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How to Draw Still Life

Robie is an artist who loves sharing what she has learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.

How to Set up a Still Life and Complete a Still Life Drawing - Tutorial

How to Set up a Still Life and Complete a Still Life Drawing - Tutorial

We All Started as Artists

We all drew as children and we were proud of our work. Then one day, we became aware of mistakes and limitations in our drawings. That’s a bad day—many people stop drawing altogether.

What a shame when a child labels him or herself with “I suck at drawing.” Perfectionists do it more than others because of the disappointment from how different things look in their heads and how they end up looking on paper.

The truth is if you keep drawing it will get better. The more you draw, the more accurate you get at it—no matter your initial skills. Perseverance is key to good drawing techniques.

Drawing Can Be Challenging

Drawing presents several challenges, even to expert and seasoned artists.

  • How do you get the proportions right?
  • How do you keep some parts from looking out of scale or distorted?
  • How do you make your drawing look realistic and not childish?

Still Life Drawing: Where to Start

To draw a still life, the first thing you need to do is finding a still life composition to draw. You can find photos of different objects in magazines, books, or online. However, drawing from life provides the artist with more accurate details and information.

Drawing from a photo is not the same. Try to set up your own composition. The video on the right will give you some great tips on how to do it.

My Still Life Set Up

My Still Life Set Up

How to Set Up a Still Life

A few things to keep in mind while setting up your still life:

  • Look around the house for everyday things, like pots, pans, fruits, vegetables, utensils, etc. If you are a beginner, choose objects with simple shapes; avoid things that are too complicated or ornate. Once you have mastered simple objects you can choose more challenging ones.
  • Have a specific light source, not multiple lamps or overhead lighting, your light should come from one source, and possibly not straight down or front. The goal is to get a strong contrast between your highlights and your shades. You can use sunlight, but keep in mind that it changes with time. If you use a lamp, make sure the light from the windows is not interfering.
  • When you work with multiple objects, set them up so they overlap. As a general rule avoid placing objects so that their edges barely touch. Overlapping adds visual interest, and defines depths, making clear what is in front and what is in the back. It's ok if a few objects are isolated or a couple barely touch: it's good to keep it varied.
  • Walk around your still life to find the most interesting angle. Even if you are drawing one single object, there are always some views that are better than others. Try taking things out, adding others in, moving, and tweaking. Play with the composition until you are satisfied with it.
  • When you are happy with your setup, you can start the fun part: drawing.

Click here for more info on how to arrange objects and lighting in a still life composition.

The video below provides some great tips on how to approach setting up a still life composition.

Drawing a Still Life

Before your pencil touches the paper, spend some time looking at your objects and simplify forms. Visualize the basic shapes that you see in each object: circles, squares, triangles, rectangles. Start drawing the basic shape of each object on the paper, keep it very simple: draw a circle for an apple, a rectangle for a mug, etc.

Focus on the essential lines only, without too much detail.

Tip: Draw with a light pencil - you will end up erasing most of these initial lines.

Drawing the Right Proportions Is Very Important

Make sure you maintain the relations between heights and widths and make sure the directions of the lines are consistent with those of the models.

Look at the saddle angles within and around the objects.

The use of a viewfinder, or view catcher, can help you see angles and lines better. Viewfinders are pretty inexpensive to buy, but you can make your own with supplies you have at home. I made mine using a matting board.

Check angles and lines and how high each object is compared with the others. Look at how edges and lines intersect each other.

Check angles and lines and how high each object is compared with the others. Look at how edges and lines intersect each other.

Keep Comparing Each Part of the Drawing to the Others

Hold your pencil in front of you and check for the angles of the lines and how high each object is compared with the others. Look at how edges and lines intersect each other.

Replicate the same angles and relationships on paper, but keeping it loose and sketchy.

Begin adding more shapes to create the illusion of roundness, keeping it sketchy.

Still Life. Begin adding more shapes to create the illusion of roundness.

Still Life. Begin adding more shapes to create the illusion of roundness.

Make Your Pencil Darker Only When You Are Happy With the Drawing

Once you have defined all basic shapes, start to refine the objects making the lines neater and erasing the preliminary guidelines. Define curves more precisely.

Always be aware of plane changes, lighting, and contours that affect forms so that you can render forms correctly.

When you are happy with your drawing, erase all earlier sketch lines and continue to refine the objects.

Complete the details and darken the lines.

Still Life drawing of object outlines

Still Life drawing of object outlines

When drawing lines of partially hidden objects, check if they align by holding a pencil or a ruler in front of you.

When drawing lines of partially hidden objects, check if they align by holding a pencil or a ruler in front of you.

