A still life is simply a group of objects arranged together to form a composition. It can be in the form of a photograph, painting or drawing. Still life is a basic exercise for drawing and painting. It is taught at initial levels of Fine Art teachings.
Still life is most useful when learning how to look at objects, their outlines, shape, proportions, tone and composition. When your eyes and hands are in tune to draw what you see, it allows you to accurately put that image on paper and enhance your drawing abilities.
This step-by-step tutorial will teach you how to create a still life using pencils.
-Cartridge paper (for this example I used am using Daler Rowney, Fine grain-heavyweight paper that is 200 g/m)
-Eraser and a sharpener.
In still life drawing, you have to observe the objects in front of you to accurately compose them on paper. Start by using a 2B pencil and draw VERY LIGHTLY, so it is easier to erase mistakes.
You can draw by using photographs, but it is better to place a group of live objects and draw them by observation as various angles can produce a different picture, which you won’t have through a photograph..
Carefully determine where the objects have to be placed on the paper. If sketched too big the image may fill up or go beyond the paper, and too small might make the composition look lost in the page. The design should fill the proper space and to make a good picture. Ensure you lightly draw the objects and you can even make construction lines using basic shapes to be modified later.
When drawing objects in front of you, you can measure their proportions using your pencil. Close one eye and hold the pencil vertically at straight arm’s length, and see how big the biggest object is, in proportion to the smallest one. You have to observe the objects in relation to each other so they are sized properly once on the page.
Once you have lightly composed the objects on your paper, look at them carefully. Check their sizes and proportions and be cautious of overlapping objects. You can draw lines going through each other at this point. When two objects overlap, the object in front appears lower than the object in the back. Now slightly darken the outlines of the objects and ensure they are shaped well.
In step 3, you can erase the overlapping lines or the construction lines, if you have made any.
Once you have erased all the extra lines, you can now add the little details of the objects. You can also lightly sketch the direction of the light, how it falls on the objects, and from which angle. Just mark the highlights and shadows very lightly on the objects so it’s easier to shade in.
Now observe the shape of the objects and their shadows; you can now start shading in this step. Take into consideration the dark and light tones that give the objects their dimensions. Make the objects look three dimensional. Using the same 2B pencil, lightly apply the tones that give objects their shapes.
In this step, you’ll now focus on the spaces in between the objects. Forming a balanced picture is important so the objects don’t seem to be floating in thin air. Building up a tone and weight of the objects is important. Don’t forget to shade the darks and lights at the bases of the still life and the drapery if you are using one.
Next, you will work to build up the tone. You can make the shaded tones deeper, using a 4B pencil. The contrast between lights and darks is also increased. The contrast enhances the form of the objects and their impact in the whole composition.
However, at this stage be careful to maintain a balance of tones across the whole picture. No object should appear too dark or too light. It should be a balance of tones with the right amount of shadows and highlights.
Lastly, you will again draw your focus on spaces in between the objects and balance their tones as well. This is the final step where the whole picture should look unified.
The final drawing should be a composition and harmony of tones, building up objects and their shapes. A final still life drawing is complete with a good contrast and levels of shades. Any group of objects can be compiled for a still life composition, and as mentioned previously, use variety with paint, pencils or even photography to make your own still life!