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How to Do Still Life Drawing

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As children, we all drew things and were proud of what we created. As youngsters, we were carefree, took joy in what we did, and we weren't self-critical. It's only as we get older that we begin to become aware of our limitations and the errors we make. Unfortunately, this often leads to people putting down their crayons and paints for good.

More often than not it's the perfectionists that take this action. However, the truth of the matter is that practice makes perfect and if you apply this principle to drawing, you will, if you persevere, improve.

The challenges that all artists face

There is little doubt that drawing something can be challenging - even for experienced artists. You have to think about getting the proportions right. It's essential to make sure that certain elements of your drawing don't look out of scale. Making your drawings appear lifelike and not childish is key.

Where to start

A great place to start is with drawing still life. In theory, it is simply copying an inanimate object. The first thing to do is to decide what that object will be. There are plenty of places from which you can get inspiration. Look for photographs in books, magazines, or on the web. But first, a word of caution.

It's far better to draw things from real life. Get inspiration from books etc. by all means, but don't copy straight from them. Photos are usually two dimensional and therefore flat with little depth in them. Drawing real-life objects will give you so much more detail to work with, including a sense of perception and depth.

Start simple

Start off by drawing simple things. You can choose things like pots and pans, fruits or vegetables. Just one tip here. Ignore anything that is too complicated or overly ornate. Again, remember the old adage - practice makes perfect. Once you've mastered the simpler items, you can then move onto the ones that present more of a challenge.

Here are some great ideas for what to draw.

Light is important when you draw. It is best to have one specific light source. Try not to use multiple lamps or overhead lights. What you need to try and achieve is a good contract between highlights and shades. Sunlight is excellent, but just bear in mind the changes as the day wears on. If you find you have to use a lamp, check that the light from any windows does not interfere.

Staging

If you want to draw multiple objects, it's best to position them so they overlap. Placing objects so that their edges almost touch is not recommended. Drawing items that overlap will generate more interest from the viewer's viewpoint and will also provide depth.

You can mix and match - some items overlapping, some barely touching and some thing or things standing alone. Generally speaking, variety adds interest.

Choose the most exciting angle

You'll be surprised how an object's perspective can change when viewed from different angles. So obviously, you want to choose the view that shows it off best. Take a few minutes to walk around the subject and see which angle you prefer. You should also consider tweaking the positioning and adding other items in too. Don't start drawing until you're happy you've got it right. Now for the serious part.

Getting the proportions and angles right

Getting the proportions right is paramount if your work is to be truly representative. It is vital to ensure you keep the relationship right between the various heights and widths, and that you match the direction of lines in accordance with those of your subject matter.

This guide will help.

It's also essential to get the angles right. If it helps, you can use a viewfinder or view-catcher to make the angles clearer. These gadgets are relatively inexpensive although you can make your own version if you prefer.

Comparing relational sizes and angles

By holding your pencil out in front of your eyes, you can check the angles of the lines and things like the height or width of the different objects compared to each other or their surroundings. Take a look at how the edges and lines intersect.

When you have it right in your mind's eye, lightly sketch it onto the paper. You can then add more shapes to round out the objects but continuing to sketch only lightly.

Darken-in only when happy

Once you are satisfied with the basic outlines you've sketched, you can begin to firm up the objects by making the outlines neater and wiping out your lightly sketched guidelines. Next, you can give the curves more definition.

As you carry on refining your work, remain aware of any changes that are taking place as time progresses. Light, shade and contract change with the time of day. If you stay on top of these changes, you can keep your drawing true. Upon finishing certain sections, you can then darken-in the lines.

Imparting depth to your drawing

At the moment, your drawing will be relatively two dimensional. Next, you need to give it some perception of depth. You can add depth with shading and playing with the definition of some of the lines.

Read this for more information on depth.

Shapes change or become more apparent when light strikes an object. The best way to see these is to squeeze your eyes slightly and peer through your eyelashes. Your lashes then act like a filter, and they will enable you to discern the light and dark aspects of these shapes more clearly.

The importance of shadow

Don't forget about the shadow shape of the model or how any shadow from the model falls onto any other objects around it. These shadow shapes are as vital as the objects themselves. They bring a feeling of reality and atmosphere into the drawing. You can differentiate the key areas of light and shade with toning.

Look for the deepest darks and the lightest lights and fill them in accordingly to build up the standout tonal areas. Keep comparing the darks and lights and refining your toning and shading until you are satisfied.

Here ends our quick lesson on how to draw still life. All that remains is to remind you to spray your still life drawing with a fixative so that it doesn't smudge.

