Picking Objects Classic Contemporary and Out There

Not all of the items in a still life need be exactly dead. You can include flowers (cut or potted), fruit and vegetables, sea shells, seeds, pods, nuts, or leaves. You can include a few "classic nature mort" items like butterflies, bugs, bones, fish, seafood, skulls, and stuffed animals (real ones, not your toddler's bedmate). Human-made items (including pots and pans, antiques, china, baskets, fabric for background color, garden tools, the contents of a drawer,

your shelf of plants, your bathroom shelf, and your collection of art supplies)—basically anything with an interesting shape—is worth a look.

Artist's Sketchbook

Still life, called nature mort ("dead natural things" in French), is a collection and arrangement of things in a composition.

Vantage point is the place from which you view something, and just exactly what part of that whole picture, you are choosing to see and draw. It is the place from which you pick your view from the larger whole, rather like cropping a photograph. If you move, your exact vantage point changes.

Viewpoint is similar, but think of it as specifically where your eyes are, whether you are looking up, across, or down at something. Eye level is where you look straight out from that particular viewpoint. Things in your view are above, at, or below eye level. If you move, your view and eye level move, too.

Your choice of still life objects is limited by only your imagination.

Try Your Hand

Still life items tend to be rather domestic or household in nature, but you can push the envelope and start including unusual things. Just make sure that you think they are worth your time to draw. There are as many possibilities as you have ideas.

Back to the Drawing Board

Objects with unclear shapes or unrealistic proportions are not the best choices for a still life. The idea is to learn about shape and proportion, so opt for realism, even if your taste is for the unusual.

You can add sentimental items, such as old lace and china, a baby's shoe, or an old hat with ribbons. Even old pictures, photographs in antique frames, and vintage postcards work well in still lifes. You can go wild and thematic with items from an exotic trip to the Caribbean or South America or out West. Or you can include a small Adirondack chair, a willow basket, some pinecones, oak leaves, a toy cabin, and a small carved bear. You can go high tech and make a composition of your Palm Pilot and your keyboard, or go the sports route and arrange your sneakers and your tennis racket.

You can reflect your favorite pastime; food, of course, is a great choice and has been favored by artists over the centuries for the wealth of shape, color, and texture it provides. A food still life can be classic or surprising. Fishing tackle, a gardening arrangement, books and pens, a collection of boxes—you name it, and you can draw it.

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