Looking longer at a still life

Still life is the depiction of natural objects or inanimate objects made by the human hand. The fabled origins of still life painting can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where the artist Zeuxis developed a convincing form of painting. Using paint to render the illusion of a three-dimensional form, Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so realistic that birds flew down to take a nibble.

The emergence of still life as a genre of art occurred across Italy, Spain, Flanders and the Netherlands towards the end of the sixteenth century, with the pinnacle of still life accomplishments often considered to have been reached in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Although artists in earlier centuries had depicted inanimate objects as part of frescoes, portraits or historic tableaux, it was during the late Renaissance that still life became a subject in its own right.

Over the following centuries still life evolved as a symbolic genre to be read for its allegorical message. In particular, it became emblematic of vanitas – the brevity and frailty of human life. Flowers, fruits, candles, skulls, feathers and even musical instruments were arranged as reminders of mortality and the impermanence of life. Still life also played a key role during the modernist movement, specifically during cubism.


Using various folds of fabric, create a still life. Drape the fabric over objects or people and adjust the lighting to create dynamic shadows and strong contrasts of light and dark. Spend time observing the contours of the material and use a viewfinder to draw a small section of this scene, paying close attention to re-creating the tonal contrasts. Join the drawings and display as one unified piece.

Select an inanimate object of your own; it might be a favourite toy or flowers that grow in your garden. Draw this object from different perspectives.

Did you know that most of Australia’s weeds began as escaped garden plants, originally introduced by immigrants, travellers, and later by plant nurseries? Weeds often threatened the growth of native plants by thriving in this new country. Research extinct Australian flora and create a painting as a tribute to this extinct plant or flower. Create a cardboard silhouette sculpture to pay tribute to this extinct plant or flower.

Create a mobile using everyday objects (forks, cups, spoons etc). Make sure it can move. Shine a light onto your mobile and draw what you see.

Photograph a still life at home. Perhaps capture the family dinner table before, during, and after, a meal

Longest still life drawing exercise at St. John's Grammar