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Caran d’Ache Crayons: How to Set up and Draw a Still Life

0:00   Benefits of doing a still life
0:32   Negative views of still life
1:10   Still life set ups are not difficult
1:30   Dutch Vanitas still life paintings
1:42   Pick objects you want to draw
2:10   Grocery shopping: find objects
2:34   Search for objects outdoors
2:41   Plan ahead with your objects
3:20   Common mistakes in still lifes

4:15    Objects: shape, color, size, etc.
8:46   Color saturation
10:15  Complementary color pairs
11:39  Warm & cool colors
12:40   Light & dark contrast
14:10   Background cloths
15:18   Height of objects in still life
15:36   Layering backdrops
16:19   Arranging: overlap, diagonals

18:52   Lighting a still life
21:23   Positioning your easel
22:50   Viewfinders: composition
23:25   Thumbnail sketches
29:50   Line sketch in yellow ochre
33:31   First layer of color: blocking in
37:03   Layering colors
40:47   Finishing: details & contrast

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Set up a still life and create a crayon drawing by observing the set up from life.

Core Ideas

Composition, color, layering, diagonals, contrast, saturation.

Recommended Tutorials


Art Supplies: Caran d'Ache Neocolor I Crayons
Art Supplies: Permanent Fixative
Art Supplies: Black Mat Board
Art Supplies: White Plastic Eraser
Art Supplies: Drawing Board
Art Prof, Art Supply Encyclopedia: Clamp Light

Substitute Supplies

The supplies listed below cost less, and can be used instead of the supplies above.

Art Supplies: Chalk Pastels
Art Supplies: Hairspray
Hairspray is NOT archival!
Art Supplies: Black Paper
Art Supplies: Crayola Crayons
Art Supplies: Oil Pastels
Art Supplies: Colored Pencils


Piper Matthew, Architecture Student

“I never realized just how much work goes into setting up a still life! I spent about the same amount of time drawing as I did setting it up, and maybe that is because I was picky but I really wanted it to look well composed. The tip about adding something beneath the drapery to hoist something upward was genius!

I really enjoyed this and personally I’m never comfortable using color, so this was a challenge. It felt good allowing myself to let go with just layering it on there.”

Britt Sodersjerna

“This tutorial was a really great learning experience for me, because during it, I realized that I have never really considered color in my still life set ups before. Professor Lieu’s advice in color contrast and intensity really helped me make a piece that was far more engaging than if I hadn’t had the advice and just made it on my own.  

Armed with a medium I had very little experience in, I felt much more confident and prepared after watching this tutorial.”

“This tutorial was the perfect combination of structure and freedom for me. I had the ability to control the set up and the pace that I worked at, but I also felt encouraged me to experiment with a new medium and try out some riskier compositions. I have always found working with color to be challenging and a bit overwhelming, but actively thinking about color and color theory from the initial set up to the final execution allowed me to confidently tackle this challenge that was outside of my comfort zone.

Overall, making deliberate decisions throughout the entire process was extremely valuable for me. I had so much fun with this tutorial and will definitely be carrying these newly acquired skills with me into the school year!”

Artist Profile

Visual artist Tony Janello is obsessed with the human face, its endless variations and its extraordinary capacity for expression. He began his artistic practice painting portraits and eventually began creating three-dimensional sculptures and digital photographs depicting faces that appear structurally unsound as if in the early stages of implosion. Janello has taught courses at the college level in portraiture, drawing, and color since the early 1980’s.

Related Artists

Partial Video Transcript
“A still life is such a great subject for learning how to draw from life. One of the great things about it is that it’s super convenient; you can set up a still life where you live in a place where nobody’s going to touch it, you can work on it over a period of several days so you don’t have to feel rushed and finish it all in one go. The other thing about a still life that’s terrific is that you know your objects aren’t going anywhere.

Artists have explored still life for centuries. Painters like Chardin, Caravaggio, Cezanne, and Redon each had their own unique style and take on the subject.

I think sometimes, still life gets kind of a bad rap. I hear a lot of the time, students will say things like “ugh, we’re doing a still life drawing in my class, so boring – I don’t like painting peaches and pears.” Well, my answer to that is that a still life is only boring if you let it be boring.

If you really take the time to find objects that really interest you, that you’re excited to draw, if you take the time to pick the backdrop color, if you take the time to light it so you get beautiful shadows that flow across a composition, you can end up with an image that can be super dynamic and really really fun to draw.”

