Still Life Drawing Ideas

Posted by Kim Neon on

High school Art students are often required to produce still life drawings or paintings within the confines of a busy classroom. Most Art Departments have cupboards crammed full of visually interesting objects that can be used to create still life arrangements. This article lists still life ideas for teachers or students who are stuck or in need of inspiration. The collection includes tried and true favourites that have been used by Art teachers for generations, as well as more unusual and contemporary still life topics.

While senior Art students are usually free to come up with their own topic or theme (read our article how to come up with great subject matter for your Art project) many middle school or junior high school students are required to work with objects and scenes that meet the following criteria:

  • Viewable first-hand
  • Visually interesting, with a range of different textures, reflections, surfaces and forms
  • Small enough to set up and arrange in the classroom (light, easily moveable)
  • Able to arranged in different ways, creating original compositions so that multiple exciting works can be created
  • Durable enough to be handled safely by enthusiastic teenagers (without sharp or dangerous parts, for example)
  • Able to stored from lesson to lesson without eroding, decaying or breaking (this is not necessary if the still life can be drawn within a single lesson or photographed for completion at a later date)
  • Appropriate for younger students to view (i.e. not offensive)

This articles includes great work by students as well as famous still life artists. It is a work in progress, with many more ideas to be added over time!

Still Life Drawing Ideas

Popcorn , as in these original still life artworks by Po Yuan (left) and Betty Chen (right), students of  Elizabeth Jendek, Thai Chinese International School, Samutprakarn, Thailand:

Although there is a distinct possibility that a number of still life items might mysteriously ‘disappear’ during the course of this lesson, popcorn provides an excellent opportunity for practising the application of tone. Completed in charcoal, these large works create a kind of semi-abstracted landscapes and require careful attention to light and shadow.

Crumpled paper bags , such as this work by 18 year old artist Raegan Koepsel:

Crunched and creased paper bags create dramatic shadows and provide an excellent opportunity to learn about tone. This is a great subject to draw with charcoal on mid-tone grey or brown paper. In this example, the paper bags have been twisted in different ways and carefully contrasted with a background of corrugated cardboard.

Machinery and mechanical parts , such as old sewing machines, disassembled clocks, cogs/wheels and typewriters, inspired by this drawing from Parkway North High School, United States, taught by Art teacher and artist Grant Kniffen:

Many high school Art projects within New Zealand are based around the beach and coastline. Items such as rope, floats, hooks, anchors, driftwood and fishing nets provide an excellent subject matter for still life works due to the variety of shapes, forms, patterns and surface textures. The items are usually large and substantial enough that a still life arrangement in the centre of the room can be viewed easily by all students. These two works by American Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Cape Cod Still life’ and ‘Cape Cod Still Life (Study)’ show nets and rope entangled around an driftwood and shells. The bottom work is an oil and Magna (a brand of acrylic resin paint) completed in 1972, with a drawn composition study above.


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