The Gift of Art for Designers

Creating a spark to inspire

4 min readJan 7, 2022

I believe the transfer of a physical object from one person to another makes an unique connection — especially meaningful in virtual-dominant relationships. I wanted to continue, yet evolve, a gift idea I had last year.

Nature morte au crâne (Still Life with Skull), 1890–1893 by Paul Cézanne

My overall plan was to make something in my workspace, create a print of it, and give it to my team as a holiday present. My still life series, Mostly Still Life (Semi-Self Portrait in Home Studio) With…, became a view of myself, my objects, my work life, and my home studio which was given to exist in the recipient’s home studio.

Although I have experimented with photographic techniques, subject matter, and compositions over the years I can’t recall doing any real still life work. So I started with some research of still life works of art historically. I went way back to painters during the Renaissance, modernists, and through to contemporary folks posting on social media. I was gathering ideas of subject density, depth, angle of view, color, use of light.

Nature Morte Vivante (Living Still Life), 1956 by Salvador Dalí

This visual scanning helped me envision an initial composition and some of the objects I’d want to include. Deciding on what, what not, and how many objects to assemble I was starting to consider diversity and balance. Old and new. Opaque and translucent. Living and inanimate. Sharp and rough. Rigid and malleable.

I came across an example by Salvador Dalí, one of my favorite painters. Nature Morte Vivante (Living Still Life), 1956, contains a table of objects which are all painted in an unconventional state of suspension or motion. Another oddity that caught my eye in this work was a floating hand that appeared cropped in from the left side.

Mostly Still Life with Coffee, 2021

Humanizing, or injecting life, into the still life was an early priory and plants from my windowsill would serve that purpose. However, the mysterious hand in Dalí’s painting was hovering in my subconscious. Could I extend the contrast of inanimate objects by including more life…my own? A sort of still life self-portrait?

Mostly Still Life with Espresso, 2021

Using a narrow aperture setting to ensure maximum depth of field made the shutter speed extend to many seconds long. A long exposure complicated the idea of having some part of me in frame…because as a living being, of course, I move. So it was difficult to include part of my body and keep it still for a long exposure. In retrospect, I believe the motion in Nature Morte Vivante seemed to be in the back of my mind and seeing some blurry movement in test shots quickly morphed from being a frustration to an opportunity — a way to add an intriguing contrast to the stillness with a flash of kinetic life.

Mostly Still Life with Beer, 2021

In the end, crafting one composition seemed too limiting. As I considered balancing the objects in one still life, I extended my thinking to make decisions about how to unify a series of still life scenes by keeping some elements consistent while introducing variables for others. Angle of view and my camera settings were fixed. Then a few persistent elements (e.g. number of elements and some common objects) would help to bring cohesion to the series. Then the adding variables (e.g. different records, books, plants, arrangements, color grading) would change for each scene, making the compositions unique and interesting.

Mostly Still Life with Wine, 2021
  • Music I enjoy
  • Books off my shelf
  • Plants I grow
  • Wood I’ve cut and split
  • Drinks I consume
  • Shapes that identify our design community

Historically, our Studio was a location but now it’s more malleable. Sometimes it is physical, yet other times virtual. It can be communal and personal. A place and a working model. Yet always…creatively curious.

So, what’s the point? Giving gifts is a sign of appreciation and gratitude yet making a gift communicates something slightly different. I believe it is an important distinction for designers to receive a handmade gift because designers are makers and appreciate artistry. Mostly Still Life (Semi-Self Portrait in Home Studio) With… was a passion project that I hope will serve as a thank you for my makers and motivation for all—a reminder to bring their personal passion for creativity to their daily work and lives.

Mostly Still Life with Water, 2021




Discipline Lead, Design—EY Design Studio Philadelphia