What Is The Purpose Of Painting A Still Life?

For most of my artistic life I’ve wondered what the purpose of painting a still life was. In school, I found them to be the most boring subjects of all and a waste of time. They felt painful to work on and I had a lot of resistance to drawing and painting them. Portraits were my sweet spot and I loved the challenge of capturing someone’s essence on canvas.

Things started to change for me this year when I took up painting again. I knew I would be staying home more because both of my dogs were very ill and I needed something positive to put my mind to.

Teapot with Persimmon painting

Teapot with Persimmon 14″ x 11″ Acrylic on canvas 2017

Seeing Still Life Differently

Much to my surprise, I had discovered that “realism” was back as an art form. I was always a realist painter but modern art was more acceptable as “real art”, so I floundered around a lot not knowing where to put my focus as an artist.

Wanting to “get real” again with my artwork, I searched for objects to paint. Contemporary realism seems to take a little different view on the still life. No longer was I seeing complex setups with grapes, skulls, books, dead birds and feathers all crammed onto one canvas. Now the trend seemed to be more meditative. Very simple and reflective. I found this much more appealing.

Getting Started

I pulled out my acrylic paints and worked from a reference photo of a teapot with a persimmon. I loved playing with the reflections in the teapot and the limited color palette. All the neutral tones allow the persimmon to really pop on the canvas. Suddenly, this one painting had brought me back to my realist roots and gave me an appreciation for still life that completely escaped me before.

Entering The Digital Age

With my day job as a creative director becoming more demanding as the year progressed, I found myself having less time to pull out the easel and paints. Because of this, a coworker recommended painting digitally. After doing some research, I bought an iPad Pro and got to work.

It didn’t take much time to get the hang of the digital programs and I found that I could get the results I wanted fairly quickly. And much to my surprise, was able to paint in the alla prima style. This means the paint is wet-on-wet and the colors are easy to blend. Who knew you could paint alla prima on an iPad?

Anne's Flowers

“Anne’s Flowers” digital painting done in ArtRage 2017

With the digital programs you can do multiple layers and build up a background, foreground etc. However, I found this to be frustrating as I couldn’t blend the colors from one layer to another without collapsing the layers. Plus, it’s really confusing and I couldn’t remember which layer I was painting on. (Simple is always better for me when it comes to art.)

Above is a painting I did after a friend posted yet another beautiful flower arrangement she got from a local farmers market. I just had to give it a go. I hope Anne is OK with me painting her flowers! It’s a study and I left it unfinished. I have done this a lot in my artwork over the years. I just get to a point where I don’t want to paint anymore and move on to something else. (BTW – Anne is a fabulous artist. Check out her work here.) 

Digital painting of a Cohansey glass jar

“Cohansey Glass Jar” – digital painting done in ArtRage 2017

Painting A Still Life With Glass

For a long time I had been wanting to paint an old glass canning jar. I finally found a jar that looked interesting and decided to give it a try. I really had no idea if I’d be able to replicate the glass and early in the painting it looked terrible. But if you keep at it and paint what you see instead of painting what you think you see, it all starts to come together. Patience is required for anything glassy or reflective.

Work In Progress

My current digital study is of an arrangement I put together earlier this year and photographed. I use this bowl to keep my car keys in (I swear if I didn’t have this bowl I would never go anywhere as those keys would be MIA.) I always have lemons on hand to make my lemon kefir every day.

Lemons with Glass Bowl Study

“Lemons with Glass Bowl” work in progress. Digital painting.

While painting a still life may not appear to have that much meaning, using objects from the artist’s day-to-day life does give a little peak into who they are. Looking at it that way, still life paintings are sort of slice-of-life portraits. I expect this study will turn into a canvas painting next year.


Since first posting this article I decided to finish this little study in ArtRage. The fabric was a challenge but a lot of fun to paint. I still think this will become a “real” painting at some point but in the mean time it will be available as a print on Fine Art America.

Lemons With Glass Bowl Completed

“Lemons With Glass Bowl” Completed

So, What Is The Purpose Of Painting A Still Life?

For me, there are at least five great reasons for painting a still life:

  1. The first is all about simply painting to get better as an artist. Painting everyday objects makes it easy to get that practice in on a regular basis.
  2. The second reason is learning to see. This is the biggest challenge any artist has. What you actually see with your eyes is very different from what your brain thinks you see. For example, when you think of a lemon you think it’s yellow. But when you actually see a lemon, it’s a whole spectrum of yellows. Not only that, the lemon usually contains deep brown colors and reflected colors on the surface which can include blues, greens, reds or a variety of other colors. Getting out of your own head and realizing your mind has the ability to create a story that isn’t true is a real eye-opener!
  3. The third is appreciation. When you focus on a simple object, you begin to appreciate the essence of the object. If you are painting a slice of an orange, you see all of the patterns and design in that one slice. It gives you as sense of a greater overall design to life. Which this leads me to my next reason.
  4. The forth reason is about meditation. The more I paint – especially simple still life paintings – the more it takes me to a very meditative place where I lose sense of time. I stop thinking and I’m simply in the moment of painting. This is a hard quality to describe in words so I won’t even try. Those who have entered into the flow state while creating know what I’m talking about.
  5. The fifth reason is about being a maker. Everyone is creative whether they want to admit to it or not. I don’t know one child who isn’t into coloring, drawing and playing. Somehow this creative spark is dismantled in many people by the end of childhood which is a real shame. If you’re one of those kids who weren’t encouraged to create, don’t let that stop you now. Take a class and get started again. If you’re too afraid of a class, get on YouTube. You can find out how to do just about anything on there.


And now for a little detour…

Postage Stamps

Check out my stamp collection on Zazzle!

Still Lifes & Stamp Collections

In addition to painting and building my website on the weekends, I recently decided to try out a little merchandising including creating fine art stamps. I was a very nerdy and shy kid and to keep me occupied, my mom had me and my brother start stamp collecting. Back then it was a really big deal to have an artist get their work onto a stamp. These days anyone can put their painting on a stamp, so I jumped at the chance. It doesn’t have the same prestige that it did when I was young but I think it’s still pretty cool.

You can make your own stamps along with TONS of other things on Zazzle, so head on over there and check it out.