From Now On
Vol 8|No 9|June|1999
by Peter Minshull email@example.com
Peter Minshull retired this year from West Vancouver School District after 33 years as a teacher, computer coordinator, and administrator. From the beginning of his career he specialized in art and elementary education. Since 1982 he has been a leader in the educational use of computers in West Vancouver.
Issue #4 - Lack of Confidence in Drawing
Young children know they can draw anything. They eagerly take up a crayon, paintbrush, felt pen, pencil or computer mouse and boldly use these tools to create pictures with soul. Most adults will tell you that they cannot draw. Afraid to even try, they gladly rely on clipart created by someone else. Where on the journey from early childhood to adulthood do we lose the confidence to express ourselves through drawing?
We say a picture is worth a thousand words. Why do we put so much effort into ensuring that everyone learns to communicate with words and so little effort into ensuring that everyone learns to communicate with pictures? Students learn to express ideas in original written compositions because we teach them the necessary skills, expect them to succeed, and support their efforts so that they gain confidence in their ability. Would we grow to adulthood convinced we could not draw if our school system taught drawing skills, expected students would learn to draw, and gave them confidence in their ability to express ideas through drawing?
A childs drawing has soul because it tells a story. Focusing on the story to be told, the child will attempt to draw anything. Unfortunately, it is easy to undermine this natural confidence. In addition to the many attitudes and pressures that have in the past eroded our confidence in our drawing, computers used thoughtlessly could cause further erosion.
What is the message we give children when we encourage them to use clip art, stamps, or templates? There is a danger that the message they get may be, "Your drawing is not good enough. This is better. Use this." The irony is that usually the clip art, stamps, or other images that are bundled with software are not as expressive as the childs own drawing.
Students can use computers as empowered creators or as thoughtless consumers. A group of students working on a project wanted to use a picture of a light bulb as a symbol for getting a new idea but they couldnt find a picture of a light bulb in the clip art file they had so they used a picture of a lighthouse instead. These students had become so dependent on clip art they werent even thinking of alternatives. A light bulb is so easy to draw, why would they even waste time looking through clip art files to find one? They could probably draw a light bulb faster than they could find one and they certainly didnt have to substitute a picture of something else because they couldnt find a picture of a light bulb. These students had so little confidence in their ability to create an original image that they didnt even consider the possibility of doing so. Without thinking, they sacrificed some of the precision of their message rather than try a drawing of their own.
Teach students that they can learn to draw. Then teach them to draw.
Too many people believe that the ability to draw is a talent that a few people are born with and many people do not have. This is not true. Virtually everyone can be taught to draw. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards provides a good way of unlocking the artist within for those who believe that they cannot draw.
We expect every child to learn to print and hand write. We teach these skills systematically and we spend time practicing them. The skills of observation and hand eye coordination that are required for hand writing are the same skills that are required for drawing. If we can teach hand writing we can teach drawing. We should teach drawing systematically and we should spend time practicing it.
Teach students that learning to draw involves careful observation.
It is possible to cut and paste an image without ever really looking at it. To draw something successfully, a student has to examine it carefully. I first realized this while studying the seashore and researching crabs with a group of students. We had been gathering images of crabs by scanning drawings from books and copying photographs from the internet.
We had some fine illustrations but it wasnt until we started to try to draw the crabs for ourselves that we started to ask questions like, "How many legs does a crab have? How many joints are there in a leg? How many sections between the joints? How does the joint work?" I realized that drawing was causing us to observe in a much more detailed way than copying images had. Not only was our drawing getting better, we were also learning more about crabs.
An Online Gallery of Crabs
Ink and Wash
Ink and Wash
These pictures resulted from four lessons taught as a volunteer to a group of 20 children in grades K to 3.
Teach students to value their own drawing.
Their own original image, imperfect as it may be, will communicate more about what they have to say than an image copied from someone else. Teach students to be confident in their ability to draw any image they need. Encourage them to develop "clip art" collections made up of digital copies of their own drawings.
Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie. Icons from Jay Boersma. The crab drawings are copyrighted by the student artists to whom all rights are reserved. They may not be duplicated or reproduced in any manner without the express permission of the artists and their families except as they may be printed in hard copy format as part of this journal for educational, nonprofit school district and university use only.
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