‘Foundations of Still-Life Painting’ – Colour Application, Textural Effects and Development of Holistic Composition. Analysis of Selected Still-Life Paintings by Second Year Students at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya

  • Kamau Wango, PhD Kenyatta University
Keywords: Still-Life Painting, Colours, Composition, Textures, Perspective, Proportions, Background
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Still-life painting as a formative painting unit is important in enabling students to interact with elements of art in the arrangement of specific static objects that form a precise composition. This arrangement of objects in composition is essential in helping students to comprehend the concept of composition in creative work. Since they are dealing with arranged, static objects as opposed to flowing figures and other fluid or gestural forms that suggest movement as would be the case in regular painted pictorial compositions, a still-life composition provides an opportunity to apply the principles of art in a concise way. This in turn underscores the compositional essence of each element as it relates to any principle, the interrelation of which formulates the composition itself. It is envisaged that the execution of a good still-live composition shall assist students to apply the same compositional tenets in regular paintings. For instance, students are henceforth aware of the application of comparative proportions, the use of textural effects, illumination, shadows, balance, and placement of objects on the picture plane, as well as colour contrasts, harmony, and tones. This paper examines how students engage with still-life painting, arrangement of objects and the wider notion of composition. Since this unit provides the first opportunity for this engagement, the paper specifically seeks to determine the extent to which students internalize and subsequently apply, through visual depiction, the interrelationships between objects, their proportions, the use of perspective to create depth, textural effects, application of colours and colour tones, shadows, the effect of light and its sources, drapery, compositional base as well as the usefulness of backgrounds. In order to attract their interest, sustain their attention and enhance their creativity, the students were allowed to choose, assemble, and arrange their own objects in creating their still-life compositions. Unlike the traditional approach where students draw or paint a similar set of objects arranged before them, this alternative approach of painting objects of their choice eliminated the possibility of unnecessary comparison of work at this stage and instead provided the students with the opportunity to paint objects that actually fascinated them and spurred their imagination. Students’ attention was drawn to the visual difference between a regular, painted pictorial composition and a still-life composition. A regular pictorial composition comprises of undulating features that show movement or is expressive of a phenomenon be it the study of nature and the environment or an aspect of personal expression or social commentary. A still-life composition is static and shows only interrelationships between objects. Students were free to use watercolours, oils or acrylics and their respective materials and tools. The researcher then selected paintings that best demonstrated this internalization and suggested indicators of artistic skill at this formative level.


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17 April, 2023
How to Cite
Wango, K. (2023). ‘Foundations of Still-Life Painting’ – Colour Application, Textural Effects and Development of Holistic Composition. Analysis of Selected Still-Life Paintings by Second Year Students at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya. East African Journal of Arts and Social Sciences, 6(1), 237-271. https://doi.org/10.37284/eajass.6.1.1176

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