Handheld Arts Blog/Drawing/Visual Language

Visual Language

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Drawing is all about creating an image that represents an idea, a feeling, or objects from the world around us. We use symbols to represent what we want to communicate. These symbols are made up of the lines and marks we draw. I feel it is my responsibility to teach the children how to make these symbols and help them to create and adapt each symbol as needed so that it communicates their unique vision.

When a student comes to me and say, “How do I draw a car?,” I want to build off of what they already can do and offer suggestions to develop their ability to imagine something new. Rather than giving them my idea of what a car looks like, I will start with questions. “What kind of car do you want to draw?” or “What are some of the details of the car that you want to include?” These questions are doorways into their memory and imagination. They enliven an image of a car in their mind’s eye and are asked to isolate details that are important to them as well as details that symbolize “car”. We experiment on a “scrap" paper (see note below )  using basic forms like circles, half-circles and rectangles, until we create the perfect car to match their imagination. The child then copies from the scrap paper and adds the new car to their drawing. In this way the child draws a car that the child has created. I avoid passing on my symbol of “car”. I do not ever want a child to say to themselves, “This is the way the teacher draws a car, so I will draw it the same way.” They gain courage to create their own symbol/image through a creative, interactive process.

As their visual vocabulary grows, they become more confident and you can take greater strides in your drawing lessons. Drawings are accomplished more quickly because the children are working out of their memory. You can utilize their symbol memory by eliciting their input. “Last week we drew a house (or a flying bird, cat, etc.), does anyone remember how we did it? What are our first steps? If we are to draw another house in today's drawing, how could we change some of the details so it fits better with yesterday’s story?”

What is our ultimate goal as a drawing teacher? To give the children enough visual vocabulary, problem solving ability and confidence to eventually create drawings for the stories that are told without much teacher support. By exercising the visual imagination through a wide array of drawing projects, the children’s imagination becomes strong and creative.

A note about “scrap” paper: One of the things I try to avoid as much as possible is to draw on a child’s drawing. I find it to be invasive and domineering, even when I am given permission to do so. I want to help the children take full ownership of their work, even when they make a mistake and ask for help to correct it. I try to let them be in control of the product as much as possible. To assist in this process, I will often use a “scrap” paper to demonstrate something for a child, so that they can see the steps I take and the details that may be important to include. I also use scrap paper when I “experiment” with a child. We work together to figure out the best way to represent something in our drawing. We may try different options or variations.  In this way the experimentation allows us to avoids “mistakes” on the final drawing. The “scrap” paper itself is usually a recycled piece that has been used on one side already. It can be printer paper or a piece of less expensive drawing paper. Once the experiment is finished, it will be saved for later experiments on the same page (like an artist sketchbook). I usually have a pile of scrap paper in a special tray or box available to anyone who may need it.  

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Hi, I am Kelly Beekman

Artist, Teacher, Mentor

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together"
- Vincent Van Gogh

© 2024 Kelly Beekman
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