Still Life Drawing and Painting is very important to practice and learn. Even though it’s something I don’t do as much today, it was definitely part of my learning as an artist. It’s a great way to improve our drawings and style and I’m going to be talking and showing a lot of examples to inspire you and help you have a better understanding of it.
But what is a still life drawing? Still life is a drawing focused on still objects. The subject never moves and has vases, bottles, flowers, fruit, and other household objects as its most common themes.
There’s a lot to learn from still life and I’m going to go through all of it, including some examples and artists through history. If you’re interested in experimenting with still life but don’t know where to start, I also added a list of ideas for beginners!
Why You Should Do Still Life Paintings And Drawings
A Still Life drawing or painting focus on painting and capturing still objects. This means that what you’re painting won’t move nor change from time to time. You set up the scene, with the objects you want. For example, it can be flowers, jars, plates, cups, fruit, whatever you can think of!
Once you have a set up you like, it’s time to take the time and capture the scene in front of you. This practice is the total opposite of Gesture Drawing, which focuses on drawing the human body and capturing movement.
With Still Life, you have the chance to practice different objects, with different properties. For example, cloth, metal, glass, and others! Not only that, but composition can also take a great part in this type of drawing.
You need to create your own composition and then capture it. With this, you’re learning to organize and figure out how to have a balanced scene. Even if you’re not creating the scene yourself, looking for pictures on the internet or even taking your own pictures will help you immensely!
Just by observing, you can learn a lot! Look up your favorite artists or for famous Still Life paintings and take your time analyzing them. Look at the objects that are being used and how they’re organized. Try even to replicate these paintings! I’m sure you’re going to take a lesson or two with you.
But there’s still so much more you can learn with still life. And ok, I know that this is not the type practice for everyone. I remember being in high school and at some point, this was the kind of exercise I had to do.
I didn’t like it, I wanted to draw characters, not mugs or fruit. And that’s perfectly fine. We don’t need to like everything in drawing and art. Some people prefer to draw flowers, others want to draw people and others scenery. The same goes for the materials we work with. Everyone has their own preferences!
It is also important to experiment as much as we can in drawing and painting. Without experimenting, we can’t know if there’s still something out there that we love and will adapt to our own style and work. Plus, even if drawing Still Life isn’t something you’ll do in the future, you’ll apply what you learn with it in all your work!
It is also important to experiment as much as we can in drawing and painting.
So besides learning composition and how to draw different objects with different properties, you’ll also learn a lot more about lighting and shading! The lighting you have in a room will also play in the scene and you’ll need to capture it in your painting. Depending on the kind of object you’re using, the light will behave differently!
Finally, this is the time to try out different materials as well! Both if you’re doing it traditional or digital. Try to draw with graphite, colored pencils, watercolors, charcoal! In digital, you can also try different brushes and styles.
Try even different sizes of paper/canvas. Go even further than that, and use colored or textured paper!
Drawing still life can be really fun as long as you create and choose something you enjoy. Just take your time and experiment with as much as you want. Gather your materials and canvas, sit down and enjoy an afternoon or more of still life painting!
Types And Styles Of Still Life Drawing
Still Life drawing can be displayed differently and there are several themes to choose from. If you go to a drawing class and you happen to practice Still Life, the teacher will probably compose and set up the scene for you.
Then you choose a point in the room and draw it. This is something I really recommend to do if you have the chance. In a group class, each student will stand or sit in a different place in the room and for that reason, everyone will see the scene differently.
Perspective and lighting changes, depending on where you’re sitting in the room. It is very interesting to get to the end of the class and get to see your classmates work. See how each person perceives the same scene and how different the scene you see is from another point of the room!
As I said there are different themes and objects that can be used in still life, but the most common are usually:
- A table spread: tables full of fruit, vegetables, and even dead animals. Sometimes we can add flowers and even cutlery to the scene, but the main focus of these compositions is food!
- Flower arrangements: these are also very common, especially in classes, since it’s rather easy to gather some flowers and jars and set up a beautiful and colorful scene. Different types of flowers and colors to explore and draw.
- Objects: Common objects found at home and put up together to form a still and calming scene. It can go from paper bags, cups and jars to even furniture and decoration!
You can even find a mix and match of these themes! It all comes down to what you want to draw and how.
There are also different styles to go with. Again, this is a good exercise to experiment not only with materials but also style! Still Life pops up at different art periods. In ancient Rome, very often still life scenes were painted into the walls of people’s homes. In the 17th century, this type of paintings became very popular among Dutch artists. I recommend looking up Willem Kalf’s work who painted very detailed objects and compositions.
In a more modern period of art, very often artists such as Paul Cézane and Matisse worked and dabbled with still life. There are many different styles you can look up for inspiration. Still Life doesn’t have one unique style. Feel free to experiment with your own style as well as others that inspire and interests you!
