Media & Techniques

Make Your Stagnant Still Lifes Come Alive!

One of the best things about teaching middle school students is the fact that they are quite willing to try some unconventional ideas when it comes to creating art. Some of my students’ greatest successes have come from using materials in unexpected ways. This is especially true when those materials are combined with conventional subject matter, like that found in still life drawing.

Here are five simple ways to mix up your next still life project.

still life

1. Combine Different Types of Drawing

Combine realistic still life drawing techniques with highly patterned backgrounds such as Zentangle® designs. Encourage emphasis by using contrasting materials like vibrant chalk pastels and black permanent markers.

2. Break Up the Composition in an Exciting Way

Try breaking the composition into sections by drawing random lines across the work. Then, add color to both the positive and negative spaces the lines create.

3.  Mix Materials and Techniques

Use more than one material or technique to help add variety in color, texture and value. Examples could include torn paper collage, brushing over marker with a paintbrush to create a bleed effect, and reverse charcoal drawing (highlight rendering).

4. Change Up Your Paper

Start off with paper that is anything but white! Beginning with a colored base adds a beautiful richness and tends to hide those ugly I-erased-100-times marks.

5. Allow Student Choice

Encourage choice in relevant still life subject matter (A favorite for my students is candy!)
Making small tweaks like these will take your still lives from dull to dazzling!

 What’s your favorite way to mix it up when it comes to a tried and true still life project?

Do you have any knockout lessons to share?


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Tracy Hare

Tracy Hare, a middle school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She strives to deepen students’ 21st-century skills by encouraging them to practice critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.

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