painting, so perhaps my take on this has combined two of the choices to offer natural objects in a man made environment!

What works?

  • Overall  am pleased with the composition, including the background created by the chair, and the colour palette. Initially I thought that I would include a tonally graded background wall but in the end I left it plain as I felt there was plenty enough going on with the pattern of the chair and the pattern on the dish.
  • The fruits look realistic, as do the table and chair
  • I was worried I’d mess up the pattern on the plate but it seems to be OK.

What doesn’t work so well?
 I wonder if I haven’t gone over the top with the reflected light on the apples and made them look a bit plastic?

  • The apples look very large compared to the chair but I’m not too worried about this. If they were smaller it might look like a painting of a chair.
  • The front rim of the bowl looks a little too straight.
  • I’ve probably overworked the acrylic as this picture took me hours to paint and initially I struggled with the apples.
  • I would have liked to create a less representational painting and I must think about how to achieve this. Perhaps if I take my glasses off (I’m short sighted) it might make me less fussy about the detail… also if I could make myself worker a bit faster…
  • Although I like the composition, is it perhaps a little lopsided? Maybe that is the effect of the round table and maybe it is not necessarily a problem.

I really enjoyed doing the prep for this exercise and in many ways I prefer my quick sketchbook work to the final painting because it is more loose and spontaneous. The composition of my final painting is a combination of the best bits of both the paintings with the chair below (see the notes in my sketchbook).




There are, potentially, another couple of paintings from these sketchbook exercises. The picture looking down from above at the apples placed on a small table  has to my eye quite an interesting composition, with the contrast between the geometrical and round shapes. I also think there might be some mileage in the eye level view with the window in the background. So, I have some ideas to return to…


On a rectangular table, viewed from above


Eye level view with window background


I like the way the bowl fills the frame but using part of the chair felt too enigmatic

Assess your painting… make notes in your learning log on:

How you’ve progressed from your first attempt at still life
If I look back at my ghostly china cows I can see that I’ve gained confidence in reproducing light and shade, particularly  using a dilute white to create highlights and also more confidence with colour mixing including the understanding of opaque and transparent techniques.

Any problems that the natural  objects presented
One of my apples (the front one) is a bit bulbous and on reflection I would have arranged this differently with the stalk pointing towards the viewer to make it more like an apple and less like a mango.

Your choices, working methods and finished painting
These are covered in my earlier assessment of the painting.

What you’ve learned from this exercise
This is a better painting than my still life with flowers because I put more time into the preparation and considered several different viewpoints and compositions. I found myself wishing that I had done more prep work on the colour palette, particularly the background. Initially I painted this  in duck egg blue as per the scene itself  but this colour did not complement the vibrant green of the apples so I changed it to a fairly quiet green. I am learning that it is not necessary to  reproduce a scene exactly as you see it and that it is worth thinking about what might be changed to make a better painting.

Finally, look carefully at all three still life paintings you’ve completed for this project and decide which is most successful. What elements have particularly contributed to the success of this painting. Which areas need further development and practice?

This is tricky… I know which one works least well and that’s my still life with flowers and that I think is because of the composition and choice of objects. My drawing in paint still life with the glass bottle was an arrangement that was simply there on the kitchen window sill and, unsually for me, I painted it quickly and spontaneously. While it is a representational image, it has a slight abstract quality because of the view of the wavy lines through the glass. So this I think is the best of the bunch. Its strength is the composition and the fact that it is not overworked.

Still life is not a genre that I feel at ease with but my work in terms of choice of objects and compositions is better, on the whole, than that I produced in Drawing 1 and that I feel this is largely due to the still life research project which I enjoyed hugely and gained a great deal from. I still feel  a novice at acrylics so going forward I need to fit in as much practice as possible and also to continue to research and look at paintings and other art whenever and wherever I can.


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