View Full Version : Still life - composition help needed

02-02-2007, 11:17 AM
I am painting this from a photo in the ref library. I down loaded it a while ago but now can't seem to find it to thank the photographer!

I need some help on the composition aspect. I am loading it up at the stage where I have blocked in some colour and the darks. I find I have to to this so that I can see where I am going and if I need to change things.

My problem is that now I have blocked it in I am not sure that the composition works. This is probably because my still lifes usually fill the picture and have flowers in - usually coming off the picture plane. I suppose in particular I do not like the two blue items as I think they look 'disjointed' if you know what I mean! although I realise that the folds in the cloth will tie them in a bit more.

My questions are:
Should I exchange either the bottle or glass with a vase and flowers? e.g. plain glass vase with blue cornflowers perhaps.
Put some flowers in the bottle?
Bring the cloth to the rhs of the table?
Put in curtains in the background and if so what sort of colours?

As you can probably tell I feel a bit lost on this one.:crying:

Your help is much appreciated

Charlie's Mum
02-02-2007, 11:26 AM
Hi Marion - don't know if you can upload the ref also to help .... from this, it's the window that jumps out to me as just wrong! ..... like, wrong place, wrong angle, not helping the comp or the grouping of the objects .... so that's maybe the ref's fault not yours :D
The grouping itself ould be OK if it made a bit more of a triangular comp- so broadening the base would be a good idea. .... and possibly making the cofee pot taller?
Personally, I'd ditch the window! You can still have a strong light coming in onto the group - and keep the background fairly nebulous and dark ...... unless you're happier putting in draperies.
e.g. - if you wanted 'net' behind, to give a diaphonous light, the group could then become darker against a light b/ground.
It all depends on the 'mood' you'd like to create.
Hope this helps :D

02-02-2007, 11:52 AM
Thanks for your quick response Maureen.
Here is the ref and yes the window does dominate (but I realise that photos over compensate when there is light against dark).


I will consider your suggestion to cut out the window altogether and yes it would also help to make the coffee pot taller - oh dear just as I thought i had drawn it OK! but you are quite right it will help and I should have thought of it myself as I know I didn't like the three items all finishing in more or less a line. I will block out the window and see how it looks - I can always add it again if needed - the beauty of acrylics.
Thanks again Maureen

02-02-2007, 12:44 PM
Personally, I would have removed the bottle far left completely and replaced it with an orange, half orange or bitten apple.
Wonderful light in this ref, tricky piece...Good luck with it! :)

02-02-2007, 01:14 PM
I am painting this from a photo in the ref library. I down loaded it a while ago but now can't seem to find it to thank the photographer!

I'm pretty sure that reference is from Ian Bruce. It is in the household items section of still life.


02-02-2007, 01:22 PM
Okay I fee l you are off to a great start! Perhaps leave the window in but downplay it as indicated in the reference photo. Nice touch blocking in the colors like this. Thanks for the idea! Good luck with this! And I love the colors you have chosen (except the window :( ).

02-02-2007, 05:06 PM
I really like the photo reference and the way you have it blocked in. I am looking forward to seeing you work on this painting. I used the reference photo for a painting too and Howard gave me a good tip which was to make the glass items and coffee pot different heights to add more interest.

Ian Bruce
02-02-2007, 09:02 PM
That is my photo reference. It seems to be quite popular, a number of people have painted it, or one of the others in the set. Here is my take on one of those shots:
I was a very new painter at the time and this was my third watercolor and I did not feel up to attempting something with more elements. As you can see--no window. I really like the blue glass but I am not at all sure that I managed to compose all of those shots very well, though I am happy about the lighting. Good luck with the painting!:wave:

02-03-2007, 02:03 AM
In addition to making the coffe pot taller, you could also make the blue bottle on the left shorter, and then you'd have a triangle, as Maureen suggested. Also, the window in the ref is both bluer and darker than you have painted it, except for some small white highlights. You'd have better color harmony if you made it bluer, and it would be less distracting if it were darker.

Keep us posted on your progress! :thumbsup:

02-03-2007, 07:21 AM
Thank you Ian for the use of your photo. I love the way you rendered the coffee pot in your painting, and if that was only your third painting WOW!.

Thank you everyone else for your suggestions. I am experimenting at the moment with different ideas so will post my underpainting when I have decided. Everyone is always so helpful on this forum.

I will probably make the coffee pot larger, undecided as yet what to do about the glass items - I instinctively like the shape of the bottle but feel making it smaller would look a little odd. I might swap it and glass around and make the glass smaller plus put another orange in to balance out the orange. I think I will also take the cloth over to the rhs.
I blocked the window in quickly and know it doesn't quite 'fit' at the moment. I am contemplating making it dark blue not the green in the photo. I will also scrumble in foliage which will make it stand out less.

