HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Always Learning as I Go: Art Supply Still Life

Drawing from observation is an awesome skill that every artist should work on.  I don’t mean with the pressure to make the artwork look super realistic, but with the goal of observation at the forefront.  Giving students the experience of an artwork that requires them to SLOW down, not rely on assumptions and check back with their eyes frequently throughout the drawing, is so valuable.

This school is new to me this year and my fourth graders are (obviously) new to me too. It was a bit of an assessment for me as well.  I decided to use art supplies as our still life subject, because I felt they were pretty easy to draw, colorful and well...abundant.

My tip is to make the set up as easy as you can. I chose to cut cardboard rectangles and hot glue my items down to the cardboard so I could store the trays and not worry about the objects moving. A circle was drawn to mark the spot of the paint pint as I chose not to glue this.

We began by talking about still life and the reason artists might create a still life. I tried to point out simple objects they might have at home that they could set up to draw on their own.  We also covered the many media that still life can be created in and viewed some examples in these various media.

The first day of class was all pencil drawing.  Some students took to it easily and others struggled, but for a first attempt (for most) I felt they really did pretty well.  Teacher learning moment! After my first class, I realized a big problem in the drawings was that the students did not know how to draw cylinders.  And why would they?! So for all my other classes, I inserted a practice cylinder drawing sheet into the beginning of the lesson, which worked out beautifully.

Because of behavior factors in the classes, we used simple tools to add color.  It wasn’t my original plan, but it worked out just fine and it goes to show that we have many other factors to consider in planning our lessons than just aesthetics.  Students had access to colored and black sharpie markers and twistable crayons. The bright, bold colors really dressed up even the simplest drawing.

The final touch (and a bit of a risk on my part) was allowing students to splatter paint on top of their still life if they wanted to.  I had two boxes in the back of the room and allowed two students at a time to use liquid watercolors to splatter over their art. 

Mess free- splatter paint inside of a box!

Just a side note- as students finished up with these, they had directions to go work on a mini project: Artist Trading Cards back at their tables. 

Their still life artworks turned out to be a colorful, joyful celebration of Art. Win!

The students felt more confident about their skills. Win! 


For years I set up watering cans, flowers, draped fabric, etc. as still life for students. We used chalk pastels and shaded happily.  But new circumstances demand a re-evaluation of the old. What are the necessary components to teach the skills and information? How can I do this in a way that will work for the students I have now?  

Don’t be afraid to change your ways, change the plan even once you’ve started or scrap the whole plan entirely!  We are at our best when we remain flexible as thinkers, learners and teachers.  

Thanks for reading! 

signature photo, emily mceneely