Still life tech­niques

Peter Chan shares his ap­proach to paint­ing in­door still life – a great way to be­come com­fort­able with the medium and get you ready for plein air stud­ies

ImagineFX - - Issue 141 December 2016 -

Peter Chan shares his ap­proach.

Peter is orig­i­nally from Tai­wan, but now lives in Los An­ge­les where he works at Sony Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion. Pre­vi­ously he was at Pan­demic Stu­dios as a con­cept artist, and at DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion where he was a vis­ual de­vel­oper. You can see more of his work on his blog, www.pix­elp.tum­

There’s noth­ing I love bet­ter than be­ing out­doors paint­ing the world around me, but it was def­i­nitely a strug­gle for me when I first started us­ing gouache. Work­ing with an un­fa­mil­iar paint medium, the com­plex­ity of the scene and the ever-chang­ing light can be in­tim­i­dat­ing. And that’s why set­ting up a small-scale, ba­sic still life in the com­fort of your home can be a good way to work on the art fun­da­men­tals and build up your con­fi­dence be­fore head­ing out

You’ll know bet­ter than any­one the va­ri­ety of props with dif­fer­ent shapes and colours that are in your home, and for some artists like my­self they pro­vide a con­stant source of in­spi­ra­tion. Work­ing on these still life exercises un­der a con­sis­tent light source means you can take your time to work on your ob­ser­va­tional skills, notic­ing the re­la­tion­ships be­tween shapes, light and colours, which is cru­cial for paint­ing out­doors.

One of the ways I like to set up my still life is find­ing ob­jects with a clear dif­fer­ence in value struc­ture and put them un­der a sin­gle light source, such as a desk lamp. In this ar­ti­cle I have my toy fig­ure with about a medium value, a small black speaker which is my dark­est value and a white piece of board as my high­est value el­e­ment, with some ad­di­tional ob­jects in the back­ground. These sim­ple ob­jects es­tab­lish a var­ied value struc­ture for me to paint an in­ter­est­ing im­age.

The most im­por­tant con­cept to keep in mind in this still life ex­er­cise is to ob­serve these ob­ject as not what they are, but as ab­stract shape el­e­ments. The more you train your eye to see and paint them this way, the eas­ier paint­ing the com­plex­ity of out­door scener­ies will be­come.

1 Se­lect­ing ob­jects to paint

Try not to think about find­ing “cool” ob­jects to paint. In­stead, con­sider their con­trast­ing prop­er­ties when they’re put to­gether. In my setup, I have the con­trast of the colour­ful, round-shaped toy next to the dark, geo­met­ric speaker sit­ting on the flat white board. Think­ing ab­stractly this way will help you be­come bet­ter at de­pict­ing the fun­da­men­tals of de­sign, value and colour.

2 Mak­ing use of a sim­ple un­der­draw­ing

I like to think of the un­der­draw­ing al­most as a sim­ple note-tak­ing stage. I quickly sketch in the im­por­tant el­e­ments, such as pro­por­tions of ob­jects and the gen­eral com­po­si­tion. The loose draw­ing en­ables me to be more flex­i­ble when paint­ing, and not be a slave to the line work.

3 Over­all colour block-in

Dur­ing the early block-in stage I put down rough colour notes of what I see. I like to start in the cen­tre of my im­age and work my way around the whole com­po­si­tion. I do this often through­out the whole paint­ing process so I don’t linger in one area for too long. I also paint loosely and more wet dur­ing this stage, as I would with water­colours.

4 Break­ing down the com­plex­ity

The mid­dle stage is all about break­ing down the com­plex­ity of your ob­jects into more sim­ple colour shapes and more ac­cu­rate colour mix­ing. I push the warms colours in the light and cool colours in the shad­ows. I start to layer on thicker paint, but don’t think so much in terms of blend­ing – in­stead, I sculpt sim­ple planes with my brush strokes.

5 Re­fin­ing the still life com­po­si­tion and ap­ply­ing de­tails

Once I achieve a strong, solid read of my paint­ing, the fin­ish­ing stage be­comes rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. Here, I can start to think about adding de­tails such as the horn on the toy fig­ure or the tex­ture el­e­ment of the ta­ble wood grain. I’m also look­ing for sub­tle changes in colours, which will bring in more va­ri­ety to my paint­ing. For ex­am­ple, in my white board area I add sub­tle changes of yel­low­ish and grey­ish white.

Va­ri­ety of round, geo­met­ric and flat shapes. Still life com­prises mid, dark and high val­ues. Con­trast­ing colours.

I sim­plify the draw­ing into large blocks and ig­nore de­tails for now.

In­tro­duce sub­tle colour vari­a­tions in ar­eas – here, shades of white. Be se­lec­tive with the de­tails you want to add, such as those on the toy fig­ure, or wood grain tex­ture. Make an ef­fort to ob­serve the dif­fer­ent types of dark colours in the shadow ar­eas.

Push the dif­fer­ence in val­ues to make the ob­jects read clearly. Look for warm and cool colours in the light and shad­ows. Break down the form into sim­ple, ac­cu­rate value and colour shapes. Don’t worry about blend­ing at this stage.

Put down quick colours that you ob­serve and re­act to. Don’t worry about ac­cu­racy. Con­stantly work around the com­po­si­tion.

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