Still Life in Charcoal

Life size or larger: drawing a still life in charcoal. 

SCHOOL:Mountain View Elementary School
TEACHING ARTIST: Martha Worthley
GRADE LEVEL: 4th-5th grade

Lesson: Observational drawing from a still life set up.

Target learning: Learn about the different characteristics of charcoal

Criteria: Draw with charcoal creating lines, using differing pressure on the stick, smearing with fingers to make different shades, smearing with Kleenex or a blending stomp, erasing.

Target learning: Understand the concept of scale.

Criteria: The drawing must be life-size or larger.

Target learning: Identifies and makes values using charcoal drawing techniques.

Criteria: Learns to use smudging, smearing, different pressure in drawing with the charcoal- and erasing- to create distinct dark, medium and light areas of shading and pattern.

Target learning: Accurately represents shape and form of fruit, flowers and pottery in life size or larger scale.

Criteria: Carefully observes still life: Uses contour lines to describe shape, shading to show form, and texture for surface.

Vocabulary (click here for the glossary)

Blending stomp
Horizon line


Samples created by the teacher and other students


Large butcher paper, 18” x  24”; 24” x 36” if there’s room
Gum erasers
Blending stomp
This project requires a good variety of fruit, vegetables, flowers and ceramic vases and bowls. Several set-ups are created so that students in groups of 4-6 are looking at one still life up close.


















Resources introduced and creative process:

Teaching artist:

Creative process and resources introduced (lesson steps)

Teacher demonstration must be quick-no longer than 7-10 minutes including everything. This is possible if the kids are quiet.

1. Teacher: Demonstrate qualities of charcoal, experiments with different line, texture, shading to create different values. Use differing pressure on the stick, smearing with fingers to make different shades, smearing with Kleenex or a blending stomp, erasing to create light areas. Talk about using the material appropriately-not smearing messy hands on other people, etc.

2. Teacher: Demonstrate observing the still life. Talk about what you see and how it will fit in the frame of your picture. Can you include everything if it is life size? What parts do you definitely want to include? Begin to mark it down on the paper using very light lines or “whisper lines.” For example: Lightly mark the edges of a bowl so that you can be sure you are making it the right size and putting it in the right place on your paper. Lightly mark the edges of the fruit- are there 4 apples and a banana in that bowl? What is the still life sitting on? Can you see the edges of the table? What is in the background?

Demonstrate carefully drawing the contours of the various fruit and flowers-looking at how each touches the other, negative spaces in between.

Demonstrate shading and capturing highlights on the objects, using your fingers to smudge color, using an eraser to bring highlights back out. Teacher’s picture is not complete, but all stages are demonstrated.

Students: Make a large sheet of experiments with charcoal-no particular focus, no images, just get comfortable with the material.

Students: Begin still life drawing. 


Questions-Have you filled your whole paper? What is the bowl/vase/etc. sitting on (horizon line). If an apple is red and a banana yellow, how do you show the different colors? What is the relationship between the rim of the bowl and the shapes of the fruit in it? How do you complete the background? The teacher goes around encouraging, asking questions, helping to “see” shape relationships where a student is struggling. Students stop and observe their work.what does it need? Are the shapes right? Have I shaded the fruit and vegetables?

Some students make one drawing, some make three.

Peer review: Drawings are displayed and each student has the opportunity to comment on their own work and that of their fellow students. They are asked to answer what they liked about their own drawing, what they would do differently next time, and to make a positive comment about another drawing, articulating a specific aspect that they respond to.

Essential learnings

Arts 1.1.1-identifies and uses line to create contour, identifies and makes color values: tints shades, defines space using horizon/ground line, foreground middle ground & background

Arts 1.2-controls tools and processes to produce detailed imagery in a variety of media

Arts 2.1-applies previously learned arts concepts, vocabulary, skills and techniques through a creative process

Arts 2.3-applies previously learned arts concepts, vocabulary, skills and techniques through a responding process