Sunday, February 12, 2017

How I Built My Collection Of Still Life Props

Recently, I've gotten a few questions about how I built up my collection of still life props.  While I will paint the occasional portrait or landscape, I am a still life artist, so that means I need vases, objects and fabrics in addition to fruit and flowers.

When I got my studio a few years ago, I started on the hunt for objects to paint.  The vase in the painting above, Lilacs, was the first piece I bought.  I got it in a vintage shop near my house.  It was very overpriced, but I liked it and have used it in several paintings, so it was worth it.  

My next big score was a lucky find on Craigslist.  An estate sale was being held at the home of a serious blue and white collector.  I didn't know about the sale until a few hours after it started, so when I got there, the seller was happy to make me a deal.  I got a bunch of items for less than the price of the vase above.  

These are some of my small pieces.  Many of the items here came in a box I won on Ebay.  I got very lucky and searched "blue and white porcelain" and came away with a box of blue and white odds and ends.  The whole box was only $27.00 and I've used the pieces in it many times over.  Ebay is a great resource for still life painters.  The search terms I use are "blue and white porcelain", "vintage blue and white", "vintage blue transferware" "vintage silver (pitcher, footed bowl - whatever you are looking for)"  "vintage delft" "vintage blue and white Chinese porcelain".  I could go on, but you get the idea.  I prefer vintage items for my paintings, so that is what I search for.  I also search from the lowest price to the highest.  Many times I will see similar items with vastly different pricing.  Why pay more for the same thing?  Especially when it is going to be used in a painting studio and has the potential to get paint on it.  

I have my larger pieces on a cart in my studio.  The items here came from all over the place, which is part of the secret to my success.  I'm always looking for props.  I look online, in thrift shops, retail shops, and my latest discovery, Amazon.  In this photo, two vases are vintage, the large vase in the middle is from The Enchanted Home Shop, the wine decanter was an engagement gift and the small vase in the back was $7.99 at the Whole Foods in Chelsea. 

So let's break this down a little bit.  I'm always popping my head into vintage or thrift shops to see if there is anything I can use.  You never know what will be available, so just pop in any time you have a chance.  Here in NYC we have Housing Works, Good Will, Junk and tons of thrift/vintage/antique shops as well as the flea market.  It helps to know what you are looking for before you go in so you don't get bogged down.  I look for vintage silver and blue and white porcelain.  I scan the shelves for those two items and if I don't see them I'm out and on to the next thing.  Also, if you have any friends who like to go thrifting or to garage sales, have them keep an eye out for things you may like.  

I mentioned that the vase in the middle was from The Enchanted Home shop.  The Enchanted Home is a design blog started by Tina, a lover of all things blue and white.  She had so many inquiries about items in her home, that she ended up starting a shop.  Though her items are new, they have that lovely vintage look about them.  These pieces are beautiful, so they go back and forth between my house and the studio.  

Both of these paintings feature porcelains from the shop.  If you keep an eye on The Enchanted Home website, you can get great deals when a new shipment arrives.  There is a pre-sale happening tomorrow morning and I will definitely be checking it out.  

Wedding/engagement/home gifts.  These are things I already owned that have made their way over to the studio.  I've been married long enough that they are in the vintage category at this point, so it made sense to use my own things rather than buying more stuff.  And it is not only my own cabinets that I raid.  I have many things that I have pilfered from my Mom's china cabinet as well.  

The candy dish and the embroidered napkin in the painting above came from my Mom's house.  If you have a still life painter in your life, nothing is safe!

I mentioned above that I got the small vase for $7.99 at the Chelsea Whole Foods.  I bring this up because you never know where you will find something you can use.  The small round vase as well as the cylinder above were bought when they were getting rid of some of their glass vases and I got these for a steal. I think the glass cylinder was round ten dollars.   Even if you don't use something right away, if the price is right, grab it.  If you paint as many still lives as I do, you need a large amount of props to rotate through out your paintings.  

Check out Amazon using the same search terms as mentioned for Ebay.  They have a nice selection of blue and white and the prices are good.

The other part of my still life set ups are the fabrics.  While we have a ton of fabric stores here in New York City, many of them are chaotic and require hunting through a ton of fabrics to find what you want.  That is not my thing at all.  I use muted red, gray and green backgrounds and I'm not interested in taking all day to find them.  I happened upon a store on Long Island, Carle Place Fabrics, where they have all their items displayed.  I was able to immediately point out to the sales woman what I wanted and have the fabrics cut into one yard pieces.  

Check out the local fabric shops in your town and don't forget about quilting shops.  They often have a good selection of fabrics at decent prices.

I hope this was helpful to any of you who are looking to start a still life prop collection.  The most important thing is to know what you want and always be on the lookout for it.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.  I'm happy to expand further on anything mentioned here.  

* My usual caveat.  I paid for everything mentioned here.  I was not given any perks by the shops listed.  I just wanted to pass on all of my sources in case anyone here can use them.  

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