Render Depth in Drawing

Until now the objects in the drawing are only empty shapes, completely flat and not appearing to sit on any surface.

We can guess the spatial relationship between objects because of the overlapping masses, but there are no shades and no indication of the surface on which they sit.

To better define the planes, I drew a horizontal line behind the composition, to show where the table and the wall meet.

Still Life Drawing

Still Life Drawing

Drawing Shadow Shapes

There are shapes that are formed by the light as it hits the objects. To see them better, squint your eyes. With the filter provided by your eyelashes, you’ll be able to see shapes of darks and lights.

Look for all shadow shape: within the object itself and the shadow of the object being cast onto something else. They are just as important as the shapes of the object itself. Draw the cast shadows of each object on the plane and on other objects.

Establish the main areas of light and shade by lightly toning in the shadow shapes into a big two-dimensional value shape.

Develop the darkest areas and strong lines of the objects. Find the darkest darks and the lightest lights and start building up the main tonal areas based on the structure.

Still Life Drawing with shades and darker outlines.

Still Life Drawing with shades and darker outlines.

Use a Fixative to Protect Your work

I'm stopping here with this still life, but you can continue adding more details and refining the tones and shades.

Keep comparing darks and lights and you'll be able to see what needs adjusting.

When you are done, spray your drawing with a fixative to prevent smudges.

I like to use a workable fixative to spray my drawing when I reach a stage in which I'm happy with what I have so far and nothing needs to be erased. The workable fixative protects the work done so far, and you can keep working on your drawing, darkening tones, or adding details without the risk of smudging your previous marks.

Note: use any spray fixative outdoors following the directions on the bottle.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where did you learn to draw?

Answer: I'm a self-taught artist. I read books, watch videos, and take some classes with artists in my city.

© 2013 Robie Benve


Ava backstone on May 22, 2020:

Nice job, keep up the great work

uapfa malitsha on April 30, 2020:

thank you for providing such an important information

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on April 22, 2020:

Thank you Joshua, so happy to hear you found my article helpful!

Joshua on April 21, 2020:

This was really helpful.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on November 02, 2019:

Hi Terra, keep up with the great work! :)

terra mosley on November 01, 2019:

thank you! i think it is kind of hard to do because my school dosent allow us to look at videos or anything like that. but i am still trying and almost done

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on October 31, 2019:

Thanks a lot Terra Mosley! Best of luck with your art studies!

terra mosley on October 31, 2019:

i really like this my teacher assighed this as an art assighnment i really like it

Terra Mosley on October 31, 2019:

I think it is awesome

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on September 16, 2019:

Not yet, planning on expanding my now miser youtube channel soon. Thanks for the incentive. :)

Puma basket platform on September 15, 2019:

Can it be seen on youtube ,sorry?????????

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on November 06, 2018:

Hi Roshana, I have not created a video of this drawing (yet, maybe one day); the youtube video in the article is by someone else and shows how to setup a still life composition.

ROSHANA DHARMIK on November 05, 2018:

It can be seen in YouTube ?

Liz on September 04, 2018:

Hi. I just found this tutorial ... it is perfect for a beginner like me. Thank you ... thank you. You have given me a tool that will help me on my journey.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on February 20, 2018:

Hi Bill, I love the pencil sharpener angle, brilliant! Thanks for commenting and long live the pencil sharpener owners! lol

Bill Hamshere on February 19, 2018:

i am mesmerized by the technical skill used to produce such fabulous work show above. now i have inspiration for my school art project on the pencil sharpener. i have studied the pencil sharpen for many hours and i am fascinated by it. my love goes out to all the pencil sharpener owners out there

bob on February 23, 2017:

its... good

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on November 22, 2016:

Awesome to hear that Amali Megala, glad you found my hub useful. :) Happy Drawing! :)

Amali Megala on November 09, 2016:

your instructions regarding still life drawing are very useful to me for my practice. thank you very much.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on November 23, 2015:

Thanks a lot aesta1, like all things drawing gets better with practice. Stick with it and you'll be amazed by the progress.

It does not take much, 15 minutes a day is better than nothing.

Quick sketches and unfinished drawings are great learning tools.

Thanks for stopping by and happy drawing! :)

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

Love the shadows in your still life. I still need lots of practice.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 20, 2015:

My pleasure Robie. It's good therapy for the soul as well.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 20, 2015:

Thanks so much Kristen for your kind words! I don't know if I am particularly gifted and artistic, but I sure enjoy every bit of art making and I would love to see everyone give it a try, so I try to share what I know hoping it could inspire somebody to start drawing or painitng. I found my peace source in making art. Thanks again!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 18, 2015:

Robie, great art lesson here on drawing still life. You're very gifted and artistic. Voted up for this great hub!

