How to Draw Still Life
We all Started Out 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 “I suck at drawing”. Perfectionists do it more than others, because of the disappointment from the difference of how things look in their head and how they end up looking on paper.
Truth is if you keep drawing it will get better.
The more you draw the most 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.
How to Set Up a Still Life
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 possible 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 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.
The video below provides great tips on how to approach setting up a still life composition.
How to Set Up an L-Shape Composition for a Still Life of Kitchen Items Video
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 shapes of each object on the paper, rough them in: draw a circle for an apple, a rectangle for a mug, etc.
Focus on the essential lines only, without too much detail. Draw with a light pencil, most of these initial lines will be erased later.
Drawing the Right Proportions Is Very Important
Make sure you maintain the relations between heights and widths, and to 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 matting board.
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.
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.
When you draw a line partially hidden behind objects, make sure the line on one side is consistent with the line on the other side, checking with a pencil or a
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.
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.
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.
You can also use a workable fixative and spray your drawing when you reach a stage in which nothing needs to be erased. The fixative will protect the work done so far, and you can keep working on tones.
I don't consider myself a master artist, I enjoy sharing with others what I've learned so far. I wrote this article hoping that it will help beginner artists in their drawing process, not because I believe I “know” how to draw.
I hope you found it useful and enjoyable. Happy drawing! : )
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Robie Benve