Pro Tips to Compose Realistic Still Life Paintings


Often regarded as the celebration of material pleasures, still life art has a long and rich history. The earliest known still life paintings are believed to be produced in the 15th century BCE by the Egyptians. Even today, this art of creating depictions of inanimate objects is one of the most popular subjects among the artists, however, when it comes to producing a realistic still life painting, compositions of many artists fall absolutely flat.

Along with basic painting techniques, an understanding of composition is a must so as to create balanced and appealing still life paintings. Simply put, composition refers to the structure of the still life scene — color, value, and the path the viewer’s eye takes while glancing at the painting.

No matter whether you are just starting to paint still life or an expert looking to sharpen your artistic skills, these tips will help set up a successful still life composition.

  • Finding Balance

A well-composed still life painting feels balanced and visually appealing, but what is it that makes this artwork balanced? It simply refers to the even distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space across the artwork.

One of the easiest ways by which you can infuse stability in your still life artwork is by working in accordance with the rule of thirds, which is often used in the world of photography for processing visual images. To achieve balance in your still life painting, begin by dividing the entire scene on the canvas into three visible sections both horizontally and vertically. Once these demarcations are marked, align the focus areas carefully on the intersections of these lines created.

Secondly, keeping unintentional repetition in check will also aid in coming up with a strong still life artwork. Have a discerning eye while choosing objects of varied sizes and shapes, and ensure to arrange them in a manner that breaks up any excessive or repetitive patterns, attempting to create something more interesting.

  • Pick The Right Objects

While picking objects for your still life composition, analyze them carefully, and consider which of their aspects are more prominent — shape, texture, or pattern.

Patterns have the ability to make the artwork more lively and colorful, but as they often tend to obscure shapes, make sure that you don’t include more than 1-2 patterned objects in the entire composition.

Another important thing to remember is that work on a fairly neutral background color as it will keep it simple and make the objects pop out. However, if your composition consists of objects that are light, paint a contrasting darker background.

Also, don’t go for a heavily patterned background as it can make the composition too cramped and confusing.

Another important tip to remember while choosing your still life objects is to pick those that fall within your direct observation skills, and do not push yourself too far way beyond your skill level else it is likely that you will end up messing it up.

  • Consider Color

Another vital element to a well-composed still life painting is color. Depending on its position on the basic color wheel, there are certain color combinations that are visually pleasing, so it is very important that you choose objects exercising prudence to their color and the manner their color interacts with the rest of the still life composition.

While composing the still life art, beginners can consider three main color schemes:

  • You can go to incorporating complementary colors in the painting. Positioned on the color wheel exactly opposite each other these colors look quite harmonious in composition. Examples- red & green, orange & blue.
  • Opting for an analogous color scheme is also a good idea. Don’t worry if you don’t know what hues come under this scheme, get a color wheel, and observe the colors that are placed adjacently. These are quite helpful in making the composition look more balanced and natural. Examples- yellow & green, blue & green.
  • Another option is to consider an interesting triad of colors. On a traditional color wheel, choose three colors that are positioned equally distant. Example- violet & orange & green.
  • Proper Lighting

Whether you are utilizing light equipment or using only natural light, it is very important that your still life set up has proper lighting. It is a crucial element of the still life art and has the ability to enhance or ruin the entire composition.

If you don’t opt for natural light but set up your own light equipment, don’t go for using two or more sources but only one that is strong enough to make a clear distinction between the shadows and lights in the composition. Also, plan everything in a manner that your composition seems to be fashioned out mostly of light, you can even consider the 2/3s light and try ⅓ shadow technique to ensure that you’re set up is well lighted.

Lastly, don’t hesitate to experiment with different sources of light and innovative solutions. As light has the ability to change a composition dramatically, so try out different lighting angles to create varied shapes with shadows and find out which looks the best.


As a beginner, you may find composing a still life painting quite daunting initially but giving due consideration to color, balance, objects, and lighting, you can certainly come up with an alluring piece of art.

By keeping everything simple while you learn and considering a few tips as shared, you will be well on your way to making graceful and compositionally powerful and realistic still life paintings.