Thursday, November 22, 2012

Still life. Really???

Grandma's Tea Set
Original oil painting  20x16"
by Susan Roux

From a teaching point of view, I've been wanting to introduce my students to still life painting for a while now. It requires close attention to values and defined light and shadow patterns. Much like the challenge of doing a figure without the proportions being as important, so long as the overall composition still works.

I wasn't sure how to go about this. Each class meets once a week and it can take a good month to finish a painting. How could I possibly set up a still life that would last that long without being moved? Not to mention any flowers. The other problem I faced was everyone's vantage point would be different. A set-up could be very pleasing from one persons perspective, but very unattractive from another's.

One day the solution came to me.

A photo shoot. Yes, it was that simple.

I'm predominantly a studio painter. I work from images most of the time. Why having images of a still life didn't occur to me is baffling. I did still life work over a decade ago. It fascinated me and made me focus differently than painting landscapes. I enjoyed the challenge a few times a year. Each time, I'd prepare a set-up on my bay window to paint from at the same time of day. It was my time to explore painting from life and I loved the light and colors I'd see.

It came as an unusual thought to paint one from a photograph, but it seemed the perfect solution. So one day I called a student in to help me. Bring along some things that would work in a still life, I said. Much to my surprise, he arrived with a car full of unusual and interesting things. We set up a table in the hallway, the darkest place in the house. A single light source could be brought in. We worked for hours that day, setting up various things on different cloths. Click, click, click went the camera. Artifacts were strewed all over the house by the time we finished.

Those photos sat in my file for at least a month. Last week a class wanted to begin a still life. It hit me that I was perhaps not the best teacher for this, not having done one in so long myself. We began. A loose background and the objects drawn in with paint was the extent of our progress.

I found myself wanting to continue after class, but since I paint along with my students, I couldn't. The next best thing was to do another one on my own. I figured it would really help me direct the class though the process if I did. So here it is. Grandma's Tea Set.

I surprised myself. I don't know if it was the emotion around the memory of my Grandmother or the fact that artists were in and out of my house to paint that day, but something extraordinary seemed to happen.

You work for years trying to establish your own style and define yourself uniquely as an artist. It's odd when you suddenly choose a completely different subject and it falls into place so naturally. The fascination for creating still life feels awakened in me. Where has this desire been hiding all these years?

The artist journey is too complicated to describe in a few phrases. Even to the artist himself, it is full of surprises.

You can expect to see a few more still life paintings show up here. I can't promise they will all turn out like this, but time will tell.

Behind the easel, the adventure continues...


  1. du rouge zinnobre.. rare chez susan...mais beau!!!!

  2. Lovely, Susan. I especially like the light and how you treated the fabric.

  3. This still life is spectacular, Susan. Its full of warm colors and perfect light! Setting up is everything..and this piece proves it.

  4. Well done, Susan-- your style shines on this as brightly as the unseen lamp!

  5. Looks like it was a fantastic teaching/learning experience as well as wonderful painting demo!

  6. Je vais un peu peut-être me répéter... puisque nous en avons parlé. J'aime l'harmonie de tes couleurs, sa composition... Une expérience extraordinaire qui je sens va se renouveler car le plaisir fut au rendez-vous.
    Tout comme toi, lorsque je peins des bouquets, chose qui ne m'arrive pas souvent et ne me ressemble pas, je reste admirablement surprise par le résultat. Alors continue de nous et de t'étonner...
    gros bisous.

  7. absolutely stunning susan!!! i love the warm light, the glow and the composition! the lace is beautifully done as well. just lovely!

    thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments on my blog, i so appreciate them. i owe you a long email but i'm so behind i'm not sure when i'll have time. just know i'm thinking about you and so appreciate your caring, friendship and creative inspiration.


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