Wednesday, November 8, 2017

When I paint still life...; Moccasins


Moccasins, table, stationery, oil on card, 15 x 17 cm

When I paint still life I don't much like the traditional set-up with a fruit basket, a vase and a wine bottle.

 I prefer to paint the things that are lying around the house lying, like the stuff  in boxes, the mess of papers and books or the tea things on the table, or discarded clothes. I like to come across these things. I don't like to "set them up". Setting them up would be a bit like a hunter deliberately placing woodcock in a wood for himself to shoot*. I like the sense that these items convey something personal, and so finding them in their places according to circumstances other than compositional needs is most important (it's true that I do occasionally paint flowers in a very traditional format in vases, but I do find this correspondingly restrictive).

I work on small pieces of card and I prefer things that have easily recognisable profiles such as jugs, spoons and shoes, or perhaps certain items of clothing. I give these things a context such as a table top or the corner walls of a room. I use simple colours: dark reds, grey-greens and blacks and I often try out new paints when still life painting.

I usually paint standing up and I walk around a lot, hovering. I work on several pictures at the same time, then at the end of the session discard many. 

I find painting still life is very mentally taxing: I work much longer sessions than when I am working on landscape and have many negative critical thoughts that I process or combat, with considered responses:

     This is weak: Weak in which way? What might strengthen it?

   That is the same as what you did before: Why did I chose that subject before and what are its virtues? Is there something that has similar virtues that simultaneously allows a new angle?

    How boring!: boring is about engagement in this subject. If it isn't engaging then is this because of the subject (because it's impersonal, randomly chosen) or the treatment (usually it is the former) or my mental set (apathetic, tired, over-familiar with the motif)? This question is the critical and shouldn't be dismissed. 

   That looks too easy to deserve respect: what matters is delight. Children's art is unskilled but often  highly pleasurable. Contrariwise, cemetery carvings are often highly skilled but joyless.  

I also listen to music and self-help talks and drink coffee to try to make myself feel better.

* I know that, ridiculously, this is how grouse shooting is arranged in Scotland: with the grouse safely reared in wire enclosures then released a few days before the "glorious twelfth".


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