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Personal Still Life in a Box | Arts & Activities
Feb 2018

Personal Still Life in a Box

Personal Still Life in a Box

Every year, I had the challenge of making my students’ art personal. One way I accomplished this was by having my Art 2 Drawing and Painting students collect small, meaningful  personal items, and arrange them for a still-life drawing.

I would plan ahead for this assignment by asking the vending-machine man to please save for me the flat, corrugated cardboard boxes that held the soda cans. One per student was needed. These boxes could be easily stored on top of cabinets or counters. They were portable in the classroom and could even be transported home, if necessary.

Before work began, students would write their names on the boxes in permanent black marker to easily identify their still lifes.

the students THEN arrangeD their items in the box, using masking or duct tape to secure the items in place. The students then made three thumbnail sketches in their sketchbooks and selected the best view of their items.

They blocked out their still life on 12″ x 18″ sulphite paper, using contour line to draw the individual objects. After the entire still life was blocked in, the students would concentrate on adding in the details and values of the composition. I had them focus on the light source and cautioned them to seek the same position of the box on a daily basis. That way, the light source would be consistent.

The students started with the light values and ended with the dark values and cast shadows. We used blended shading with No. 2 pencils and ebony pencils. Adding contrast in values to their composition brought an ordinary drawing to a one that would delight the viewer.

Students were encouraged to look for shadows and emphasize the darks, and advised to create the illusion of depth in their compositions through the use of strong contrasts.

A classroom and hallway display followed completion of the still lifes, which indeed delighted viewers. 


The high-school artists started with the light values and ended with the dark values and cast shadows.




Adding contrast in values brought ordinary drawings to the next level.



Small, meaningful personal items were arranged for still-life drawings.


High-school students will …
• find objects that have personal meaning to them.
• create a composition with these objects.
• become aware of a light source and incorporate it in the composition.
• use blended values in the composition.

• Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

• Flat corrugated cardboard soda trays/boxes (one per student)
• Still-life items with personal significance
• Masking or duct tape
• No. 2 and ebony pencils
• Magic Rub vinyl erasers
• 12″ x 18″ sulphite paper

Retired after teaching art for 38 years, Sandi Pippin taught at Langham Creek High School in Houston, Texas.


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