Getting to grips with teaching drawing…

Teaching drawing ideas

We talk about drawing a lot in art but why is it so important, and do we really communicate to students it’s full meaning and value? How much do we focus on teaching drawing ideas?

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. Though 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. Do we prioritise 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 feed in to the ideas about mark-making. Do we expect a certain kind of drawing from our students when they arrive in our art classrooms?

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. But we can work to open-up and illuminate the idea of drawing as a much broader, rich and personal endeavour.

Artist inspiration

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. She also discusses 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 used artist quotes. I have displayed quotes from different artists and addressed these during lessons. They can be used to highlight both why drawing 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). This powerpoint presentation is a handy way of teaching drawing ideas.

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 it is 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. These are focused on developing the skills necessary to feel in control when drawing. You can download the unit of work from felt-tip-pen resources shop here or on TpT here.

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

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2 Replies 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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