Tag Archives: still life

Beyond the Still

I love to take photos of things.  Collections of things.  Seemingly random things.  Sometimes I notice people looking, trying to figure out what it is that I am photographing.

Still life.  Where does that label come from?  Is a bowl of fruit really a “still life?”  But when I take a photo of a collection of inanimate things, I call it a still life.  Does it freeze a moment when you might imagine life paused?  Or maybe the “things” actually have a life of their own?

The school garden is one of my favorite places.  Not because I am a gardener.  I am an avid photographer of gardens, but kind of a “fair-weather” gardener.  But I love the idea of gardens and I love the outdoor learning space of school gardens.  I love spaces where kids can uncover bugs, dig in the dirt, write in the shade of trees, hang out for a while under the influence of nature.

The garden was pure respite for my students and me this year with all the COVID restrictions.  We pulled weeds, found the world’s largest carrot–forgotten when school closed the previous spring–sowed seeds, and wrote.  My hit-and-miss gardening style meant the weeds were always back with a vengeance when we returned to the garden weeks after our previous visit.  I was honestly relieved when our garden teacher was able to return to campus and spend weekly time with the kids doing some actual gardening.  

And the beauty of it all was that I could spend time with the kids in the garden doing the things I love best: noticing nature, writing under the influence with the breeze in our faces and dirt under our feet, and photographing life…both active and still.

Exploring Still Life: NPM 2019 Day 16

As a way to help students go deeper with their poetry, we tried on some still life poems today inspired by Work Boots: Still Life by Jim Daniels.  I experimented a bit the other day with my poem about malasadas, and could see ways this approach might help my students. We practiced together using the classroom rocking chair as our subject.  I encouraged students to push their ideas, moving beyond the literal, stretching to unexpected comparisons.  Using the structure described by Go Poems, students then brainstormed a description of an item of their choice (a thing, not a person or animal) and then considered the deeper meaning of the item.  Using Work Boots as a mentor text, they wrote their own poems.

Frankie, who is obsessed with books, wrote this still life poem:

Poem Book: Still Life

On my shelf

just waiting to be read

it is a poem book.

So as I touch it

the hard cover is blank.

Open, close with a snap.

Floating on a river of poems,

feeling relaxed on my boat

taking me to places I have never been.

New words, new poems.

Places like the forest to the sea, on the fields

and in my bed.

Sloane, who was wearing a skeleton key necklace today, took that as inspiration.

Rusty Key: Still Life

The wispy key, sitting quietly

waiting to unlock the door to the world.

With waves swirling at the top

like octopus arms.

There on that silent table

at the end of this wonderful old key are two humps

like a camel

ready to click the invisible switch

behind the clockwork of the door.

That’s where the new world unfolds.

You see, this old silver useful and quiet key

can do so much.

The key finally breathes a sigh of relief.


And my poem was about my alarm clock:

Alarm Clock: Still Life

Next to my bed

my alarm clock stands guard

silent glowing numbers

mark the invisible

beat of the day, keeping track of





When the time is right

the tiny bird chirps



tearing me from my dreams

as my hands reach and fumble

to press snooze

annoyed yet comforted

knowing it will chirp


I drift back to my dreams.


Malasadas Still Life: NPM 2019 Day 14

Today I took inspiration from Go Poems, and decided to try a still life poem.  I went in a little different direction than was suggested–moving away from items of regular use, and had some fun playing around with the idea of a still life poem.

Although I’m back home from my vacation, my mind is still in the islands.  So here’s a bit of island flavor in the form of a still life poem.


Malasadas: Still Life

Nestled in a pink box

round balls of dough

rolled in sparkling crystals

of sugar wait.

Tropical creams…

mango, guava, coconut

peek out, hinting at the goodness within.

I take a bite and my mouth fills

with sweetness

that transports me to the sunfilled beaches

and the gentle breezes of tropical trade winds.

Memories of island paradise

fill my belly

all rolled up

in a delicious

Leonard’s malasada.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Look Closely

Sometimes the most amazing sights are right under your nose…and you walk right past them regularly without even noticing.  Lucky for me, having a camera at my fingertips helps me pay more attention to my surroundings.

It also helps to have a classroom full of kids pointing out interesting things, like this insect sitting on the yellow cucumber in the garden.


I love the way the composition takes advantage of color and texture…and still draws the eye to the winged insect in the center of the image.

And there’s that planter box right outside my classroom door, which has become a science lab for learning about monarch butterflies.  The milkweed attracts butterflies, who lay eggs on the leaves that hatch into interesting black and green and yellow caterpillars…and this week we have found three resulting chrysalises.  (Unfortunately one disappeared–likely nabbed by an over interested child, probably from another class.)  Two were still there when I left school this afternoon.  Here’s the one I snapped yesterday.


I love the intricate gold detail on the brilliant green casing.  I hope a butterfly emerges!

This student performance by second graders at our school this morning had me looking closely at the light and the clouds in the distance (you can see that wall of marine layer just beginning to burn off in the distance).  As they sang about the constitution (School House Rock version), they waved tiny American flags in honor of Constitution Day and Patriot Day celebrated in September.


Friday morning breakfast with colleagues has become a long-standing tradition at a local restaurant.  Parking is always at a premium, and today I ended up around the corner near this electrical box that I have seen before but never photographed.  So today was the day I looked closely and snapped a shot of this whimsical piece of found art.


