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Show Your Love With a Sentimental Still Life


Published February 2, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated April 6, 2022 at 9:23 a.m.

Still life by Ellie, age 11 - COURTESY OF EMILY JACOBS
  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Still life by Ellie, age 11

As Valentine's Day approaches, perhaps you're looking for a way to show a loved one just how much you treasure them. One way to convey your feelings is to gather together some of their treasures and arrange them as the subject of your own still life.

A still life is a work of art in which the subject is still, unmoving and inanimate. Such artwork can contain mundane, arbitrary objects, but an artist can also infuse a still life with special meaning — even love — by selecting the objects with care and attention.

By choosing objects of sentimental significance, or ones that represent important memories, an artist can create a still life that calls to mind special moments, places and interests. If you are a young artist seeking to create a personalized gift for someone you love, perhaps a still life drawing or painting is the way to go!

If your valentine loves to cook, you could include spices and utensils in your still life. For an avid reader, you might include a stack of their favorite books. For a gardener, perhaps flowers and gardening gloves.

Consider selecting objects that represent memories you have shared — shells you collected together during a day at the beach, a snow globe or mug bought on a special trip, or some other beloved travel souvenir.

Finally, if you're feeling clever, you might even hide a coded message within your still life. You can use symbolism to communicate a loving message through the objects in the image you create!

To show that your love blooms eternal, you might include candy hearts to represent "love" and a flower to mean "blooms," along with an hourglass representing "for eternity." The possibilities are endless when it comes to symbolism in art — and to communicating your affection.

Getting Started

  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Dani, age 12

Materials needed: Pencil, drawing paper

Optional additional materials: Colored pencils, specialized drawing pencils in a range of values (from very light 2H to a bold, dark 6B), watercolor paint

Still Life Steps

  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Sereen, age 12
  1. Choose your objects. Look for objects that:
    • have special meaning to your loved one
    • represent shared memories
    • represent your loved one's interests and personality
    • communicate a hidden message through symbolism
  2. Arrange the objects in an interesting way on a flat surface (a table, chair or open space on the floor)
    Pro tip: Choose a spot near a window and create your still life in daylight. Natural sunlight is best for still life drawing.
  3. Do not space the objects too far apart, or your artwork may not look cohesive. Place the objects close together, maybe even with some leaning on or placed on top of one another.

Now you have a couple of different choices...

  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Maddie, age 12

A) Draw from life

  • Look closely at the arrangement of objects. Lightly draw their outlines. Notice which objects are in front and which are behind, as well as the size of each object in relation to the others.
  • Once you have drawn the outlines of your objects, add details. Notice any special features or textures on the objects, and do your best to draw them.
  • Now, color or shade in your drawing. You can shade in graphite, keeping your drawing "black and white" in tones of gray (this is called grayscale), or you can add color using colored pencils or watercolor paint.
  • Pro tip: As you add color or shade in your picture, notice how light hits the objects or casts shadows. Try to show the light and shadow by shading darker for the shadows and leaving lighter spaces where you see highlights on the objects.

B) Draw from a photograph

  • Digitally photograph your arrangement of objects. (I use my smartphone!)
  • Print your image. If you plan to keep your still life drawing black and white, using only graphite, print the image in black and white. If you plan to use color, print it in color so you can use the photo to match each shade.
  • You can now choose to draw from the photograph just by looking at it or save some time by tracing the major outlines of the objects. To trace the image outlines, tape your printed image to a window. This must be done in daylight. Then, tape your drawing paper over the image. You should be able to see the major outlines of the objects through the paper if the sunlight is shining through. Very lightly, trace the major outlines of each object.
  • Once you have traced all major outlines, carefully un-tape both papers from the window.
  • Looking closely at each individual object in the photograph, add the details of each object to your own drawing. It may also help to lightly outline any shadows you see.
  • Once you have carefully outlined every detail, add value (shades from dark to light) or color to complete your picture.
  • Pro tip: Don't forget to color and shade all of the shadows you see, as well as the different shades of color on an object caused by the way light hits different parts of it. Create different values or different shades of color on an object by pressing harder on your pencil to darken the shade, and lighter for lighter areas. If any highlights are so bright they appear white, leave them white. Shade it how you see it.

Additional Resources

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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