Encouraging Drawing

I’ve taught thousands of kids the art of drawing, yet no one really talks about how to encourage drawing.

Kids come into the classroom, usually very excited about the subject matter and can’t wait to get started.  Setting up a quiet classroom that plays instrumental music helps relax a student and give the brain a quiet focus on the subject matter (playing music with words actually confuses the young brain).  While they are looking at the objects to be drawn and doing the actual drawing, the classroom is quiet.  These are steps to help the brain relax and build quiet concentration skills (which many young kids need).

Once the drawing is completed, I ask all the students to hold up their drawing and turn them so everyone can see.  I respectfully say that “no one’s drawing is any better than someone else’s”.  Because art is subjective in nature, how can I whose drawing is the best?  We all like different things.  However, if a student has done a nice job of coloring or added special items of interest to their drawing, I may comment that I liked what they did in a section of their drawing.   Letting students know that no one’s drawing stands out, gives them the freedom to truly create in a safe environment.

There are some students who need reassurance of their drawing, in this case I ask them “what did they like best about their drawing”?  This is one of the best internal encouraging statements that you can offer.

I remember that in about second grade i was shown how to draw palm trees by an older student.  I got very good at drawing them and put them on almost everything!  After a while I didn’t want to draw much else, because fear began to creep in that those new drawing elements may not be as “good” as my palm trees.

If a parent comments how much they like a landscape or a specific drawn subject, the student will usually want to repeat this over and over to gain parental approval.  The best statement is still “what did you like best about YOUR drawing?”


Drawing “Mistakes”

Many students have a fear of drawing that starts with the first mark on the page. “What if I make a mistake”?  This can be a central theme that runs through their brain re-enforcing a negativity that causes them to freeze-up.

Drawing is simply a brain exercise that takes a little time to master, and even those who have mastered basic drawing don’t like everything they draw.  Just as you have to practice to learn how to play the piano, you have to practice the Elements of Drawing commands in order for your brain to tell your hand what to do.  But it’s not a perfect science and sometimes and all artists have a moment when they’ve drawn something they don’t like.   In fact, most professional artists only like one out of five of their drawings!  This comes as a big shock to many beginning students. Professional artists know that there really isn’t anything that you draw that can be considered a “mistake”.

“Mistakes”, or drawing something you don’t like, is part of the process. But, I know that if I continue with my drawing and go back and re-work the area that I deem as a “problem area”, many times that portion of my drawing becomes one of my favorites.  Sometimes I can add an element to the drawing that covers up the “problem area”, or I can adjust the line or curve to pull it into proportion.

Of course there are those few students who are such perfectionists that they can’t move forward if a leg is too big or one eye is larger than the other.  In those cases, I ask the student what areas of their drawing that they do like?  First, they have to finish the entire drawing lesson with me, then they can take their drawing to a window and tape the drawing to the window.  Using a second piece of drawing paper, place it over the original and trace out all the parts of the drawing that they like, then they can re-draw the problem area and still have an original drawing.  This is something that I rarely use in the classroom.

I never draw on a students paper for then it becomes my drawing rather than theirs.  But, you can take a piece of scratch paper and draw beside them to show the correct usage of the straight line, curved line, circle, dot and angle lines.

Also, all my drawings, except for water color drawings, are done with a felt pen.  If I hand a beginning student a pencil and we begin to draw the first thing they do is stop mid-way and ask for an eraser.  By giving a student a pen, and instilling the brain commands to use the Elements of Drawing, you are re-enforcing the syntax command that tells the brain to give the hand the right direction.

Children understand this concept easier if you relate the brain to a computer.  We are telling the brain what to do and our Elements of Drawing are the keys we use to make it work.