You already know that the beach is a source of inspiration for me, but sometimes I miss the ordinary beauty of something as simple as a sand castle.  This one caught my eye the other day.


And sometimes we venture beyond the closest beach and explore other nearby places.  Out on the pier in Oceanside (to the north), I looked closely and noticed so much action out in the ocean including these sailboats seemingly racing on a beautiful holiday Saturday afternoon.


Walking through coastal Oceanside also offered us the opportunity to see some street art up close.  Many walls were painted with murals…there were eyes, retro western scenes, and my favorite, this triptych of birds in flight in an alleyway.


So, look closely.  What do you see?  You might have to look down from up high, get low and look under, or have a child point out something you might otherwise overlook.

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #lookclosely for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Open your eyes and your mind as you look closely, you might be surprised at what you’ll see!  Take some shots and share them…we’d love to see what you find!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earthy

One of the things I like most about hiking is the feeling of being close to the earth.  I place my feet, one after another, on a trail, over rocks, skimming the earthy surface of our planet.  My hike last weekend took me away from beach, toward the eastern edges of the county.  I rarely think of San Diego as mountainous…but then I looked out from Eagle Peak and saw these in the distance.


Even with other people around, there is sense of spaciousness out here, an opportunity to connect with the earth on its terms.  I love the way this hiker looks so small against the vast earthy background.


And you never know just who you will meet…like this cow grazing nearby.


I found myself drawn to the design of the tree branches…and wondering if these are trees dying from the long standing drought or just bare for the winter. (Our local coastal live oaks usually stay green all year long)


Surprisingly, the next day was rainy and stormy, accompanied by unusually high winds. It took a toll on many trees in our area.  This one, at UCSD, fell over, unearthing its large root system (taller than me). Luckily, this one caused no damage to people, cars or buildings like some in the county did.


I love tulips.  They don’t grow naturally around here (I don’t think it gets cold enough), but you can buy them potted at our local Trader Joe’s.  This one bloomed and was beautiful…and I love its subtle continuing earthy beauty as the bloom fades and dies away.


And today I couldn’t resist this still life–designed by the sea–complete with bubbles from the rising tide.  An earthy arrangement of shell, sand, water, and rock.


So, what is earthy in your life this week? You might look in your yard, head outdoors into nature, or even look in the potted plants in your house. Or maybe you will find earthy in places I haven’t yet imagined!

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #earthy for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So, unearth the earthy this week, I can’t wait to see what you find!

Documenting Growth

The garden metaphor is pretty common in education–you know, planting seeds and watching them germinate, grow, and eventually bloom.  And as a teacher who keeps her students for three years, I really do get to plant some of those seeds, watch them germinate, grow…and bloom–sometimes a year or two after they are planted.

One of the families in our class gave each of us a mason jar planted with a narcissus paperwhite bulb for Christmas with a note on the lid telling us to be sure to take the top off and water.  And since taking that top off three weeks ago, I’ve been watching that bulb.  It began by stretching roots down, filling the jar with stringy white texture.  And then green shoots began to emerge, quickly growing tall above the rim of the jar.

Earlier this week those tall shoots got taller than they had the strength to hold onto and bent over, startling me as I looked up and found the shoots looking down at me.  My handy husband found some old chopsticks and propped the shoots back upright.

Close examination over the last week revealed buds, and I checked daily to see if they were ready to open.  And today when I got home from my morning San Diego Area Writing Project Leadership Group meeting, I found that the blossom had opened.  And of course I had to get my camera out and take some photos to document the growth and capture the beauty.


I’m loving this still life, an unedited photo taken with my iPhone.  If you look closely you can see the blossom at the top and the one to the left that is getting ready to bloom.  (You can even see the chopstick props if you really look closely!)

Of course I also wanted to lean in and capture the detail with my macro lens.  The detail of the blossom is revealed by the magnification of the lens.  This is another unedited photo.


And sometimes it’s nice to get a different view.  In this shot I used the regular iPhone lens and then brought the image into Camera+ to crop and enhance. I like the effect and how it emphasizes how the shoot changes as it gets close to the blossom.


I’ve enjoyed documenting the growth of this bulb through my photography.  It also has me thinking about how we document our students’ growth…and how they keep track of their own growth.  We keep samples of students’ work and have them reflect on their own learning, encouraging them to notice, stretch, and build on what they have learned.

My photographs document my growth as a photographer.  I can see how my composition has improved and as I examine my photos I make plans to try new techniques.  I seek out mentors on other blogs and on other internet sites.

We plan to start our students blogging next week.  We began blogging last year…figuring out how this might work with young students as we worked through each step of the way.  We’ve let the blogs idle as we established our classroom community and let our first graders develop some fluency and confidence with writing.

As we get ready to restart our blogging, I want to think about student blogs as documentation of learning…as portfolios of growth over time. And I want to capture snapshots of their growth like I have with the paperwhites, documenting their progress and their process over time.  Maybe the blogs will be like my camera lens…

The Action of Stillness: Still Life

Today’s daily prompt at The Daily Post is stillness.  In our classroom we’ve begun to work on sketching techniques that help artists capture roundness.  All this in preparation for sketching a still life of the fall bounty from the school garden.  Last week we sketched pumpkins.  Today…tomatoes!


So here is the action of a child working to capture the stillness and roundness of a tomato just picked from the school garden.


How do you capture stillness?