Art Lesson Plan: Contour Drawing - Values - Still Life

Contour Drawing with shading

Submitted by: Ken Schwab, formerly of Leigh High School, San Jose CA
Unit: Drawing - Nature - Value Shading - Still Life
Lesson Plan: Contour Drawing Shells
Grade Level: High school 9 through 12 (adaptable to middle school)
Ken's Web Site:

Alternate Lesson: Tempera Painting "Dem Bones"
Still Life Extension below | Suggestions for still life | Elementary Still Life Idea -Barbara Boville Lesson


Extension: See Justin Kramer's Ceramic Shells lesson - (Bottom of page) Larger than life installation.

Contour Line Emphasis - Work by Ken Schwab's High School Students.

Notice the strong contour lines in these compositions. A variation would be to render in ink and leave as line drawings. This would be a wonderful unit to try integrating "man and his environment" - see the work of Mary Downe - Interesting lesson on work of Mary Downe "Trophy Hunting" (Archive)




Objectives: Students will

  • Develop skills in observational drawing - draw from life - Create interesting composition using overlapping - create eye movement through use of lights and darks.

  • Develop skills in shading - use a variety of tools.

  • Show a full range of values from black to very light - Show five principles of shading: Highlight, shade, shadow, reflected light and back shading.


#2 Drawing Pencils. - Ebony Pencils.
Paper towels - Tortillons. - Newsprint.
Good Drawing Paper. 80#
Kneaded Rubber Erasers.
Graphite Sticks. 6B
Objects for drawing (shells and bones were used)


Select any of these wonderful examples of Shells in Art. Page by Juan Carlos M. Coll and Alfonso Pina. Babelfish gives you a very accurate translation from Spanish to English.

Drawing Course 101. by Ken Schwab and Bob Capitolo (Sterling Press).



  1. Review principles of shading: Highlight, shade, shadow, reflected light and back shading.

  2. Demonstrate shading techniques - various effects that can be made with tools.

(Complete instructions and student samples may be found in Ken Schwab's book "Drawing Course 101". - from Sterling Publications, NY).

1. Select subject matter for the drawing, shells bones, simple objects that will have good form and maybe some texture.

2. Make at least 5 contour studies of several objects in different sizes on Newsprint. 5" to 10 " (12.7 to 25.4 cm) long.

3. Cut around the sketches closely with a pair of scissors.

4. On a larger piece of newsprint, arrange the sketches to create an area of emphasis and directional movement. Overlapping the sketches and placing them so that they create a triangular movement. Using good 80 lb Drawing Paper., use graphite on the back and transfer the images to the paper leaving only a light line.

5. Demonstrate how to make a gradation. Have them practice. (From Judy: Students will work on line quality - vary thickness and pressure of line.)

6. Show the 5 principles of shading. Highlight, shade, shadow, reflected light and back shading. Have them create an imaginary source of light. (From Judy: Develop some strong contrast.)

Critique the work in progress and at the end.



  1. Did students create an interesting composition using overlapping - show skills in observational drawing?

  2. Did students use tools to show a full range of values? Vary line quality -thickness/value? Show the five principles of shading (Highlight, shade, shadow, reflected light and back shading)?


Variation on the theme: "Dem Bones"

Materials: Bones, Tracing Paper., good drawing paper or Illustration Board., tempera paints, brushes sponges. (Alternate - try acrylic or watercolors)


Resources: Georgia O'Keeffe,.Henry Moore


ken-bones.jpg (88397 bytes)


From Ken: I do a project with bones called "Dem Bones." I use horse bones from the biology teacher. He had a complete horse in his room at one time but it has decayed and is now in boxes. [When he retired he] gave me the boxes. Now I will be able to do this project anytime I want.

It is an abstraction using a composition of contour drawings of the bones compiled with tracing paper into a design. Overlapping the drawings and producing a composition, they use color schemes and paint a base coat of colors and values. Next with sponges, they use a stencil and lightly sponge the areas to produce a different effect.



Same drawing materials as lesson above.



Select a number of interesting objects for the still life. Bones often appeal to students. Include Fabric. for an exercise in draping. Tie in artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe. Instruct students to focus down on an interesting part of the still life. Work on full range of values and textures.


