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Drawing Basic Shapes with American Landmarks (C3W1)

I’m excited to start another year in our homeschool community learning about the fundamentals of drawing. We’ll start week 1 working with basic shapes. Understanding how to see something as a collection of its basic shapes is a fundamental skill when drawing. In Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, she talks about “the five basic elements of shape: dots, circles, straight lines, curved lines and angled lines.” (page 60) However, most artists and art books tend to look for basic geometric shapes such as ovals, rectangles, triangles and lines. However, you want to think of them, the idea is that you can take any complicated subject and reduce it to its most basic shapes. Some people grasp this skill much quicker than others, but it can be learned by anyone! All the student needs is patience and practice. (…easier said than done?).

Art Curriculum for Basic Shapes

Drawing Drills

I love starting out any art class by talking about basic shapes. In the most recent art class I took, the teacher had us all go back to basic shapes with an exercise the teacher called “gesturing.” In this exercise, she would project a photo of a plant or plant part and then give us 10-20 seconds to capture its basic shape with just pencil and paper. It was incredibly challenging for me because I usually like to draw fairly detailed line drawings. However, I found I got better at it quickly. I could feel my brain stretching to find the fewest lines possible to capture the subject.

art curriculum- learn to draw fast

I’ve come to think of gesturing as an important artistic drill. Every skill has drills- that is, things you do over and over again, even though they aren’t that fun, so you can perform well when you need to. I try to practice gesturing frequently now and even though the results aren’t all that pretty, the training it gives me is well worth it.

To start our Classical Conversations Foundations community off next year we’ll start with a similar drill where we trace. Tracing is a great drill for some many reasons. Since we’re studying American history and geography this year, we’ll trace a few famous American Landmarks. However, before we start tracing, we’ll lead the students through a really short exercise where they look at some really simple sketches of birds. The students will immediately recognize them as birds even though there are very few lines drawn. It’s fascinating how few of lines are really necessary for our brains to fill in the rest of the details of what we’re seeing. We’ll talk about the basic shapes of each bird and how the basic shapes are what help us draw a recognizable object without a lot of detail. This will lead us into the landmark drawing project. We’ll be trying to trace as few lines as possible and still have the drawing be recognizable. I hope this will help the students understand that getting the basic shape of the subject you’re drawing is far more important than the details.

I decided to use the Wet-erase transfer method of tracing (explained in this post about different methods of tracing). All those other forms of tracing work too, but somehow, this one is more exciting!

I picked out some landmarks that included both straight and curved lines, but nothing as difficult as The Statue of Liberty or Mt. Rushmore!

I’ve created a full lesson plan for this art project which includes:

  • An explanation of basic shapes and how we use them as artists,
  • Examples of Simple Recognizable Sketches (4 birds)
  • Examples of Sketches with Colored Basic Shapes (4 birds)
  • Detailed Art Project instructions
  • Options for scaling the art project up or down depending on the experience level of your art students
  • Photographs of 3 American Landmarks to trace: The US Capitol Building, The US Supreme Court Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Simplified line drawings of the US Capitol Building (east facing side) for an easier tracing project

Purchase the Basic Shapes of American Landmarks Lesson Plan here.

example of drawing American landmarks

Are you wondering what the rest of our Classical Conversations drawing art projects look like for cycle 3? Here they are! I’m making them available at a discount in the All American Drawing Package, or you can buy each separately:

  1. Drawing Basic Shapes with American Landmarks Lesson Plan
  2. Drawing the U.S. Capitol Building using Symmetry Lesson Plan
  3. Drawing Upside Down Ships Lesson Plan
  4. Using Color like Andy Warhol Lesson Plan
  5. Tricking the Eye with Op Art Lesson Plan
  6. Making a Statement with Grant Wood’s American Gothic Lesson Plan

You can see what our art projects for the first six weeks of last year (CC, cycle 2) looked like here.


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