How to Draw a Still Life Composition

Updated on June 26, 2017
carolynkaye profile image

I've been an artist since childhood and work mainly in oils, acrylic and pencil.

Learn how to draw a still life composition from start to finish.
Learn how to draw a still life composition from start to finish. | Source

Learning to draw a still life composition is one of the most valuable, basic skills an artist can learn.

If you ever take a sketching or drawing class, still life drawing is usually taught within the first few sessions. Why? It teaches students techniques and skills that are the foundation for creating many types of artwork, whether it’s pencil, colored pencil, charcoal drawings, pastels or paintings.

Still life drawing teaches you how to layout a group of various objects on a piece of paper, how to sketch assorted shapes and how to shade things so they have dimension and life.

It also shows you how to be aware of the way light, dark and shadows affect the objects you’re sketching. Understanding this will help create realistic, life-like sketches and is a skill you’ll need to know if you want to explore other mediums, like paints.

Another benefit of still life drawing is that it can be customized to a particular artist’s skill level. Someone with little or no sketching experience can choose objects that are easier to draw, like round or oval shaped fruits or vegetables. More advanced artists can make an arrangement of objects of any size, shape and detail level to challenge their wider set of skills.

So whether you’ve never sketched before, haven’t sketched in a while or just want a refresher course in creating a still life composition from start to finish, follow the steps and pictures below to learn how to draw a still life composition.

Fruit is a good subject for learning how to draw a still life composition.
Fruit is a good subject for learning how to draw a still life composition. | Source

What To Draw?

For the sketch I’m demonstrating in this article, I chose fruit because it’s one of the easiest things for beginning artists to draw. The pineapple and star fruit can be a little tricky for someone brand new to drawing, but you can leave out the fine detail and concentrate just on the shapes if necessary.

You can make an arrangement similar to mine or gather whatever objects you have around your home. You can either make it a theme or keep it totally random. It’s up to you.

Just remember the more objects you use and the more fine details and textures they have, the more difficult the drawing. If you have little or no sketching experience, you might want to keep it as simple as possible.


Arranging the Objects For Your Still Life

Set up your objects on a flat surface near a comfortable place to sit for your sketch. A kitchen or dining room table is ideal for this. If you don’t mind sitting on the floor, you can place the objects against a wall and sit in front of them.

Ideally, choose a place with some form of natural light or near a good lamp. If the area isn’t well lit, it will make the drawing more difficult.

The light source doesn’t have to shine directly on the center of your objects. Light coming from one side can make for an interesting sketch too.

Here's a list of supplies you'll need for a still life drawing:

1) A sketch or drawing pad that is at least 11”x14”. A larger pad allows you to sketch some objects true-to-size, which can be easier than trying to scale them down to fit your paper.

2) An assortment of drawing pencils or charcoal pencils. You can buy these either individually or as a kit in art supply stores. You’ll need a pencil sharpener too, if you don’t already have one.

3) Stumps and tortillions. These are sticks made of soft, felt-like paper that you’ll use for the shading techniques shown in this article.

4) A set of art erasers. A basic set of art erasers includes a gum eraser and a plastic eraser, which are less likely to damage paper. Plus, gum erasers can molded into any shape which makes it easier to fit in small areas. Erasers can also be used to add hi-lights to your sketch.

Optional:

5) A spray fixative. When you’re done with your sketch, a spray fixative can keep it from getting smudged and damaged. Krylon Workable Fixatif Spray is a good one for this purpose.

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Starting Your Sketch

Use a B or 2B pencil to make a very rough sketch of your objects as you want them to appear on the page. Use light pressure with your pencil so that it’s easy to erase things and move them around.

Don’t worry if you need to turn to a new page and start over a few times.

Forget about all the fine details and shading in this stage.

Just sketch out all the basic shapes, centered nicely on your paper.

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After the Shapes are Drawn

Continue to concentrate on the outline of the objects until you’re happy with how they look on your paper.

Then, begin adding some basic details as I did with the pineapple skin and leaves, and the stems on the other pieces of fruit.

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Clean-up with Gum Eraser

Once your entire rough sketch is complete, use a gum eraser to gently clean up the lines of your sketch. Remove any smudges or fingerprints too.

