Still Life Painting Demonstration by Jeffrey Larson

Jeffrey T. Larson’s still lifes are a clear testament to his academic training. Masterfully executed and grounded in the methods of the old masters, his still lifes are, nonetheless, simple and straightforward and current in his choice of subject matter and composition; yet, they succeed in elevating the design and function of mundane items to that of captivating objects d’art.

Larson constructed this still life with two antique holy water fonts, one portraying the Nativity, the other, the Crucifixion. The backdrop for these pieces is a door from a Spanish church he found at a special shop he frequents to find just such objects.

Still Life in 9 Steps

1. Through studies I arranged my setup to follow a compositional grid. I first penciled the same grid on the canvas, then roughed in the main shapes with charcoal. The entire painting is keyed off the Nativity piece’s highlights and the deep blue notes (the glazes).

2. Since my whitest white pigment out of the tube isn’t even close to being as bright as the actual highlight, the entire painting had to be honestly keyed down in order to re-create and maintain the correct tonal relationships.

3. I focused on the center of interest and worked with the limited number of notes and hues (like puzzle pieces), making sure to get these notes fairly accurate before I moved on. At this stage I was mostly focused on keying intensities, values and the warm cool balance.

4. Once I feel that I’ve unlocked the range and relationships of the center of interest I use that information to expand to the notes in the door. It’s much easier to compare notes side by side than across the canvas, so I’m very careful in mixing the right note for the door.

5. It’s important for me to keep the blue-green of the door as subservient to the intensities of the focal points as it is in reality. Once these notes are accurate, I can move out from where I directly keyed them with confidence (expanding the puzzle).

6. I carried over the correct keying to the right side, placing notes in corresponding locations. Each time I mix a new note, I continually refer to my anchor points, which are the brightest highlight, the deepest black, the deepest blue note, and the most intense light blue note.

7. With most of the painting laid in, and keyed, I felt confident that I had enough information down to analyze and lay in the secondary center of interest, the crucifixion font.

8. When the entire painting was roughed in, I went back and corrected drawing errors and color shifts, straightened lines and shaped things up for the second-go-round.

9. Then I spent two weeks making subtle shifts in tone and intensity to bring out the focal point. Using scumbling, glazing and broken color, I worked hard to create the most visually honest overall effect I could while also editing out anything that didn’t enhance my artistic vision for Unlocked (oil, 20×30).


Jeffrey T. Larson is a well-respected instructor who counsels budding artists to train their eyes to see both honestly and correctly: “Since paint is so limited compared to light and nature, learn to push it to its boundaries so that you can better re-create what you see.” Larson’s work is represented by Tree’s Place Gallery in Orleans, Massachusetts, and every two years the artist hosts his own show in the Twin Cities. To see more of his work, visit his website,

art magazine, artist magazine, artists magazineLarson was featured in the November 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. To read the full feature article about his work and technique, click here and get The Artist’s Magazine‘s 2009 Annual CD.




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