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How to Draw a Still Life Composition: Step-by-Step Guide

I’ve been drawing and painting for most of my life and love sharing tutorials and tips to help anyone who wants to learn about art.

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

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

Still Life Drawing Tutorial

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.

Benefits of Still Life

Still life drawing teaches you how to lay out a group of various objects on a piece of paper, sketch assorted shapes, and give things dimension and life with shading. 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 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.

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 tricky for someone 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 create 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.

How to Arrange Objects for a Still Life Drawing

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.

Supplies You'll Need

  • Sketch or drawing pad: It should be 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.
  • 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.
  • Stumps and tortillons: These are sticks made of soft, felt-like paper that you'll use for the shading techniques shown in this article.
  • 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. Gum erasers can be molded into any shape, making them easier to fit in small areas. Erasers can also be used to add hi-lights to your sketch.

Optional:

  • 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.

Step 1: Make a Rough 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.

Sketch out all the basic shapes and center them nicely on your paper.

Sketch out all the basic shapes and center them nicely on your paper.

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

Step 2: Add Basic Details

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.

Begin adding some basic details as I did with the pineapple skin and leaves.

Begin adding some basic details as I did with the pineapple skin and leaves.

Step 3: Clean Up With a 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.

Use a gum eraser to gently clean up the lines of your sketch.

Use a gum eraser to gently clean up the lines of your sketch.

Step 4: Shade the Dark and Medium Tones

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).

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

I used more pressure in the darkest areas near the bottom of the fruit. I used much less pressure and more sparse strokes in the middle and sides. 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 return to this later as you get closer to a finished sketch.

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

Are You Right- or Left-Handed?

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.

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

Step 5: Shade and Blend

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 tortillon.

How to Lighten Dark Shading

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.

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 tortillons is up to you. Some people like seeing distinct pencil or charcoal strokes, and others like blending them to give their sketch a smoother look.

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

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

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

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

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

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

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

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.
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

Step 6: Add 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.

how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

Step 7: Add the 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.
how-to-draw-a-still-life-composition

Step 8: Finish 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.

Here is the completed sketch. Drawing a still life can be easier than you think.

Here is the completed sketch. Drawing a still life can be easier than you think.

Side by side

Side by side

Tips for Drawing Still Life

  • 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 that 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 it with a workable fixative, don’t forget to re-spray it.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I still shade like this without erasers and stumps?

Answer: Yes, you can. You can shade by just using your pencil and creating dark, light and in-between areas with your pencil strokes and varying degrees of pressure.

The pencil strokes will be more prominent and the objects won't have a "smooth" appearance if they're not blended, but this is one way to shade your sketch without the erasers and stumps.

If you don't have or don't want to use erasers and stumps and still want a smooth/blended appearance to your sketch, you can also blend objects using cotton balls, cotton swabs or small pieces of tissue. These can work well except with very small areas that need fine detail shading.

Question: Can I choose any subject for a still life drawing?

Answer: Yes, you can choose just about any subject for a still life.

© 2013 carolynkaye

Comments

Mohammad k on June 16, 2020:

Its a good work

RoadMonkey on May 05, 2020:

I must show this to my granddaughter. She has been practising drawing what she can see from her bedroom window during Coronavirus lockdown. Art is one area I cannot help her with but this hub would give her useful information.

Anshika dhirendra on May 04, 2020:

Good

carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 15, 2020:

Galaxia_YT: You're welcome. I'm glad it's helpful. Thanks for visiting!

carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 15, 2020:

Hello, That's a good question. Yes, still life drawing can be done in color. This is just one example of a way to do it.

Galaxia_YT on April 15, 2020:

Hi im doing this for my art class and thanks for making it step by step!

Can still life drawing be in color? on April 14, 2020:

I'm doing this for art class

carolynkaye (author) from USA on May 03, 2019:

Hello Vedant, I'm glad to hear your drawing turned out good. Thanks so much for your comments!

Vedant Khandelwal class 6 on May 02, 2019:

This is very use full to me I has made this by my own I has made this full drawing very nicely it looks very beautiful this is a wonderful site

carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 28, 2019:

You're welcome, Thomas. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for your comments :)

Thomas on April 27, 2019:

Very stimulating and informative skills in drawing and composing still live.

Thank You.

Aaliya on April 06, 2019:

It’s too complicated for me I can’t do the banana part!D:

carolynkaye (author) from USA on February 25, 2019:

You're welcome. Thanks for your comments.

Sahil Khan from Delhi on February 25, 2019:

Thanks for this broo

carolynkaye (author) from USA on November 03, 2018:

Hello Poppy, Thanks so much for your kind words. I'm glad you like the article and plan to try some drawings. Yes, even with computers, there's something special about doing drawings with just a pencil. Good luck with your sketch, and thanks for taking the time to read my article :)

Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on November 02, 2018:

What a fantastic and detailed article! This brings back memories of drawing still-life in art class in high school. I always enjoyed it. Now it seems to be all about making drawings on a computer (if your goal is to sell them to make money), but I believe the charm of this style of drawing with pencil and paper will never die. I think you've inspired me to draw some things around my home. With this article, I can hopefully do a lot better than usual when it comes to shading.

Thanks again, and great work.

carolynkaye (author) from USA on July 15, 2018:

Thank you, Jashan. I appreciate your comment.

Jashan on July 15, 2018:

Very nice beautiful

carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 30, 2018:

You're welcome, Oliver. Thanks for your comments :)

oliver christiana on February 17, 2018:

Thanks i just did my assignment through this good job

carolynkaye (author) from USA on June 21, 2016:

Thanks, preetika bachchan :)

preetika bachchan on June 16, 2016:

outstanding....

carolynkaye (author) from USA on February 20, 2016:

Thank you, Marcia Julcilia :)

Marcia Julcilia on February 20, 2016:

Amazing

carolynkaye (author) from USA on February 03, 2016:

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

sarita from Hisar on February 03, 2016:

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

carolynkaye (author) from USA on November 27, 2015:

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

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 21, 2015:

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

carolynkaye (author) from USA on June 19, 2015:

Thanks, Heather :)

Heather Gilmour from London on June 19, 2015:

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

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on May 01, 2015:

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

carolynkaye (author) from USA on March 12, 2015:

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 from Texas on March 11, 2015:

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 (author) from USA on February 07, 2015:

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

Kappygirl on February 07, 2015:

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 (author) from USA on February 06, 2015:

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.

Lindsey A S from Delaware on February 06, 2015:

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 from Bangladesh on February 05, 2015:

Thanks, I learned a lot

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on February 05, 2015:

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

Michael Higgins from Michigan on February 05, 2015:

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

poetryman6969 on February 05, 2015:

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 from Northern Ireland on February 05, 2015:

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

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 05, 2015:

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 on February 05, 2015:

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 (author) from USA on February 05, 2015:

@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 from Germany on February 05, 2015:

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.

swilliams on February 05, 2015:

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!