Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Make a Shadow Box for Still Life

I want to share how I make a portable shadow box for still life.  Lighting is unpredictable and it's so important to have proper lighting when studying still life painting.  A shadow box can solve a lot of problems and create a nice environment for your set up to live in.  When an artist is preparing to paint a beautiful still life and has spent many hours, sometimes days, picking the right subjects it can be very disheartening to battle bad lighting.  Objects come to life when properly lit from one source, whether a north light window or a clip on light.  The play of light and shadow add so much interest in a painting, so I recommend artists studying still life create a shadow box.  It helps eliminate dual light sources or light bouncing from other spaces in the room.

Things to look for in a properly lit still life:
         1. highlight (may or may not be present, that's ok)
         2. light
         3. form shadow
         4. cast shadow  

What you need to make a shadow box:

1. office box or other cardboard box, whatever size will suit your   still life set up best.  The office box above is best for small subjects.

2. one sheet of Canson Mi Teintes drawing paper in neutral color of your choice.  One sheet will work nicely with the small size box above.  I like neutral warm grays or even black.  Buy more than one color and change the color scheme for different still life.

3. Shown above is a rechargeable book light. 

4. drapery, cloth is not required, you can add whatever surface you desire for your set up to rest on.

5. double sided tape

6. box cutter

7. ruler

8. steel carpenter square
First line up your steel square along the long edge on the bottom of the box.  Use the box cutter to cut a long slit all the way across the bottom as close to the edge as possible.

Next, set your box on top of the Canson paper and trace the outer edge with a pencil.

Measure about 1/2 inch inside the outline of your box and use the steel square as a guide as you cut out the rectangle of paper.

 The paper will fit perfectly inside your box.  Use the rectangle to measure the height of the box on the leftover Canson paper and cut side panels.  Tape all into place.

 Take your material for drapery and slide it through the slit you made at the back of the box.  Arrange accordingly.

Clip on your rechargeable book light and set on a shelf, voila, you are ready to set up a still life.

Here is the box in my studio.  I have found the shadow box to be a life saver when teaching and recommend all my students make one.  Not only will students have predictable lighting in class, they can use the box at home with the same lighting and continue painting.  With a portable box you can set up anywhere, like maybe the dining room table.  One note, if you move your box make sure it's at the same height you were originally working from.  Below I've used the lid to set the box on.

Here are some more examples of proper lighting in a traditional still life, I've used a piece of reclaimed wood to create a shelf: