Fine Art

Vegas artist Lance L. Smith teaches us the steps to a still life

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Lance L. Smith
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Las Vegas-based artist Lance L. Smith has been staying busy during the pandemic. After returning from a six-week residency with the Arquetopia International Mentorship Program in Puebla, Mexico, in April, the painter and printmaker has been making art back home in Las Vegas. Due to the coronavirus, scheduling remains up in the air, but Smith is preparing for a solo show in the fall, a group show at a Downtown gallery and a variety of commissioned work.

When not exploring liberatory and resistance practices through mixed media, Smith also reads prolifically and teaches art. During this unpredictable time, Smith offers the Weekly directions on how to take a moment to make a meditative still life drawing. Even if you think you have no talent, this is something you can do.

“Sight. Puebla, Mexico,” two-color linocut/woodblock (Lance Smith/Courtesy)

Relax. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to go to school to be an artist. As with making dinner, you don’t have to be a professional to find joy in an undertaking. “Something that we should all remember during this time is that we have the capability to create,” Smith says. Smith suggests starting by releasing your jaw, relaxing the tightness in your breath and taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out. 

Put on your “noticing eyes.” “We’ve been in our houses for a while,” Smith says, referencing the coronavirus lockdown. “So you probably noticed a lot of things you didn’t have time to [before]. Smith says to use your “noticing eyes” to find a few interesting household objects for a still life. Look for objects with varying textures, forms and shapes. Keep them medium to small sizes, so as not to be overwhelming. Smith gives the example of a bristle paint brush, a can of water and a roll of tape with a cardboard backing.

Set them up in a cool configuration. Smith says to simply place your objects in “any orientation that you find interesting.” Look at the lines that the compiled objects create and “imagine you’re setting up a photo shoot.”

Just start drawing. You don’t need a lot of crazy supplies. Smith says a pen or pencil will work just fine: “From there, you just take a piece of paper and paint and you will begin to draw.”

Keep looking. Take your time. Go back and forth between drawing and looking at the still life as you draw it, Smith advises. “Imagine there’s a line of ants going around whatever you’re drawing; that helps me,” Smith says

“Cruce. Puebla, Mexico,” mixed media on amate (Lance Smith/Courtesy)

Add in the extras. Once you’ve outlined the forms, look to the aspects that make something feel real and multi-dimensional. “Pay attention to the way the light is falling,” Smith says. “Then, if you’re feeling real fun and you’ve got some extra time on your hands, start to drop in the shadows. Take the pencil, and go back and forth, meditatively. “Once you’ve meditated, you’re chilling out here, you’re not stressing,” Smith says.

Study the negative. When you’re drawing, don’t just look at what’s there. Look at the empty spaces between things—negative space. Seeing and drawing the shape of what isn’t there helps bring the piece together and lines things up, Smith says. It’s also a great exercise in observation.

You can’t go wrong. Smith emphasizes that in drawing, “There are no mistakes.” The artist suggests using the drawing as a way to be thoughtful. Meditate on the way the shadows are falling. Meditate on the tactile nature of the subject. And then just “draw until you feel like you’re done.” Then congratulate yourself: “You’ve created a piece of art with a capital ‘A,’ because we’re all artists, no matter if you’re trained or not.”

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