Draw a Still Life (2024)

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Learn and Look Create Write FAQs

Activity Guide by Kate Kwasneski
Intern, Grinnell College Museum of Art

Learn and Look

A still life is a piece of art that shows an inanimate object or a group of inanimate objects, like some flowers, a bowl of fruit, or some dishes. Paintings of inanimate objects have existed since the Ancient Greeks and Romans, but still lifes became a genre of their own in the late 16th century. Some of the most famous still lifes were from the Netherlands in the 17th century. This genre allows the artist to think about how objects are arranged in an artwork and to experiment with composition. Today, we are going to look at some still lifes from the Grinnell College Museum of Art collection.

Draw a Still Life (1)

Still lifes most often feature things that you might find on a kitchen table, like flowers or bowls of fruit. This example is no exception, a vase with flowers is a common subject of still lifes. The artist here has painted many kinds of flowers in a few different colors. What do you think of the flowers he has painted? What emotions does this painting make you feel?

Draw a Still Life (2)

This still life is of just one object. Often, still lifes contain many objects, but they do not have to. This painting is from the Netherlands, where many of the most famous still lifes come from. Look at the incredible level of detail in such a small painting! How many patterns can you see on this seashell?

Draw a Still Life (3)

This still life is of a traditional topic: fruit in a basket. This one does not have as realistic of a drawing style as the previous examples. Most still lifes are realistic, but they don’t have to be! This still life is also entirely in black and white. What do you think of this one? How does it make you feel?

Draw a Still Life (4)

Still lifes can be done in any art style, not just realistic art. An artwork just has to depict inanimate objects in order to be considered a still life. This scene is made up of a table with objects on it. Can you tell what is shown in this lithograph? What can you see?


Now it’s time to create your own still life! What objects do you want to draw? It might be helpful to think of things that there are where you live, in your kitchen. Or, you can make something up! Draw fruit that grows far from your home, or draw flowers that you wish you could see. Do you want to add color, or do you want to draw in black and white? Still lifes usually include many details, so try to make your objects as detailed as possible. You could think about where the light is coming from in your drawing, and how that light would create shadows and shading. When you start to create your still life, draw with light lines at first. You can put down lots of sketchy lines to start, and then emphasize lines you want to keep, and eliminate lines that don’t work as well.

Draw a Still Life (5)

Here is a still life that I created. I drew a bowl full of fruit, a small pumpkin, and some daisies in a vase. I added a clock on the wall to fill up some empty space. Think about how your objects will look next to each other, and what size they are in relation to each other. You can try sketching your still life from several points of view before deciding on one. If you are drawing real objects, changing where you sit even a small amount can make a big change in how your artwork looks.


Think about what happened right before your still life, or right after. Who put the objects where they are? What are they used for? Think about the room your objects are in, who uses it, and what they use it for. Write the story of your still life and the environment around it.

Draw a Still Life (2024)


What are the steps to drawing a still life? ›

Basic Form Still life
  1. Find at least 4 objects that are basic forms (squares, cones, circles, cylinders).
  2. Set them up in an interesting composition with 1 light source.
  3. Create a pencil drawing from direct observation.
  4. Include a background and fill the whole page.
  5. Use a full range of values to illustrate chiaroscuro.

What objects can you draw for a still life? ›

What are good objects for a still life? Any inanimate object can be used in a still life drawing. Fruit, vegetables, dead animals and birds, table ware, fabrics, and candles are the classic choices that are still used today. People and landscapes are not depicted in a still life drawing.

What are the four types of still life? ›

There are four main types of still-life art: Flower Pieces, Banquet or Breakfast Pieces, Animal Pieces, and Symbolic Paintings.

What are still life examples? ›

Still life includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on.

What are the rules of still life painting? ›

Good still life compositions have balance so use the rule of thirds to help establish this balance. When arranging, take a photo of the objects using a grid of 3 X 3 squares (most phones will have this in their camera settings), otherwise you can fold an image in three vertically then three horizontally for the grid.

How to arrange a still life? ›

By dividing your focus area or canvas horizontally and vertically into three sections and then aligning areas of focus on the intersections of those lines, you can create balance in a still life. Avoiding unintentional repetition will also help to create a strong still life.

What is most important in still life drawing? ›

An important element of still life art is the mastery of lighting. Artists play with shadows and highlights to create a sense of drama and depth. The way light and shadow is used breathes life into inanimate objects, transforming them into poetic compositions.

What is the best thing to paint a still life with? ›

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.

What are principles of still life drawing? ›

When it comes to setting up your own still life, there are alphabetical pointers to consider: accuracy, balance, contrast, de inition, ellipses and foreshortening. The images above illustrate how these principles can affect a still life setup, so try them all and get a good grounding in the principles.

What is the difference between still life and object drawing? ›

A still life is a drawing or painting that focuses on still objects. The subject matter is inanimate and never moves, typically with a focus on household objects, flowers, or fruits. Still life work contrasts figure drawing which focuses on a live human model.

What do artists consider when making still life? ›

Movement, Unity, Rhythm and Focal Point

A triangle is a stable geometric structure, and compositions such as these create a sense of balance. Positioning objects at the corners of the triangle momentarily stops the eye. You can select one object to be your focal point by rendering it more completely than the others.

What are 5 still life objects? ›

A still life ( pl. : still lifes) is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which are either natural (food, flowers, dead animals, plants, rocks, shells, etc.) or human-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, etc.).

What is the most common still life? ›

List of common still lifes
PatternRelative frequency
1Block1 in 2.0141
2Beehive1 in 3.8007
3Loaf1 in 12.883
4Boat1 in 13.963
65 more rows
Dec 16, 2023

What are some items you can use for still life? ›

Still lifes most often feature things that you might find on a kitchen table, like flowers or bowls of fruit. This example is no exception, a vase with flowers is a common subject of still lifes. The artist here has painted many kinds of flowers in a few different colors.

What are the elements of still life drawing? ›

Composition, drawing skills, shape, form, perspective, light and dark pattern; these things are the essence of the resulting image. Still life objects, or still life subjects can be almost anything.

What is life drawing the process of? ›

A life drawing is a drawing of the human figure, traditionally nude, from observation of a live model. Creating life drawings, or life studies, in a life class, has been a large element in the traditional training of artists in the Western world since the Renaissance.

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