Why is Still Life so important?

Still Life – a collection of inanimate objects – does not inspire everyone, and after drawing the same curved vase ten times, beginners often want to move on to “more exciting things” like the human figure, portraiture, landscapes, abstract work etc. However, Still Life is an important genre for every artist; through it you explore line, composition, value or tone, space and nearly every type of texture, just to begin with. It can be the foundation of your art practice, or a complete and fascinating subject in itself, plus many of technical problems in painting can be resolved with Still Life practice.
If you study the Masters – both modern and classic, many works are Still Life paintings. In other works, Still Life plays what you think may be a minor roll, but as you begin to study them, you begin to realise how important it is to the painting as a whole. Artists such as Giorgio Morandi dedicated himself to working with Still Life throughout his own life with the enigmatic results still delighting viewers today. Picasso famously commented on the anxiety in Cezanne’s apples being what held his interest in the work.
“It’s not what the artist does that counts, but what he is. Cezanne would never have interested me a bit if he had lived and thought like Jacques-Emile Blanche, even if the apple he painted had been ten times as beautiful. What forces our attention is Cezanne’s anxiety – that’s Cezanne’s lesson.”
Clearly, Still Life can be a extremely powerful genre in the right hands.

Why should you draw and paint Still Life?

Paul Cézanne, "Fruit Bowl, Glass, and Apples" (1879-1882)
Paul Cézanne, “Fruit Bowl, Glass, and Apples” (1879-1882)



Did you begin drawing cylinders and cylinders and more cylinders until they began to resemble cups and vases and wine bottles? Think about all the lines in a Still Life – the fragile petals of a flower; the curve of a lamp in front of a hard-edged wooden box. The smooth skin of a dotted pumpkin, with deep grooves all meeting at one point; the tiny crosshatches on a folded piece of hessian on which a delicate teacup sits. This is where you learn how to draw a wealth of lines and render different surfaces and textures. It takes discipline but these skills can then be transferred to Life Drawing and portraiture, or whatever you would like to explore.

Lights and darks

A Still Life composition is where you can truly learn how to render lights and darks; value, also called tone. It is challenging but a place where every beginner should start and every seasoned artist should return. You can explore tonal range in Still Life – from the crisp white folds in a cloth to the deep, dark shadows cast upon it by a vase – and all the values in between. This is where you really learn how to “see”. A tip from our teachers is to squint at the subject in front of you – this can help you see the difference between the lights and darks more clearly. When painting Still Life, you quickly learn about colour mixing and how to mix a black (which you find out in our painting classes), and how to handle paint.

Francisco de Zurbarán, Bodegón or Still Life with Pottery Jars (1636)
Francisco de Zurbarán, Bodegón or Still Life with Pottery Jars (1636)


In art classes the Still Life is often arranged for you, although you may have the opportunity to choose which part of the composition you want to draw. Drawing and painting Still Life will help you identify how a composition can be modified for a particular effect. You can experiment with different compositions, create focal points and guide the viewer’s eye through compositions.

Still Life classes at Melbourne Art Class

This term we are offering Painting from Still Life with Hilmi Baskurt. In the class, students are encouraged to develop conceptual understanding and technical proficiency in painting. This seven-week course will be held on Saturday afternoons from January 30th. You can find out more information and enrol here: https://melbourneartclass.com/painting-from-still-life/.
In Marco’s Tuesday night term-based Studio Art Class, you have the opportunity to work from a different Still Life composition every week. You are free to use any medium you wish, or work on your own projects in the class. You can enrol or find out more here: https://melbourneartclass.com/enderby-studio-art-program/.