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Overcome the Fear of Teaching Drawing

I have a real passion for drawing- I love it. It’s one of my absolutely favorite things to do! Therefore, it should be no surprise that art is my favorite part of homeschooling. It’s in this first quarter that we go over the basics of drawing again. No matter how many times I go through it, I learn more and get better at drawing myself!! However, I understand that not everyone loves drawing like I do.

You can listen to an audio version of this blog post at the Ridge Light Ranch podcast called Anyone Can Teach Art. (12:20)

One of my homeschooling friends once told me that she was more intimidated at the thought of teaching art than anything else. (Fortunately for me, her passion and specialty is music, so we learn a lot from each other!) In fact, many people are really intimidated at the idea of drawing. They begin with the false assumption that some people are artists and some are not.

Allow me to debunk this assumption with two points. First, I firmly believe that everyone’s an artist in some way. We are creators, designed to create by The Creator. We all have that spark of creativity. My dear friend who was intimidated by art but loves teaching music, is incredibly creative and artistic in the musical arena. Maybe drawing is not your favorite creative outlet, but I’m certain you are creative.

The secret to becoming great at anything is practiceSecond, while there’s a few people, maybe 0.1% of the population, that can draw intuitively without any training, the vast majority of people who can draw well, have learned how to draw by practicing techniques. In fact most people who make their living as artists, will tell you they developed their skill through thousands of hours of practice. The secret to becoming great at anything is Practice. It’s true of basketball, arithmetic, penmanship, archery, calculus… and drawing. Malcolm Gladwell learned this and coined the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers (awesome book in so many ways) to describe how many hours of practice it takes anyone to be the best in their field.

The good news is that you don’t have to spend 10,000 hours drawing to get the basics down. Instead it’s a progression. Practice a little and you’ll have the basic skills. Show up and practice every day and you’ll start to get better and better. I know I, personally, wasn’t born with any natural skill at drawing. I stank at art for a lot of years and decided, as a kid, I would never draw anything worth looking at. It wasn’t until our family joined Classical Conversations in 2013 and started reviewing the basics of drawing that I became convinced I could grow my drawing skills.  Any skill I have now has come with hours of practice. This is what the first quarter of CC’s fine arts is all about. We want to expose our students to the basics of drawing and give them tools to start practicing.

Of course, some of us will pick up these techniques faster than other. This is true with every subject we study from Math to Reading to Handwriting. However, I want to encourage you that no matter how much you struggle with drawing, you can learn how to draw. In fact, the adults who have struggled through learning to draw will end up being the best teachers of the students who are struggling.

The Importance of Drawing

The skill of drawing is important in so many different fields today. For example, check out this 2012 Scientific American article advocating that art classes be added to the STEM education path. (In fact, you’ll hear many educators refer to STEAM- Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math- now instead of STEM!) Many colleges and universities are adding drawing classes to the required course work for science majors. Why? Because illustrating your experiments is such a valuable activity to record your research and it helps you notice all the details of what you’re studying. This idea was immortalized in Samuel Hubbard Scudder’s 1874 essay In the Laboratory With Agassiz (sometimes referred to as Look at Your Fish). If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage you to now! This is why we love to include drawing during our science experiments in our homeschool.

Drawing and Science go hand in hand

Drawing is a great way of committing something to memory (science stuff or not) as well. Artists who sketch out their travels find they remember them so much better that way. Personally, I found I couldn’t truly remember people’s facial features until I’d drawn them- not that my drawings of the people are even recognizable as the person I was drawing. Accuracy is not what helps me commit the shape of my son’s eyes to memory, it’s the process of really looking at them and trying to reproduce them that commits them to memory.

Drawing can also become a very relaxing right brain activity. If I’m not trying to learn a new technique or trying to draw something I’ve never drawn before, I find drawing and doodling to be the most relaxing activity I can engage in. I think we’re seeing evidence of this in the adult coloring book crazy (yes, I own a few myself). It’s fun to create something beautiful and coloring is down right therapeutic.

