Painting a Still LifeStudents paint a still life, paying special attention to the elements of color and value and the principles of pattern and emphasis.
- Length: 6 35-minute class periods
- Students create still life art, focusing on the elements of color and value as well as the principles of pattern and emphasis.
- Students analyze their work using elements of art and principles of design.
Breakfast Still Life by Pieter Claesz
Found in: the Speed Art Museum gallery of the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum CD-ROM. Similar examples by Claesz may be found in a special online exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.
composition, emphasis, pattern, primary colors, secondary colors, shade, still life, tint, tone, value
For art activity: 12" X 12" white paper, 2" X 16" strips of poster board, tempera paint (red, yellow, blue, black, white), brushes, sponges, scissors, glue, pencils, plastic forks and knives
To view artwork: computer, projection device; optional: Internet access
Instructional Strategies and Activities
A still life is an artwork that depicts a group of objects that are not moving. In other words, the objects in a still life are standing still.
Food and flowers have been two of the most popular themes for still lifes throughout the ages. Perhaps this popularity is due to the fact that an artist, by using food and flowers, can create interesting and beautiful compositions of colors and shapes. In Breakfast Still Life, Pieter Claesz shows us an up-close view of a tabletop crowded with what we can assume to be a breakfast typical of 17th-century Amsterdam.
Display and discuss Claesz’s still life. Ask students to consider the following questions:
- Why would someone want to paint a still life?
- What objects from your home would you include in a still life, and why?
Using the information about Claesz and his work in the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum, give students some background on the artist. As you guide them in the art activity, use art terminology (defining terms as you go) so students will get used to hearing and using this terminology in looking at and creating visual art.
Tell students they will create their own still life paintings. Follow these instructions to create backgrounds:
- Draw the shape of a tabletop on a 12" X 12" piece of paper.
- In the space around the table, sponge on a layer of black paint.
- On top of this black paint, sponge on a layer of a primary color. (This makes a shade: black + any color = shade.) Then sponge on white. (This makes a tone: black + white = gray + any color = tone.)
- Make a textured pattern by swirling and dabbing the sponge through the three layers of paint. Then, using a brush, paint the tabletop a tint of any primary color. (White + any color = tint.)
- Set work aside to dry.
Now students will paint a pattern on the tabletop using white paint. Put this aside to dry. Give each student four 2" X 16" poster board strips—the future frame—and tell them to paint patterns on them using primary colors. They’ll be painted over later on. Students should have fun with this, not worry about making them perfect.
Discuss fruits that are red or yellow (two of the primary colors) and orange, green, or purple (secondary colors). Tell students to draw one or two of each of these fruits on a second piece of 12" X 12" paper. Then draw a bottle, bowl, or glass that will be painted blue (the third primary color). The objects should be big enough so that they will fill the tabletop. Begin with the primary-colored objects. Then mix together the primary colors to get the secondary colors and paint the secondary-colored objects.
Students complete the fruit painting and set it aside to dry. Have them mix together all three primary colors. They will get a color that’s anything from ochre to brown to black, depending on how much of each color is mixed. Now have students paint one of the 2" X 16" frame strips, completely covering up the patterns painted on Day 2. While the paint is still wet, students use a plastic fork or knife to scratch new patterns into the strip, revealing the primary colors below. (This technique is called sgraffito.) Finish all four strips with this process, one at a time.
Students cut out all of the fruit and the bowl, glass, or bottle. Show them how to experiment with different compositions by moving the objects around on their painted tabletops. Have them try at least four different compositions to select the best one. They do not need to use all of the objects. Have students glue down the objects when they choose the best composition. They can create a border (wavy, scalloped edge, etc.) using the four frame strips, gluing them to the edges of the paintings.
Display all of the still life paintings for a group critique. Ask each student to explain the choice of composition and identify the focal point. Have students analyze the different techniques that went into making the still life and frame. Encourage students to use art terminology and to offer constructive feedback.
Support • Connections • Resources
- BBC Your Paintings featuring Pieter Claesz
- Martin Rollins analyzes Pieter Claesz’s Breakfast Still Life in “How To Respond to a Work of Art” on the Responding to Art DVD in the Visual Arts Toolkit. See the Responding to Art guide in the binder for information and worksheets.
- Pieter Claesz works and biography in the Web Gallery of Art [www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/claesz/]
- Artcyclopedia: Pieter Claesz [www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/claesz_pieter.html]
Performance Event: A still life is an artwork that shows objects that are not moving. Food is a popular theme for still lifes. Pieter Claesz uses food in his Breakfast Still Life.
Directions: Paint and lay out a fruit-themed still life, focusing on the elements of color and value and the principles of pattern and emphasis. Describe what your artwork looks like and the techniques you used, using the art vocabulary from this lesson.
Performance Scoring Guide
|The student completes a still-life painting. The student makes a still life with good composition and effective craftsmanship and clearly displays the use of value (tints, tones, shades) and the properties of color (primary and secondary colors). The student describes the artwork and techniques consistently, using the correct art vocabulary.||The student completes a still-life painting. The student makes a still life with good composition and acceptable craftsmanship and generally displays the use of value (tints, tones, shades) and the properties of color (primary and secondary colors). The student describes the artwork and techniques using an overall correct art vocabulary.||The student completes a still-life painting. The student makes a still life with little regard for composition. Minimal attention has been paid to craftsmanship. The properties of value and color are inadequately displayed. The student describes the artwork and techniques with a limited use of the art vocabulary.||The student completes a still-life painting. The student makes a still life with no regard for composition. Craftsmanship is very inadequate. The student displays no knowledge of the properties of value and color. The student mentions none of the art vocabulary.||The student does not complete a still-life painting.|
- 1.13: Students make sense of ideas and communicate ideas with the visual arts.
- 2.22: Students create works of art and make presentations to convey a point of view.
- 2.23: Students analyze their own and others’ artistic products and performances using accepted standards.
Program of Studies:
- begin to recognize and identify elements of art and principles of design using visual art terminology.
- use the elements of art and principles of design in creating artworks independently and with others.
- explore, describe, and compare elements of art and principles of design in two- and three-dimensional artworks.
- be actively involved in creating artworks.
- begin to learn how to use knowledge of the elements and principles of art and art terminology to describe and critique their own work and the work of others.
- identify possible criteria for evaluating visual arts.
- demonstrate behavior appropriate for observing the particular context and style of visual arts being viewed and discuss opinions with peers in a supportive and constructive way.
Core Content for Assessment:
- AH-E-1.4.1: Students will identify or describe elements of art and principles of design in works of art.
- AH-E-4.4.2: Students will choose media to create artworks with a basic understanding of how to use the media.