6 Proven Tips: Still Life Compositions in Painting
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Create a strong focal point
  2. Use of symmetry and asymmetry
  3. Play with depths and angles
  4. Add drama with shadows and light
  5. Employ colors to enhance the composition
  6. Experiment with textures and patterns

Have you ever been intrigued by the simplicity and elegance of still life paintings? The secret lies in the composition! Mastering the art of still life composition in painting can transform mundane objects into fascinating subjects. Let's jump straight in and uncover the first tip to enhance your still life compositions.

Create a strong focal point

Creating a strong focal point in your still life composition is like telling a compelling story with a captivating main character. It commands attention and leads the viewer's eye through the painting. Let's explore how you can achieve this.

Choosing the right object

Selecting the right object to serve as your focal point is key. This doesn't mean you have to pick the biggest or brightest object. Instead, opt for something that stands out in its shape, form, or meaning to you. Maybe it's an antique teacup from your grandmother's collection or a vibrant apple from your backyard. The important thing is to make it interesting!

Positioning your focal point

Where you place your focal point in the painting matters. You might think the center is the best spot, but that's not always the case. Try positioning your object off-center to create a more dynamic and engaging composition. It's like when you take a photo — placing the subject in the middle can be too predictable. Mixing it up keeps things intriguing!

Emphasizing your focal point

  • Size: Making your focal point larger than the other elements can emphasize its importance.
  • Color: Use contrasting colors to make your focal point pop and stand out from the rest of your still life composition in painting.
  • Detail: Add intricate details to your focal point to draw the viewer's attention. This could be a pattern on the teacup or the distinct curves and color variations of the apple.

Remember, the focal point is the star of your painting. Like a celebrated actor on stage, it should command the viewer's attention and set the tone for your still life composition. So, choose wisely, position smartly, and emphasize creatively!

Use of symmetry and asymmetry

Balance. Harmony. Order. These are the words that come to mind when we think of symmetry. But did you know that asymmetry can also create a sense of balance and interest in your still life composition in painting? Let's unwrap this concept further.

The allure of symmetry

There's something comforting about symmetry, isn't there? It's like a perfectly baked pie — equal slices, every time. In your painting, symmetry can be achieved by arranging objects with equal visual weight on either side of your composition. This technique can create a sense of calm and order, making your painting pleasing to the eye.

The excitement of asymmetry

Now, let's talk about the fun cousin of symmetry — asymmetry. Asymmetry is like a surprise party. You don't know what to expect, but you're excited nonetheless! By arranging objects of unequal size, shape or color in your painting, you can create an unexpected balance that adds intrigue and dynamism to your still life composition.

Combining symmetry and asymmetry

  1. Play it safe, then experiment: Start with a symmetrical arrangement and then introduce one or two asymmetric elements. This can create a delightful contrast and make your painting more engaging.
  2. Consider your focal point: Remember our star from the previous section? Your focal point can be used to disrupt symmetry or enhance asymmetry, adding an extra layer of interest to your composition.

So, whether you're an admirer of symmetry or a fan of asymmetry, knowing how to use both effectively can add depth and intrigue to your still life composition in painting. It's like making a delicious recipe — a dash of symmetry, a pinch of asymmetry, and voila! You've got a masterpiece!

Play with depths and angles

Imagine you're a director of a movie, setting up a shot. Where would you place your camera? What angle would you choose to tell your story? Similarly, in painting, you have the power to influence how your audience sees your piece by playing with depths and angles. Let's dive in.

Going deep with depth

Depth can be a game-changer in still life composition in painting. It adds dimension, making your painting feel more realistic. Here's how you can toy with depth:

  • Overlap objects: Place one object in front of another. This creates an illusion of depth, as if some objects are closer to the viewer than others.
  • Size matters: Smaller objects tend to appear farther away, while larger ones seem closer. Adjust the size of your objects to enhance the feeling of depth.

Angle your creativity

Next, let's talk angles. Shifting your perspective can dramatically change the mood and story of your painting. Here are a couple of ways you can experiment with angles:

  1. Try a bird's eye view: Painting from a high angle can give you a unique perspective, making even everyday objects seem interesting.
  2. Opt for a worm's eye view: On the other hand, a low angle can make your objects appear larger and more dominant. This can be an interesting way to highlight the details of your subject.