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Start with Shading the Dark Areas

Look at your still life arrangement and notice where you see the darkest areas and shadows.

Use a soft pencil (like a 5B or 6B or a charcoal pencil) to begin darkening these places on your paper as I did with the mango in my sketch.

(See photos below)

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In the darkest areas near the bottom of the fruit, I used more pressure. In the middle and sides, I used much less pressure and more sparse strokes. In the places where the light hit the mango the strongest, I left white spaces.

Don’t worry about getting the tones exactly right now. Just put in the basic shades because you’ll come back to this later as you get closer to a finished sketch.

Tip:

Work on objects on the left side of the page first if you’re right-handed. This helps avoid smudging what you’ve completed. Work in the opposite direction if you’re left-handed.

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Shading and Blending

Once you’ve added some dark and medium tones and shadows to your object, use a stump to gently blend and shade your pencil strokes to make the area look as close to the object you’re sketching as possible. Refer to your still life arrangement as much as you need. For larger areas, use the largest stump and for small spaces, use a tortillion.

Tip:

If you need to lighten an area that you shaded too much, use the gum eraser to remove some of the pencil. This is also a great technique for adding some highlights to an object.

Have you ever done a still life?

See results

Use the same shading and blending steps listed above on each of your objects, working left to right. (Or right to left)

Refer to your still life arrangement to capture the dark, medium and light tones of each object and the spaces between objects as accurately as possible.

Don’t forget about the shadows the objects cast on and around the surface beneath them.

How much you blend with the stumps and tortillions is up to you. Some people like seeing distinct pencil or charcoal strokes, others like blending them to give their sketch a smoother look.

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For the top of the pineapple, I sketched the leaves using a 3B pencil and then went over the lines with a stump.

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To give the leaves dimension, I used a charcoal pencil to shade the darkest areas on the bottom of each leaf.

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Next, I began blending the charcoal areas with a stump to fill in the leaves, avoiding any areas where the light hit.

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I used the same technique listed above on the pineapple skin to achieve its texture:

1) Sketch the general criss-cross pattern of the skin with a pencil.

2) Outline each circle with a charcoal pencil.

3) Blend each circle with a stump, using lighter pressure toward the center.

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Adding Fine Details

Once the pineapple skin was fully shaded, I used an Ebony pencil to add additional detail to the pineapple, as well as to the rest of the fruit.

Small details like stems on the fruit and spots on the banana were added.

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Final Touches

When you come close to finishing your sketch, take some time to look back and forth between your still life arrangement and your paper to see how accurate everything looks.

You may find certain areas that need to be darker or lighter or additional details you need to add to bring your objects to life.

There may be more shading or blending you need to do.

Take your time and go object by object until you feel you’ve captured everything you can in your sketch.

Use the gum eraser to remove any smudges on your paper.

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Finishing Up

To finish my sketch, I darkened certain areas near the bottom of the fruit and in the spaces beneath using a charcoal pencil. Afterward, I blended these areas with a stump.

I used a gum eraser to highlight areas where the light hit the top of the bananas or other fruit. Highlights can help add realism to your drawing.

The completed sketch... Drawing a still life can be easier than you think.
The completed sketch... Drawing a still life can be easier than you think. | Source
Side by side.
Side by side. | Source
  • If you’re using a natural light source, work on your sketch around the same time each day so your lights, darks and shadows stay consistent.
  • Use a flex-neck desk lamp to light your objects. Experiment to see how the light hits your objects from various angles.
  • When you’re ready to do a still life you plan to mat or frame, use Bristol board, which is a heavier, thicker paper available at art stores.
  • When you’ve mastered pencil or charcoal, try drawing a still life in full color with either colored pencils or pastels.
  • If you change your sketch after spraying the workable fixative, don’t forget to re-spray it.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 carolynkaye

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      • profile image

        oliver christiana 2 months ago

        Thanks i just did my assignment through this good job

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 22 months ago from USA

        Thanks, preetika bachchan :)

      • profile image

        preetika bachchan 22 months ago

        outstanding....

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 2 years ago from USA

        Thank you, Marcia Julcilia :)

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        Marcia Julcilia 2 years ago

        Amazing

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 2 years ago from USA

        Hi Sarita, You're welcome and thanks so much :) I appreciate your comment! -Carolyn

      • sarita garg profile image

        sarita 2 years ago from Hisar

        You have a wonderful hub. I am a lover of pencil sketching. Thank you for sharing..

