My proof that “How to Draw” lessons can often backfire (art class lessons 13 & 14)

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how to make a bird picture

This lesson took place over a few weeks but, for ease of following I am putting it all in this one post.

This lesson has really proved an amazing point for me.

I have been struggling with how to teach kids to draw. I use a lot of Mona Brooks ideas in her  Drawing With Children but, not all of them. I’m not so comfortable how she picks one particular item and has everyone follow the exact same instructions.

I’ve always had a very big problem with people who teach children “we will now draw a bird or a boat”etc.

This experience just proved my point.

I told the children that we were going to draw a bird and one little girl said “Oh I know how to draw a bird” and she proceeded to draw the above picture. I almost chortled in glee as I took a picture of her bird and said, we are going to draw different kinds of birds. (Now I had my proof of what the “how to draw an item”  plays out)

She had obviously been taught by someone “how to draw a bird”, as if there is one kind of bird in the world, and she was set with birds. This is my biggest problem with teaching children HOW to draw a specific item. They then think that it is the only way to draw that thing.

I have been finding that  most of the children can draw and copy very simple recognizable objects without much instruction. If I show them with my finger how the shape develops they mostly do reasonably accurate depictions.

There is no doubt that some of the children are definitely born with a better ability to copy than others but, most can learn this skill. My whole point, that I learned from Mona Brooks is that the drawing of items is just the beginning as the children then learn to incorporate what they drew into a larger piece of art.

We started as I usually start drawing sessions, by hanging up a few different bird pictures. I told them to choose which one they wanted to copy.

birds to draw

If they needed to take one of the pictures down to their level, that was fine also.

drawing a bird

bird in pencil

Then they colored them in and some of them cut their birds out to save for the next part of the activity.

red bird

Three of the children were totally stumped and said they could not do it. I sat them down and had them watch as I drew different parts. They were able to copy what I did and were quite successful. Below are two of those that needed to see how I did it.

I see from that, that there are some that do need more instruction.Time will tell if they can do subsequent drawings without my instruction.

bird after instruction

bird after instruction 2

Some of them added in more to their pictures than their birds and used the other additions for their completed pictures later on.

bird in a tree

As I said before, the birds are just the starting point for their pictures. In Drawing with Children she has the children drawing with markers like the better  Prismacolor Markers. They draw their main image first, like the bird, and then add in background afterwards.

The way I like to do it at this point is by doing the backgrounds separately. I have been using watercolors from the tubes and have been happy so far with the (inexpensive) Reeves Watercolor Paint. (I’ve been told that the more expensive ones have more saturated colors but, for beginners its fine)

By doing the backgrounds separately the children are learning more about horizon lines, foreground and background and the paints also allow them to do a background much quicker than markers.

The children made their backgrounds on watercolor paper choosing the type of sky they wanted.

After their backgrounds were dry they had to take their birds and place them in the place that they wanted them.They were also encouraged to make other things they needed in their pictures like trees, people, nests etc.

They had to remember that the trees they place will often have sky in their backgrounds but, must be leaning on ground or they will look like they are floating in the sky.

completed landscape bird picture bird in tree

bird in sky

birds over beach

red bird in tree

So far these few are the ones that are done and I will add the other ones as they finish up.

What has been your experience (if you have any) with teaching kids to draw?

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2 Responses to My proof that “How to Draw” lessons can often backfire (art class lessons 13 & 14)

  1. I love this post. It always bothered me when someone would say, “Okay here’s how you draw this or that…” and I couldn’t articulate why it bothered me (and you’d think I’d be thrilled with such instruction because I don’t know how to draw at all!). This post helps me realize what I instinctively felt.

    Going to share this with my daughter-in-law. She NEVER directs her boys how to draw anything and this would validate her natural tendencies to nurture her kids’ creativity :)

  2. Thanks Miriam. As you see though, you should give kids some direction. There is a fine line between extreme structure and giving no direction at all.

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