Sunday, September 17, 2017

Going a Step Farther with Still Life

simple still life composition
A Simple Still Life Composition
I'm happy to see that there is so much interest in translating still life from painting into needlework. It is evident that some of you are eager to learn how to set up your own still lifes and work from them. To help you with that, I'm going to turn the instruction over to our editor/photographer, J.D., to help you make and choose a pleasing still life arrangement.

[Gnome, grumbling] Okay, so here’s the story: Annake tells me, “I need you to take a series of shots for some points I’m trying to make on the next blog post about still life in needlework. Just find some interesting objects, make an attractive arrangement, and then shoot it from several angles. Here’s what I’ve written for the blog. Oh, and J.D. – keep it simple, please.”

Make an arrangement of 4 or 5 objects on a table or other flat surface. Move the objects into a grouping that pleases you. Try to use a variety of shapes –- some linear, some angular, some curved. Look at it from different angles: above, different sides, eye level, etc. If possible, take a few photographs from these angles with a camera or your cell phone. Here is a montage of photos J.D. took before choosing the one above. Notice how he has used light to emphasize reflections and shadows.

Montage of still life photos
Montage of still life photos, taken from different viewpoints
[Gnome] First part of the assignment completed: I shot these four pieces of pottery of different sizes and shapes, all with matte finishes in a limited range of colors against a plain off-white background so that you can concentrate on the shapes, placement, and point of view without any extra distraction. However, since I was not sure what Annake had in mind for the final product here, I was a concerned about the distortion of the colors under the artificial lights. (Those of you who seldom photograph under artificial lights may be unaware of how much different light sources can affect the color of your photos, but when you live in a hole in the ground you get used to compensating.) So, I used a variety of portable lighting to try to true up the colors. The photo on the right below, taken under a fluorescent grow light plus flash is the most accurate color representation.

original composition next to corrected colors
Still life composition (left), with adjusted lighting (right)
[Gnome] And, while I had all my portable lighting out, I decided to take some shots with unusual light directions, just in case Annake wanted to do something different with the composition before I cleared it away. Not exactly in keeping with Annake’s dictum to keep things simple, but I already had everything in place...

Montage of special lighting effects
Composition photographed with various light placements
Then I trekked up to Annake to show her the results, and find out what the next step was. She said, “Turn it into something that can be put on canvas or fabric for a needlework project. Here’s what I’ve written for our readers: ”

Make a sketch of your favorite view. If drawing is difficult for you, have a print made, enlarged if necessary, of your favorite photograph. Outline the most important features in a dark, bold marker.

TIP: Take this opportunity to simplify your design. Don't try to include every detail. Remember you are going to have to “translate” these lines and shapes into some kind of needlework. What you leave out is just as important to your final picture as what you leave in.

[Gnome] I do a lot of different things here in the Garden, which call for a lot of different skills; however, drawing isn’t one of those – that I leave to the boss lady. Tracing – now, that I can handle. Here’s a trace of the photo at the top of this post, ready to be transferred to whatever sort of material you want by one of the methods Annake has shown over the course of this blog.
Tracing of still life composition photo
Tracing of still life composition photo
Need anything else, boss?

At this point, I like to look at my design through frames or mats of different shapes: horizontal rectangle, vertical rectangle, square, oval and round. (Embroidery hoops are helpful for the ovals and circular views.) This helps me to decide whether to crop the background, how much to crop it, and what shape I want the final picture to be.

Still life tracing under a frame
Still life tracing under a frame
[Gnome] No sooner said than I’m going to go play with some of these shots I’ve taken (not all of which have been shown in this post!) to see what I come up with. This still life stuff is kind of fun!

You ought to try it.

J.D., Annake’s Garden Gnome (filling in for)

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