Starting a Still Life

Last week I wrote about our success with Mona Brooke’s warm up lessons using ideas in her book Drawing with Children

This week I want to share a great tip for drawing a still life ~


Most people struggle with “where to start”.

A blank page is frightening.

My tip is to first start by making a “frame and name“. Just draw a frame around the page freehand and write your name, date and title at the bottom.

There! No more blank page.

Now where to start?

We used Mona’s warm up on pg.86 – drawings with objects overlapping each other.  (In a still life some thing in front often overlaps some object behind it.)

Quick and fun!

Mona Brookes says that most objects have a central focus or basic function that leads you to a good starting place, e.g.:

  • most flowers have a center
  • most plants have a central stem
  • most still life containers have a hole
  • most living creatures have eyes
  • most buildings have a central door or archway.

This is a KEY!

Simply find a central starting point.

Work from the starting point and develop the object, then go on to the object next to or behind it.

On to Lesson 3 Drawing from a Still LifeThe Teapot and the Vase

We used her photo and step-by-step instructions. It was fairly simple and everyone managed very well.

To complete the still life, add shading, texture, colour and the background.

I often tell my kids to do the background first.  This way they don’t mess up details they spent ages working on coloring in between small spaces.

I apply a starting point to our Sketch Tuesday assignments:

My kids both sketched these lovely pictures from memory/ their imagination.  But you’ll notice that there are no objects overlapping.

In the picture above you can see that there is overlapping  – this was drawn from a still life!

Look at other Sketch Tuesday sketches drawn from a still life ~

Bike by Miss. L9

Starting point was: “Begin in the middle of your page with the center of a circle/ nut/ wheel”

“Start with a bottle top in the middle of your page.  Remember to look at how objects overlap”

“Begin with a large vegetable that touches the sides of your page.”

When you set up your still life, think about which central object you should focus on in your sketch.  It is not necessary to include everything in the sketch, nor do you have to focus on the object in the middle of the still life.  You can choose any object and place that as your starting point.  It is easier to begin with something in front and add objects behind it.

I hope these tips help.

Try it in your next Sketch Tuesday assignment or art lesson.

Have you any tips to share?  Please comment.


Warm-Ups Works!

This year we started our art lessons using the highly recommended book ~

Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes

Cover of "Drawing with Children"

To begin, Mona Brookes suggests you teach the 5 Basic Elements of Shape.

Download my free pdf. version of her chart ~ The 5 basic elements of shape

Then she begins each lesson with some warm-up activities.  They are aimed to teach to artist to look carefully and to reinforce the 5 basic elements of shape.

First Warm up ~

  • copy the design in the block a few times
  • carefully look at line shapes, spaces, angles
  • practice mirror images

Next warm up ~

  • Simple oral instructions (e.g.: Take a thick marker and draw 2 lines across the paper from one edge to another edge.  They may cross or touch each other…)
  • Some abstract designs (e.g.: Now take a thin marker and make 3 dots anywhere on the page, but one must touch a line.  Now draw a curved line that starts in the middle of one of your dots ….)
  • Fill in with patters and colour (e.g.: colour in the spaces between lines and shapes with patterns and coloured markers)
  • and Viola! An abstract masterpiece!

We created a lovely grid design during another warm-up ~

  • We completed the mirror image exercise and coloured in the designs. Cut up our coloured blocks and placed them into a basket We each randomly selected about 6 or so blocks
  • Now we copied the selected design down the left side of our basic grid.
  • We had to create a mirror image of the design down the opposite right-hand column and make our own designs to fill the center column.
  • Finally we coloured in the grid.
  • A lovely warm-up!

I looked for more specific lesson plans based on this book on the internet and found ~

  • Drawing with Children Nature Journal Style with printable lesson plans.  Barb (of Harmony Art Mom) created an excellent Squidoo lens and she developed lessons using different art mediums and Mona’s lesson principles and applied it to a nature-themed art activity.  They look excellent, simple and practical, and I can’t wait to get to them soon.
  • Donna art lessons and free warm exercise pages based on Mona’s book.

Next week I’ll share the key to drawing a still life – the Mona Brooke way!

Are any of you using or enjoying these lessons?  Tell us about them in the comments.

Blessings, Nadene