I’ve been thinking a lot about observational drawing lately since my 9th graders just started the drawing unit. Drawing from still-life is an age-old skill that frustrates and delights, depending on who you ask. Before we started the unit I asked my students to categorize their relationship with drawing: “enjoys it”, “finds it challenging”, “hates it”. Of course there is something flawed about these three categories and my students saw it right away. Drawing is all three. Sometimes you enjoy it, sometimes you hate it, and it’s always challenging. So, how do I make sure that at the heart of the challenge there is some enjoyment in the process? I started to think about other delivery systems besides the old step-by-step demo lecture on perspective. Snore. I began by preparing “wonky” drawings for my students. I basically copied or made-up lots of “bad drawings” of the various still life objects. These drawings were then placed beside the object and as the students filed in, they had to “correct” them in pairs. This was fun for a minute but I saw the same “mistakes” recurring throughout the room. Looking closely is going to take more than a period to master, that’s for sure.
As I move around the room I comment on their struggles, I point out passages of beauty in their drawings. I tell them that they are in luck since “drawing is my jam”. I point out their small triumphs and help them see those small changes that can make or break a drawing.
Here are two quotes that I love about the act of drawing:
“drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still, until your eyes ache.”–David Hockney
To confer the gift of drawing, we must create an eye that sees, a hand that obeys, a soul that feels; and in this task, the whole life must cooperate. In this sense, life itself is the only preparation for drawing. Once we have lived, the inner spark of vision does the rest.—– Maria Montessori
After a few weeks of struggle my students reflected on what they learned: