Still Life and the Art of Composition

An understanding of composition is essential for anyone wishing to compose an image that both functions visually as a whole and that captivates an audience. Over eight weeks, we will apply visual analysis of the genre of still life, from Ancient Roman times until now, to a contemporary art practice. Gain a comprehensive understanding of how to harmoniously compose simple objects commonly found within the kitchen or living spaces of the house, for drawing and other media.


  • Online


  • What is Composition? and What is Still Life? - The first class will introduce you to composition with a broad analysis of its underlying principles. We will then see how this has been applied throughout art history to the genre of still life and the arrangement of objects.
  • Introducing the thumbnail sketch - We will learn how to use small sketches to abbreviate the major masses of objects employed in a still life. Beginning with the simplest arrangements of objects, we will gradually introduce more complexity.
  • Ancient Roman Still Life Painting - We will discuss the use of Trompe-l'œil or the illusion of depth in still life, as evident in surviving wall paintings from Rome, Herculaneum and Pompeii.
  • Seventeenth century Dutch Golden Age Still Life - In this class, we will look further at still life as a subject. Examining the vanitas still life and the use of objects, such as decaying fruit, dying flowers and insects as metaphors for the transience of life.
  • The Baroque Neapolitan Still Life School - We will look at how a sense of drama and action can be inferred, even within the relatively static context of still life objects.
  • Spanish still life of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - We will examine the minimal bodegón still lives of Spain and their depiction of pantry objects.
  • Chardin and eighteenth century French still life - We will examine how to employ “lost” and “found” edges to further convey atmosphere within a still life drawing.
  • Impressionist and Post-Impressionist still life - This class will introduce us to further compositional alternatives. Drawing upon the influence of other media such as photography and the effect of non-European compositional conventions from Japan upon the genre of still life.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Gain an understanding of the underlying principles of composition and be able to practically apply them to an art practice.
  2. Recognise period, stylistic and regional characteristics within the genre of still life.
  3. Make use of a variety of art materials and explored different means of employing them to convey contour and tone.


Please be aware that from week to week further materials will be advised in class, inclusive of still life objects.

  • Hard black chalk oil-based pencil
  • Soft black chalk oil-based pencil
  • Stanley knife for sharpening
  • Kneadable eraser
  • A3 Sketch book

IMPORTANT: Please arrive to the first class with all the relevant materials. A lack of materials is not just a handicap to you but to the ability to teach. Materials cost is not included in a course fee. In the event of a course being cancelled WEA cannot be held responsible for the purchase of any course materials. We therefore suggest you purchase your materials closer to the time of the course commencing.


  • The Art Scene, UNSW Art & Design Campus, Greens Rd Paddington NSW. Ph: 8815 1569
  • The Art Scene, West Ryde, Ph: 9807 6900 (incl. online shop)
  • Bondi Road Art Supplies 179 Bondi Road Bondi. Ph: 9387 3746. (Closed Fridays and Sundays)
  • Eckersley’s Art and Craft Store 93 York Street Sydney, Ph: 02 9299 4151. Also at North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, Caringbah, Parramatta & more.

Enquire at your art shop for a Student’s Discount with your WEA course receipt.

Want to be notified when this course is open for enrolments? Please join the waiting list by clicking .