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 16, 2014:

I hope you will find (or have found already) the courage to dive into artistic creation, jenza20. Remember, it's not about the art you make, it's about the creative process. Enjoy every minute of it, even when you don't like the outcome (it happens!)

Thanks for your comment! :)

Jennifer Moore from UK on May 11, 2014:

Wow, I've just stumbled on your hubs as I love art but have little confidence in my art skills. Your tutorials are fantastic - I am so ready to give art another go now. Thank you for such detailed hubs. Pure brilliant!

jacksonjacob620 on April 15, 2014:

I just loved your tutorial, it was awesome and filled with golden nuggets. Learned a lot. How about a 2nd part, on painting still lift, the best thing I found on that topic was this video so far:

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on August 29, 2013:

Glad you found my drawing tutorial useful DRG Da Real Grinc! You are very welcome. :)

Felix J Hernandez from All over the USA on August 25, 2013:

Awesome tutorial, I learned some important things. Thank you for the insight!

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 05, 2013:

Hi rgalloway56, I don't have any hubs on drawing portraits (yet!), but many of the tips for still life drawing can be safely applied for portraits too. Even people are a combination of shapes, lines, darks, and lights. Thanks for stopping by! :)

rgalloway56 on June 05, 2013:

I loved this Hub! I love pencil drawing, but never really had any training in it. Do you have any Hubs on drawing portraits? I want to know how to do it with extreme detail.

Thanks for the great Hub!

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 05, 2013:

to amandajoyshapiro, you asked if I teach and the answer is no, I don't teach. But I don't exclude the possibility. :)

Have fun with your drawing!

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 05, 2013:

Thanks for all the congrats and compliments on this hub of mine, they are very appreciated! :))) I wrote it from an Exclusive title, and it goes to show that even the deeply doubted Exclusive titles have a chance once in a while.

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on June 05, 2013:

Very beautiful tips, Robie. I used to draw comics when I was little and I couldn't remember why I stopped. Today, though I can still sketch, I can't say I'm better, lol. Your tips are great. What a passionate artist you are, it takes one such patience to draw still life images.

If you're going to ask me if I can make one like that - I You're just wonderful! Thank you. Cheers! :=)-Tonette

smanna hub com on June 05, 2013:

I think what you have described here it is easy understandable for an unskilled person. It is usable for beginners also.

Thanks for sharing.

Subhendu Manna

Joyce Ann Reynolds from Macon on June 03, 2013:

Congrats on writing the Hub of the Day. This is an informative work with nicely drawn examples. Keep up the good work.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 03, 2013:

Yay, I got "hub of the day"! What a grrrreat surprise to find out, and thank you every one for the wonderful and generous comments! It's such a great feeling to read that you found my hub useful and easy to follow. Feeling really grateful right now, one of the best feelings of all.

Ciao e grazie. :))

Horatio Plot from Bedfordshire, England. on June 02, 2013:

I'm an ex, "I suck at drawing", child. But I almost want to pick up a pencil. Congrats on HOTD.

Toy Tasting from Mumbai on June 02, 2013:

Robie, Thank you for sharing this. I love drawing and this will help me a long way as I am teaching my little one to draw. Congratulations on HOTD, well deserved. Cheers!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on June 02, 2013:

I love drawing and your tips are useful for us. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Voted up!


Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on June 02, 2013:

Congrats on winning HOTD! This is a wonderful topic, and I like how you walked us through this, and provided photos to back it up. I look forward to trying this out at some point.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on June 02, 2013:

The way you explain this and show it illustrated is very cool. Thanks so much for sharing and congratulations!

Tom Schumacher from Huntington Beach, CA on June 02, 2013:

Congrats on the hub of the day! The tips you provided are useful, especially for beginners. Drawing proportions and adding shading can be difficult, but with practice anyone, in my opinion, can perfect these techniques you mentioned. Voted up!

amandajoyshapiro on June 02, 2013:

You are really talented and explained the process carefully. No wonder this hub is featured on the homepage! Congrats. I took some art classes in high school and still like to draw, but not as often as back then. Do you teach?

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on June 02, 2013:

There are so many good tips in this one hub! I'd never thought about the idea of using only one light source for a still life, but it makes perfect sense. Congratulations on your HOTD! Very deserved! Voted up and sharing!

Your Cousins from Atlanta, GA on June 02, 2013:

The best tip for me was: "Before your pencil touches the paper, spend some time looking at your objects and simplify forms." Instead of diving right in and being disappointed with what I come up with, I need to take the time to really study the objects and visualize what I want my final product to be before I start drawing. Great HOTD.