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 2 years ago from USA

        Hello aesta1! Thank you, I appreciate your feedback :-)

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Thanks for taking the trouble of posting photos of the steps to take. They are more instructional.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 2 years ago from USA

        Thanks, Heather :)

      • HeatherGilmour profile image

        Heather Gilmour 2 years ago from London

        WOW, this is amazing! The fruits look so realistic and the step by step tutorial you made is so good.

      • melissae1963 profile image

        Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

        This is a fantastic Hub. I may give it a try this weekend.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thanks for letting me know Shyron. It doesn't look there's any type of contact link so I'm not sure what I can do...

      • Shyron E Shenko profile image

        Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

        Carolyn, this hub is stolen and put up on a dating site using my name, and if you go to the site and click on the hub title it takes you to something else.

        bwin368.net/search/shyron-e-shenko-on-hubpages

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thanks for the feedback, Kappygirl :) I'd love to hear how it turns out.

      • Kappygirl profile image

        Kappygirl 3 years ago

        This was excellent! I have always wanted to take a drawing class. This is like having your own personal instructor :) I hope to try out these techniques soon. Thank you so much for sharing. Everything was clear and easy to understand. I just hope mine turns out like the example!

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        RTalloni, mary615, DreamerMeg, poetryman6969, MHiggins, techygran, Suman Miah, FlowerCS….Thank you all so much for your nice comments :) I'm glad to hear people enjoyed this Hub.

      • FlowerCS profile image

        Lindsey A S 3 years ago from Delaware

        I really enjoyed the picture! This was a great choice as well as a great drawling I really liked this hub. I myself am great at many forms of art so i got so into this! I always strive to learn new things and improve on drawling etc. Great job!

      • Suman Miah profile image

        Suman 3 years ago from Bangladesh

        Thanks, I learned a lot

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Carolynkaye:

        Congratulations for the HOTD! You did a stellar presentation of how to draw a still life. I thought I knew something about it, but obviously that class back in 5th grade, 50+ years ago, wasn't enough lol. Stumps and tortillions are entirely new to me, and I watched my mother do charcoals and pastels. Live and Learn! Thank you for the motivational piece! ~Cynthia

      • MHiggins profile image

        Michael Higgins 3 years ago from Michigan

        Great hub! Very interesting and well written. Thanks for all of the great info and congrats on HOTD!

      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 3 years ago

        As the bard, Clint Eastwood once said: A man's gotta know his limitations. At least the fruit can't run away when I draw. As I recall men ran away, or tried to whenever Clint Eastwood would draw.

        Still nice hub and good info!

      • DreamerMeg profile image

        DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

        I have never done art but I can see how to try it out from your Hub, if I want to. Very interesting.

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

        Congrats on HOTD! I wish I could draw still life like this. I just need to practice more, I guess.

        Great Hub wish wonderful photos to explain how you draw like this.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

        Just stopping back in to say congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this tutorial. It still makes me want to stop everything and go spend time drawing! :)

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        @supercibor, @Robie Benve, @SusanDeppner, @Madelline, @Al-Lyn, @Lefty Jay, @colorfulone, @mySuccess8, @Peggasuse, @Peggy W, @swilliams, @Thelma Alberts and anyone else I missed...

        Thank you all for your comments on the HOTD. I really appreciate them all! It was a fun Hub to put together. I love still life drawings because each one is a brand new challenge and learning experience even for those not new to art.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

        Congratulations on the HOTD award. A very deserving hub. I can´t draw but my hubby is an artist. He draws and paints mostly portraits. Some are landscapes and still life compositions.

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        swilliams 3 years ago

        You did an amazing job! I have a love for art! My family members are amazing artist, however I think that talent may have passed me up, however when I see articles such as this one it gives me hope! Voted up, and Tweeted out! Thanks!

