Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
Since I’ve been doing some watercolor painting recently, I thought it might be time for another painting/drawing lesson for my younger son, who just turned five 2 weeks ago. You might remember the last lesson, where I had him paint on a large canvas with acrylic and large brushes. As I mentioned in my post about watercolor I have been inspired by Geninne’s paintings lately and so for this next lesson I wanted to try something more representational or figurative and to use watercolor. Neither of my two sons draw this way much. They both draw a fair amount, but it is usually quite abstract -lots of lines, geometric shapes, and almost always numbers (they are both obsessed with numbers).
This is completely fine with me -I really love the drawings they do. But I think part of the reason they don’t draw in a representational way is that they get frustrated with not being able to make the drawing look like the thing they are trying to draw. I can see the beauty in a childlike stick figure drawing and encourage them to keep going but to them it’s just discouraging and so they don’t try.
So I decided that this lesson should really be about learning to see. This is something we talk about in the beginning architecture studios I teach. If you slow down and look around you, forcing yourself to look at things in a new way, you will discover things that were always there that you didn’t notice before. It’s the same with drawing. I used to teach a drawing class for beginning architecture students and I always started by having them do an upside down drawing. This is an exercise from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, where you project a an upside down figure on the screen for the students to draw. Most people think that drawing figures is hard, but when upside down, the figure looks unfamilar and so they need to look very closely and carefully to draw it. All of the students produce a very good drawing their first time, and being successful so early in the class is a big motivator to them.
I knew if I tried to talk about seeing things in a new way I would loose him and if I gave him an image that was upside down he would just turn it around. And I also knew that what he really wanted to do was paint with watercolors, so again I set some limits to allow him to be successful quickly while sneaking in a little lesson about seeing:
- First I chose a book with simple graphic line illustrations to draw from: The Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which is a favorite of both of my boys.
- He chose a bird and I had him start with pencil on watercolor paper. I told him to follow the outline of the bird with his eyes and to draw slowly, mostly looking at the illustration rather than his pencil and not lifting the pencil from the paper. We put the paper close to the book so that he could see his paper in his peripheral vision. I helped him a lot with this part, sometimes guiding his hand, sometimes putting a dot of pencil to show him where to change direction. I told him to look at where the major parts of the bird were, like the neck and wing, and to add only the major details.
- Then I gave him a fine tip permanent maker and told him to trace his pencil lines. This really made the bird pop and look like a bird, and he started to get excited.
- Next I had him erase all the pencil lines with a soft eraser and he was left with the graphic image.
- Finally I gave him a very small angled watercolor brush to use. Using good tools is important, even with children. The cheap brushes that come with children’s watercolors are too loose and floppy to get any control. With the small, stiffer brush he was able to control the paint better, and the marker lines gave him a place to start and stop. He chose his own colors, and I love that they are completely different from the original, making the painting uniquely his own.
The whole process was quite quick and he was extremely proud of his painting that looked like a bird. Then he immediately made 2 more. As we worked, my older son worked on his own birds, choosing to fill them in with marker rather than paint them, to be more like the originals in the book. As he is older (eight), and he and I have been talking about “seeing” quite a bit lately, he was able to work in a much more detailed way. He decided he wanted to draw each bird in the book, 4 to a page, and add their names underneath.
I’ll see you all back here in about 10 years to show you his completed project:)