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on June 02, 2013:

A very interesting and informative hub! Great tutorial, thank you for sharing. (Voted up) -Rose

whonunuwho from United States on June 02, 2013:

Nice hub and well done. Basic drawing skill must be honed and will come about in time. Thanks for sharing this neat work. whonu

Edmund Custers on June 02, 2013:

Interesting! I use to draw a lot with pencil. Now I just sketch, scan and continue with Photoshop because I like inking. Drawing is easy for me, the difficult part is shading and shadows. Thanks!

summerberrie on June 02, 2013:

Congrats, Robie! I always enjoy your art how to hubs :)

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on June 02, 2013:

Thanks, years ago, I sketched objects and enjoyed it. But I never got as far as putting together still-life scenes. You've inspired me - I may give it a try.

Congratulations on Hub of the Day, and thanks for encouraging the artist in all of us to grow.

Claudia Porter on June 02, 2013:

Very cool. You make it look so easy. I enjoy drawing, but I'm afraid I'm not very good at it. Nice hub. Congrats on your hub of the day.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on June 02, 2013:

Your hub is really helpful. I have no problem replicating drawings that have already made something 3 dimensional into a drawing. But if I try I cannot put 3 dimensional into 2 dimensional. But this will go a long way in helping me. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Poon Poi Ming from Malaysia on June 02, 2013:

A very timely article to me, just as I was about to learn how to do water-coloring. The best part of this article is that it explains the most basic things to know about drawing still life in such a clear manner. When I drew a long time ago, I always left the shadows until the end. Now I know where my mistake is. Thank you, Robie Benve. A UABI!!!

agapsikap from Philippines on June 02, 2013:

Takes me back for a little while. Thank you for this wonderful hub.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 12, 2013:

Hi idigwebsites, I'm glad to hear you fount this drawing tutorial easy, that's great feedback. Thanks! :)

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 12, 2013:

Hi RTalloni, I agree, gaining some drawing skills can be very beneficial in many circumstances, in art as in eceryday life. Thanks for your comment. :)

idigwebsites from United States on May 09, 2013:

That's awesome! Well I want to draw for some time but i don't know where to start. Thanks for your tutorial, it seems very easy. :)

RTalloni on May 08, 2013:

So glad to see this tutorial that encourages people to practice drawing. The skill is beneficial for many reasons, but many people are afraid of it!

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on April 24, 2013:

Thanks a lot Wesam, and welcome to HP!

Wesam Naffaa from Damascus, Syria on April 24, 2013:

Thank you , good work dear

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on February 03, 2013:

Shyron, I know what you mean by being the time to return books to the library and not being been close to done with them! Thank God for online renewal! :))

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on February 01, 2013:

Yes Robie, caricatures is exactly what I would like to learn to do. I tried at my library and did take out some books.

I am still trying, but my time is so limited, by the time I go through one book it is time to return all and there is no easy way, or I should say quick way.

Thanks for you quick response.


Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on February 01, 2013:

Hi Shyron, thanks a lot for the compliments! :))

Cartoons of real people sounds really interesting, do you mean like caricatures? For now I'm enjoying figure drawing, but cartooning is one of those things I would like to learn too one day. I've seen a lot of books on cartooning at my local library though, you may want to check at your library for instructional books and DVDs, that could be a start. Happy drawing! :)

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on January 31, 2013:

I love this hub even someone who draws a lot can follow your explanation of how to get started.

I want to start drawing cartoons of real life people. Can you help with that?

Thanks voting you UA (useful and awesome

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on January 29, 2013:

Hi Carol, I'm glad you find my hub easy to follow, I tried to keep it simple, so that it might inspire even people that are intimidated by drawing to give it a try. Thanks a lot for your feedback. :)

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on January 27, 2013:

Hi gregoriom, I'm happy that you liked my hub and you find it instructional. Thanks! :)

carol stanley from Arizona on January 26, 2013:

great job here as always. Good and easy to follow instructions for drawing. Which..I happen to find most challenging. Voting up and pinning.

Deninson Mota from East Elmhurst, NY on January 26, 2013:

Simple, but yet very interesting. I love every single part of a drawing. It may seem very easy after a drawing is done, but the truth is that it takes a lot of practice to perfect your skills at drawing. I believe a good drawing is based on the details presented on the drawing itself.

The things that make a good drawing comes to life are the details you can give to the drawing itself. Not everybody has the eyes of an artist, but this is a skill that can be developed and improved.

Thank you for such an instructional hub.