People often ask me how I choose items to use in my still lifes. The general rule is that I have to love the things I paint. I often spend over 7 months studying them, so it’s great if they’re interesting to look at. I have been enjoying painting pieces of my costume jewelry collection in my last few still lifes, so I decided to feature a favorite Lanvin neckace in my new one. I thought that its bold colors and graphic shapes would make it a good focal point. I’ve often wanted to include a handbag in a composition but could never figure out a way that didn’t look forced and precious. I think that this Lanvin bag has such an interesting form that it might work, and it’s a good contrast to the necklace. I bought the mirror at the antique store last year and have been wanting to experiment with painting reflections in it.
The next step is to put the objects on my table and shine a light on them. My spotlight is on the right. To add dramatic shadows, I placed a tall box on the right to cast a shadow across the set-up. Just for fun, I threw a black cloth down on the table. I tacked up the handle of the bag onto the wall because when it was laying down, the shapes were confusing. Below you can see this first step.
I decided that the fabric was too busy, so I removed it. I needed another object, so I added the black vase. I really like seeing the reflection in the mirror of the red stone in the necklace. It’s a subtle way to get unity in the composition by repeating a color and shape. You also get variety because the shape is a bit different in the reflection.
I liked this, but it needed some more detail. Below, I added the stones.
The front on the right looked a little empty. Also, I wanted some more jewelry to echo the necklace. Below I added a ring and a few pairs of earrings. I draped one of the fabric dangling earring over the mirror. The biggest change is that I tried the set-up as a square. I think that I prefer it as a square. I’ve only used a square format once before, in ‘Noguchi Lamp, Jewelry, and Scarf.’ This set-up almost looks as if it could be a companion piece to it.
I wanted some cool daylight in this painting to balance all of the warm yellow tones. I opened the window shades a bit on the left to let in the indirect north light. You can see this in the blue cast to the lights coming in from the left. Doing this made me wonder what the composition would look like entirely in cool natural light. Below you can see.
I actually like this quite a bit, though I miss the drama and contrast that a spotlight brings to a composition.
As an experiment, I replace the black vase with this glass vase. It’s not bad.
Next, thinking I wanted some more color and a contemporary feel, I tried this Jonathan Adler vase I just bought instead of the glass vase. I like it! I like how the reds in it tie together the red in the necklace and reflection. It adds excitement to the composition.
As a check, I took a picture and edited it to be in black-and-white. I have found that it’s often better to judge a composition this way without the distraction of color. I think it works. It might be a bit busier than I usually prefer, but I’ll live with it for a while and see how I feel.