Stilllife of bottles and cans

Stilllife of bottles and cans, originally uploaded by ahtravis.

More onTeaching–Cans and bottles and “monumentality”

Cold weather is upon those of us in the Catskill Mts.  My students and I are in the studio where we recently painted a collection of cans and bottles from my kitchen cabinets.  As I laid out the items I detected a definite lack of enthusiasm on the part of the students.  The idea of painting these mundane subjects definitely held no excitement for them.  But that was because they had not yet closely observed their beauty of shape, color, and placement.  Their reluctance did not last!

I set the items, some familiar, some not, on a table in front of a window and we painted two paintings each, taking a different position each time.  For me, as usual, the backlit setup was the most exciting.  I loved the bright light framing the shapes and the rich colored light flowing through glass of the two bottles.  The olive oil in its bottle cast a green gold glow that transformed the clear color of the glass. 

Of course the set up was colorful and shapely.  Marketers and designers have devoted many hours and much money into choosing designs for products that will attract buyers and be instantly recognizable.

A big question in this set up is how not to be overwhelmed by detail, to suggest print but not require the viewer to read and, as with any successful painting, to have an assortment of satisfying shapes, hard and soft edges and a range of values from the lightest light to the darkest dark.

In addition, cans and bottles are cylinders, cubes, circles, ovals, and columns constructed of a variety of materials.  These are the same cylinders, cubes, etc. that we find in trees, houses, and silos in nature.  They have warm and cool sides as the sun flows over and around them.  Shiny surfaces reflect the colors of neighboring labels.  They cast interesting shadows.  And they inspire lovely paintings.

At the end of the session one student commented that my painting had “monumentality”.  The comment stuck in my mind, “Why?”.   In considering her observation,  I believe this painting has a strong structural presence because the negative space in the painting has interesting shapes and duplicates the lines of the positive forms.  Because some of the shapes run off the top and bottom of the paper and there is no item against which to compare them for scale they appear very substantial in the painting.

Never say you have nothing to paint; just go to your kitchen cabinet!

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4 Responses to Stilllife of bottles and cans

  1. lesliepaints says:

    The color in this is great.Too bad I can’t take one of your classes. or at least see you demo. Your paintings are WILD! Love them.

    • alixhtravis says:


      Somehow I missed this comment the first time around. Thank you.

      I think it would be great fun to paint with you, also. I have a 3 day workshop coming up Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2010, here in Halcottsville, NY. Information will be out early in 2010. Why don’t you and a friend (painter or no) plan to join us?


  2. Rachel says:

    interesting… is painting bottles like painting buildings?

  3. alixhtravis says:


    I believe you are right. Painting bottles, cans, etc. is like painting a crowded urban cityscape. The tall, straight lines, the reflective surfaces, the cast shadows and bare passages in between.


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