Still Life Composition | A Demonstration with Louise B. Hafesh

oil composition demonstration image
Cheers! (oil, 11×14)

Strong, incisive compositions have the capacity to entice, involve, provoke and inspire. Build your paintings on such a foundation, and you’ll set the stage for poignant portraits of life and expressions of the soul.

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oil composition demonstration image
Setup photo 1

The silver vase reminded me of a cup Jean-Siméon Chardin often painted, and I knew it would throw complex reflections. Looking over my stash of fruit, I couldn’t resist the primary colors in the lemon and cherry tomato. The deep blackberry color—opposite the lemon on the color wheel—would add vibrancy. The long-handled fork was a natural lead-in to the composition, and the tea strainer, mimicking the color but not the shine of the vase, was a nice contrast. The strainer’s netting added airiness.

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oil composition demonstration image
Setup photo 2

The left side needed some color, texture and balance, and getting some reflections into the strainer would add a nice touch. An entire lemon slice seemed too heavy, but I was attracted to the circular shape of the peel, which not only supplied the color I wanted, but led to happy accidents. Under its weight, the strainer tipped, allowing a view of the beautiful mesh and some wonderful highlights. Also, the rind fell toward the fork’s handle, visually connecting the two and forming a much tighter, contained composition.

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Setup photo 3

The composition now held together, but seemed a little too tight. It needed a hint of freedom—something that would break from the grouping slightly, yet not distract from the central focal point. A touch of greenery jutting into the air with a sliver of leaf hugging the vessel did the trick.

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Setup photo 4

At this point I began tweaking the overall arrangement and replacing perishables. I substituted fresh greenery for my stand-in artificial leaves. Playing with the light source and the strainer’s placement, I was able to juxtapose shadow against light in the background and chanced upon some glowing reflections on the vase’s left side.

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oil composition demonstration image
Cheers! (oil, 11×14)

While you’re painting, aspects of your setup may stand out as either not working or open for improvement. Make the minor adjustments you feel are needed. Even landscape artists take this license, moving or reshaping a tree, mountain or river (on paper or canvas, that is, not in the great outdoors). As I began massing in shapes, I realized the composition needed more height, so I made the silver vase taller. I also cropped the setting tighter on the canvas, creating a more natural balance for Cheers! (above; oil, 11×14).

Louise B. Hafesh is a contributor for The Artist’s Magazine. Visit her website at www.artworks-site.com.
To learn more about Hafesh’s tips on composition in the feature article “Design for Success,” click here and order your June 2008 digital issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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