Preschool Still Life Painting

In the Green Room, some of our 2- and 3-year-olds have been working on still life paintings.

What Is a Still Life?
The term “still life” describes a work of art that shows inanimate objects from the natural or man-made world, such as fruit, flowers, dead game, and/or vessels like baskets or bowls.

Why Still Life? Why Now?
Until recently, the children had been painting with limited colors and they have been working solely from their own imaginations. A change in set up and style reflects the necessity for us to always be challenging their developing skills, while offering them an opportunity for growth as painters and artists.

We modified our classroom painting atelier to accommodate this pivot. First up was a quick search for the proper still-life objects themselves. Items with bold and varying colors are what we’re looking for: a few pieces of plastic fruit borrowed from our dramatic play kitchen, a mannequin’s head, a stuffed flamingo.

We usually rely on direct/indirect sunlight from our large west-facing windows, but for still-life work we wanted more control of illumination. The teachers brought over a multi-armed lamp for help creating the proper lighting and shadow effects.

The teachers introduced the process of still-life painting, and stressed to them the importance of cleaning their brush between color changes.

It’s not so easy to just ‘paint what you see.’ The children approached this challenge with gusto!

As we would expect to see from this type of painting, no two of the children’s creations were alike. This was their first try at a relatively complicated technique. These still lifes were expressionistically very different from the children’s “regular” paintings, which often end up with the entire canvas covered in one color.

Shape & form, key components of any representational work of art, are also starting to emerge. My simple instructions to each child before they started – to look for shapes and paint what you see – goes a long way to get them thinking more three-dimensionally. 

Perhaps most striking of all to me, and invisible to the viewer, was how much time each of the children invested at the easel on these still lifes. They worked with more focus and intention, compared to previous painting experiences.

Reflection by Adam Wisniewski and Celia Rusch, Green Room Co-Teachers

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