Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cezanne's Still Lifes: Overlapping Objects

5th and 7th Grade Art Lesson

written by Michelle Smit for Duniway Elementary, adapted with permission for use at George Kelly Elementary by Lynne Millar

Principle: Depth and Value

Concept: By overlapping objects within a composition, an artist can create the illusion of depth. By changing the value of the color across an object within a painting, an artist can make an object look 3-dimensional.

Objective: To draw and color in with pastels a still life in which the objects are overlapped to show depth and colored to show changes in value.


*One 12x18-inch piece of black drawing paper per student

*Pencils and erasers (for light sketching of still life objects)


*Oil pastels

*Fruit, such as a large apple or grapefruit, a lemon or lime, large squash, and an object such as a vase or bowl. Note: you’ll need about 5 objects per arrangement. How are the desks arranged? Are the students in groups, where you’ll need to provide more than one arrangement?

*Desk spot lamps or flashlights

*Black or other solid colored fabric

*Hairspray (for use as a fixative)

Pre-Class Prep: gather supplies


*Make a still life arrangement and place the bowl or vase amidst the fruit, on top of your fabric. Put your light source behind the arrangement or at an angle that provides interesting shadows.

*Have pastels, paper, rulers and pencils ready for distribution.

Lesson: Demonstration: Discussing Depth and Value

Share with the students that this is a lesson to fine tune good depth and strong value changes into their art. Talk about what depth and value are. Depth refers to the amount of “distance” projected by a composition. Ask them if they can think of ways to arrange objects in a painting to achieve a feeling of depth? Discuss ways like overlapping objects, which is what they will do today. Overlapping is a technique used to get some depth in a composition.

Define value for the students. Value refers to how dark or light something is. Warmer lighter values are shown on an object where the light is hitting it; as you move across the object it gets darker and cooler as you move to the shadow cast by the object. It is the change in the value of the colors applied to an object that make it seem real and appear more realistic or 3-dimensional.

Show the power point slides of Cezanne’s still life paintings. Give a little background on Cezanne (see end of the lesson) and point out to the students how Cezanne painted the colors the way the light made them appear rather than the color our brain would tell us it is: for instance, look at his apples. Are they perfectly red? Or does the light change the color?

Turn off the overhead lights and turn on the lamps and shine them on one side of the still life arrangements at each table. Have students note how the value of the colors across the objects in the still life change from the lit side to the shadow side. Talk about how the colors look warmer nearest the light and coolest in the shadows. Turn lights back on and get ready to draw!

Students: Drawing the Still Life

Pass out a piece of black paper, a pencil, a ruler, and a box of pastels to each student.

Explain that they will draw the composition they see on their tables on the black paper using their pencils (remind them to draw lightly-they will be going over the drawing with pastels.). Before they begin to draw, they need to know:

1. Draw BIG Shapes – fill the paper with their drawing! No tiny fruit and veggies in the center of the paper.

2. Overlap each object – Each object should overlap the one behind it. When they begin drawing they should start with the object that is closest to them, because you will see all of its edges. Then add the one just behind it, and so on.

3. Put in a horizon line – Now that their objects are on their papers, have them place a line just behind them to suggest the edge of the table in the distance. See how this line is placed in the samples. Students may use rulers to draw in their table top “horizon lines”.

Talk briefly with the students about the shadow side and light sides of their drawings- they need to know which side the light will be coming from in their drawings (right or left). Note for them that where the light hits the objects most directly, there will be what is called a “highlight” or very light spot that may even look white (show them on the pastel sample, too.) Have them lightly pencil small (penny size) circles on each of their three objects where they think the highlights should be.

Step 3: Painting the still life with Pastels

If everything is going well, your students should have some nice drawings that show the outline of each overlapping object. They should be able to tell what is in the front and what’s in the back (depth). They should have drawings that fill the page- nice big shapes!

Now students are ready to begin “painting” their still life with pastels. This is the step in the process where they put what they have seen and learned about “value” to work. What they want to achieve with their pastels is a change in the VALUE of the coloring across each object that clearly shows that they have light sides and dark sides which, when looked at in total, suggest a fullness and three-dimensional quality. Since they are using black paper, the darker side of their object can even have some of the dark paper show through.

Encourage the students to use color compliments on each object. For example, if they have a lemon in their composition, urge them to use white and yellow on the light side and purple (yellow’s color compliment) on the shadow side. If they want to color their pumpkin or butternut squash orange, have them make the shadow side dark blue. If they have a red apple the shadow side would have green, etc

A note on using pastels-the more pastel they layer over the black paper, the more bright color they will get. If they want the color to be smoothed together, they can rub gently with their finger to blend.

Have students start coloring their objects beginning with the one in back first. By working from the top down, they will avoid smearing their work in the foreground.

The table top can be colored in, but because their pictures have a definite light and dark side, they should be certain to leave black shadow shapes on the table that are attached to each object.

When the students are finished make sure their name and room number is on the back of the picture.

After Class: Spray the piece with hair spray to protect against smudging.

Instructions for Instructors

Vocabulary: Overlapping-where one thing is in front of another

Depth-refers to distance in a painting, from what is located in front or in the foreground to what is in the back or background. Changes in depth can be suggested in a number of ways, including:

Changing the size of objects in a painting

Changing the amount of detail you can see in the objects

Changing the color (from warmer in the foreground to cooler in the background)

Overlapping objects

Shading-a technique for showing different values of light and dark across an object(s) in a picture; a way of making a picture more realistic/3D

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