My final still life with the “cycles” render engine.

In 2020 you can make traditional fine-art still lifes using the free 3D modeling program, Blender. Above is the result of my going through an online tutorial by Zach Reinhardt, with CG Boost. It’s one of several tutorials I’ve been doing simultaneously. I added the bananas, changed the materials on the knife, and did my own composition and lighting variations. Otherwise, it’s quite similar to the original.

Below, you can see my version on the left, and Zach’s on the right.

Mine is bananas.

The course has 15 videos, and while it calls itself a “beginner” tutorial, it gets a bit sophisticated (one might say convoluted) when he starts working with UV unwrapping, particle systems, and the finer points of texture nodes.

Looks like a Black Widow set up home here.

Above, on the bottom, are a group of nodes dedicated to applying texture to the apple leaf, and also creating the right amount of transparency on the underside of the leaf. If one isn’t already familiar with using texture nodes, this little web can be rather confusing.

I would recommend this series for working on lighting, texture painting, and materials. It doesn’t go much into hard-surface modeling, and not at all into organic sculpting. There’s simply far too much to cover in any given course, and one has to pick and choose among tutorials for different emphasis in order to cover all one’s bases. And while it does get a bit technical for beginners, that can be a bonus if you are looking for more advanced techniques.

Work in progress. You can set up multiple views, and in different modes, to help arrange you objects…

The hardest thing about learning Blender is the unintentional but inevitable landmines, snafus, and other booby traps. You’ll be going along, all smooth sailing at a good clip, and then suddenly you have no sails and your boat is hovering 30 feet in the air. Part of learning the program includes delving into the comments sections to find out what questions and solutions others have provided to get through the very frustrating hurdles. Sometimes I’ll scan the comments first, before doing a tutorial, to prepare myself for more treacherous territory. Often, the sources of major hangups are the differences between the continually updating version of the program. You might find that you’ve been stopped in your tracks for 90 minutes because of a check box tucked in a menu somewhere that is either checked or unchecked inappropriately.

Final result in Photoshop.

For the longest time, my knife (above) cast no shadow, while everything else did. I couldn’t figure it out, and then finally I just started checking and unchecking boxes, and I remembered that the “screen space reflections” box, in the “settings” sub-menu, of the “materials properties” menu, can be an issue. That did the trick. But when I try to repeat the same procedure today, there’s a shadow whether I click the box or not. Little crap like that can drive one a bit batty. I console myself that the myriad technical difficulties might stop the competition. That’s assuming I can overcome the hurdles myself.

Fine Art Application

There’s no question in my mind that there are lots of options for making fine art, and even contemporary art, using Blender (or its more expensive rival programs]. It’s not just a sculpting program, because you create whole scenes that include lighting, atmospheric phenomenon, and you are doing this with a camera that you set the focal length and depth of field for (you can also adjust the aperture, but I haven’t gotten into that yet]. You are creating with every aspect of visual reality, and you can fine-tune it as obsessively as you like. In short, you have the ability to fashion virtual reality.

The still life is a staple of traditional fine art, and while I only did a variation on a tutorial here, now that I’ve done that I could, if I wanted, create wholly original still lifes (each with their unique challenges). You can do your tea kettles, egg plants, leafy potted plants, antique spoons, and whatever you choose. It would be much more difficult to achieve these sorts of results — in terms of sheer realism — by traditional means, but it would be easier to do so traditionally if you were going a bit less realistic.

As I learn this software I become increasingly aware that it suggests a new paradigm for visual art. It’s a very different approach to image-making than drawing or painting, and is absent from consideration in current paradigms of what constitutes visual art and contemporary art. For most, I gather working with Blender is just modeling in 3D, and they don’t think about the implications for visual art in terms of history, theory, art criticism, and various paradigms. It’s a curve ball with a lot of velocity on it, and pitcher spat on it for good measure.

If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve recently made several disparate sorts of things with this one program.

There was the Enterprise

a donut and coffee

a banana

a mock work of conceptual art using the same banana

surreal landscapes

and

plus an early mech

my first creation was an alien with UFO

or just the alien before that

and that was from August 6th.

It’s been just two months?! All these pieces were practice and experiments that I calculated as part of my training. I’d say I’m still a beginner at the program, but with some intermediate tendencies. What I can already see is the enormous range of possible imagery one can produce, and it need not at all be confined to commercial or enterntainment purposes. There is the possibility of endless creation and manipulation of visual reality itself for whatever end.

Stay tuned for more experiments, projects, and in the not too distant future attempts at original art.

~ Ends

And if you like my art or criticism, please consider chipping in so I can keep working until I drop. Through Patreon, you can give $1 (or more) per month to help keep me going (y’know, so I don’t have to put art on the back-burner while I slog away at a full-time job). See how it works here. Or go directly to my account. Patreon-account
Or you can make a one time donation to help me keep on making art and blogging (and restore my faith in humanity simultaneously). donate-button

4 replies on “Of Still Lifes, Blender, and Tutorials

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