Famous Still Life Artists
As I mentioned, still life paintings appear throughout all art periods. Artists learned their trade by drawing what they saw. That means not only people but objects as well. We start seeing still life as a more common theme in painting around the end of the 16th century.
Caravaggio is a good example! Most of his famous paintings depict people and biblical scenes, but there are a lot of still life paintings to look at as well. ‘Basket of Fruit’ is a very good example! Caravaggio’s work used a lot of contrast, but here we see a softer approach, almost relaxed.
Still life appeared in art almost more like a practice than commissioned work. But around the 17th century a lot of painters, especially Dutch, took the liking to this kind of painting. Willem Kalf is probably my favorite. I especially recommend taking a look at ‘Still Life with Ewer and Basin, Fruit, Nautilus Cup, and other Objects’. The attention to detail is fantastic. The dark tones of the scene, contrasting with the white and blue is beautiful and it’s the first thing we look at. But then our eyes start to catch up on other details. Such as the texture of each object and even the small strokes of white and yellow where the light shines!
To a certain degree, I’d like to point out Vermeer’s work as well. Even though his work always depicted the human figure, his paintings were heavily supported by the room and the objects around the model.
Jan Brueghel the Elder and Ambrosius Bosschaert are also worth to take a look. Their most famous works are vases of flowers and the contrast between the dark background and vibrant tones of flowers is very beautiful to look at and study!
Later on, you can find some life still paintings by Van Gogh in the impressionist style. Very vibrant and colorful and very different from the dark paintings from before. It has a very different style, but arrangements made of vases and flowers, plates of fruit and others are still quite common.
Also worth to look at are works by Paul Cézanne, like ‘Pears and a Knife’ and ‘Jar and Fruit’. Fruit is very common in his still life paintings and again, the colors tend to be quite vibrant. Entering the modern period, artists start to get some distance from realism, deconstructing what they see into simpler shapes and colors.
Henri Matisse is another great example. One of my favorite artists from his period. I recommend looking up works such as ‘Fruit and Coffeepot’. The light is so beautifully captured, invoking a great sense of calm.
Later on, his works become more vibrant, using almost only primary colors and sometimes even made with collages. ‘The Egyptian Curtain’ is one example and I really like how the black is used and how much we see of it. Black is a kind of color we don’t see a lot in paintings, especially not in such great quantities. This exploration of color and breaking the boundaries is something that marks the modern period of art and is worth to explore!
Still Life Drawing Ideas For Beginners
As you can see, still life drawings can be very complex, but the opposite is actually true! If you’re interested in trying your hand at this kind of paintings, start small. No need to grab a whole lot of objects and set up a complicated scene. Here are some Still Life drawing ideas for beginners:
- Crumpled Paper: everyone has some paper at home. You don’t even need to waste new paper. Just grab old leaflets or paper that you already used and don’t need anymore. Crumpled one or two pieces of paper and set them in from of you. The shapes you’ll get from it will always be different. It will also create interesting textures and shades!
- Bottles, Vases, and Jars: Preferable transparent. You can even add water to them later on, to draw and see how different it is to draw them. Drawing glass is very different from drawing paper, for example. The way the light hits and shines through the glass is very interesting and it’s a good way to practice lighting in a drawing.
- Fruit and Vegetables: Again, this is something we always have at home. You can choose how far you want to go with this. You can start with just one apple. Then maybe add another. Add different pieces of fruit to your scene as you feel more confident.
- Tools: Any kind of tools would do. Wood, metalworking, anything! Here you can practice drawing both metal and wood and how each one behaves differently.
- Jewelry: As you start to get more confident with still life, start going for more detailed objects! Necklaces, rings, and earrings are very fun to draw and full of detail. Different materials, that are also different to draw. As well as different colors to work with! Drawing jewelry is also very good if you want to practice drawing the lights in objects.
- Flowers: I consider drawing flowers to be also something to do once you get more used to still life. There are many different types of flowers. I find them to be more difficult to find their shapes. It is still very fun and vibrant to work with and I recommend to go for it once you feel more confident as well!
These are good ideas for any level of drawing. Beginners or Intermediates as well as for any age. Grab the whole family, set up some fruit on the table and have a fun afternoon with Still Life Drawing. If you’re painting with kids, I suggest going with easier objects like apples or oranges. Mugs and Bottles are also very good to start with and, the most important, have fun!
Why do professional artists draw still life? Still Life will come into an artist life sooner or later. Its main focus is to learn composition, but with it, an artist also learns how to do draw particular objects in detail, their properties and how differently they behave.
Is figure drawing considered still life drawing? No. Figure drawing is quite different since it’s a human person that you’re drawing, and they will be moving (even if just a few inches). The whole practice of figure and gesture drawing is much deeper than this, so you can read more about this amazing technique on my guide on Gesture Drawing!
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