Introduction: Still Life in a Box!

About: Graduated from Wright State University with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 2014. I am a Printmaker, Painter, Cosplayer, and all-around unrestrained nerd.

When I first saw this contest, this idea immediately came to mind. As an Art Education major, it is important to build up a portfolio and one thing many artists do is a series. A series is a group of works (be it painting, drawing, printmaking, or other media) that follow a similar subject.  Take, for instance, Van Gogh's 'Haystack' series. In the classroom, it is useful to provide objects that a student can set up the way they want to, rather than have the whole class do the same still life. It promotes a greater freedom to create and the student will likely be more interested in their work.

Still Life is one of the most basic forms of art and is a wonderful beginning point to introduce students into unifying perspective, size relationships, negative space, and eventually, value into a finished piece.

The objective of this instructable is to create a system for personal and classroom use to easily construct  Still Lives.

Step 1: Ask Students to Collect Household Items.

Ask students to collect anywhere between 4-10 household items, depending on their skill level. Put them in a box with their name on it and tape it shut, so if it is dropped cleanup is quick and painless. Remind them not to bring in valuable items, as they will be trading boxes later. If you are teaching an advanced art class, or have a particularly talented student, add in a cloth element to challenge them. Remind them to pick things that vary in size. It is up to you if you want them to adhere to a theme in their objects. I would suggest doing so if you plan on having them do a series.

Good Items to suggest:

Glass Bottles
Steel Cans
Coffee Mugs
Cardboard Boxes
Old Books
Jars of Various sizes
Pop Cans
Empty Perfume Bottles
Plastic Bottles (like detergent or milk)
Old Shoes

Make sure that every container is empty and clean. No one wants a spoiled milk and old shoe surprise.

Check with the school handbook to see if things like alcohol bottles are prohibited. They'd be empty of course, but tolerance rules differ from school to school. (I think Jack Daniels bottles look really sweet, but that's just me.)

You could also skip this step and just assemble some of these yourself for the students to use. If you go this route, you could label how difficult each collection is so the student knows what they're getting into ahead of time.

(I apologize for the awful quality of my pictures, the only camera I own is my webcam.)

Step 2: Start Drawing

Set up an example still life so they know what to expect. Showing them some examples of famous still lives isn't a bad idea either. Then have them set up their still lives around the room and begin.

It would be a good idea to have them do a few of these, each time arranging the items in a different way or drawing from a different angle. That way, the student can actually see the improvements they are making.

Step 3: Switch!

Now that you have a sizable collection of pre-packaged still lives, students can pick other student's collections to draw so that they have a constant supply of different subjects to experiment with.

This is particularly useful because the students can bounce ideas off one another and learn by seeing what another student does with their collection that they may not have thought about.

You can pull these out in between other projects you have them complete or they could pick one for a free project. They're a really good resource to have in the classroom and doing it this way allows the student to have the freedom to choose the subject and makes them think about the whole picture, about composition and placement. When you're done with them, you just stack them in a cupboard somewhere so they're out of the way. Eventually you might just acquire enough boxes (by students donating or forgetting them) that you won't need students to bring them in anymore.

They're also useful to the professional artist as a way to organize groups of objects they would like to do a series on.

Step 4: More Examples

Here are a few more examples of still lives and progress.

Good luck and happy composing!

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