Before you can tell a story with objects, you have to learn how to paint them first. In my latest Skillshare course Watercolor for Breakfast: A 7-Day Editorial Food Illustration Daily Practice, I challenge students to use their own breakfast to jump-start a week of editorial food illustrations.
But what if you’re not there yet? Drawing from primary references (AKA the real object itself) is the best way to train your eye to be in synch with your brushstrokes.
Here are a few tips on getting better at painting a still life:
–Take 1-2 minutes where you stare at the still life. This will seem loooooong at the beginning, but it’s the best way to gather information before you begin. Ask yourself a few questions. How do all the objects connect? What are the lightest and darkest spots? Do you think it’s important to include the background?
-Do a gestural sketch. If you’re new to drawing or still can’t seem to get started, give yourself a few drawing challenges à la art school. Draw the still life in 5 seconds. Then 10, then 15. Draw with your opposite hand. Draw it with a continuous line. Draw it with two complimentary colors. The more you loosen up, the easier it will be to synch your hand with your eye.
–Study the light source. Is your light coming from the right side? Then all the objects will reflect light on the right side and have shadows on the left. It’s as simple as that, but it’s the best way to capture and communicate volume and give sense to your overall composition.
-Style your still life. As a former food stylist, I recommend lots of micro tips in Watercolor for Breakfast about how to take a brute ingredient and turn it into something very special. Your final drawing is only as interesting as the still life that inspires it. Cut a fruit and vegetable in half or in slices. Add a cooking utensil or a step from the process of cooking a recipe. Add a branch from outside. Make sure everything isn’t all the same height. And always add something transparent (Alas, I’m now the art teacher I used to hate).
-Feeling courageous? Add a touch of whimsy. Once you get the hang of drawing a still life, flip it on it’s head. Quickly draw the firsts 3 ideas off the top of your head. Imagine throwing it all in the air and draw how you think it will land. Create a fashion illustration using all the elements. How would this look in movement?
-Inspiration. Study the Dutch still life masters. Follow and participate in @stillherestilllife on Instagram, a weekly drawing challenge. That’s what generated all the still life illustrations above.
Take care! Happy drawing. And don’t drink the watercolor water.