The Art of Still Life: A Contemporary Guide to Classical Techniques, Composition, and Painting in Oil

The Art of Still Life: A Contemporary Guide to Classical Techniques, Composition, and Painting in Oil

by Todd M. Casey

Hardcover

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Overview

A must-have reference book for today's artists and art students.

Every artist needs to learn and master the still life. Written by a well-known artist and expert instructor, The Art of Still Life offers a comprehensive, contemporary approach to the subject that instructs artists on the foundation basics and advanced techniques they need for successful drawing and painting. In addition to Casey's stunning paintings, the work of over fifty past and present masters is included, so that the book will do double duty as a hardworking how-to manual and a visual treasure trove of some of the finest still life art throughout history and being created today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580935487
Publisher: The Monacelli Press
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 124,899
Product dimensions: 9.50(w) x 11.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

A Massachusetts native, Todd M. Casey studied at art schools in Boston and San Francisco before embarking on the classical artistic education offered by Jacob Collins’s famed Water Street Atelier in New York City. A modern master of the still life genre, Casey teaches at several institutions, including the Art Students League of New York. He is represented by Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York, and his paintings are held in numerous private collections worldwide. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York’s Hudson Valley. Visit his website at toddmcasey.com.

Read an Excerpt

Preface - Embracing the Journey
Here is the story of my artistic journey. I took a very roundabout way to becoming a professional fine art painter. In a lot of ways I followed my heart and let it take me where it needed to go. I was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, which I found out years later was also the birthplace of painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Beat writer Jack Kerouac. Like many American families, we had Norman Rockwell prints hanging in our home. I was captivated by these images and by how Rockwell could tell a story through them. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a storyteller, too.
After my studies concluded, I began to paint objects in my home, as they were accessible. I fell in love with still life and continue to paint still life professionally. I am a storyteller at heart, and still life painting has afforded me the opportunity to tell my stories through objects. Yes, I inadvertently found my way into still life painting, but I love it!
Still life lets you work out all the concepts of painting in a controlled environment. You can start with a simple setup and then build much more complex ideas as you progress from painting to painting. In a sense, you become the director of the world you create in your studio. As you begin still life, I encourage you to paint objects that are meaningful to you, because this will keep you interested in the painting. When you paint meaningful things, a love of the genre begins to emerge.

About This Book
In my training as an artist, I found it very difficult to tackle the many challenges that go into creating a painting. I was constantly trying to juggle everything all at once but had very little success doing it that way. It wasn’t until I began my atelier training that I started focusing on one concept at a time and on mastering each individually. After compartmentalizing the concepts, I was able to put them all back together to create cohesive images.
The six concepts that I find most important in making a painting are these:
1. Idea or vision
2. Light and shadow
3. Composition
4. Drawing
5. Color
6. Value and form
All these concepts serve the final painting just as each instrument serves a piece of music. But just as the final musical performance is more important than the instruments, so the final work of art is more important than the individual concepts.

My Goal
This book encourages you to heighten your senses and to use that heightened awareness when painting. Just as someone training to become a sommelier must heighten their senses of smell and taste, you’ll want to train your senses to be so keen that you operate on a very high level of sensory awareness. Also, throughout the book I balance the practical information I present with a lot of advice from the heart. Painting should be made from the head and the heart, never just one or the other.

Drawing Tools and Materials
Drawing is a prelude to painting, so let’s look at drawing tools first. Good tools will help you do good drawings. These tools will eventually feel like an extension of your hand, and the more you use them, the more you will master them. The most essential drawing tool is a pencil. Artist’s pencils come in a very wide range of hardnesses, from 8H (the hardest) to 8B (the softest). H pencils tend to score the paper, while B pencils can be hard to erase. I do almost all my drawing with an HB pencil—which is right in the middle of the range. You can get a nice range of values from an HB, without the disadvantages of harder or softer pencils. I recommend using a high-quality brand like Staedtler or Tombow.

Painting Tools and Materials
There are countless oil-painting tools and materials on the market. In what follows, I’ve tried to stay with the basics—the things a beginning still-life painter is most likely to need.
Each painting medium has its strengths and weaknesses. I dabble in all of them, as still life paintings can be beautiful in any medium. But I predominantly work in oil paints as I find oil to be the most versatile medium. It has great layering properties, and the colors will remain vivid over centuries.

Setting Up Your Studio
You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Common Still Life Subjects
Deciding what to paint is an essential step in the process of image-making. It’s crucial that you be interested in the objects you are painting. If they are not that interesting to you, you may not see the painting through to the end—or you won’t feel the need to do a great painting. Finding the right  objects to paint is therefore very important to keeping the artist—and, ultimately, the viewer—interested in the painting. The world is your oyster, and there is no wrong thing to paint. But there are so many different subjects to consider that making a decision can seem overwhelming. Some painters choose to tell stories with their paintings while others choose to depict objects with powerful symbolic meanings or simply to document the objects in their lives. But the choice doesn’t have to be all that intentional—sometimes you might stumble onto a setup that just has to be painted. Historically, many painters have been interested in certain kinds of subjects, including nonorganic inanimate objects like books, bags, drinking glasses, plates, bottles, and cutlery. Such objects are perfect for both beginners and advanced still life painters because they don’t move or change, so you can take as much time as you need to paint them.

Recommended Props
Having a lot of props is a must for a still life painter. As you progress, you’ll find that you’re always on the hunt for interesting props. I recommend, though, that you start by painting just a few simple things. Fruits are a great place to start because most fruits have relatively simple forms—spheres, cylinders, etc. Fake fruit is perfect for beginners, because it’s not perishable like real fruit, so you don’t have to impose a time limit on finishing your painting. Arts and crafts stores sell plastic fruit that is so believable you’d think it’s real.

Working Out Your Ideas
Once you decide what you want to paint, you should work out your idea on paper. I recommend always carrying a sketchbook or notebook with you so that you can jot down your thoughts about subjects and compositions whenever they occur to you. You don’t want to censor or filter your thoughts at this point. Just write down or sketch out whatever you think of. Not every idea has to lead to a painting.
The things you sketch will stick with you. Sketching is similar to taking notes in longhand as opposed to typing them on a keyboard. It’s a much more intentional process. When we physically write something out, we tend to emphasize certain words or edit things out. This is similar to what we do when drawing.

Ways to Get Inspired
I spend a lot of time looking at objects and thinking of the stories I’d like to tell in a painting. I know that inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes an idea can start with an object that speaks to you. You can find inspiration—for color, theme, mood, composition—in other artists’ work. I collect postcards and posters from museums and put them up on a wall in my studio. Not all the images are still lifes—there are portraits, figure paintings, landscapes, and interiors. But they all consciously or subconsciously work their way into my ideas.
One of the best places to look for inspiration is the work of the Old Masters. We all have our off days when we don’t feel inspired or just don’t know what to paint. On such a day, why not visit a museum and experience the work of other artists? (But take note: it’s fine to be inspired by the Old Masters and to continually try to achieve that kind of depth in your work, but don’t do versions of their paintings. Your work needs to be an extension of who you are.)
The film director Ridley Scott has said that when he created Gladiator he was inspired by the scenes from ancient history painted by nineteenth-century painters like Jean-Léon Gérôme. In fact, you can find inspiration in all the arts. Don’t just look at paintings—study all forms of art and nature, as well. Nature has always been human beings’ biggest source of inspiration.

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