• On Still Life Painting

by David Latham McSween May 14, 2019

Pumkin With Blue, 2015 - Still Life by David McSween - Oil Painting

(Pumpkin With Blue, 2015)

Time For Realism

This still-life painting, from a realism perspective, is one of my more successful pieces and it was made possible in large part because I was able to take my time. The value of having more time to develop a sense of realism is also a great temptation for overworking. While the structure and quality of the color in both the pumpkin and the blue fabric is as accurate as I've ever made, it borders on being too mundane. There is a three-dimensional quality to the pumpkin, it has a roundness that makes it look as if could be rolled off the composition, and it has weight enough to feel as though it is sitting in the space created by the fabric, but there is little excitement other than these technical accomplishments. This piece is a milestone work for me, and I will continue to be encouraged by my success with this painting, but I believe, with time, there's more to explore past the boundaries of formal realism.

Peach And Pear, 2014 - Still Life by David McSween - Oil Painting

(Peach And Pear, 2014)

Until It "Feels" Right

My favorite part of this still-life painting is the color of the cast shadow of the peach on the pear. An artist friend recently reminded me that when you are painting in a natural light setting (light from the sun and not from a bulb) where the light temperature is cold (more blue than yellow), then the shadows are going to be warm (more yellow than blue). I'm not sure I agree with him, but it is a functional theory and one that is indeed evident in this painting. What I find is that even if his opinion is right, knowledge like that doesn't come into my mind when I'm painting. Color, above all else, is intuitive for me. Meaning, the color has to "feel" right regardless of what I know about it.

Three Oranges - Still Life by David McSween - Oil Painting

(Three Oranges)

The Set Up

A casual look at the still-life painting above and the viewer would never guess that I took almost an hour trying to set this subject up. What took so long? Well, I was still in the middle of converting my garage into a studio, so I had to clear a spot in front of the window and then rig up a table after that. But the thing that took the most time was trying to get a background that I was happy with since the studio was a complete wreck. I finally landed on using a piece of foam insulation and some painting paper to create the geometric diagonal shape seen in the painting. When it was all done, I enjoyed the challenge, and thankfully, the artwork as well. The setup time for good still-lifes can take at least an hour. Getting the objects to have good relationships with each other is essential to keep me interested, and I presume that if I'm bored with a still-life the viewer will be as well. 

Until next time, keep painting, and please feel free to leave questions or feedback in the comments section below, and I'll try my best to get back to you within a day.

Best Regards,

David McSween

David Latham McSween
David Latham McSween


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11"x14" 16"x20"
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