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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Thanked 43 Times in 39 Posts

    Help with still lifes?

    It seems silly for me to ask this, but... Im trying to start doing some still life drawings and Im entierly unsure how to approach it. Im using a large drawing pad and various drawing tools including graphite, charcoal, compressed white charcoal, and black and white conte crayons. I also have a large array of colored pencils and prismacolor markers.

    My problem is Im really unsure where to start, expecially since Im really stepping out of my comfort zone with this (I usually stick to my .3mm drafting pencil ><).

    any tips on how to approach a still life? Right now im stuck with the 'just draw it' method that Ive come to learn when I have no idea what to do.
    *New Sketchbook* Come stop by :3


    I am currently looking for a mentor to help me improve my sketch book. Either that or lots of crits and suggestions to help me improve my skills.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Brisbane Australia.... mate!
    Thanked 372 Times in 197 Posts
    your best approach is to think rough forms then solidify it.

    I know this is a thread for digi painting but the process is much the same. Though with pencil you do have to work alot more carefully, and dont go to your full range of values till you have blocked out everything.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Portland, OR
    Thanked 18 Times in 17 Posts
    How much experience do you have with charcoal? You can get a full range of values with one charcoal pencil or conte and an eraser on smooth newsprint or toned paper. You can tone your paper with charcoal and carve the lights out with your eraser and deepen your shadows with more charcoal.

    I would start a still life by gathering an assortment of objects that have contrasting shapes and texture. Have things of different heights so you can show scale. Have round organic things next to hard geometrical things. You can have something light against something dark. You are trying to create relationships between the items. Try spacing them at different angles, some in front, some behind. You want to have a light source illuminating your still life. One way to experiment with that is to take a big cardboard box (big enough to put some objects in) and cut a round hole on the top of the box like 1 1/2" diameter and place it towards the front on the side. This way you can shine a light through the hole and it will illuminate the front of your still life from the side. If you place white paper on the bottom of your box, you will get reflected light on your objects and nice core shadows. If the inside of your box is black, you will get deep shadows and hard light.

    Once you are satisfied with your arrangement and light source, do some thumbnail sketches to come up with a composition that you are interested in exploring. When you have figured that out, use your charcoal (or whatever medium you choose) to paint everything at once. Block in large shapes and worry about details after you get a solid drawing. Stand back often and check your work.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Frankfort, IN
    Thanked 57 Times in 43 Posts
    Some really good advice. I thought I would toss in a few resources I know of.

    There is a pretty good article about staging a still life on Wetcanvas

    They also have a resources sticky.

    They also have a library on working with colored pencils that you might find interesting. It covers everything from using the pencils themselves to the subjects you might choose. Some of these artists make amazing colored pencil (paintings?) (drawings?).

    An awful lot of the daily painters do still life and most of them have a blog link directly to their paintings. Many of them have pictures of their setup so you can see how they did it.

    Good luck to you on the still life. There are lots of things to learn by doing them.

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  7. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    La Mirada
    Thanked 10 Times in 9 Posts
    Start with only a couple of objects - but make them objects YOU really connect with. I bought a dozen brown eggs at Trader Joe's yesterday and was almost paralyzed by how beautiful they were. I wanted to just stop and draw them, then and there. Eggs are great because you really exercise your value skills. Make a composition. I would love to take credit for what i'm about to say but the credit goes to an amazing painting teacher at LA Academy of Figurative Art named Stacy Kamin. She said (I enthusiastically agree) you make two paintings, the first is when you set up your still life. I'm paraphrasing, but it's really true. If you take that egg and put it on a plate with a spoon and a cloth napkin, you light it or stick it next to a window with natural light, you have a story. Try to tell a story. Those are only four objects, you could use only three. The key, to me, is objects you truely FEEL something for. We're used to classes where there's a bunch of stuff set up and everyone's supposed to go for it. When you set it up, you are also showing your art direction skills.

    Still life, a baby shoe is really cute - set it in the middle of the street near the yellow line and it is frightening, tip it over and it will hurt. It's just as easy to THINK before you work. As commercial artists, we are expected to think.

    Another important thing: compose the page. I can spot drawings that were not planned. Important, especially, if you're going for commercial work. Commercially speaking, you're supposed to think about these things. Only takes a little while to do this. Compose! Make a mark on your paper - where are you going to begin and end the drawing. Don't leave this to chance. If you do this, you won't have things crammed into the frame or going off the page. Decide the placement on the page.

    Go to this link to really learn something about thinking as an artist. It will also help you understand great design and art:

    • enigmatic quality
    • not so easily understood. having things not be complete

    "... leave the audience with a question. What that does is engage the audience, as soon as it becomes interpretive, you're engaged."

    "... you're not just watching something that's been laid out for you, you're being asked questions, you're being posed riddles."

    "... If a broken chair has more latent resonance, potential meaning, than an unbroken chair, then, break the chair."

    "... at the end of the day, the only thing really important is, is this somehow emotionally engaging for people ... if you're leaving people cold, it's got to go."

    Mark Romanek
    Last edited by Raceme; May 16th, 2009 at 10:29 PM.
    My Sketchbook:

    "... If a broken chair has more latent resonance, potential meaning, than an unbroken chair, then, break the chair."

    Mark Romanek

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