Collage of a kitchen scene including a table with a cake, tomatoes, and fruit, shelf with a tomato on it, window, and vase with pink flowers.

Can your space inspire you? Use scrap fabric, papers, and other objects to create a collage still life.

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Time: 45–60 minutes
Skill Level: Intermediate
Topic: Still Life


A collaged still life with cutouts of lemons, a sandwich, tomato, two bottles, bread, and cereal on a red checkered tablecloth.

Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #4, 1962. Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966.

What do you see? Describe the colors, patterns, and objects. How many objects can you identify? How are the objects arranged? What does this artwork remind you of?

This artwork is called Still Life #4 by Tom Wesselmann. A still life usually shows a space with objects and no people. Still lifes have been a common subject for artists for hundreds of years. The objects depicted in a still life do not move, which might make them easier to observe and paint than a portrait.  Many artists, like Wesselmann, have used the traditional theme of still lifes to experiment with the way their art looks and the way they make it. This still life features a window, curtains, food, drinks, rug, and a table. 

The artist, Tom Wesselmann, was born in 1931 in Ohio. In 1956, he moved to New York to attend art school. During this time, he started visiting museums, studying the work of other artists while developing his own ideas. Like many other contemporary artists, Wesselman felt the need to make art in a different way than the artists he admired. Wesselmann returned to classic art subjects, like the still life, and experimented with different techniques, moving away from traditional methods and materials. He brought together painting, collage, images from magazines, and even real objects to create his still lifes. He particularly was interested in photos that featured pre-packaged and canned foods, which traditionally had not been shown in still lifes. But Wesselmann was inspired by everyday objects.


An overhead view of two tomatoes, a stick of butter, can of soup, lemon, bottle of mayo, and sunflower arranged on a piece of floral fabric.

An arrangement of newspapers, multicolored paper, glue stick, pair of scissors, sunflower, floral fabric, and black fabric with white stripes.

Against a mint green background, a white paper with black ink is flanked by two strips of black and white striped fabric.Against a mint green background, a round piece of floral fabric is arranged in the lower right corner and the white paper with black fabric in the upper left corner.

Arrangement of yellow paper strips and cutouts of chocolate cake, tomatoes, berries, cup of coffee, crackers, and a vase.

Kitchen scene collage featuring a table with a cake, tomatoes, and cheese and crackers, a window, and a vase with flowers.

                        1. Look around for inspiration. Remember: anything not living can be in a still life! Look for items that are visually appealing and work well together. We grabbed an old dress, tomatoes, a lemon, butter, a can of soup, mayonnaise, and a flower. You might choose some fabrics and a few household objects, such as food, books, or flowers. 
                        2. Arrange your own real life/ still life for inspiration. Try arranging your items a few different ways and see how that changes your still life.
                        3. Gather your materials. You’ll need a big, sturdy surface like an old poster board or the flat side of a cardboard box, glue, and scissors. Then look for magazines, newspapers, colored paper, found objects, and old fabrics you don’t mind cutting up. Choose colors and textures based on your objects of inspiration. 
                        4. Think about your composition. What space do you want to depict? What materials might you use? Look through your magazines, newspapers, scraps, fabrics, and recyclables to make selections. For our model, we used fabrics for curtains and a tablecloth; realistic cutout images of food for details; and real objects: a recycled “shelf” and tomato.
                        5. Set the background of your room. A still life usually depicts a space inside a room. Start by creating your background. The background of an artwork is the part of the artwork that looks like it is far away from the viewer. In Still Life #4he background is a wall with a window and curtains. 
                          • Glue colored paper or fabric to cover your entire cardboard or poster board, and create a background wall.
                          • Cut out a window image from a magazine/newspaper or use a personal drawing. Glue it to the top of your background wall. Still Life #4 features a woodsy window scene. We selected a one line sketch of two people kissing.
                          • Make curtains by cutting two strips of paper or fabric slightly longer than the length of your window image. Glue one strip of fabric to each side of your window to create curtains.
                        6. Create the foreground. The foreground is the part of the artwork that looks like it is closest to the viewer. In Still Life #4, the table and objects on it are in the foreground. Choose paper or fabric for your tablecloth. Cut a large table shape from your chosen material. Glue your tablecloth to your surface. Note: You may choose to glue only a section of your table shape to the surface and cut away excess fabric.
                        7. Set the table. Search for materials and images of objects that you want to use in your still life in your magazines and newspapers. Look to Wesselmann’s Still Life #4 and your objects of inspiration. 
                        8. Play with the possibilities. Cut out the images and try arranging them in a few different ways. Try adding unique materials and objects to your still life. We searched through the recyclables to add a “shelf” cut out of a recycled plastic wrap container, and put a tomato on it. 
                        9. Glue your objects in their final position—or keep playing and rearranging. Title your work! We named ours Still Life with Tomato