Submitted by: Ken Schwab
Lesson Plan: Still Life

drawing       drawing

drawing Shading defined by Ken Schwab (copied from a post made to Getty TeacherArtExchange):
I use a method of teaching drawing that uses 5 principles of shading. The Highlights show how light hits an object, the Shade area is the place where the light can not hit, the Shadow is the area on the ground that shows where the light is coming from, the Reflected light is the light that bounces off things, the ground, etc. and lastly, the Back shading is the dark area around the highlighted side of the form. It separates the two objects, creating a background or edge for the lighter side of the form or object. Ken uses bones, glass bottles, an old white pillar, grapes, wooden crates, fake pears and apples, old tea kettles, guitars, violins, and basically things that are easy to see the basic shapes and forms. Folds of material as well with a texture like burlap.


Still life Advice from Jayna Huffines:

When my students draw and paint from life I have them start slowly. We discuss composition, space, shape and form. We start with simple dots to show on the paper where the top, bottom, and sides should be of each object. Then we use contour lines to lightly sketch the objects in. Stress that detail is not important at this point. Add details when all other lines appear correct, then value after that. My students are often amazed at how well they can suddenly draw after beginning step by step. Also, it helps if you set up interesting still-lifes, such as cow skulls or machine parts, or whatever.


Suggestions for Still life:

Alter the lesson for your students. Show a contrast between nature and man made objects. Bring in shells, bones or other natural objects and show contrast with man made objects - draw against a patterned fabric background. Add a man made object. Mary Downe- Postcard from Rudolf

Bones make neat still life material. Shells - any kind of natural object.
Fruits and vegetables - cut cross sections (peppers are a good choice).
See if a local museum that could loan you some antique items. Bring in old tools.
Bring in assorted kitchen appliances - still life that represents culture.
Check with a local a theater company - they may loan you a bunch of old hats.

Get the students to bring in items that represent themselves and draw their own self portrait still life. These could be tromp d'oeil type still life.

Get some old musical instruments from the band room -- borrow some sports equipment
Have them use viewfinders then to locate an interesting part of the still life.


From San D:

Bones of all kinds including heads of animals bought through eBay. Musical instruments, i.e. guitars, sax's (all old instruments being thrown out by the Music department, missing strings, reeds, are dented etc). Light bulbs (like the challenge of white on white), Styrofoam cups.


From Linda Woods:

Last year I went to Hobby Lobby to buy a few things for my still life collection. I found some great ceramic items that were worth paying for just to have some really clever additions to draw. I found a great monkey vase, a King Tut sculpture with a crystal ball on top, a vase shaped like a cat with a clock on the front, and so on. Unusual things that were really fun to look at in the final drawings. I have a black wrought Iron birdcage that is fun to draw and look at. We have a taxidermy goose. Dolls, unusual shaped baskets from Pier 1 or a lucky garage sale. You have to make the setup interesting, not SO challenging that it is torture, but challenging enough to be interesting. The fabrics, textures, objects, and spatial arrangements in the set up determine whether it is fun or not, just as the media used, and the choices allowed for kids to find a way to enjoy still life.


From Wendy Free:

Your local Goodwill store has baskets, vases, toys, and all sorts of interesting things for next to nothing. I save stuff that would normally go into the recycle bin, too - cobalt blue Arizona tea bottles, the new pomegranate juice bottle... we have a clothing still life planned for next year (arranged and pinned on the wall). My kids did awesome Janet Fish-esque. still-lifes this year. Seashells are great, too. Items with local flavor... and how about a lava lamp? On a similar note, we just got a new scanner and I saw some lesson on the net where students composed with small objects on the scanner bed to create a sort of autobiographical still life and then used the scanned image as a basis for artwork.


From Joe Cox:

Boots: cowboy, hiking, military, ladies high hill boots, which I fill with sandbags to get them to stand up.


From Heather Leal:

An old tricycle and a neat black embroidered kimono style jacket


From Deb Mortl:

I have my Art I kids do an ALL WHITE still life in ebony - this really gets them to push the tones. I have hobnail milk glass, white dishes and vases, plaster hand forms from Nasco, etc and set everything up on a white sheet.


From Vivian Komando:

We used old license plates, old cameras (flea market items), sunglasses, carved African masks, and a map. We also do a "pocket still life" - empty things from your pocket, purse, or back pack.


From Judi Morgan:

We set up a still life using things that were white—paper cups, pottery, molds, silk flowers, toilet paper rolls, mat board, paper bags, vases. We used a "cubby" in the art studio, hung different white fabrics or board, covered boxes to vary heights, and then just filled it up—including tacking some things onto the walls. We attached a single light source over the top (that we could adjust the angle). Students used a view finder to help decide on a section to draw. Ann Heinenan added: You can use Louise Nevelson. as a resource for all white/black compositions.


