Further Refinement of Your Still Life

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Yes, there are still some things to ask yourself before declaring your still life absolutely finished:

• Does your eye drift to the surrounding blank negative space where nothing is going on ?

• Do the objects look isolatedfrom each other, rather than related?

• Do you find your eye pulled to the horizon line, or sides of the picture, rather than where you want it?

• Is the mood of the work remote, or cold—not the feeling you intended?

Grounded For Life CastGrounded For Life Cast

This pitcher and casserole (top) seem to float in space. When grounded (bottom) by cast shadows and the suggestion of a tabletop, the two objects are transformed from separate drawings into a cohesive still life.

drawings by student jane wolansky

This pitcher and casserole (top) seem to float in space. When grounded (bottom) by cast shadows and the suggestion of a tabletop, the two objects are transformed from separate drawings into a cohesive still life.

drawings by student jane wolansky

If you answered yes to any of above, be assured there are remedies ahead.

The drawing you've just made was a learning exercise, not the culmination of all there is to know about still life. Keep in mind that you're in the midst of a creative process that unfolds over time. This process involves learning what appeals to you and what doesn't. It means giving yourself the room to try what you don't think you'll like, just in case there are surprises in store for you there.

With the still life you've just completed, maybe your drawing came out really well. Great, if that's so. Just keep in mind that the longest time invested doesn't necessarily guarantee greatest success. Sometimes a quick sketch works better than the drawing you slaved over. Sometimes a meticulous piece is satisfying, other times the labor leaves you just plain irritated. In either case, success or failure in a still-life drawing has a lot to do with its composition. Let's go there now.


Composition can remedy the problems you may have identified in your final evaluation. It is the tool that can bring the elements of your still life together more effectively. Beginners are usually focused on drawing objects, and less concerned with the role played by the space around objects. The tension between positive space (real objects) and negative space (shapes around the objects) is the basis for composition. The attention you've given to the positive shapes can make the negative spaces seem especially blank in contrast. Large negative spaces often pull attention away from the drawn objects.

Simple Sketch Composition Object

Good composition gives a drawing its overall appeal. There is no single right way to compose a picture, but there is always the most effective one, once you decide what's interesting to you. You create your composition to focus the viewer's eye on what matters most to you. For example, if three people are shown a bouquet to draw, one might focus on a single flower, another a bug on a leaf, and the third might draw the entire bouquet.

Where to put your focus? When composing a still life, put your focal point in the area where viewers automatically look to find the most significant subject matter: in the center—but not the absolute center—of your drawing. Then, there are some simple tricks to help you deal effectively with the role of the space around your focal point.


To prevent negative space from being boring, break up an empty expanse by adding subtle value shapes (nicknamed scbmutz in my class), a technique that has been used widely in drawing and painting for centuries. Preview this technique on your own work by looking at your still life and imagining that the objects there emit a light-gray magnetic field in the negative space, like breath on a cold day. The shape of the field would be like an asymmetrical halo around the objects, echoing their contours, with a slightly lighter value border between it and surrounding shapes. Suddenly, there's something interesting going on there as this energetic shape vitalizes boring negative space. It can act as bridge to connect still-life objects, as well. A subtle, light application of values is all that's needed to make that shape appear.

Negative Space Drawing Face

Above, the shadow shape cast from apple to bottle bridges the gap between them and creates a compositional link. At left, a faint value shape is more effective than a single horizontal line to indicate a table edge, as seen here, student drawings, from top, by mary |0 fusaro and jim hohorst

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  • susan
    How to draw casserole?
    4 years ago

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