Getting Started Drawing

So, how do you introduce this topic and set your students up for success?  There are many really great ideas of how to execute these projects that are still plenty simple. In fact, I try to keep a Pinterest board full of these simple drawing ideas! Check it out! However, before you decide on any specific projects, I think there are some extra tips that you can use to help give yourself and your students the right frame of mind going in. It’s important to talk to your students (and yourself) about what it means to be an “Artist.” Use these talking points:

  1. If an artist does ten drawings, how many do you think they will like enough to frame and show people? (the answer is one- and sometimes it’s one in a hundred instead of one in ten!)
  2. Out of those ten drawings how many do you think he/she will dislike so much that that he/she will want to throw them away? (two to five) So if you draw three things today, how many do you expect to like really well? Can you expect to dislike some of them?
  3. What do you think artists do with the others in between? (save them, toss them, give them to Grandma)
  4. How long do you think it takes a professional artist to create a work of art? ( 6 hours? 12 hours? 18 hours? 24 hours?) How long do we have to work on our art today?
  5. What will you do when you dislike something? (Try again!) There is no right or wrong in art! If you don’t like something, we can learn how to change it, but there are no mistakes!
  6. Why don’t you give yourself at least the same privilege you would give an experienced artist? You do not have to like everything you draw. You probably won’t like everything you draw! Today we’ll work on art TECHNIQUES and probably won’t be able to create a finished work of art. Plan on using these skills at home to create your own works of art.

This stuff is crucial. It can make the difference between a student liking art class and hating it. Emphasize to your students, and in your own mind, that these are techniques we’re learning and they’ll take practice to perfect. Given enough patience and time, you can draw anything! The key is to break it down into it’s basic shapes and practice, practice, practice.

Tips for Creating a Atmosphere for Art

Now that your students (and you) have relaxed a little and (hopefully) let go of perfectionism, let’s talk about creating an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning to draw. First, learning drawing techniques is both a right and left brain activity for many people, so it actually takes a lot of concentration.

Drawing takes concentration

Many of my art lessons are designed to make the most of a short thirty minute segment, so they often require a good deal of concentration.  Some kids will pick up on the technique quickly- those usually aren’t the ones who need to really concentrate. I’m thinking more about the students who are feeling overwhelmed by this task you’re giving them. These students will do well to have the room quiet while they’re drawing. This means you can’t walk around and tell everyone what a great job they’re doing. Personally, this was (and still is) a really hard habit to break. We want to encourage everyone by commenting on their work, but it really is helpful to create silence. If it feels awkward not to comment, just start drawing the art project yourself. If you’re awesome, the students will get to see a master at work. If you’re horrible, they’ll be encouraged to see you push through the struggle and improve as you go along. Then, in the last 5 minutes, you can have each student tell you about his/her drawing as they’re all cleaning up.

Here’s a script you can use with your class to explain all this:

Concentration is very important in drawing. I’m going to give you some instructions and you’re going to follow my instructions. Then when we’re done with that part of the lesson, you’ll have some free time for drawing. When you’re drawing you need to stop talking. If you’re talking, your mind is busy talking instead of telling your hand what to do. I know you want to have success with your drawing and you don’t realize how badly it can be affected by talking or becoming distracted by others talking. I also know it’s a very hard habit to break, so I will help you: Unless I’m giving instructions, I will not talk myself or encourage you to talk with me about the things you’re drawing. Don’t worry, there will be lots of time for talking at lunch!

I know many art teachers like to have music playing the background. My opinion is that you need to know your class here. If the students in your class are catching on quickly and starting to chat with each other because this drawing activity is not taking their full concentration, then some music playing softly in the background will probably help. However, if there are a few students who are really struggling, silence will be best for them.

Another key to creating an atmosphere conducive to learning to draw is to keep it simple.  For me, in the drawing segment of the year, this often means only one media (paint OR colored pencils) per week. Sometimes I provide a pre-drawn image for students to paint, so we can simply focus on a painting technique in our short 30 minute time segment. I also intentionally keep our paper sizes fairly small. I love the “half size” paper (around 8.5 x 5.5) because it’s enough room to play around and not so much room as to take all day.

Now you’re ready to teach drawing! Take a deep breath and work on one exercise at a time. You don’t need to be an expert at art, you just need to share what you know.


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