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Still Life Painting Design Ideas – Adding Interest to your Art (even if it wasn’t there)

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This is a post from Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.

Still Life Painting Design Ideas

Still life painting in watercolor – especially interiors – is loaded with design opportunities to embellish. You can change the color palette of the room completely. Go ahead and edit the scene by removing objects, or adding others that weren’t really there. It’s like magic and you are the wizard!

With a little imagination, you can assemble parts of separate reference photos to create a scene much like a set-designer would on a stage. Do you do this when planning a still life or interior painting?

Two reference photos on the left, combined to create an interior and figurative watercolor on the right

Assembling Different Photos to Create Imaginary Scenes

Still life in watercolor is one of my favorite genres to look for and be inspired by. When assembling a still life in my studio, I like to increase interest in the arrangement by incorporating other backgrounds.

My studio is a small spare bedroom that also houses my etching press, so there isn’t enough floor space to stage a compelling background, other than the studio itself. Fortunately for us artists, it doesn’t take a lot of equipment to print photo-copies of other rooms, windows, walls and hallways to incorporate as a faux background to compliment a focal point.

Reference photo on the left, interior still life watercolor and colored pencil on the right. An experiment in warm and cool color glazing.

Playing with Contrast and Color

If cutting and taping composite photos to create a whole new environment to paint seems like a lot of work, you can simplify your painting design ideas. Instead of painting your subject or reference photo as it appears, change the colors. If the room was primarily red and violet, make it wheat and slate colored instead.

Or if the objects around your subject were so lost in shadow, they disappeared in the composition, bring them into a focus a little bit, and brighten their shadowy hues – just a tad – to give empty corners some interest. If there’s nothing interesting outside a window in your reference photo, add something fun, like in this watercolor. Know what I mean?

The reference photo on the left, and a watercolor study on the right. Subtle changes in the brightness and shape of the objects around the figure to play with a meandering path for the eye.

A still life arrangement assembled by my friend LG for an afternoon of painting watercolors together. I used the reference photo again in an interior scene watercolor titled Aperture below.

Aperture (11×14 watercolor) began with a surreptitious photo of my son sleeping while we were on vacation. I embellished the interior while painting the watercolor. The green curtain in the foreground was a wall, the daffodils were borrowed from a previous still life set up (above the painting), and the dog sleeping on the figure’s legs was added from a photo of one of our greyhounds.

Pink Winter, 7.75 x 6 inches – Watercolor on Bristol Plate Finish Paper (sold)

A Watercolor’s Journey

My friend LG sent me a photo of her newly build bedroom drenched in squinty winter light about a decade ago. Her cats’ unanimous feline approval-sprawl confirmed that this room was an excellent addition to their home. I asked to use the photo as a reference, with a few little changes here and there. (You ask permission to paint from other folks’ photos, right?) Lucky for me, she said yes.

Later, when I exhibited that interior watercolor (above), two couples attending the show together split the purchase of the painting as a gift to a friend who just lost her cat. We’ve all grieved for animals before, and the heartbreak is profound.

Scout sends a studio cat hello to you, in the form of soft snoring. The fact that his humans are stuck in the house with him,
all day long, every day, is a gift. From his perspective, that’s a lot of opportunities for love.

Unanticipated Artist Benefits

A watercolor that bridged the miles to my far away friend (and her cats), and was so fun to paint, has now traveling with a new purpose as a gestural salve for grief between friends. That experience, from start to finish, was an artist’s torte cake of goodness.

What sort of lovely exchanges have you had recently because of your artwork? And how have you altered your source material to make watercolor paintings that felt more akin to your personal vision? Tell us a story in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post -


I found this sample pack of watercolor paper online, and I think it’s a good way to test five different artist-grade watercolor papers (2 of each). If you try them, let me know in the comments which you liked best and why.

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P.S. Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, I’d be loading my car today, to drive a road case full of watercolors and printmaking to a series of art festivals. All my art festivals are cancelled, so this season’s painting, printmaking and framing was for naught. Instead, I’m hosting a Virtual Art Festival sale in my Etsy Shop. For a limited time, everything will be 20% off with Free Shipping. I’ll relay the date and time of the sale in the next post.

P.P.S. Watercolor Painter extraordinaire Shari Blaukopf posted a free video demonstration of her five favorite brushes. It’s an excellent overview of how each of them can be used for specific areas in your watercolor paintings. Check it out here.

Have you seen this nifty little compact palette? It’s called the Cloverleaf Paintbox, and when the leaves are closed, it measures just under 5 x 5 inches.
The paint well insert comes out for re-loading or cleaning, and you can rotate the configuration, so the thumb-rest on the corner works for right or left handed. How cool is that? Get more details and artist’s photos here.

P.P.P.S. Do you take advantage of the free classes offered each week over at Creative Live? There is a Simple Email Marketing course for Makers coming up, as well as another one called The Art of Selling What You Make. They may both be very timely for folks who make art, but have no shows coming up in the foreseeable future. (I have my hand up.)

Art Quote

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

Randy Pausch

Visit Six Tips to Paint More for some ideas that will get your back on the road to making art

After a swim in the pool, a local cat stopped by for a cuddle and conversation

The post Still Life Painting Design Ideas – Adding Interest to your Art (even if it wasn’t there) appeared first on Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.


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