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How to Set Up a Still Life for Painting

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Position of the Still Life and Your Easel
Setup for still life painting

When you're setting up a still life, look critically at the arrangement of the objects from the height you'll be painting at the objects from. If you paint sitting down, sit down to check.

Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The ideal is for your still life and easel to be set up so you can see the objects and your canvas or paper without turning your head too much. The still life also wants to be at the right height for the viewpoint you're going to be painting. You don't want to have to bend or move every time you're looking at the objects. You want to be able to check the angles and perspective in what you've painted and the still life from the same spot.

You ideally don't want to look over the arm you use to hold a brush either. So if you usually paint with your left hand, set up your still life to the right of your easel. And if you usually paint with your right hand, then set it up on your left. If you're fairly ambidextrous, then set it up where the light is best.

In the photo here, the still life (comprising three tins of tempera paint and a couple of brushes on a bit of fabric) is set up on a chair close to my easel. Because the objects are small, I want them nearby so I can see details clearly. The viewpoint is low so that when I'm standing at my easel, I'm seeing most of the tops of the tins. (The light from the window being behind the setup may seem daft, but what you can't see in the photo is that there's another source of strong, indirect light to the right from another window.)

If you've limited space and will need to move your still life objects between painting sessions, set it up on a piece of board and use some masking tape or a piece of chalk to mark the position of each before you move it. That way if something shifts, you can reposition it easily.

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