Why paint a still life?
Still life painting was at the height of its popularity in the Netherlands in the 17th century. This period featured a style called vanitas, which was the incorporation of highly symbolic objects in still life paintings, from allegorical representations of death to the passage of time. This still life features the skull, candle and globe. These are subjects often created with the chiaroscuro technique - an effect of light on a shadow background to create relief and depth on the canvas.
What is chiaroscuro?
Chiaroscuro is a technique that consists of recreating the light of a scene, by creating contrasting dark and light parts on your canvas. To work on this technique and place shadows correctly on your canvas, accentuate the shadows in your composition by placing a desk lamp on one side of the subject. This lighting will create cast shadows and reveal chiaroscuro.
Start with shapes
To recreate this scene on canvas, begin by sketching out the simplified shapes of each object. Start with a circle for the globe and a triangle for the foot of the candlestick. Once you’ve placed the shapes, refine the lines to define the subject and replace the geometric shapes with the drawing.
Setting up your scene
Before you can paint your still life, you need to compose your scene. First select your objects; fruit baskets, crockery, decorative objects and books are all ideal subjects. Next, place your objects against a neutral background, either a sheet, tablecloth, wallpaper or a white wall. Add a desk lamp on one side if necessary, to create exaggerated shadows.
The chiaroscuro technique is the recreation of a twilight scene. To create chiaroscuro, apply dark layers by area, then gradually light up the scene with yellow ochre.
The colourful composition
To bring out the elements of the composition, use colour combinations. Here Olivier has used rex blue for the globe, a grey for the candle holder and a zinc white with ochre to define the skull. After this stage, add light to the image by working in the shadows, using Payne's grey, rex blue and cadmium red.