September 1, 2011

Drawing Class: Week One

I woke up yesterday morning, grabbed my Ultimate Visual Dictionary, opened it up and started drawing. I needed to see, to translate information, to be there in the middle of a drawing - to go through the motions and think about how to communicate, to teach that process to a class of 2nd graders.   I began to draw a bunny, but left it unfinished so I could show them how a drawing develops - and that 'wrong' lines are a great thing to include instead of erasing.

Yesterday a fellow parent and I began teaching art to our daughters  2nd grade class. We get 45 minutes a week.

I believe art (and music) are just as important as math or english, and just like math and english, the more you do it the better you get and the more you understand the meaning behind it. I do not believe in the 'natural talent' people ascribe to many artists. I believe everyone has what it takes to be great...if they have the desire and practice. The thing is...where as children study math and reading and writing every day, in school...only a lucky few get 45 minutes a week to study art. 

The word 'expression' or 'self expression' is often used in conjunction with the word art...more so than with math and english, but I believe that art is as much about communication and understanding the world around us as these other mainstream disciplines. It is not a one way process, it has everything to do with an audience and feedback too. 

I am going to share my re-discoveries and this process because I think it's important, and after one day with the children I have learned so much and have so many thoughts to share with you. I am going to share our projects too in hopes that other teachers can use some of the information to work artistically with their classes. 

For a more concise Week one lesson plan, click here

After putting succulent cuttings in the middle of each table we did an initial 'just draw it' sort of exorcize so I could see where they were coming from, how they drew and most importantly what they were seeing.  Then, after talking about the initial drawings we did blind contours which to me, are one of the very best ways of learning to draw the world around you there is. The purpose of a blind contour is to train your eye and hand to work together and bypass your brain, or your internal picture that you can see and capture the nuances of the actual object you're drawing and not draw an amalgam of memories and mental images. You'll see how it is. It's totally interesting.

One of the first obvious things that I noticed happening was that many of the children looked at the general structure of the plant and extracted a rough pattern then reproduced it from above, totally ignoring their own perspective, and most tell tale details of the plant. What they made was a design inspired roughly by the structure - super cool, but we're going through and beyond that sort of representation, so it's a great example to have for comparison, and discussing what comes next. There is no wrong - just stepping stones on the path to understanding how to observe. It made me want to do a pattern design project with them.

Then there were the blind contours which were really difficult for the kids but they did GREAT in trying to get it and I'm thrilled for the future development with this exorcize. This was one of the more 'honest' ones where the student was really looking at the plant and not his paper.

Again, in this study the child has taken the succulents and drawn them from the side, and definitely not from their perspective. I love how much of their own version of reality they insert. This student also shaded in the leaves and have shown attention to composition as they used the whole paper in a very thoughtful way.

Again, a closer representation of the actual plant.
And this one, in that little point, has captured an actual nuance of that plant, the first glorious step in the hand, eye coordination through blind contours.
A gorgeous design...using repetition. She's a natural! Great stepping stone.
Another successful blind contour
Design-o-rama. Gorgeous mental image/amalgamation.
This guy is a born surrealist and did a great job differentiating between the first and second exorcizes. Again...woo hoo designer! 
Very honest contour above and drawing below and fantastic use of the whole page, and adding some tone below.
Mental image blind contour. I love this one. He was looking at the wall (as were many first contour exorcize) and drawing what he thought he might have seen in his memory, which was a beautiful symmetrical pattern to start with.
This is the same student. Fantastic detail and representation of the structures from a more general perspective, line, tone, shape, repetition of pattern...
Ok - there are allot of these and allot more examples of what I've already talked about. Check it out...

The one above here is a great example of the need for decent pencils. I like 4b because they're quite soft and can make dark lines. The pencil scale is like this HB is the middle with H numbers getting increasingly hard, therefore lighter to draw with, and B numbers getting softer and darker. B2 is lighter than B6 and so on.


Nice contrasting tones and shapes...chiaroscuro will come later

Really exciting use of line in the above two
And here's the 5th grader of the group. NOT. Isn't this amazing and beautiful?

 The quirky symmetry, the use of line and tone...feels very un contrived. A beautiful and sincere study I think.

Starting to capture some nuances on the right. Great progression of studies.

Unique use of space and of drawing the plants as they actually were on the table in relation to each other. One of the only examples of drawing the objects in space, with some perspective.
Lovely detail and lines. I believe this really was drawn from above.

This glorious study is so unique and strong. SO intentional and sincere. I don't know what to say accept that I'm totally excited to see what he does next.

One last thing. The top drawing, below my bunny, was done by a little girl who needs a little extra help at school, and she has captured, like no one else, what i consider to be the distinguishing feature of one of the succulents...the edge of the leaf. It's subtle - but really really beautiful ...even though she scribbled over it after. In that tiny drawing she has done what I am hoping I can teach the rest to do, to draw what they see and not what they think. Just as a foundation anyhow. I am totally moved by the clarity of that translation and I am SO excited to see what they all do next.


  1. These are so beautiful. They are lucky to have you. (ps. Cameron's favorite thing about junior high is that she has art every single day for one hour -- the same amount she spends in math, english, etc. -- it's her first class of the day, and what she looks forward to most...)