Lesson 4: Fabric & Still Life Compositions

Click Here to Access the Fabric Tutorial Video

Click Here to Access the Still Life Tutorial Video

What is a still life?

A still-life is painting or drawing of an arrangement of everyday objects. The way we arrange common objects can make them look interesting and different.


Left: "Still Life With Grapes", Georges Braques Right: "Coloring the Everyday", Maya Kopitseva

What goes into a still life?

Common objects in a still life include natural elements such as fruit and flowers, typically paired with items of different textures such as fabric, glassware, vases, and bowls. However, there are no hard rules to this. 

Why does it matter?

Still lives make you better at drawing. When drawing a still life you’re working with all of the elements of art, and practicing object relativity as well as observational drawing.


Composition refers to the arrangement of the objects used for a still life. 

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds uses a 3-line grid to create an interesting composition.The 3 lines create intersection points (the red dots). These points are ideal for placing the focal point on. This rule works to shift the balance of your composition on to one side, so things are heavier on one side than other. This also uses negative space!


Rule of Odds

An odd number of objects is more interesting to look at than an even number. 

Leading lines

Diagonal lines that guide the viewer’s eyes to other parts of the image.

L-Shaped Composition

A composition structure that creates an “L”. The tallest object is placed on a vertical line, and the rest of the objects are placed at its base horizontally. 


Composing your own still life

  1. Decide what you want to be in it. I suggest 3 objects that cover some of the following: 
    • Something natural, like a fruit, plant, or flower
    • Something tall, like a vase, stein, or wine glass
    • Something short, like a bowl,
    • Something that is fabric, like a cloth, or pillowcase.
  2. Figure out what you think is the ideal composition based on the composition ideas above. If you’re stuck I suggest using the ‘L-Shaped Composition”. Something that may be helpful is to use the grid mode on your phone’s camera. Consider:
    • What is the tallest point?
    • What are my eyes drawn to?
  3. Find a lamp and shine it on your still life to create value. Consider:
    • What textures do I see?
    • Where is there a shadow?
    • Where are there highlights?

Drawing your own still life

Continuously look at your still life. This is an observational drawing!

  1. Study your still life
    • What does the silhouette look like? Think of this as basic shapes.
  2. Draw the basic shapes. Consider the space that is being occupied versus the negative space
  3. Once you have a general sketch laid out, think of the details. Begin defining the actual shape.
  4. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, take a step back. Breathe and describe what the problem is - not ‘this sucks” but “this plant should be taller”, or “this vase is more curved”

Shading your own still life

This is concerned with the value. Go back to our value video and write up if you need a reminder on what that is! 

Value Write Up and Video:

  1. Look at where the still life is darkest - likely in the shadows that are being cast by the objects. 
  2. Consider colour: colours have an intrinsic value. When we use pencil, blue will show up as a darker value than yellow.
  3. Lightly draw contour lines detailing the change in value; in other words, section off areas of the drawing that have similar values.
  4. Start from the darkest spaces, and work toward the lightest

This process can be overwhelming at first - just keep trying! Drawing is a skill.  Anyone can draw.  All you need is an open mind and a willingness to have a go. It might be rough, but it’s also worth it. 

Come join us on Friday, May 8th from 6-7:15 to hang out, chat, and draw on Zoom!

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