From Jeanne Voltura:

I teach college classes, and I have one assignment that is based on still-life value studies... we use 4 different value oriented medias and papers... but, I always try to change the items we use from semester to semester... Eggs work well if you want something simple... When we use eggs, I display them in a huge grid of all the different studies that the students make... Styrofoam white flower arrangement forms from Michaels work well too... I have been adding small glass egg cups and bottles to the still life set ups of eggs... I buy all different values of velvet and change them each time so they get the experience of trying to draw different values of the fabric... I usually set them up so the velvet has many folds... and so there are different heights from object to object...


Submitted by Michal Austin:

I just completed a "Five Senses" still life drawing that produced very nice products. The students worked on basic skills, but I think because they had a personal interest in the items they had a vested interest in the project. For sound most students brought in CD cases, players, headphones, cell phones, and one brought in a bike horn! Scent produced a lot of drawings of their favorite cologne, taste was covered by favorite snack foods & drinks. Most students drew their sunglasses, hats, or eye makeup for sight. The hardest for most was touch and was shown with stuffed animals. Most had pretty challenging items, and I was very impressed with the overall interest and quality of their drawings. (from post to Getty TeacherArtExchange 9 -10-2005.)


Submitted by Maggie Tucker:

Maggie had her students think of more creative ways to do bottles.

1. Repeat the bottle, a la Wayne Thiebaud or Andy Warhol. With Warhol, treat each bottle with a different media.
2. Take a pattern from the bottle and incorporate it into the background/foreground.
3. Position the same bottle in different places in your composition (seen from the top, the side, the bottom, etc.)
4. Place your bottle next to one or two mirrors, draw the reflection as well as the bottle.
5. One student has even put a student ID. ("Mr. Bottle") around the neck of his bottle.
6. Place your bottle where it doesn't belong.
7. Incorporate a message in your bottle.

I used Charles Le Clair's The Art of Watercolor. as my starting point.



Submitted by: Barbara Boville, MacArthur Elementary School, Green Bay, Wisconsin
UNIT: Drawing - Still life - Values
Lesson Plan: Build a Still Life
Grade Level: Upper Elementary

Content Standard: 2 , Benchmark: 5.2.1


Objective: The learners will organize a still life, piece by piece. As they do this they will draw each object as it is added. The resulting still life will be an organized still life drawing with the feeling of unity.


Art Activity: Still Life

Visuals: overheads of a still life, Art Works II-20, Spectra slides 1/55, 2/56, 3/66/, 4/28/, 4/59 - prints of still-lifes, book with still life examples.



Supply box, 12"x18" (30.5 x 46 cm) white or Manila Paper., box of assorted items for still life, practice sheets divided into four, allowing for 4 little practice still-lifes.


Process: Class 1

1. Distribute materials.

2. Explain what a still life is. A still life is a drawing/artwork of a collection of objects that do not move when you are drawing. They arrangements generally do not include living things. We see many still-lifes including fruits and flowers. The objects of the still-life are positioned to touch and overlap.

3. Golden rule of drawing: Draw what is up front first! Repeat this many times.

4. Stress that the students must draw with very light lines.


Guided practice:

5. Using a cart have the students build the still life.

  • Student A will choose an object from the box and place it to the front of the cart.

  • Demonstrate on overhead and have the students draw the object on the lower part of their practice paper.

  • Student B will choose an object from the box and place it behind the first object.

  • Demonstrate and have the students draw the object slightly above the first object and behind it. This object may only be partially seen.

  • Student C will choose an object from the box and place it behind the second object.

  • Demonstrate and have the students draw the object slightly above the second object and behind it. This object may only be partially seen.

*Continue this procedure until 3-4 of the objects have been used. Repeat this drawing exercise 3 or 4 times.

6. Using the above strategy for building and drawing the still life, have the students begin on their final drawing, again using the students to select and place the objects, allowing time for the students to draw. 5-6 objects should be used for the final drawing.


Process: Class 2

Introduce technique to add shadow and color with pencil, crayon or paint. Demonstrate each step.

  1. Demonstrate the light source and the shadow using the cardboard box, flashlight and ball.

  2. Demonstrate the light source and the shadow using the cardboard box, flashlight and ball.

  3. The student will add the shadows when coloring in the still life using a darker value of the chosen color for each object.



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