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How to Draw a Flower Vase Still Life

Updated on April 30, 2013

What is a Still Life

A still life is a drawing or painting depicting inanimate objects which have been arranged by the artist in a composition which is pleasing to them. It is basically an opportunity for you as an artist to take on the task of designing the composition of your art work by laying out the objects you want to draw, in a manner which is most pleasing to you. The subject matter could be anything from an old shoe and some coins to a beautiful vase with exotic flowers in it. It is entirely up to you. In this example, we will look specifically at drawing a still life of as flower vase. A very simple project.

Placement and Arrangement of your Still Life Vase

Arrange your vase on the surface you are going to use in the way that pleases you best. For example,

  • Does your vase look more aesthetically pleasing when placed in the middle of the table or at the end?
  • If you like it on the end, which side of the table would make for the most pleasing composition?
  • Are you having flowers in the vase or not? Decide whether or not to have flowers in the vase based on your skill level and confidence at drawing. If you are confident, place some flowers in the vase and arrange them in a way which is pleasing to you. If you are not confident, leave the vase empty so that you can just focus on the vase.


The composition of the piece is basically how you arrange the elements of your drawing. The best compositions take the eye of the viewer on an interesting journey over the entire drawing, finally resting on the part of the drawing the artist wants the viewer to pay attention to. In this case, the point of interest is the vase. It could be that you place the vase on a table with some flowers strategically placed on the table, as if an invisible person is about to come in and arrange the flowers in the vase. There are specific techniques you can use to cause the viewer to look at the flowers and the table, while making the vase the focal point of the drawing. The way you compose the drawing can add movement, balance, unity, rhythm focus and contrast to an otherwise, potentially boring drawing.

Drawing the Flower Vase

Once you have arranged all elements of your composition, it is time to draw. Very lightly sketch an outline of the composition on your paper or sketch pad. This will help you to determine placement and how big or small each element of the drawing should be. The drawing should be big enough to fill most of the page, but not so big that it runs off the page or gets cut off when you come to frame or mount it when you are done.

Proportion and Perspective

Your proportions and perspective need to be spot on.

  • Have you placed the vase in front of the flowers or other object or behind?
  • Anything in front of the vase will overlap the edge of the vase and appear bigger.
  • Anything placed behind the vase will recede into the distance, so you need to get your perspective correct. If you don't know about perspective, there is plenty of free study material online. Alternatively, you can use the very useful book on perspective for still life artists linked below.

Shading. Light and Dark

Once you are satisfied with your basic drawing, add some depth and realism by shading the drawing correctly. Observe the way the light hits the vase. What direction is the light source coming from? Remember, you set up the still life- so you can decide if the still life looks better being lit from one side or the other. In general, being lit from one side adds more interest to the drawing as it causes interesting interplays between the light and the dark. Side lighting is called Rembrandt lighting.

  • Start by lightly shading the entire drawing with a 2B pencil to give the impression of colour. Press very lightly, this will be your middle tone.
  • Look for the line that separates the light from the dark. If you use Rembrandt lighting, this line will be very obvious. Lightly draw the line in and shade the dark side darker, using a solid tone.
  • Decide on a shading method and stick to the same one for all shadowed areas. For example, cross hatching or simply using diagonal strokes.
  • Use a blending stump to smooth the pencil marks.
  • Pay attention to other variations in light/dark and match them with shading.
  • Use a kneaded eraser to carefully lift out highlights.

Contrast and Edges

The contrast between the light and the dark will add realism to your work. If you want the viewer to look at the vase, ensure the edges are hard and that there is a lot of of contrast between the vase and the background. Hard edges attract the eye.

  • Make your edges hard by pressing a bit harder with your pencil and using very solid lines.
  • Where two edges meet and they have different values- for example, the light value of a light coloured flower, compared to the dark value of the vase, apply the same principle and really increase the contrast by making the darks very dark and the lights very light.
  • Soften edges you want to blur and draw attention away from- like the edge of flowers for example, by pressing lightly and blending with your blending stump.


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