Remember, there's no right or wrong when it comes to choosing depths and angles. It's all about what story you want to tell through your still life composition in painting. So go ahead, put on your director's hat and start experimenting!

Add drama with shadows and light

Imagine a stage play without the dramatic lighting, or a photograph without the interplay of shadows. It would lose some of its charm, wouldn't it? The same goes for your still life composition in painting. Shadows and light can add drama, mood, and depth to your work. Let's see how:

Spotlight on Shadows

Shadows can be your secret weapon in creating a more dynamic, realistic painting. Here's how you can do it:

  • Create Contrast: Shadows can help create contrast in your painting. By playing with the intensity of the shadow, you can highlight certain areas and push others into the background.
  • Define Forms: Shadows can also help define the form of your objects. By observing where the light falls and where it doesn't, you can better understand and depict the shape of your objects.

Let there be Light

Now, let's talk about light. It's not just about illuminating your subject, it's about setting the mood. Here are a few ways light can enhance your still life composition in painting:

  1. Set the Mood: Warm light can create a cozy, inviting atmosphere, while cool light can evoke a calm, serene mood. Choose the type of light that best suits the story you want to tell.
  2. Highlight Details: Light can help highlight intricate details of your objects. Use it wisely to draw attention to the parts of your painting you're most proud of.

In conclusion, don't shy away from shadows and light. They can be powerful tools in your painting toolkit, helping you add drama, depth, and realism to your still life compositions. So go on, let the light (and shadows) guide your brush!

Employ colors to enhance the composition

Colors are like actors in a play. Each has a role in telling the story of your still life composition in painting. Choosing the right colors can bring your painting to life. Let's explore the power of colors:

The Role of Primary Colors

Primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—can play a significant role in your painting. Here's how:

  • Red: This is a vibrant and energetic color. It can immediately draw attention to any part of your painting. Use it sparingly to highlight important elements.
  • Blue: Blue is cool and calming. It can add depth to your painting and create a sense of distance. Use it for backgrounds or to depict shadows.
  • Yellow: Yellow is warm and inviting. It can give your painting a sunny, cheerful vibe. Use it to depict light or to add warmth to your composition.

Secondary and Tertiary Colors

Secondary and tertiary colors can add complexity and interest to your still life composition in painting. Here's why:

  1. Orange, Green, and Purple: These secondary colors can add a sense of harmony to your painting. Use them to create a balanced, pleasing composition.
  2. Tertiary Colors: These are the colors you get when you mix a primary and a secondary color. They can add variety and richness to your painting. Use them to create depth and interest.

Remember, colors can evoke emotions and set the mood of your painting. So choose your colors wisely, and let them enhance the story you're telling through your still life composition.

Experiment with textures and patterns

Just like the spice in your favorite dish, textures and patterns can add a unique flavor to your still life composition in painting. They can transform a flat, dull painting into a dynamic and captivating piece of art. Let's take a closer look at how you can experiment with textures and patterns:

Creating Texture

Texture can make your painting more tactile and visually interesting. Here are a couple of ways you can create texture:

  • Impasto: This is a technique where you apply paint thickly, so it stands out from the surface. It can give your painting a 3D feel. You can use a palette knife or a thick brush to achieve this effect.
  • Scumbling: This involves brushing a thin layer of light, opaque paint over a dried darker layer. It creates a textured, weathered look that can add depth to your painting.

Integrating Patterns

Patterns are a great way to bring rhythm and movement into your still life composition. Here's what you can do:

  1. Repeating Shapes: You can create a pattern by repeating shapes in your composition. This can lead the viewer's eye around the painting.
  2. Varied Lines: Different types of lines (curved, straight, thick, thin) can create patterns and add dynamism to your still life.

Remember, the key is to experiment. Don't be afraid to try different techniques and see what works best for your painting. After all, it's through experimentation that we grow as artists. Now, go ahead and add some texture and pattern to your still life composition in painting. Exciting, isn't it?

If you enjoyed learning about still life compositions in painting and want to explore a related topic, check out the workshop 'Still Life In Photography' by Magali Polverino. Although the workshop focuses on photography, the principles of still life composition are applicable across both mediums. This workshop will provide you with fresh insights and ideas, helping you create captivating still life compositions in your paintings as well as photography.