I had originally planned to take the kids outside to “sketch the season” on Saturday. Then, it rained…and rained…and rained. The kids were sitting at the dining room table, twirling the tips of a couple of little white pumpkins, looking miserable…until it dawned on me…we could sketch the season inside, too! We could do a fall-themed still life! The kids are no strangers to still life painting, after all. A few summers ago, on our Crazy Fruit Day, we drew some really awesome bowls of fruit. So, it seemed only natural to return to the project in a different season. Then, it dawned on me, let’s take a cue from our favourite still life painters and do SPOOKY still life drawings. By the end of the afternoon, we had attempted TWO types of Spooky Sill Life drawing: a still life of fall-themed items with hidden spooky elements, and a still life of an imagined pile or tableau of outright creepy objects. To see how we did, follow along here, or simply skip to the Simple Spooky Still Life DIY at the bottom of the page.
First, in order to get us all in the mood for our “spooky still life” theme, I had the kids take a look at three of my favourite paintings: Flowers in a Glass Vase, Still Life with a Skull and Writing Quill, and The Ambassadors. Dutch painter Rachel Ruysch’s Still Life, Flowers in a Glass Vase stands out, of course, because when you take a close look at the flowers, you suddenly see all kinds of bugs and creepy crawlies hanging out inside. The Detroit Institute of Arts has a great tool that allows you to take a micro glance at all of the hidden bugs in the painting by scrolling over top: check that out here. Then, because Toby wanted to see an “outright creepy still life, not just a hidden creepy one,” I showed them Peter Claesz’s Still Life with a Skull and Writing Quill: you can also view that out here. Finally, I showed them a painting that plays with perspective, that famous work of Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors. You can inspect it in depth at the website of London’s National Gallery. Of course, the main question with this painting is, why is there a skull “on the floor” and why is it painted at such an angle? It reminded the kids of those cheapo hologram paintings you can pick up at the dollar store around halloween: one minute you’re looking at grandma, and the next, at a creepy lady skeleton head.
After our survey of art online, the kids got to work. For our first attempt at spooky still life drawing, I let the kids gather and arrange any fall or halloween themed objects we had lying around the first floor. What did they choose? Little white pumpkins, last week’s flowers, a pie pumpkin, chestnuts, star anise and an old pine cone. Then, they arranged the tableau themselves, piling their objects into a “set-up,” as they call it, on the table. With markers and gel-pens, I had them sketch the still-life as it was. Then came the fun part…they added tiny spiders, blood driblets, strange faces, and even a little corpse.
For round two, I asked the kids to imagine their own outright spooky halloween still life. This turned into a bit of a “graveyard” setting with headstones and spiders and all sorts of creepy paraphernalia. It wasn’t what I would have imagined. Personally, I would have drawn a pile of bloody hands and a wine bottle dripping with human blood, or a coat closet choc-ful-o witchy brooms and rat tails…something more like Claesz’s Skull. But then, that’s me.
NOW, SAY, BOO !!!!!
I. Fall Themed Tableau with Hidden Spooky Elements
1) Make a fall tableau on your table, with a gathering of pumpkins, flowers, pine cones, leaves or other seasonal elements.
2) On a nice piece of paper, have the kids sketch this still life in markers, crayons, or pencils.
3) Now, have the kids add additional imagined spooky elements to their drawings such as spiders, blood, or eyeballs.
II. Imagined Tableau with Piles of Outright Spooky Stuff
1) Have the kids imagine a Halloween tableau, such as a pile of skeletons, a witches’ broom and a basket of poison apples, or a skull beside a tombstone.
2) On a nice piece of paper, have the kids sketch this imagined tableau in markers, crayons or pencils.