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21 responses on "Caran d'Ache Crayons: How to Set up and Draw a Still Life"

  1. Thank you so much for creating this website. I always have put my passion on hold as well, always had an excuse. Now this is my chance to get some really good instruction and get my feet wet! I had to order the crayons because I could not find them in our small town but I did find some oil pastels in my daughters drawer so will start with that till my crayons arrive in a weeks time. Plus next to the course and artist profile I could learn about some art history and I am also enjoying the art critiques.

    • What I love about visual arts is that it’s literally never too late to pick it up again! You can definitely use oil pastels as a substitute for the crayons, of course there are some differences (the oil pastels are a lot smearier) but the essential principles of drawing with color are quite similar. You could also use colored pencils and chalk pastels as well! Glad to hear you liked the artist profile/critiques/art history, one of our goals as a platform is to provide a very comprehensive experience for people so that they get a very rich learning experience. We also have a community gallery in each course, so if you create a drawing based on this course, you can submit your drawing and we will select pieces to be featured in the community gallery. We would love to see what you create!

  2. I learned a lot from your course and would refer to it again. I really like what you said about color relationships; your analogy made a lot of sense. I would also pay close attention to different types of shadows from now. Thank you, Clara!

    • Hi Susie, Glad to hear you enjoyed the course! I know that I really struggled with color for a very, very long time when I was in art school. A lot of the time, I think that color is taught in a way that complicates what really are simple fundamental ideas. I don’t know if you watched the Artist Profile video in the course featuring artist Tony Janello, but I absolutely love the way he describes color in such basic terms, it makes so much sense when you hear him talk about it!

    • Paying attention to different types of shadows is a great way to create dynamic compositions and interesting contrast! So glad you’re enjoying the content, can’t wait to see what you make!

    • For me, understanding that idea of “relationships” provided the biggest break-through in my approach to color… Glad to hear you got so much out of this course!

    • By the way Susie, we also have a community gallery in this course, so if you create a drawing based on this course, you can submit your drawing and we will select pieces to be featured in the community gallery. Would be wonderful to see any drawings you create based on this course!

  3. Love this so much! I was accepted to RISD back in the day, but got cold feet about art school and now want to try to make up for the lost time and education. I’ve never even heard of caran d’arche and I love watching your bold and confident technique. 🙂 Such a great resource!

    • That’s tough, but it must be soooo satisfying for you to go back and work on achieving a passion you put on hold. It’s never too late to start! Also, I didn’t know what Caran d’Ache was either until Prof Lieu’s class!

    • Start now!!! One aspect of being an artist that I absolutely love is that there really is no age limit. I’ve always thought that being a professional athlete must be so frustrating because by the time you’re 40, you’re forced to retire! Even artists who have physical limitations, like Chuck Close, have found ways to continue creating their artwork. Would love to see you create a drawing from this course!

    • It’s never too late to start, all you need is the motivation to do so!

  4. In the layering video you say you spray fixative on the piece. Do you do this between the layering step and the final step? Nice site!

    • Hi Tim! You can spray fixative at any point while working on a crayon drawing, it really doesn’t matter! When to spray depends on how heavily you layer the crayon, which definitely varies from person to person. When you are working on your crayon drawing, if you are pressing pretty hard with the crayon, you’ll notice after a while that the layering stops making such dramatic changes in the drawing; that’s when you want to spray, so you can “start fresh.” Give it a shot, you really can’t mess it up, which is one of the reasons I like this technique so much, it’s super flexible and forgiving!

  5. I love the fact that you took time to find objects that were interesting to you. In my high school art class, I’ve always viewed still life projects as boring and unexciting, but I’ll definitely use your advice next time and find objects that I like!

    • Yeah! And it really doesn’t take THAT much more time to find objects you are actually interested in. I would just die of boredom if I had to draw white spheres and cubes all day.

      • Who knows! you may find objects that are so compelling you’ll be inspired to create a series of work. Objects can be a beautiful starting point in discovering a whole new subject matter to make work about. There is also a rich history of objects within Still Life work being highly symbolic, and giving the entire piece meaning by showing particular objects next to one another.

  6. I’m so psyched to follow this tutorial! Before now, my exposure to still life has been just one class where the teacher set up the objects and didn’t really give us helpful pointers for the composition. I’m also super excited about how the instructions aren’t super specific so I can use them on other projects.

    • That’s great Ro! Our objective is to provide information that is concrete enough to understand, but that can be widely applied to a number of other media and disciplines. For example, the videos on how to set up a still life could just as easily used for a charcoal drawing or for an acrylic painting! We try really hard to be specific, but not to the point that there are so many guidelines that a student feels constrained by too many limitations.

  7. Loved the course, very dynamic and comprehensive! It really helped me with my caran d’ache drawings!

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