Inanimate Objects, Active Minds

Article excerpt

Art developed from a still life has been viewed for centuries. This is probably because the artist appreciates the opportunity to study objects in a controlled setting without concern for time or movement. The final composition can be left untouched until the painting or drawing is finished.

Drawing a still life is a basic aspect of artistic expression; it helps us define space, think through ideas visually and increase our awareness and understanding of three-dimensional form. Simplicity in the arrangement is an important factor.

The major emphasis for these assignments is on composition, expressive use of color, negative space and interpretation. Students create three line drawings by viewing an arrangement from three sides or angles. Then, they combine images from the three drawings to create a fourth composition through creative use of color. The students make countless choices for interpretations. The results show diversity in composition, media, color and interpretation.

Assignment Variation

Objective: To have greater understanding of the importance of negative space.

Materials: * 18 x 24" (46 x 61 cm * pencils white drawing paper * newspaper * rubber cement * scissors * fine-line markers

Process: Students select an area of the still life they find visually interesting that contains at least parts of three or four objects. These are drawn so that lines extend off all four sides of the paper thus strengthening the overall composition and focus of the viewer. Students use pencil to develop contour lines to define the positive and negative shapes. Then, they trace the negative shapes onto newspaper. This is done with tracing paper or at the classroom window, a few shapes at a time. The newspaper is cut and attached with rubber cement to fill the negative spaces on the white paper. Fine-line markers are used to define all of the original lines. The simplicity of white shapes, black lines and the gray of the overall texture of the newspaper creates visual unity.

Advanced Variation Extension

Advanced level students can extend this assignment by exploring interpretation through creating three variations of their still life drawing. Encourage them to take risks in trying new techniques and materials and to explore connections with--and draw ideas from--literature, mythology and fantasy as they push the boundaries of still life interpretation. Permit the students to trace their original pencil drawing, since the emphasis is on experimenting to develop new qualities in the composition. Students make choices, experiment with media and explore styles from Realism to Surrealism.


Objective: To understand and demonstrate weighted line; to understand how directional light plays a part in that process.


* 12 x 18" (31 x 46 cm) white drawing paper

* 2B, 4B and 6B pencils

Process: Introduce planning of a composition. For a viewer to maintain visual interest in a work, the student must understand how to direct the viewer through the space. These guidelines help each student gain a better understanding of how to accomplish this. …