Intro to Drawing

The following is a Drawing Unit introduction that I used with my mixed level (Art I-Advanced Art) and mixed grade (8-12) students. Following the introduction (with required note-taking), students divided up to play a couple of learning games. This introduction (which was refined and further embellished each time it was presented!) was completed during one 45-minute class period.

"Once upon a time, there was an extraordinary group of people who lived on the earth. Some still live here. They are the most creative and innovative people that you could possibly imagine. They can solve any problem, they can create entire cities out of simple materials, and they can draw anything they see or anything they can imagine.

I was one of these people, and I hit my creative peak in 1961. You, too, were one of these incredibly creative people, probably in the late 1980s or the early 1990s--when you were about five years old!

Few adults can match the creativity of the average five-year-old child. Their imaginations are unbelievably rich, and most of them are fearless drawers. But what happens to these confident artists and amazing inventors when they're about five years old? (Wait for response.) They start to school!

(On board, draw top view of head, labeling right and left hemispheres of the brain. Continue by listing and defining brain functions to either side of the drawn image.)

Educational systems typically seek to develop the left hemisphere of the brain which is:

Verbal: Using words to name and describe things
Analytic: Figures things out step by step
Temporal: Concerned about time
Logical: draws conclusions based on facts.

In addition to having a left hemisphere, you also have a right hemisphere of the brain which is:

Non-Verbal: awareness, without words
Synthetic: puts things together to form wholes
Non-Temporal: not concerned with time (i.e. getting "lost" in a book)
Intuitive: uses hunches, feelings.

The left hemisphere of the brain makes sense of the world by creating symbols that stand for words. (Illustrate the following on the board, waiting for a response after each question.) Around the age of 6 most children have learned a symbol for a tree--what does it look like? (Green ball on a brown stick.) They have a symbol for the sun--what does it look like? (Yellow half circle in the corner of the paper with thin lines radiating outward.) Most children have a symbol for a house--what does it look like? (Square with a triangle on top.) Most children have a symbol for a person. What does it look like? (Circle for head, sticks or rectangles for arms and legs, etc..)

As a child becomes increasingly verbal, more and more symbols form in their mind. Symbols save time, and the time-oriented left brain likes this. Why LOOK at something when your mind can quickly generate a symbol for a house, for a shoe, for a house, for a person?

By early adolescence, many children have stopped drawing. And if they DO draw, they become frustrated, because they know that the symbols for various objects don't really LOOK like the objects that they're trying to draw. And they're also out of practice. And they're a lot more self-conscious and critical about themselves.

Without instruction, most adults draw no better than the average 10 or 11 year old child.

Which side of your brain says "I can't draw?" (The left side.) Which side of your brain says "That doesn't look like a nose" when trying to draw a face?

If you could talk when you were six months old, you'd probably still be crawling because the dominant left hemisphere would have said "I can't walk" and it would have been difficult to motivate yourself to try.

If you can tie your shoes, you can learn to draw--all it takes is motivation and practice. You're at the perfect age to really develop good drawing skills. Your left hemisphere will help you understand how to develop good technical skills and your right hemisphere will help you break some of the symbols that have accumulated in your brain.

During some drawing exercises that we'll be doing, you will not be allowed to talk, because any self-critical words will interfere with your right brain's ability and it will break other people's concentration, too. During some exercises you will be able to look at what you're drawing but you won't be able to look at your paper as you draw, because we'll be strengthening your hand-eye coordination. And during an exercise now, you're going to work with a partner to create drawings based on verbal descriptions.

(Review terms such as "vertical," "horizontal," "parallel," etc.)

You'll also be doing another exercise that will help you better understand what contour lines are."

(Note: I used these games simultaneously, switching around as needed to keep all students actively engaged during the whole period. Afterwards, we briefly discussed if it was easier or harder to draw something unseen from verbal instructions, alone, or from the sense of touch, alone. My students were evenly divided in their opinions!)

Game 1: Describer-Drawer Game
Game 2: Draw What You Feel in the Bag


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