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

        This hub certainly deserved a HOTD accolade. Well done with your explanations and step by step photos. You certainly explained how to draw and shade still life objects well. Happy to share this! :)

      • Peggasuse profile image

        Peggasuse 3 years ago from Indiana, USA

        Great Hub! I'm going to send the link to my grandson, to do as an art project :)

      • mySuccess8 profile image

        mySuccess8 3 years ago

        This is an excellent step-by-step drawing tutorial, supported by clear photographs. Pineapples, to someone who is not an artist, is a difficult object to draw, but you made it look so real. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

      • colorfulone profile image

        Susie Lehto 3 years ago from Minnesota

        Congratulations on Hub of the Day! I truly enjoyed your how to hub.

      • Lefty Jay profile image

        Chris Powell 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

        Very excellent tutorial, I remember doing a still painting back in high school; had this info been around that time, I could have used a lot of the tips and pointers from this hub!

      • Al-Lyn profile image

        Allen Neims and Lynn Raynor 3 years ago

        What a great tutorial. The amount of detail you went into is very helpful and rarely done in other tutorials.

      • Madelline profile image

        madelline MSW 3 years ago from Vancouver, BC

        I just started reading your awesome post! Thanks for this series on sketching and painting, although I have no natural gift for it , I found it a great pleasure and pastime working with paints since I've been semi-retired. Your pages will be a great help.

      • SusanDeppner profile image

        Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

        Wow, what a great tutorial! Very deserving of Hub of the Day. Congratulations!

      • Robie Benve profile image

        Robie Benve 3 years ago from Ohio

        Excellent hub! So glad to see an artistic subject picked as HOD and yours really deserves it! Great job!

        Voted up, useful, and pinned. :)

      • supercibor profile image

        Hector Herrera 3 years ago from Dominican Republic

        Thanks for the great hub. I used to draw and now you have inspired me to go back and get my pencils and enjoy this great art.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thanks, CharlieClaywell. Yes, taking a photo and working from that is a great way too because you don't have to worry about differences in light throughout the day. It can be difficult to do a large drawing from a small photo, so if you can print the photo in at least an 8x10" or put the photo full size on your computer screen, that makes it easier.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        I'm glad you liked the Hub, pstraubie48. Thank you so much for your comments :)

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thank you, JCielo!

      • CharlieClaywell profile image

        Charlie Claywell 3 years ago

        Thanks for the step-by-step informative hub. I have always enjoyed pencil/pen art and have tried my hand at it a few times. I finally have a small room where I can set up objects for a drawing. I've also thought about taking a photograph of the set-up and drawing from that, although I'm not sure if it would be easier or harder than way?

        Great hub!

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

        Congrats on HOTD. If a hub has ever deserved it, this one does.

        Your explanations and illustrations are so helpful.

        As for me, I can marvel at your work but alas my pineapple will ever remain a sort of melting oval on the canvas.....

        My art is only accomplished with words...what a gift you have bave an artist's eye and be able to translate it into a finished beauty.

        Angels are on the way to you ps

      • JCielo profile image

        JCielo 3 years ago from England

        I used to love drawing and doing water colours. But that was years ago. You've inspired me to start again! Top class hub and really deserving of Hub of the Day. Congratulations!

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thanks for the comment, peachpurple. Apples take practice to get right. It's hard to get that 'shine' with just a pencil. I use an gum eraser to make highlights and that helps bring it to life.

        Hi Georgina_writes. Thanks much, I'm glad you liked the Hub :) I appreciate the comments.

      • Georgina_writes profile image

        Georgina_writes 3 years ago from Dartmoor

        I really enjoyed your hub, your instruction was so clear. Good to meet a fellow artist. Following you. I loved the finished piece!

      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

        my teacher used to teach us how to draw apples and i never got right with the shadings

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thanks for the comments, billycamryn and Kingslayercrow :)

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        Kingslayercrow 3 years ago

        Great tutorial, I'll use this guide next time I do a still life.

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        billycamryn 3 years ago

        I learned a few basics from this video tutorial - http://www.jerrysartarama.com/art-lessons/Artists/... But, your blog was so detailed and long, that it clarified so many of my doubts. Thanks to both of you. Keep up the great work.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

        Thank you, mahnoorzafarkhan :)

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        mahnoorzafarkhan 3 years ago

        love it

      • Tolovaj profile image

        Tolovaj 4 years ago

        I am always impressed how much can be done with shading. Beautifully done!

      • Margo Arrowsmith profile image

        Margo Arrowsmith 4 years ago

        I once attended a self portrait class, that used a similar method, this works! Mine wasn't half bad, oh heck, I like mine!

