Still Life With Zippo

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Still Life With Zippo

During my second year in art school and near the end of my first year in painting class, Susan Gertrude Schell, my instructor, assigned me to arrange a still life setting that I would like to paint. I selected the items I thought I needed from a trunk full of various items in the corner of the painting studio: a table cloth, a brandy bottle, a couple of plates, a wine glass, and a chair. I arranged these on a table and called Miss Schell for her approval, which she gave.

Without further ado, I began laying out the arrangement on the largest canvas I had ever worked on, 22”x 32″. A real challenge, I thought, but my teacher seemed to feel I could handle it. There was a lot of space to fill with paint but as it progressed I began to get a “feel” for it to the point I began to like what I was doing. The background, I thought to myself … how do I fit that into a still life? Paint what I see! I decided to use a space divider and show the studio wall which would take care of the rest of the background. That’s it! I’ve got it made, I said to myself. But it still needed something, something  interesting. It needs more thought. Right!

I added a wall and a hallway behind the divider panel. That added some depth, I put a chair and a throw rug in front of the far wall; that would look natural. So I put it in and added cast shadows on the floor and wall. I looked at my table and decided it looked empty. Food! What’s a plate without food, so I brought a dinner roll to the next session and gave it a place on the plate in the painting.

It sure takes a lot of thinking to put a still-life together and make it look natural, I thought to myself, so I stepped back to look at the “big picture.” I decided it needed some human interest to liven it up, so I invented earrings and a string of pearls (female element) and a pipe and Zippo lighter (male element). This human interest was good but I had to give them more purpose, suggestive purpose, so I added a door (that wasn’t there), partly ajar, and give the appearance of a soft light in the room (that wasn’t there). Pretty interesting I thought. Wonder how this might be interpreted? Then the divider panel needed something, so I added what might be a calendar. Finally, I painted my jacket and cap on the chair by the table. Done!

The painting was given a prominent spot in the end-of-year display of student work. Julius Bloch, a prominent Philadelphia painter who occasionally visited the classes, stopped by and I pointed out my painting to him. He smiled and nodded and appeared to be pleased, which also pleased me.

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