Author: Sarah Clowe, Director of Art Programs

Materials: pencil, and optional colored pencils, markers or paint if color is desired

Use your drawing to tell the story of how you're experiencing the current condition in your observational drawing still life scene.

As artists, we can use our work to reflect on a moment in life to keep as a reminder of how a certain time has affected us.

Once you've finished your drawings feel free to email them to me at and I'll feature them in a gallery at the end of this post!

At the time this blog project is being written it is MuseumWeek. MuseumWeek is a worldwide festival for cultural institutions on social media with specific themes and hashtags featured for each day of the program.  Tuesday, May 12th is #CultureInQuarantine and while the theme especially encourages those at home to creatively recreate museum collections at home as in our Life Imitates Art Creative Challenge, we are taking this opportunity to feature a project encouraging artistic reflection and will capture personal surroundings during in this momentous time.

Today we're ecouraging you to try out observational drawing in creating a still life scene.  In observational drawing, we continue to look back at and reference the subject of our drawing to notice as many details as possible to include in our work.  At the Albany Institute, we work on observational drawing skills with students in our Book Arts museum-school partnership program. When leading sessions with them, I like to phrase it as "I draw what I see."  Still life is drawing things that will not move and are usually not living (with the exception of plants.)

How has your life and surroundings changed recently?  What objects do you see around you most often these days?

Selecting your subject matter

Abigail C. Classroom Drawing from New Scotland Elementary 4th Grade

Reflect on your surroundings

When we start our observational drawings with the students I work with in the Book Arts school partnership program,  we focus on everyday scenes for the students and what its like to look through their eyes.  This is called showing their perspective.  In ordinary times, a classroom would be an everyday sight, and along with it the classroom flag.  With the students, we start by thinking about the symbol of the flag and its shape and comparing that symbol with what the actual flag looks like from their seat in the room. The featured picture is of a student's classroom view in New Scotland Elementary School in the City School District of Albany.  

  • What is different about your surroundings now? 
  • Where do you spend the most time during the day and what objects do you see there?
Select an object to draw from the corner of your home that you spend the most time in and take a few moments just to make observations about that object. 
  • What shapes do you see?
  • Are there any shadows on that object?
  • Can you see the whole item or is there anything in front of part of the item?

Start to draw

Beginning to Sketch

It can be stressful when we start a drawing. We often want our drawings to look perfect right away, but it usually takes practice and corrections. Artists frequently edit and improve their work the same way you might create drafts and edit your work when completing a writing assignment. 
Here are a few tips to get things started:
  • Start light and wiggle (or sketch) your lines around until they look right. Then, you can darken the lines you want to keep.

  • Look back at your subject often so that you continue to make close observations of the actual item. If we don't look back frequently, our mind sometimes takes over with what we know about the symbol of the item- like drawing a perfectly straight rectangular flag when the real one in front of us is folded.

  • If you're unsure of where to start look for familiar shapes. Do you see a geometric shape like a triangle? If so you might start there, or perhaps some of the lines come together like letters of the alphabet. Starting with the shapes that are easiest to recognize and then continuing on from there helps us to break the drawing into more managable pieces rather than being overwhelmed.

Adding the finishing touches

Bria K. Classroom Drawing from New Scotland Elementary 4th Grade

Final Touches

Now what last additions would polish your drawing up? 
  • Add in shading. Where is the object the darkest, where is it medium, and where is it light?  Try shading in your drawing to make it pop off of the page.

  • Draw in the room surrounding your still life object.  Adding in details like the line of the table your item may be on or where the corner of the room is helps to place your object so it does not look like it is floating in the air.

  • Are your lines still light? Go over your lines and darken them to create a bold drawing.

  • Would you like to add in color?  Personally, I recommend using colored pencils to softly add in color to a pencil drawing if desired so as not to cover over your pencil work.

Collections Connection: Untitled by Chester Rose

Chester Rose
Oil paint on linen, 1989
This painting was the Albany Institute Purchase Prize for the 1990 Exhibition of the Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region.

The two images at the top of the blog project page feature a student's still life drawing of her classroom and a professional artist's at home still life scene. 

What story will your at home still life tell? 

Without looking up the curatorial notes on the featured collections piece Untitled by Chester Rose, here are some of my interpretations/thoughts of the household shown:

- In this home, there might be both adults and children as there is a child's rubber ball with butterflies on the ground in addition to instruments and books that appear to belong to adults.

-The adult may be age 40 or above as that is the most common age to use reading glasses as shown on top of the book.

-There are musicians in this household as the violin and its case are prominently shown, as well as a trophy possibly won for musical achievement.

-The child may be at least elementary aged because the adult felt comfortable leaving a breakable drinking glass on the ledge of the table.


Would you like to control the story told by your drawing?  Write a caption!

If you'd like to take control of what your viewers guess about you and your house from your artwork, then write your own caption describing what is shown.  A caption can include a description of what exactly is in the picture, as well as an explanation of their connection and importance to you.

For example, I'll pretend that Untitled by Chester Rose is a scene of my own home and story I might write a caption like this:

Example Caption:

Sheltering At Home 

In the spring of 2020, we stayed at home with our family in an effort to help prevent the spread of the virus COVID-19.  My husband read the newspaper diligently each morning to catch up on the latest recommendations, and the worry of it all could be stressful.  We focused on the positive as much as possible and enjoyed music together in our home and playing with our young daughter.  This picture shows the violin we played, the newspaper he read, as well as our daughter's ball.  The open windows show an idyllic view of the outdoors to represent how we looked to nature and walks (while keeping our distance from others) as comfort.







Published May 12, 2020