4 Min Read
Culture

We Must Protect Black Students

A Black, 14-year old, female, middle school student is tackled to the ground and handcuffed by a resource officer because she wanted to go to the school's health office.

A white teacher assigns a slave trade enactment as a class project, assigning Black students to the role of being slaves.

A teacher insults Black students and their parents in front of the entire class, causing Black students to tell their parents to not come to the school.

These instances of antiblack racism are happening in schools across America today. Over the summer, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey, and others have shined a light on longstanding antiblack racism in the US and, more specifically, in education.

Although there have been significant gains in improving Black students' education, there are still persistent opportunity gaps for Black youth. For instance, the rate of graduation for Black students has risen to 92%; however, Black students significantly lack access to honors, advanced placement, and/or gifted and talented courses (United Negro College Fund).

Does the classroom/school library include Black authors? Do the posters and bulletin boards reflect students' culture and lived experiences?

Also, while there has been an increase in Black college-going, most of this increase has been in under-resourced institutions, which creates student loan burdens for many Black college-educated adults. And, in light of recent over-policing, it's important to note that Black students are punished more harshly for the same behavior as white students, often for nonviolent offenses. The punitive nature of schooling for many Black students further isolates them from schools, resulting in higher dropout rates and higher risk for incarceration and other risky behaviors.

So how do we save Black students in schools that have a long history of antiblack sentiments and racially unjust policies and structures?

First, educators need to take an antiracist approach, which is actively eliminating racism through the acts of challenging and changing systems, organizational structures, policies, and practices that perpetuate systemic racism and racialized education outcomes. As part of this approach, educators must acknowledge that even well-intentioned teachers may be practicing racism without being aware of it. All educators are victims of being miseducated about issues of race and racism and now, they must be re-educated.

Celebrating the contributions of African Americans to US history enhances self-pride and models resilience for Black students.

The Center for American Progress delineated three ways in which educators can fight systemic racism in education: advocate for equitable funding, advocate for less policing and surveillance of students, and advocate to end de-facto segregation through school and district boundaries. Essentially, antiracist educators must be aware of and challenge policies that can potentially "push out" Black students. Examples of push-out policies include zero-tolerance discipline policies, special education identification policies, grading policies, standardized test policies, and attendance policies.

Second, educators need to become more knowledgeable of the history of racism and antiblack sentiments in the US. Professional development for educators should include content from African American and/or Black studies (including Critical Race Theory), sociological theory, and other literature relating to the experiences of Black people in the Diaspora from slavery to the present.

The 1619 Project, an ongoing project directed by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the New York Times Magazine, is a wonderful source for educators who want to become knowledgeable about slavery. Educators must examine how racism was the outcome and the ideological support for slavery rather than the cause of slavery. Just as important for educators to examine are the many contributions of Black people to US history—from Robert Smalls to Angela Davis to President Barack Obama. Celebrating the contributions of African Americans to US history enhances self-pride and models resilience for Black students.

As part of this approach, educators must acknowledge that even well-intentioned teachers may be practicing racism without being aware of it.

Third, for Black students to thrive, it's important for educators to fully embrace culturally responsive strategies in the classroom. According to Ladson Billings (1994), culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning. CRT requires that teachers encourage students to draw on their prior knowledge, to make learning meaningful and timely, and to ensure that the classroom reflects students' culture/race.

Does the classroom/school library include Black authors? Do the posters and bulletin boards reflect students' culture and lived experiences? Recently, a group of teachers in Massachusetts formed a Book Club to learn more about culturally responsive teaching, decolonizing curricula, and Abolitionist Teaching. The free, online "Abolitionist Teaching Book Club 2020" grew from a 30-teacher webinar book club chat into a 10,000-attendee five-day teacher conference in a matter of weeks.

And last, it's most important for educators of Black students to build meaningful relationships with their students to ensure they feel respected, valued, seen, and loved. In Dr. Bettina Love's book We Want To Do More Than Survive, she emphasizes the need for Black/Brown students to matter. She defines mattering as "building a community where people love, protect, and understand Black and Brown children."

Recognizing the humanity of teaching is the foundation of Love's concept of Abolitionist Teaching—which promotes teachers' utilizing protest, boycotting, and calling out racist, homophobic, etc. ideas and practices as a major component of their role as teachers.

All in all, it's essential that we ensure Black students have access to antiracist, respectful, historically-informed, engaging, loving teachers to thrive. However, this task is too important to be relegated to some educators. If all educators don't ascribe to this antiracist approach, we will continue to perpetuate the problem. We can no longer passively accept racism in classrooms and schools—Black students deserve more.