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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.


The Basic’s of Beginning Drawing

My name is Miss Lois and my passion is teaching art and sharing my knowledge in a step-by-step methodology so that anyone can learn to draw.  It’s funny, when I started my journey in art instruction over fifteen years ago, I found that people were eager to learn or ran away fast.

Drawing is a skill that anyone CAN learn, just as anyone can learn to play the piano.  It requires a little practice, some basic tools, a beginning guide and a comfortable quiet place to create.  The more you train your brain to enjoy the calming focus time, the more it will want it.  If you train your brain to go numb with video games, it will crave that to.  It’s your choice.

Children, even very young children, are capable of producing realistic drawings.  I had art drawing classes for students beginning at age 2 ½.  Once a child can draw a large circle, small circle, small dots, big dots and straight lines and can sit still for ten minutes, they are ready for instruction.  And, my instruction went from that beginning drawing class to adult drawing.  Most of my classes were grouped by age and that’s how I will present this program online.  We will have set lessons for PreK (ages 2 ½ – 5), ages 3-6, ages 6-8, and ages 8-12.

I am starting this Elements of Drawing program in an effort to give parents and students a way to interact safely, learn about drawing and have some fun while doing it.  All my lessons will be “family-friendly” and will have a foundation in the science of how our brains and hands work together.  You will really be learning how to draw, not just copy what I am doing.

I also have to say that I have some rules when setting up a classroom environment that will be discussed below.

There will be some instruction on the correct usage of materials, and certain rules for drawing when it comes to perspective and figurative work, but there is no right or wrong way to draw.  Who’s to say what is good art or bad.  It’s all subjective to the viewer.  What I like you may not, so how can I criticize or critique your work?  You may not like what you draw, but that happens to ALL artists, even professionals.  As a working artist, I may only like one out of five pieces that I draw. This is normal.  The more practice I do with my drawing skills, the more my brain tells my hand what to do in a clear and concise manner.

Because there is no right or wrong way to draw, that means there is no such thing as a mistake!  You’ve just drawn something you don’t like, but many times I can turn that part of my drawing into my favorite by modifying that section of the drawing.

Students should be encouraged to look at other pieces of art, but there are to be no comments on another’s work in progress or finished drawing.  To really encourage, students must have the freedom to create without the fear of criticism.  You might tell a student that you really liked their usage of color in a particular area, or the way they put interesting objects in the background.  Students can only look at other works of art if they do it silently.

Never mark on a student’s drawing.  You’ve just turned a student’s work into yours.  If you want to suggest a way to modify something a student has drawn, use your own paper next to theirs.

While you are giving an art drawing lesson, it is important to give that lesson in a quiet setting.  Your brain cannot do too many things at once, and allowing the brain to really focus requires quiet contemplation.  When you go to finishing your drawing by adding color, this is a time when it is suggested that you add soft music (without words) so that you can expand the focus time.

Have a comfortable place to draw with good lighting.  Most of my drawings will be done with a felt tip black pen.  I only use graphite (pencils) when I am giving a graphite lesson or if the finished work will be developed into a watercolor piece.  By placing a pen in the hand of a student you are enforcing the commands of the brain and the hand to work together.  A pencil offers too many “stop and go” scenarios to stop and erase and re-enforces that the drawing has been done wrong.

Drawing and art takes time.  Don’t rush through a lesson.  Whatever time you’ve taken to do a nice drawing, should be repeated for the coloring.  A twenty-minute drawing should take twenty minutes to color.

Younger children require a lot of repetition into the Elements of Drawings and sometimes we start with just our fingers for a practice run.  Pre-K students should only have about ten minutes of drawing to start with.  Their attention span usually doesn’t last much longer than this.

There are perfectionists out there and in my history as an instructor, I only have a few times where I allowed a student to re-draw a drawing.  Windows can work as an excellent “light box” if needed.  For instance, if we are drawing an elephant and a student has made one leg much bigger than the other and starts to get frustrated, you can take their drawing to a window, tape it up and place a clean piece of paper over their original work.  Allow the student to slowly trace through all the parts that they liked as long as they are saying out-loud, all the Elements of Drawing while they do it.

Let the students put the first mark on the paper.  That means that they get to choose if they want to do their drawing in portrait or landscape mode.  I start my lessons by telling students where we are going to start the drawing, and ask them to put a pin-point dot on the page where they want to start.  This helps everyone at least get the main object on the page.

This is a safe environment where creativity is nurtured so I don’t allow “blood and guts”, “hearts in the sky” or “words in the sky”.  I tell the students that we are going to draw “real things” in our classes and they do it.  I also tell them that they will be free to color their drawings after we are finished, but there is to be no “scribble-scrabble” with their coloring.  I’ll get into that later for further detail.

Make sure you have a large line drawing posted that shows what you are going to be drawing up before you start your lesson.  This helps the student “see” what we will be doing.  Also, never “dummy-down” a lesson or make it “cute”.  Animation is a different skill-set and eventually I will also have lessons on this medium.   Have photographs of the object to be drawn around the room or in front of your student.  This will help them when they go to finish the drawing by working on the background.  No two drawings will be the same in my classes!

Draw what is in front first!  That’s right, it’s all about where to start!  For many objects, especially those with eyes, I start there and work outward.  This is exactly opposite of how I learned as a child, but works so much easier.

And, finally, how we teach our brains to repeat what we are seeing with drawing is by using the five Elements of Drawing.  Our brains are truly like a computer with a filing cabinet when it comes to drawing, but many times we tell it the wrong thing in order to draw.  We label everything.  I may have a beautiful flower picture in front of me and I quietly tell my brain, “what a beautiful flower that is” over and over again.  I focus and yet again, tell my brain, ”flower”.   My brain is going to the filing cabinet in my brain and reviewing all the images of a flower that I’ve ever seen – even if I am looking at one particular photograph.  You can image the confusion that is going on!

Instead, what I should be focusing on, are the series of strokes needed to draw that flower.  I break it down into parts – a circle (anything roundish), a dot (anything roundish and filled in), a straight line (thick or thin), a curved line (bending in one direction), and an angled line (a line that bends so much that it comes to a point).  Truly, everything in the universe can be drawn with those five Elements of Drawing.  These are the piano keys to our music!

I hope you will enjoy some free lessons with me on YouTube and other lessons on my website.