Lesson 5 of 10
by Debi West
I love doing still-life studies with my students. From the beginning art student to the seasoned, it’s always an exciting challenge to not only create a still-life set up that will inspire students and push them to their personal best, but to incorporate the textures that are so important for our kids to learn.
So as I begin my still-life set up, I include my students in the process from day one. I invite them to bring in some of their favorite objects and I remind them that we will want to incorporate sheets or cloth folds (as mentioned in article 3), glass, metal, foliage, wood, creating a lovely array of objects that push them to experiment with textures in their line, shape and value works.
I often have a step-stool ladder, plastic plants or greens, a large sheet, vases, mirrors, wooden mannequins, plaster column, guitar and other musical instruments and I also discuss the importance of varying the size of the objects found, which makes for much more exciting compositions.
Once the initial set up of the still life is complete, I invite students to use viewfinders to locate interesting areas in which to draw. They are free to move their seats and walk around the installation. (I have an island in my room, so we set up the still life in the middle of the island for students to see from all sides.) They are also free to use their tables, easels or drawing boards, again, giving them choices and encouraging them to experiment.
Depending on the time allotted for this project, I start my students with graphite and then move them into their second piece, which is done in charcoal. Over the years, my time has been cut so I know invite them to use graphite AND/OR charcoal and create one well-done still life on 12″ x 18″ white drawing paper. I reiterate daily how important it is to measure. If they aren’t using their pencils or fingers and eyes to measure the placement of the objects, they find that they are always off. So, the more I mention it, the more the students’ final drawings are spot on!
This first drawing generally takes a little over a week. Once complete, we then discuss art history eras and I have them conduct some research at home finding an art-historical style or master artist that inspires and challenges them. They bring in samples of this work to class. They then begin to plan their second work in this series, where they will draw areas close to their first still life and use any media they choose, depending on what or who inspired them. I do have them keep the size to 12″ x 18″ so these can be hung together for a nice compare/contrast lesson, but the results are always incredible.
At first, my students are very resistant when I tell them they will be drawing two still-life studies, but when they realize their second one is more about incorporating creativity with the technical, it generates a lot of excitement.
I love to exhibit these beautiful studies in the hall and have my students actually write quick compare/contrast paragraphs that go under their works. I often see them bring their friends into the art hallway to discuss their work. Taking the oft-dreaded still-life study to this new arena pushes my students to think creativity, dive into art history, and push their creativity to the next level!
Up next…“Theme and Variation — the perfect midterm!”
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A&A Contributing Editor Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Dept. Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga.