Still life gave me the opportunity to tell stories with the interaction of objects.
by Todd M. Casey | February 12, 2020
I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller. After finishing my atelier training, I was left with the task of putting it all together on a canvas to make a picture. Figuring out what to paint is no easy task. Naturally, I started painting simple things at home that meant something to me. Still life gave me the opportunity to tell stories with the interaction of objects. Whether poetic, or narrative, there is just so much that can be said.
Still life is always a great place to start for students. In an essay on the topic of still life painting, American painter Emil Carlsen wrote, ”Still Life painting is considered of small importance in the art schools, both here and abroad, the usual course being drawn from the antique, the nude, and painting the draped figure and from the nude… Then why should the earnest student overlook the simplest and most thorough way of acquiring all the knowledge of the craft of painting and drawing, the study of inanimate objects, still life painting, the very surest road to absolute mastery over all technical difficulties.”
When I set out to write this book, I had one major goal: to create the book I wish I’d had when I was studying painting. I learned so much on my journey, and I want to share it with students hungry for a comprehensive book on how to paint.
This book (PDF preview) discusses both the scientific and the expressive aspects of still life painting. On the scientific side are the concept of light, color, and form. The expressive side includes the idea or vision, the composition, and the language you create with your mark-making. Each artist has their own language. I cannot teach you the expressive side—what to paint or what your paintings should look like—but I can teach you the principles that each painter must consider, no matter what style you work in.
This book encourages you to heighten your senses and to use the heightened awareness when painting. Just as someone training to become a sommelier must heighten their sense of smell and taste, you’ll want to train your sense 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.
A LIST OF NOTABLE CONTEMPORARY STILL LIFE PAINTERS TO FOLLOW
Tony Curanaj (website), Zoey Frank (website), Henk Helmantel (website), Michael Klein (website), Sarah Lamb (website), Jeffrey T. Larson (@jeffreytlarson), David Leffel (website), Travis Schlaht (@travisschlaht), and Sadie Valeri (@sadievaleri)
EXEMPLARY STILL LIFE PAINTINGS TO SEE IN PERSON AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
TODD M. CASEY will be teaching a five-day workshop “The Alla Prima Still Life” at the Art Students League, April 20–24. His book, The Art of Still Life: A Contemporary Guide to Classical Techniques, Composition, and Painting in Oil, published by Monacelli Studio, will be available February 18, 2020. An exhibition of Casey’s paintings will be on view at Rehs Contemporary (5 East 57th Street), February 28–March 27, with an opening and book signing scheduled for February 28, 5–8 p.m.
Interested in other instructional art books by Art Students League artists? See “The Artist’s Bookshelf,” a Pinterest board of 190 titles.