Fun fact: Did you know when you have several Still Life set ups, they’re actually referred to as the incorrect sounding “Still Lifes” rather than “Still Lives”? It’s kind of like when you have many computer mouses, and not mice. There’s your little art/grammar nugget of knowledge for the day.
Anywho, about two weeks ago my Fine Art I groups finally finished their Still Life projects. This is a project that I do every year with the FAI kids, and every time I introduce it, my wonderfully behaved, incredibly polite, fantastically talented teens turn into huge, whiny, angry, babies. Every time.
I can’t really blame them. Still life is hard! There’s not a lot of room for self-expression or improvisation. It’s not as “fun” as our other projects. Also? We create our still life drawings with charcoal- one of the messiest, most frustrating mediums Fine Art I encounters. I warn the kids well ahead of time that this is the most difficult project to complete, because it is both technically and mentally challenging. I mean think about it: imagine asking a room of 25 teenagers to sit quietly and focus for 45 minutes 3-5 times a week. I’m lucky they haven’t mutinied!
However, although I warn them that this is the most difficult project we do, I also make them aware of the fact that it’s easily the piece they will be most proud of come the end of this school year. And I’m right about that. Every time. This is one of those projects that seems totally impossible, and while their working, seems to get harder and harder the closer they are to being done. But it’s also one of those projects where a week after we’ve finished, the kids will look at their piece and say, “I can’t believe I did that!” or “My mom framed that when I took it home.” That one always makes my day!
This year I was all too happy to hand off the dreaded still life project to my ST . He’d just finished up the more “fun” symbolic portrait project with the kids, and in my pattern of “fun” project, “hard” project, still life came next. He did a great job adapting what I usually do with the kids to his own style of teaching. He had them spend a few days on quick 10, 20, and 30-second sketches to loosen up their arms and eyes. He did a great job on reviewing the parts of a shadow on an object, and I think the kids learned a lot while under his instruction for this project.
In addition to teaching them how to render still life objects, the ST was also responsible for setting up the actual still lifes. Here is where he and I work a little differently. Typically my still life set-ups are simple- 2-3 major objects with a blank background and some type of fabric. That way the kids aren’t too intimidated by a lot of “stuff” to draw and they can focus on the accuracy of their shapes and proportions.
My ST took a trip to our theater prop room and came back with a plethora of objects for the kids to draw. He made two set-ups (at my suggestion) so the kids could split up and not be on top of each other. He also included a lot of glass objects (despite my recommendation otherwise). I’m not opposed to rendering glass- in fact, I have my Fine Art III kids doing it right now- I just felt it might’ve been too much too soon for the Fine Art I kids, who were already scared to death. However, I found that the FAI kids took care of themselves in that, when they used their viewfinders to pick their compositions, 85% of them managed to find a spot with little to no glass in it.
These kids are pretty smart.
In the end, the project took about 4 weeks. We actually had to complete it after our ST had completed his time with us. We’ve been done for a while now, but the kids will still come in my room and cautiously as, “We’re done with still life….right?”
Yes, they’re done, and they’re fantastic! Here are the top 7 from each of my three Fine Art I classes:
This student just moved here from London this September. She's absurdly talented and I can't wait to see her develop while she's in our care. Plus, the class makes her say all kinds of fun things with her beautiful accent. She's such a good sport about it!
Another absurdly, naturally talented kid. Her piece is really unique in that she chose not to use the blending stumps or tortillions at all. She wanted to challenge herself, and it shows. Such incredible details from a really interesting view point.
This one is a huge victory! This student, who I've had in the past, isn't as "naturally" talented as most, but he tries so hard! Despite the fact that he rolls his eyes and often grumbles when I make suggestions, he's also quick to admit, "Yeah, you're right..." and he'll jump right in and get to it. Love his use of contrast.
This student NAILED the fabric. It was a difficult purple satin that was super shiny in some parts and really dull in others. Her interpretation of it is spot-on!
I think this is my most impressive piece in that this student was in school from September to early October, and then was out for a long period of time. She finally returned to us just a week ago and in an effort to catch up, came in early, stayed at lunch, came in all her free periods and after school, and finished this beauty in just three days! The other kids had three weeks! I love her checkered fabric and the glass bottle. Color me impressed!
These last two girls were pretty good friends and sat next to each other (obviously!). I think they both did really terrific, specifically on the larger jar. They really picked up on my instruction of shading the objects as a form- if it's round, make your pencil travel "around" the object, so it doesn't become flat. I was very proud of the work they did, and that they didn't chat the whole time we worked.
Period 4 -
This student works extremely meticulously, which is fantastic, because I mean, well, look at it! But it can be frustrating, because he's often working on projects long after they're "due". I was so proud of how he sped up his usual process to finish on time with the rest of us.
This student's contrast is unreal! He sat in a very "dark" section of the still life and did a wonderful job on his fabric. I think it's so unusual compared to the other student's work. Love it.
This student never ceases to impress! I'm most impressed by her jar, and the fabric that seems to be pouring out of it. Such great attention to detail.
If I gave out gold stars, this girl would get one. She's an immense talent, but has a time-management issue where she'll take too long, and then lose her motivation to finish up outside of class time. With this project, I stressed that once the still lifes were broken down and put away, it'd be much more difficult to complete, and thankfully she took my warnings seriously. This is one of the best of all three of my classes.
I love, love, love this guy's glass lantern thingy. His use of dark and light is perfection and I find his composition to be really unique when compared with the other kids.
A little more subtle in terms of contrast when compared with the other kids' work, but I love how she treated her fabric and attempted the very odd angle of the very odd lantern on the bottom. It was not an easy spot, but she did very well.
This is my best example of cropping and contrast in all three groups. She worked like a little soldier on this one and took every bit of advice I gave her to heart. She was beaming when I finally said, "Okay, you're done."
Period 7 -
I love how this student represented her lantern. Very accurate in shape and clean. She handled the material really well, and simplified the shapes and objects in a way that the other student's didn't.
This student exaggerated some of the object's sizes but I think it works! I love the contrast of her checkered cloth and the pot on the bottom of the page. I also love all the "shiny" marks she's showing with her white charcoal.
While this one isn't as "contrasty" as some others, I think there's a really great softness about it that the others are lacking. I also love the fabric. It almost seems like two, big landforms.
The fabric coming out of the jug is just killing me on this one. I adore it! And the top of her shell ain't half bad either! That's a tough angle, but she pulled it off really well.
Compositionally, I feel like this piece is one of the strongest of all my groups. I love how objects are in all different directions, and the contrast is spread around rather evenly.
Really? Like, really? This girl blows me away with every project we do. She's just a freshman! She's taken lots of art classes outside of school, and it shows. But, she's always full of questions and ideas always appreciates the criticism/suggestions I give her. Outstanding!
I like the softness of this student's charcoal. She chose to use the larger vine charcoal of her darks rather than the charcoal pencils most of the other kid's used. It's a challenge, for sure, because the vine charcoal is much softer and mushier and messier, but she handled it really well.
So there you have it! Still lifes galore!