02-03-2007, 10:40 AM
After playing around this is what I have come up with and I think i will go with it. I am a little concerned about the large space on the lhs but will see how this looks after I have worked on the shapes and colours some more.
Howe does the windo look now. I think it looks much better does not dominate so much. Obviously needs for work on the surround and the light bottom area is because I had to scrub out the glass with white - so this should disappear and look less lop sided. The wavy lines are is the photo editor playing tricks.



Charlie's Mum
02-03-2007, 01:07 PM
Hi Marion - my second attempt to post this reply - :eek: ....

What really bothers me about this comp is the virtually square shape of the whole grouping- though the alterations you've made to the heights are good :thumbsup:

I've taken the liberty of showing you what I mean -

Then I played around in PSP (not very sophisticated!) to try to describe how I think the comp can be improved .... a broader base by extending the table right across the canvas, and -
making the window actually larger to come down and link the items together.


Remember that a ref is only a starting point - you don't have to copy it slavishly :D

I hope this helps - but it's your painting and feel free to disregard anything I say :D :D

02-03-2007, 03:45 PM
Hi Marion - my second attempt to post this reply - :eek: ....

What really bothers me about this comp is the virtually square shape of the whole grouping....

.... a broader base by extending the table right across the canvas, and -
making the window actually larger to come down and link the items together.

I hope this helps - but it's your painting and feel free to disregard anything I say :D :D

Hi Maureen,
It's the square shape that bothers me too and having started I am finding it hard to get out of the initial comp. I have extended the cloth into the edge of the picture plane and increased the window frame slightly. Your idea of really making the window larger is something I haven't though of but will give it some thought - I think you are right, it will bring it more together. I have blocked in some more and started to define some of the shapes. I will take a photo tomorrow when it is light and post my progress for comments.

Thank you for all your work.


02-04-2007, 11:43 AM
I've taken Maureens advice and enlarged the window frame and I think it looks much better.
The first photo is the initial blocking in of the window, and the second as I have defined things a bit more and I feel it is coming together better.
Obviously much more to do - the plate looks completely wonky and the coffe pot top is lopsided!

the decision now if wether or not to change any colours and to continue in the scrumbling style or try to work using loose brush strokes which is not my normal style but something I am trying to work on.

Any more comments appreciated and thank you all for looking and your help.

More work on the colours of the pot and fruit:

02-04-2007, 11:51 AM
this is a much more dynamic arrangement. I like the triangular composition of the fruit and bottles. Looking forward to seeing your next update.

02-04-2007, 12:38 PM
Yes - is a lot more interesting as a consequence, too...... :thumbsup:

Charlie's Mum
02-04-2007, 01:22 PM
OK Marion - me again! .... and tell me to shut up if you wish :D

I think your group now looks much more positive :thumbsup: and I like the colours that are developing.

I love the really dark LH side in the ref - I think I'd follow that too (in the background) ... but maybe you already intend to! .... I'd keep layering / scumbling/ dry brushing all the colours I'd want to eventually make the top, rich, finish.

I think you need to check your perspective lines of the window, back and front edge of the table ........ then the only bit bothering me (eek!, I'm really only trying to help!) is the napkin on the left .... the angle seems contrary to where the eye wants to go ....you see how the lines are bringing the eye down to the bottom? ... my feeling is that they need to take the eye to the left edge of the canvas.

The copper pot is coming along beautifully and the lid is easily adjusted.
I love the warm light glow you have developing ........ it's really nice to see this coming together :D

02-04-2007, 02:35 PM
OK Marion - me again! .... and tell me to shut up if you wish :D
Maureen I really appreciate your input it is so helpful.:heart:

Re the perspective, yes I'm having trouble with that - I think I've got it right, adjust something and it seems out of whack again. I'll look at it again tomorrow with a fresh eye, at the moment I've been working on the cloth but now it doesn't look like it belongs at all! I think I,m trying to give bring the lhs more into the picture but over compensating. I miss my flowers - still wondering if there is room for some:wink2:

More knocking back and reworking required! I am beginning to be more pleased about it and almost getting to like my wonky plate!

It's a good exercise for me especially with the ongoing help.


Charlie's Mum
02-04-2007, 06:30 PM
LOL - this always happens - alter one thing and another pops up!

You could always take out the cloth entirely and just use the table right across - no corners - then you'd have room for a flower or two lying there, extending the base and satisfying your need! :evil: :lol: :lol:
.. and if the front edge of the table is bothersome, paint that out also!