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        Ana Maria Orantes 4 years ago from Miami Florida

        Miss. carolynkaye. I love your article. You did a beautiful job. congratulations to you for all the good work.

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        mariewj 4 years ago

        What a fantastic drawing and I loved seeing all your step by step photos on how you achieved that. I haven't done any real pencil art since college but I'd like to get back into it at some point.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Hi sprickita... Thanks for sharing those tips! I will have to try them next time. I appreciate your comments :)

      • sprickita profile image

        sprickita 4 years ago from Reno

        If your working on a really tight budget iv found baby oil over finished work gives it a nice soft set tone and tear a sheet of paper in half,roll it diagonally, wrap with masking tape then rip off the tip is an inexpensive shading tool... Thanks for the great hub with tons of step by step pics loved it! 8-)

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        @ Hugo Furst - I'm glad you found it helpful. Thanks for the feedback an vote :)

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        Hugo Furst 4 years ago from Australia

        This is something I've always wanted to try. Thanks for writing this hub and filling it with great tips! Voted up :)

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Hi Hezekiah. Thanks for your comments :)

      • Hezekiah profile image

        Hezekiah 4 years ago from Japan

        Excellent tutorial there, drawing is one of my weakest skills, but using info like this I should be able to draw something my daughter doesn't laugh at and recognizes straight away without having to guess.

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        @ loveofnight - I'm glad to hear that. Thanks! I'd love to hear how it turns out :)

      • loveofnight profile image

        loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

        it's not just useful and interesting but helpful as well. unfortunately there was no helpful button. i really love this hub and do intend on using all of the steps and tips that you have given me. well done and thanks much, happy hubbing.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        @ Prithima Sharma -- Thank you!

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        @ Tom Schumacher - I appreciate your comments :-) Thank you!

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks for the comment & votes, Crystal :)

      • Prithima Sharma profile image

        Prithima Sharma 4 years ago from Delhi, India

        Superb hub, like the pics most.

      • Tom Schumacher profile image

        Tom Schumacher 4 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

        Excellent hub! Information you revealed about the process of creating still life compositions, including recommended materials, is useful for beginning artists. Vote up!

      • Crystal Tatum profile image

        Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

        A great hub! Alas, I am no artist. Should have taken those painting classes when my mom offered to pay. voted up and sharing.

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks for the comments, FullOfLoveSites!

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks much, Paul. I appreciate the feedback :-) This was a fun Hub to put together.

      • carolynkaye profile image
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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks, Prithima Sharma :)

      • FullOfLoveSites profile image

        FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

        Nice one! Outline first before all the details, it looks like I wanna buy a sketch pad myself start drawing! It's a good start to sketch first before you learn to paint. Thanks for posting. :)

      • Paul Edmondson profile image

        Paul Edmondson 4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

        You've done an amazing job with this. It makes me so happy and gives me energy when I see amazing hubs like this. Thank you (and thanks to GlimmerTwinFan for sharing:)

      • Prithima Sharma profile image

        Prithima Sharma 4 years ago from Delhi, India

        hmm gud one

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks, ChristinS :-) Glad you liked the Hub! Thanx for your comments, vote, pinning :)

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks for your comments, RTalloni! Much appreciated :-)

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Thanks, erinshelby :)

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        Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

        What an excellent and detailed hub, makes me want to go dig out my old pencils again :) voted and pinning

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

        Encouraging others to draw is good stuff. I always find that those who say they can't are happily surprised at how they feel about it if they will just start.

        Guiding others in drawing is even better stuff. This is a neat tutorial and I'm pinning, sharing, etc.

        I enjoyed this very much for it has made me want to take time for an activity that I love, but too often put off for other things.

      • erinshelby profile image

        erinshelby 4 years ago from United States

        Nice intro for folks with an interest in this. Good step-by-step photos.

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        carolynkaye 4 years ago from USA

        Glad you found it helpful, FlourishAnyway. Thanks for the votes & pin :-)

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

        This was very detailed and useful to those of us who are interested in exercising our artistic sides but don't quite know what to do. I appreciated the tips you provided. I will share this with a budding young artist I know. Voted up and more, pinning.

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