The Encyclopedia Britannica defines still life painting as “the depiction of inanimate subject-matter objects for the sake of their qualities of form, color, texture, and composition.” Still life painting developed as an independent genre during the Renaissance period of Western painting. While it has struggled at times for prominence as a serious painting genre, the genre has always been enormously popular with the public and holds a respected place among the most prestigious art museums.
Unlimited Possibilities: As a genre, still-life compositions provide the artist more freedom than landscape or portrait painting to arrange commonplace objects that may be natural (flowers, plants, rocks, food, etc.) or man-made (vases, drinking utensils, books, jewelry, etc.). These components provide unlimited possibilities for compositional combinations encompassing the design elements of: Line, Shape, Color, Value, Tone, Texture, and Depth, as discussed in last week’s post. When these elements are manipulated with the design principles of: Balance, Contrast, Movement, Rhythm, Emphasis, Proportion, and Unity, the painter will be capable of representing anything. This is why most aspiring painters are encouraged to work with still life when first learning their craft.
Among the modern day masters of still life painting is artist Claudia Seymour. A past president of the historic Salmagundi Club of New york City, Claudia holds membership with numerous national organizations, including Master Signature membership in the Pastel Society of America (PSA) and Master Circle status with the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS). And she has won numerous prizes in the more than 150 juried exhibitions in which she has participated. She works in both pastel and oil and has gallery representation both nationally and abroad.
A Clarity of Vision: Claudia works exclusively from life. Her concentrated use of radiant light, arranged upon the objects that establish the foundation of her compositions, creates scenes that portray timeless elegance and serenity. Her goal is to depict the infinite beauty of color, not only in the objects themselves but also in the interactions between them, their shadows, and the surrounding spaces. As she states, “A still life artist has the absolute luxury of determining virtually every aspect of the painting, there is a clarity of vision possible through creation, use and presentation of light that is totally within the artist’s control.” To learn more about her work:
- Visit Claudia’s website at www.claudiaseymour.com.
- Read about her approach to color in an article featuring Claudia and fellow still life artist Leslie Lillien Levy in the December 2013 issue of the Pastel Journal. Or click here for the related web article.
- See her paint in two instructional DVDs available from the North Light Shop: Pastel Painting Techniques: Still Life Flowers and Painting Flowers in Oil with Claudia Seymour.
One of my earliest instructors encouraged me to work with still life before attempting anything else. While I resisted at first, once I started orchestrating the arrangement of natural and man-made objects within the confines of the composition and saw the effects of manipulating the principles of design, I was hooked. Still life painting made me the landscape painter I am today and taught me that we really only have the tools of shape, edge, color, and value. At the end of the day, it comes down to what we do with them.