Teaching Drawing

Kids love to draw. When they're young, they take to it without fear or self-consciousness. Usually we adults are the ones who protest that we have no talent, so we're sometimes just as afraid to teach drawing and painting as we are to teach unfamiliar technologies. Yet, we teach writing without thinking ourselves the next Hemingway, don't we?

Just like writing, drawing is a tool for expression, and we owe it to kids to help them become better at it. By teaching drawing you'll also build your own artistic confidence. Teaching drawing has another advantage: Doing it the right way helps kids learn about math, symmetry and geometry in a conceptual way and without the academic words. We don't mean just focusing on computer drawing, either. Focus on and practice drawing in the real world long before you get to the computers.

Introducing the Basic Compositional Forms

The secret to drawing is to overcome a natural inclination that most people have to draw the whole object they see. If we train ourselves to observe carefully, however, we see that a few basic shapes called compositional forms make up every object in the world.

The trick to drawing better, as most artists know and as Mona Brookes explains in her excellent book Drawing With Children, is to break down the object into the compositional forms, then draw them individually, adding to them until you've rendered the whole object. Because this approach takes mental and conceptual training, the way to start teaching drawing is not with pencil and paper, and certainly not on the computer, but with the eyes and fingers.

The five basic compositional forms are straight lines, curved lines, angle lines, circles and dots. Introduce each of these elements one at a time, and let the kids practice. After mastering each element, add new ones while continuing to practice the previous ones. Try to spend 10 to 15 minutes each day on learning the forms. It's better to do regular short sessions instead of long, occasional ones.

Each time you introduce a new form, before you have the kids even pick up a pencil or crayon, start by explaining it and then have kids look around to see examples around the room. Now have them practice by drawing the forms in the air or sand with their fingers. Try having them create the shapes with their bodies, or have them trace the forms with their fingers along objects.

The point is to have them internalize these shapes and train them to observe objects in their composite form. In the spirit of good modeling do this tracing yourself, and keep your eyes on your own lines to show them how important it is.

Take kids on a field trip to a museum, and have them observe the paintings, photos and sculptures by identifying the compositional forms that make up each subject. If you can't get to a museum, bring in art books and do the same thing.