Still life drawing can be really rewarding, but too often we find ourselves struggling with dull arangements that are really difficult to do anything interesting with. Pieces of fruit in a bowl, a bottle of wine - it can easily be the same-old-same old. Here are some tips on putting together a great still life, thinking about lighting and backgrounds as well as componennts. Be sure to check the links for some illustrated still life examples, ideas and projects.
Time Required: 20 mins
- Choose your location: a good, directional light source is the key to a strong drawing or painting. A lamp or bright window is perfect.
- If room lighting is diffuse, use a board or shadow box to to control the lighting that falls on your subject. You might need to be creative - blankets draped between chairs (on table!), umbrellas, appliance boxes... a little effort can make a big difference to the fall of light, and allows you to draw what you see instead of using guesswork to try and tweak the drawing.
- Think about your background. Architectural features such as a window frame or door can add direction to a composition. A tone that contrasts with the subject is useful. Drapery can be a bit cliche, so use it carefully.
- A woodgrain table can look great, but only if you're confident with handling the detail - shortcutting on textures can really weaken a drawing. A beginner might be better using a tablecloth - choose a plain one if you don't want any extra detail, or a broad check or stripe to add color and pattern.
- Choose your objects: Beginners should avoid oddly shaped objects that might look 'wrong' even when you've got it 'right'. Machine-made objects demand an accurate rendering of form and perspective. However, a casual or distorted look can work, when handled with confidence. Check out the links below for some ideas!
- Arrange the group. When arranging, consider compositional elements, avoiding bland central postitioning and symmetry. Avoid just piling fruit in a bowl - let it spill from a bag, or be half-eaten on a plate. Give flowers a history - tucked in a hat, strewn in the gutter, or by a headstone.
- View your arrangement through a viewfinder - an empty slide frame (make one out of card) to assess the composition and consider its placement on the paper.
- If using natural light, take photos to refer to once the light starts to change.
- Transparent and reflective objects, such as bottles and metal objects, can be challenging but are an excellent exercise in detailed observation.
- Fruit is a great start, as the natural shapes are a little more forgiving, and give you interesting textures to work with.
- Take photographs if using perishables, especially flowers, or where your work may be disturbed.
What You Need
- a directional light source
- a good surface and background
- interesting objects to draw
- ideas about composition
- thoughts about light and shade