Google+ bakers and astronauts: Observational Drawing and Studio Habits

29 November 2011

Observational Drawing and Studio Habits

Today, at the Maker's Table, I presented an observational drawing prompt for the first time this year.

When I introduce observational drawing, I like to be able to spend time at the table with the kids, encouraging their work and talking about how they are translating what they see on the paper.  For this first prompt, We used bold colors and simple items, and the only colors available were the ones that were in the items to be drawn.

Luckily this morning, there was another teacher with me, so I was able to spend my time at this table, and many of the children in the room wanted to participate; there was a waiting list on the wall before long.  Some children approached it as an opportunity to draw freely:

And some children looked back and forth between their paper and the prompt as they drew shapes in the colors that they saw.  One child spoke as they drew, saying, "I see red.  Square, square, square."

No one created a picture that carried a true representation of what those pieces looked like in space, but that wasn't the point.  There is something about the introduction of ideas and prompts and materials that is important; and teacher facilitation in an activity like this plays a big role.

I do not tell the children what to draw, but instead I ask, "What do you see?  Can you make that color/shape on the paper?  I see you drew the red one; where do you think the purple can go?"  In this class, the children are still exploring materials independently, especially since they have been so used to more structured activities.  So I sat with small groups today as they came to the table.  No one stayed more than three or four minutes - they felt finished with their work, and that is fine with me.

While I talked the children through the experience of observational drawing and listened to the words and watched their actions, I thought about the importance of a place like a studio.  It seems like there are endless benefits to studio experiences:  children learn about new materials and are in a safe place to explore them; they are able to work at their own pace and at their own level of interest; and there is a person there who is dedicated to facilitating that hard work.  An artist, or atelierista, can promote studio habits of mind, documenting children's progression as they learn about media and how they can express themselves.  In my mind, a studio allows opportunities for all types of work, from drawing and painting and sculpture to construction and woodworking and photography and sound-making - and anything else anyone could imagine.  I've definitely been dreaming about a place like that.

There is no one way to draw a square or hold a paintbrush or eat a sandwich, but we all do things differently.  I think the point is not to show or teach children how, but rather to be there to talk and notice while they work it out for themselves.

I am going to apologize for the quality of my photographs lately - I am using a small video camera that also takes still images this year rather than a DSLR, so thanks for sticking with me!
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