Getting to grips with teaching drawing…

Drawing. We talk about it a lot in art but why is it so important, and do we really communicate to students it’s full meaning and value?

Part of my recent personal interest in drawing has been sparked by the efforts of my toddler son at mark-making.

He is an enthusiastic – though speedy – maker of marks, but as yet he has shown little interest in figurative representation. I have been struck by his easy confidence in making purposeful drawings that do not seem to have a objective around ‘looking like’ something else. To me this is exciting and I love his work, but I notice how adults and children around him frequently discuss his artistic endeavours in familiar terms; “what is it supposed to be?” or “it looks like a car to me”. And I wonder whether, at this early stage, we are unwittingly directing him towards a specific kind of drawing – naturalistic or symbolic representation – in preference to the process-driven expressionist approach he seems to be enjoying.

So, thinking more generally, I have been wondering how these early years experiences might feed into the ideas about mark-making and drawing that students arrive with in art classrooms when they go to school.

We all know students who are unwilling to try drawing because they feel they are not good enough, or they fear getting it wrong. The confident young artist willing to experiment, take risks and to follow their observations and senses fully is all too rare. We cannot go back and undo the prioritisation of one kind of ‘realistic’ drawing in young minds which it seems is often subtly taught from very early, but we can work to open-up and illuminate the idea of drawing as a much broader, rich and personal endeavour.

In this Tate video, Rachel Whiteread (a sculptor, so not necessarily an obvious choice to talk about drawing) is eloquent in explaining the place of drawing, collecting and printing as part of her practice as an artist. She talks about her use of materials and intuition, explaining how she uses her drawing practice to work through her worries about an idea.

In order to bring to bear these wider ideas of what drawing means in the classroom, I have displayed quotes from different artists and addressed these during lessons to highlight both why it matters and the scope of what a drawing can be – see below (downloadable here):

Learning from Other Artists

I have found that by expanding these ideas more directly in a lesson looking at diverse examples of drawing by different artists and highlighting varied approaches and purposes students can begin to be more confident to try drawing in bold and experimental ways – see below (downloadable here for £1.50 – you pay through Palpal and an email will be sent directly to you with the download link):

The presentation provides a range of examples of how artists have used drawing in different ways as part of their practice, and how varied the purposes and means of drawing can be. From contemporary to historical practice, the examples are intended to stimulate discussion and demonstrate to students how experimental and exploratory they can be. You can use the presentation as an introduction unprotects involving drawing and recording.

Drawing Skills Lessons

Of course, alongside this, the skills of observing closely and controlling your materials to draw in a more photo-realistic style is an important aspect of teaching art – though not the only or most important one. But with supportive instruction, it is often surprising how far students’ abilities to draw representationally can be brought on, if only they are confident enough to give it a go without being fearful of getting it wrong.

So, to support year 9 students to feel more confident in their drawing and get to a point where they are enjoying the process as much as the outcome, I produced a series of lessons focused on developing the skills necessary to feel in control when drawing (see below). You can download this resource on TES here or on TpT by clicking the image at the bottom of the page.

How do you promote an investigative approach to drawing and build your students’ confidence and enjoyment?



One Reply to “Getting to grips with teaching drawing…”

  1. […] Getting to grips with teaching drawing – thoughts on how we learn to prioritise representational drawing at a young age […]

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