Still Life Workshop      

Tools & Equipment  



Tools & Equipment

Setting Up

The Basics

Reference Photos


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There are a few tools that can help you through the art process:

Sketchbook with pencil or marker:  

Thumbnail sketches are under-rated and under-used. Keep them small, truly thumbnail-size. Dimensions 2" or 3", but I generally go with 1-1/2" x 2" or so. No more than 30 seconds per thumbnail. Make a bunch of them; they really help as a road map to keep you on track with your larger work!


Another under-rated and under-used tool. You've seen comics of the artist using his hands to make a frame that he looks through...An empty film slide holder works well. You can make your own out of illustration board, cardboard, paper, etc. You can also buy one from just about any art supply store - brick and mortar or online. My favorite is available from Judsons Art Outfitters here in Colorado. And no, I'm not a paid advertiser for them. I just love them!

Shadow Box:  

A still life shadow box provides the artist with a way to control the lighting of a still life set up and removes the visual distractions of other objects in the room. These are some examples of still life shadow boxes:

Carol Marine's Shadow Box & Tripod

Jeffery Hayes

Lee A. Brown

Home School Arts

For more ideas, do an internet search on "still life shadow box"

Light Source:  

Inexpensive clamp on lights can be purchased at local big box stores. Mine is a 20 year old industrial clamp on light that I picked up from a now defunct building supply chain; it probably cost around $7 at the time. It is outfitted with a daylight bulb (check your light's maximum wattage rating) and provides excellent lighting for still life set ups.

Light Stand:  

A light stand is something that the clamp on light attaches to; it can be easily moved around and gives you a lot of flexibility in setting up the light on your still life.


In my process, I set up a still life and several variations of it, and then I take photos (reference photography) of each variation from several points of view. I may take 50 to 100 pictures (or more!) of a particular arrangement and its variations.

Since I use a digital camera for this process, I download the images onto my computer. I then play a slide show, at about a 3 second interval, to give me a brief glimpse of each image. I pause the slide show on any image that catches my eye so that I can make a note of which image it is. I'm usually left with a list of around 10 images that have caused me to take notice. I then go back to those images and spend time evaluating each of them. Occasionally one of them will have all of the elements I'm looking for and can serve as the inspiration for the artwork. What usually happens, however, is that two or three images each have something that I want to include, so I combine them to use for the inspiration.

A word to the wise: you don't need a camera with all of the bells and whistles to do this job of reference photography. A digital camera with at least 3 megapixels will give you enough resolution to work from, whether you are looking at the image on a computer screen or you're printing it onto a 4" x 6" paper. If you already have a digital camera, it will probably do the trick.

I have a digital camera "collection" that spans roughly 16 years; the earliest/most basic camera is as capable as the newest/most elaborate camera is for taking reference photos that can be used for still life painting.

I have a friend who still uses a film camera; as long as she is able to have the film processed locally, she will continue doing it this way. She understands how her cameral works and can get the pictures she needs in this way. So, if you are still using film photography, you can do it this way, too. It just will take longer for you to see what the pictures you are that you took since they have to be processed and printed.

Panel Holder:  

I discovered painting on small supports a few years ago while taking a plein air workshop. It teaches you to see the general shapes and values and not get hung up on the details within. A small format can be tough to hang onto or to stabilized on your easel, but Carol Marine has a great panel holder available here. I highly recommend it as it does the job and is priced very reasonably.

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