Still Life and Observation Drawing

Learn to See Form and Line
Andy Warhol, Five Views of an Onion, 1950s, ©AWF

This drawing lesson teaches the fundamentals of contour line drawing using Andy Warhol’s artworks as examples.




Art, Graphic Arts 

Suggested Time Frame:

1 class period 


  • Students will identify formal elements of drawing
  • Students will apply contour line techniques
  • Students will translate visual data into line drawings
Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1950s, ©AWF
Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1950s, ©AWF

About the Art:

Although Warhol is best known for his silkscreen prints, he was also an excellent draughtsman. Drawing was a constant part of his artistic practice. As a child he took classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and later won awards for drawings he had made in high school. At Carnegie Institute for Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University, which Warhol graduated from with a degree in pictorial design) Warhol’s offbeat, nontraditional drawing style did not meet all his professors’ academic standards, and he was forced to do extra work in this area over summer break.

In the 1950s Warhol’s signature style for his commercial art career was the blotted line drawing technique. During the decade he also filled sketchbooks with freehand drawings, mostly done in ballpoint pen, of friends and still life objects. Several books of his drawings from this era were published including: Wild Raspberries and Boy Book.

In his Pop artwork, Warhol used mechanical drawing techniques and processes such as the opaque projector to draw outlines of images either in preparation for paintings or as drawings in themselves. He also incorporated drawn lines in his later silkscreened images such as Mao Wallpaper, Mick Jagger, Gems and his 1980s commercial work. 

Andy Warhol, Still-Life: Flowers, 1950s, ©AWF
Andy Warhol, Still-Life: Flowers, 1950s, ©AWF

Andy Warhol Quote:


“I was doing my [drawing] technique and then they told me I had to go to summer school, and if I didn’t go to summer school I couldn’t come back, so then I went to summer school and learned how to draw like they did.”

Andy Warhol in Success is a Job in New York: The Early Art and Business of Andy Warhol, Donna M de Salvo, Ed. Grey Art Gallery and Study Center: New York University and The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh,  1989, p. 26. 

Point of View:


“One Sunday . . . we went down to the flower market and bought some irises and came back and spent the afternoon drawing . . . He would just draw one line and then leave it, and when I would draw things, I was always erasing, changing, and improving. And he never improved on anything. Rather than do that, he would draw a new one, which is something I never thought of doing in those days.”

Charles Lisanby, interviewed by Patrick Smith Nov. 11, 1978, Andy Warhol Art and Films, p. 369. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Describe the lines Warhol used to draw his subjects.
  2. How does he achieve volume without much use of shading?
  3. Warhol did not use an eraser; he would just start a new drawing. Why do you think he did this?
  4. If you had to draw without an eraser what might you do differently?


Still life objects: onions, other fruits or vegetables, flower arrangementsPaperBallpoint pen, litho crayon, or pencil


  1. Explain what a contour line drawing is:
  2. Contour drawing (n.) - drawing in which contour lines are used to represent subject matter. A contour drawing has a three-dimensional quality, indicating the thickness as well as height and width of the forms it describes. Making a contour drawing with a continuous line is a classic drawing exercise (sometimes modified as a "blind continuous-line contour"): with eyes fixed on the contours of the model or object, draw the contour very slowly with a steady, continuous line without lifting the drawing tool or looking at the paper. There are other variations on this method.

    Contour lines (n.) - lines that surround and define the edges of a subject, giving it shape and volume. These should not be confused with a form's outlines.


  3. Practice creating simple contour line drawings of onions. The pattern on the skin of the onion helps students to see cross-contour lines, which help to give a shape volume.
  4. Create longer observation drawings from simple still life set-ups. You may wish to include flowers, vases, jars, fruit or simple objects. 

Warhol Education Rubrics

Click the Warhol Rubric headers below to reveal associated rubrics to which this lesson applies.

Creative Process
Media and Related Items
See other Warhol drawings in our collection
See other Warhol drawings in our collection