Pockets Full of Rocks and Looking Afresh
by Brenda Ellis
Today the art class headed outdoors to a nearby park where the objective was to draw from what we see, also called direct observation. While an adult may take in the whole scene, select a well organized composition, include far off structures like buildings, children tend to take a different approach. Children see objects as single entities. Using this natural tendency to focus on the small, we can teach children to observe the larger picture by starting with a single object.
I pointed out the different shapes of leaves in various trees that we walked by. We collected a few leaves for close observation. Then I asked if the shape of the leaf gave the whole tree a different look from another type of tree with a different shaped leaf. I had selected a tree with very large leaves, one with thin hanging leaves, and a pine with needles. Yes, they thought the leaves and needles made a difference in how the tree appeared at a distance. In this way the children were using their keen awareness of the single object, a leaf or needle, to make connections with the way that single object affected the look of something larger, the tree. We explored ways to draw those differences. After this introduction to nature, the children were encouraged to find other objects and draw them.
Childhood is a time for noticing the details. Children can grow in their ability to see more when they are taught to be fascinated by nature. George Kneller said, "To think creatively we must learn to look afresh at what we normally take for granted." It is easier to do this when we break out into new territories, such as the outdoors, which offers endless variety and changing seasons.
During our nature study, the older children drew an interesting tree or shrub including in their pictures buildings, mountains, and other backgrounds they saw. The younger students were more impressed with the small objects such as a dandy-lion, a pine cone, and an old shoe left behind. Many stopped their drawings to observe a beetle or butterfly passing by. We retreated to the indoors, where we took time to look at each work. When the youngest among us shared, we saw sheet after sheet had been filled completely with circles. I asked him to tell us about his pictures. It's these, he said, and he emptied his pockets. Proudly he showed us the rocks he'd found and drew. Isn't it precious that when drawing from observation, even the youngest among us has something to gain and something to share with others? We all acknowledged his work and gave our nods of approval. This little guy will be drawing with us again and given more opportunities, he will learn to look afresh during each outing to see what nature has to offer him.
You'll find many opportunities to look afresh in drawing books at every age level at the ARTistic Pursuits website.