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Still life/portrait painting as new artist?

Question for the group – in order to improve as an artist, do you think it’s required to paint still lifes and/or portraits? At this point, I personally have no interest in either but not sure what I’m missing out from by not attempting. I currently do not have plans to be come a ‘professional’ artist but do want to get better. Welcome any thoughts.


  • I think solving the problems with painting from still life are interesting.  Getting the dimensions and under drawing correct, and color checking would probably be useful if you ever do plein aire painting.
  • My own naïve take after being a landscape watercolorist for decades is still life studies are a useful method of studying form and light.  Just as drawing from life --or still life-- trains the eye and hand to see and project onto the flat plane.  I switched to oil paints to gain a greater degree of control over hue-value-chroma,  watercolor is "managing the emergency" as JS Sargent so accurately put-it.

    I've been doing a lot of still life studies to explore and develop a feel for form and light.  How it moves around a shape.  Most are destined for the bin, and I've purposefully used ephemeral materials so I'm not distracted by cost or the waste of materials.  For several series, I've restricted my palette to low-chroma neutrals to concenrate my focus on value ...and the form and line of the subject.  How the light turns around a subject into shadow and cast shadow.

    One of the aspects that intrigues me about Mr. Carder's method is as alla prima it requires a certain confidence to place the paint once ...not fiddle with it as it turns to mud.
  • @grega99
    I guess its what we are drawn to doing most. Personally I love doing still life and don't have an interest in portraiture or landscape at the moment. Though I may do further down the line.

    Here is an excerpt from, what I think is an excellent book on still life that I recently purchased.

    "When training as an artist, you must master the many concepts that go into making a great painting. All training begins with a deep understanding of the concepts of drawing, light, shadow, colour, value, form and composition. In addition you must understand your materials, become an excellent draughtsman, and learn the techniques you`ll need to convey the message you desire.

    Still life painting is a great place to start. In an essay on the topic of still life painting, American painter Emil Carlsen wrote, "Still life painting is considered of small importance in the art schools, both here and abroad, the usual course being drawn from the antique, the nude and painting the draped figure from there nude....then why should the earnest  student overlook the simplest and most thorough way of acquiring all the knowledge of the craft of painting and drawing, the study of inanimate objects, still life painting, the very surest road to absolute mastery over all technical difficulties."  "

    From -The Art Of Still Life. Todd M Casey.

    I am in agreement with this. So in answer to your question, I do think that not only is it required, but it is fundamental to paint still life in order to give you the grounding and abilities to paint well in other aspects such as portraiture and landscape.

    Of course there will be those who don't agree.

    Its all good.
  • @TedB Totally understand the confidence part of placing the paint and not fiddling with it. Very hard habit for me to break right now

    @MichaelD I had that exact book in my book list to take a look at.

    I like what I'm hearing and I think it reinforces what I was thinking - that it is a good idea to spend some time on still life studies and see what I can learn from them. Thank you all for the comments.
  • edited April 13
    Still life is a great way to aquire the skills necessary for becoming a good painter. The beauty of still life is that beginners can take as much time as it takes to set up the props and to paint without having to worry about a human model getting tired or the light in the landscape changing. These problems  are not an issue and the beginning painter can focus on the fundamentals of composition, form, value and colour.
  • All advice above is good. Painting what you love is important too. 
  • @MichaelID, I have Casey's new book. Just fabulous. I would recommend it to anyone, especially if they're interested in still life painting. His work is fabulous.

  • It is @ArtistMartin1, and a really good price and size that covers a lot of aspects.
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