High school Art students are often required to produce still life drawings or paintings within the confines of a busy classroom. Most Art Departments have cupboards crammed full of visually interesting objects that can be used to create still life arrangements. This article lists still life ideas for teachers or students who are stuck or in need of inspiration. The collection includes tried and true favourites that have been used by Art teachers for generations, as well as more unusual and contemporary still life topics.
What is a still life? Here is a definition provided by Wikipedia:
A work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural or man-made
While senior Art students are usually free to come up with their own topic or theme (read our article how to come up with great subject matter for your Art project) many middle school or junior high school students are required to work with objects and scenes that meet the following criteria:
- Viewable first-hand
- Visually interesting, with a range of different textures, reflections, surfaces and forms
- Small enough to set up and arrange in the classroom (light, easily moveable)
- Able to arranged in different ways, creating original compositions so that multiple exciting works can be created
- Durable enough to be handled safely by enthusiastic teenagers (without sharp or dangerous parts, for example)
- Able to stored from lesson to lesson without eroding, decaying or breaking (this is not necessary if the still life can be drawn within a single lesson or photographed for completion at a later date)
- Appropriate for younger students to view (i.e. not offensive)
This articles includes great work by students as well as famous still life artists. It is a work in progress, with many more ideas to be added over time!
50+ Still Life Drawing Ideas
Crumpled paper bags, such as this work by 18 year old artist Raegan Koepsel:
Styrofoam cups, as inspired by this activity by the DC Sketchers:
For more about drawing ellipses, please read 11 tips for improving your observational drawing.
Machinery and mechanical parts, such as old sewing machines, disassembled clocks, cogs/wheels and typewriters, inspired by this drawing from Parkway North High School, United States, taught by Art teacher and artist Grant Kniffen:
Driftwood, rope and fishing accessories, as inspired by these Roy Lichtenstein still life compositions (images © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein):
Fish, crustaceans and other seafood, such as these high school still life paintings from an IGCSE Art Exam by Nikau Hindin, ACG Parnell College:
Science equipment, inspired by this pencil still life from a student of Grant Kniffen at Parkway North High School, United States:
Wooden mannequins, as in these black and white still life drawings by Grade 10 and Grade 11 students from Conway High School, United States, taught by Carla Owen. Jeff (left), Dylan (centre) and Nathan (right):
For more line drawing examples, please read our comprehensive Line Drawing Guide for Art Students.
Armchairs, chairs or stools, as in this example by Daniel E. Munoz-Vidal:
Dolls, train sets and other toys, such as this observational drawing of a teddy bear completed as part of an AQA GCSE Art and Design project student by Holly Reynolds from King Edward VI Camp Hill School For Girls:
Empty boxes, inspired by a drawing exercise completed by a student of Nicole Havekost:
Jewellery and treasure boxes, as in these still life paintings by IGCSE Art and Design student, Nikau Hindin, ACG Parnell College:
Preserved animals and other specimens in jars, such as these modern still life artworks by Cindy Wright:
Fruit and vegetables, inspired by Paul Cezanne’s still life with apples:
Vintage cameras, as in these collection of observational drawings by Year 9 student Dougal Burden from Takapuna Grammar School:
A glass of water, such as this example by Hanna Asfour:
A jug and cup of tea, with inspiration from cubist still life paintings by Juan Gris:
To see other background ideas, please read Painting on grounds: creative use of media for Painting students.
Hands, as inspired by this observational drawing by Cath Riley:
Marbles, spheres and balls, inspired by Pedro Campos paintings:
Shells, as in these artworks from the students of Elizabeth Jendek (from left to right): Marisa Leong, Supanan Lee, Miri Morita, Warin (Pinky) Rungsakaolert and Po Yuan, completed while studying at Thai Chinese International School, Samutprakarn, Thailand:
Insects, such as these stippled pen drawings upon colored wash, completed by Grade 11 students Emery (left) and Caleb (right) from Conway High School, United States, under the direction of experienced Art teacher, Carla Owen:
Potted plants, succulents and cacti, inspired by Laura Garcia Serventi’s illustrations on Etsy:
Metal taps, silverware and other highly reflective objects, as is illustrated in this video of how to draw a spoon by VamosART.
Many resources that demonstrate ‘how to draw step-by-step’ encourage students to draw by formula, rather than learning to see and record what is in front of them. This time lapse video is very helpful, however, as it provides good insight into how tone can be built up using light and dark pencils on mid-tone paper.
Origami or folded paper, inspired by this observational drawings by Sean Dooley, a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design:
Please view our list of substitute Art lessons for more one-off drawing lessons.
Bones and skeletons, as in this example by Year 11 student Manisha Mistry, from ACG Strathallan College (please view her full IGCSE Art and Design Coursework project):
Complex interiors and window panes, as in this Henri Matisse still life:
Old shoes and sandals, as in these examples by Vincent van Gogh:
Woodworking tools, as inspired by this teaching exercise by Jaime Brett Treadwell, artist and full-time Professor who teaches foundation courses for all AFA programs offered at Delaware County Community College including Studio Arts, Graphic Design, and Photography:
There are also great ideas for tools in this great Highcrest Art Department Pinterest board.
Weaving, as in this example by Year 11 IGCSE Art student Manisha Mistry, from ACG Strathallan College:
Musical instruments, as in this detail from a Pieter Claesz vanitas still life:
You may also be interested in viewing this 100% AS Coursework project based upon an abstraction of instrument still life by Year 12 AS Art and Design student Nikau Hindin, ACG Parnell College.
Old books, such as this example of a Dutch still life with books completed in 1628 (artist unknown):
String, sticks and stones, inspired by a teaching exercise designed by Andrew Strachan (now teaching at ACG Senior College).
In this activity, students are presented with a collection of sticks, string and stones, and asked to create a sculpture by tying together the sticks and hanging a stone from this using the string. Observational drawings are then created of this, with the tension of the thin, taut string contrasting the textured wood and stone.
Still life with flowers, inspired by these Vincent van Gogh sunflowers:
Lamps, lanterns and light bulbs, as in this charcoal drawing by Akrawczyk:
Contemporary food and packages, as in this still life painting by Tom Wesselmann (Art © Estate of Tom Wesselmann / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY):
A cluttered desk, inspired by this Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin still life:
A busy pinboard, as in this still life painting by Jean-François de Le Motte:
Eggs, as in this AP Studio Art summer assignment set by teacher Billy Hicks:
Rubbish / litter / discarded remains, as in this drawing by Brittany Lee, Year 10 Art student at ACG Parnell College:
This drawing lesson also featured in our list of ideas for substitute Art teachers.
Seedpods, as inspired by this observational drawing by IGCSE Art and Design student, Claire Mitchell, ACG Strathallan College (you may also like to view this Highcrest Academy Art Pinterest board for inspiration):
Shirts, dresses and drapery, as in these examples by the students of Kristy Patterson, Guymon High School:
Random objects hanging from string, as in these graphite drawings by the students of Jaime Brett Treadwell, artist and full-time Professor who teaches foundation courses for all AFA programs offered at Delaware County Community College including Studio Arts, Graphic Design, and Photography:
You may also wish to view this high school art project by Nikau Hindin, which contains images derived from decaying fruit and vegetables hanging on string.
Cutlery and kitchen utensils, as in this warm-up drawing exercise by the students of artist and teacher Julie Douglas:
This work was earlier featured in How to Create an excellent Observational Drawing: 11 Tips for High School Art Students.
Did you enjoy this list? Please share it with other Art teachers and students that you know!