Make a Still Life to Celebrate a Special Day!

April 24, 2017

Make a Still Life to celebrate a special day

Encouraging children to create art with personal meaning is very important to me.  For our youngest artists, this often involves sharing their stories, imagination, and experiences visually.  A still life is a great subject for observational drawing, but I wanted to go beyond a simple drawing exercise  and get students to create a work that is personally meaningful to them.  My solution was to have my students make a still life to celebrate a special day.  This project is great for both a home setting and a classroom.

We looked at some still life paintings from art history, and wondered aloud why the artist chose the objects on the table.  Then we thought about a special day we wanted to show in our art, decided what objects remind us of that day, and created a collage to show it.  To show what’s important, we learned how to put emphasis on a focal point.  Our artists also learned how to use the space well and create details that tell the story.

A Kid's Still Life Collage to Rember a Special Day.  Create a still life using collage and pastel drawn details to show a special time.  Great for remembering holidays.  Kids will learn how to use basic collaged shapes to build thier images and how to use oil pastels for details.

Age Range:  I developed this lesson with first graders in mind, but I believe it is also appropriate for 2nd through 4th grade. 

Timing:  This lesson is broken down into four 30 minute sessions.  If you have no time restriction, you can do as much as you like in one session.

Materials: Construction paper, white sketch paper, scissors, glue, oil pastels

Still Life to celebrate a special day:

Discussion and a quick sketch

Still Life with Ham by Phillippe Rousseau from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Getting ideas by looking at art

I show a variety of still life paintings from art history to my students.  I purposely seek out ones that have interesting items that might tell a story, such as the letter and the stack of papers in the French painting above.  This strategy gives young kids experience with interpreting art by simply wondering about the picture clues within. You can find still life art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Simply type in still life into the search area.

We start by wondering aloud together:

What do you see in the still life painting?

Why do you think the artist put a letter on the plate? a stack of papers?  a ham?

Who do you think these things are for?

What kind of special day might it be?

What special day do you want to show?

What would you put on the table from your special day?

Sketching ideas for a still life collage

sketch of a still life to celebrate a special day
teacher sample

Students draw a quick sketch based on the last two questions above:

What special day do you want to show in your still life?

What would you put on the table from your special day?

I begin by showing and saying how I would do it:  Draw a line across the middle of the table.  Draw items that represent my special day. Draw a window with a peek outside to see what season it is.  Fill all the space.  Draw some items short and some items tall.

Then we share our ideas: Listening to others share what they plan to draw helps inspire other kids that aren’t sure yet what they want to do.  This lesson is also a great way for kids to learn about other cultures.  We do this lesson right around holiday time, so a variety of special days appear in their art to include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, Diwali, Halloween, birthdays, etc.  Some of our students do not celebrate holidays, so I remind them that they can choose any special time such as a visit from a special family member, or a delicious meal that they enjoy with their family.

Still Life to Celebrate a special day: 

Turning the sketch into a collage

How to begin a collage of a still life of a special dayStudents will select 3 pieces of construction paper as seen above, each a different color..  The main paper is 9×12 , a paper cut half the size to go along the bottom for the table, and a smaller piece to form the main dish. They also get a small piece of white paper for the window. To help them put emphasis on the main dish, I allow them to choose from a variety of tracer shapes to trace.   We pattern the 2 larger papers with pastels and then glue the table across the bottom.  The more patterning there is, the more interesting their art will look.  Finally, the main dish is cut out and glued on.

Still Life to Celebrate a special day:

 Adding Picture clues to the collage

How to collage a still life of a special day
teacher sample

In this step, artists will cut out shapes of colored paper that represent the objects they drew in their idea sketch.  I demonstrate how to use basic shapes like squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals to build the objects in the picture.  I emphasize filling up the space with picture clues about the special day they are trying to show.

Still Life of a Special day:

Adding details to collage with pastel

adding pastel details to a collage of a special day
teacher sample

This session is where the magic happens!  Artists use pastels to draw details on top of colored paper objects.  I choose oil pastels for this step because they show up so well on top of colored paper and can be blended like paint. 

A peek out the window:  In this step we also draw a picture of what it looks like outside through the window.  I ask kids to think about what time of year it is and to show the season.


Does your family use art to record a memory of a special time?  If so, what kind of art do you create?

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