Art-Making Activity: Art of the Still Life

Art-Making Activity: Art of the Still Life

Willie Anne Wright used pinhole photography to create photographs of objects around her. Try creating your own still life at home and capture it by drawing or taking a photograph.

Grade Level:
Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Subject Area:
Fine Arts, Photography, Visual Arts
Activity Type:
Hands-On Activity, Special Exhibition

Art-Making Activity: Art of the Still Life

Willie Anne Wright's Still Lifes

Wilie Anne Wright is a photographer who lives and works in Richmond, Virginia. She started out studying psychology and taking art classes when she could, focusing on painting and printmaking. When Wright took her first photography course the first assignment was to construct a pinhole camera, a light-proof box with a small hole in one side and use it to take a photograph. This assignment sparked in her a love of photography and a connection to its earliest forms influencing the way she chose to create photos in the present. 

Many of the photographs Wright made with her pinhole camera are still lifes, or works of art that show group of objects that are still and inanimate (not alive) like fruit, flowers, and vessels like bottles or bowls. Because these objects didn’t move while Wright was taking the photograph, they were the perfect subject matter. To learn more about pinhole cameras and how they work see the Virtual Art Sparks: Science of Light video. 

Take a look at Wright’s image, Our Lady of the Nectarines for San Francisco #3 (below). What objects can you recognize? How do you think she created this scene? Why do you think she selected these objects to photograph? 

Willie Anne Wright Setting up a Still Life, 1981, color photograph, Willie Anne Wright Artist Archives (VA-02). Gift of Willie Anne Wright. VMFA Archives, Richmond, Virginia, VA02.04.14.001

Our Lady of the Nectarines: To San Francisco #3, 1983, Silver dye bleach print, 16 x 20 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2022.324


Feeling inspired by Willie Anne Wright and her still-life’s? Create your own still-life below by following the instructions.  

  • Pencil 
  • Paper
  • Eraser 
  • Optional: Camera; Colored pencils/crayons/markers/paint 


Need some supplies? Check out the VMFA Shop for this At-Home Art Activity: The Art of the Still Life.



Step 1: Explore your surroundings and gather objects for your still life. 

What kinds of objects do you want in your still life? Consider the objects and what they mean to you. What story can you tell with them? 

Think about how you want the objects to be arranged. Do you want them to look carefully placed or more natural? Are the colors of the objects important to you? If so, you may want to use colored pencils or paints. 

Now take some time to look at your objects. Notice their shape and size. Look closely at the different textures of each object. Are they smooth or rough? Can you find any patterns or shapes on them?

With pencil and paper, practice drawing some of the textures you have noticed. Apply various types of marks such as lines, dots, and patterns to make each object stand out.

Step 2: Draw your still life using a pencil and paper. Set up your drawing station in front of your still life composition. Alternatively, instead of drawing your still life, you can use a camera to photograph your still life composition just like Willie Anne Wright would!

Begin sketching lightly with loose marks to block in the basic shape outlines of each object. Remember you can erase at any time.

Once you have drawn the basic shapes and placement of each object, it’s time to start adding details by shading your objects to reflect how the light creates shadows or highlights. Apply some of the marks that you practiced to create texture. Try adding color to your drawing if you have crayons, colored pencils or markers.



Hear from the Artist!


This activity was developed in conjunction with the special exhibition Willie Anne Wright: Artist and Alchemist.