Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Draw: The Pieces Make Up the Whole

Well school starts up tomorrow so I thought I'd start the year with a basic drawing exercise.  Art is all about observation and then how we interpret what we see around us.

When you approach a drawing activity with kids (adults too) they often have difficulty making their work go past the simple cartoon like image. 

One of the ways we can address this is to get the student to really look at the pieces that make up the larger subject we are trying to draw. 

This activity is applicable for all ages


- reference material, or model
- scrap paper in odd sizes
- pencil and eraser
- fine markers or sharpies
- paint, colored pencil, pastel or whatever you have to apply some color
- glue
- background paper for mounting


Gather your reference material.  Find some good books from the library, some photographs, or set up a model.

I like to use birds or animals, you could also do plants.  Use whatever is applicable to your situation.

If you are able to observe a real life example go for it!  Birds and animals may not always be cooperative though.

Find a good spot to work in with good light.

Variation:  If you want to add a writing component to this activity try this,
- get the kids to write down the main descriptive components of their subject
- maybe they are describing it to an alien or someone who has never seen an animal or bird
- or a shopping list like "If I was going to make a........I would need...."

Now I save all my scraps, especially leftover pieces of watercolor paper.  For this exercise you need at least
 3-5 pieces of paper in different sizes.

On the largest piece of paper have the kids draw out the main shape or at least part of that main shape.

Here I am focusing on that head, the ears, and that sway back as i really like that curve the tiger has.

Add some color to your sketch and you can even add extra lines to emphasize that shape if you want.

 Now take a smaller piece of paper and focus on a dominant part.  With animals I want them to focus on that eye. How does it look, what expression does it give off, what color, size, shape is it.

Now this is a cropped drawing so make sure the students fill in the entire background.

With the rest of the papers focus on other details that make this subject distinctive.  If you did the writing prep at the beginning have the students pull ideas from that.

Here I am focusing on the pattern of the fur, the shape of the nose, and the wonderful luxurious tail.

Add color.

Now glue all your drawings onto a background paper.

I'm sure by the end of this exercise your students will be looking more closely to the parts/details of any future subject matter.

A short variation of this exercise can also be done in their sketchbooks, little 2"X2" studies to help them prepare for a larger composition.
Jeff, age 8

Practice your drawing and observation skills and we'll see you next time.


  1. this is such a cool project, i really like how you had the kids draw different perspectives and sizes of the animal. I teach my students S.V.P., Size View Placement....and how artists make those artistic decisions. I think this would be perfect in conjunction with SVP.

  2. Great lesson! I can't wait to use this with my middle school classes:)

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  4. Great ideas! I will be using this with my granddaughter's as an art project.

  5. This is so cool! I can hardly wait to do this with my homeschool students. Since 5 of the 7 are in a science club that includes entomology this year, I think we will do bugs! Grasshoppers!

  6. I love this! Thank you for sharing another fantastic idea. I can't wait to try this!

  7. This is a great project! Can't wait to do this with my children and add it to their home school art portfolios. Thanks for sharing your ideas and beautiful artwork.

  8. Thank you for this great lesson plan. I used it with my art students this week and they all agreed that focussing on a piece at a time made them really "see" the animal they were drawing and that taking more time to pay attention made them draw it better!!

    BTW, I pinned this particular lesson plan onto my Art Projects Board on Pinterest --- you'll be pleased to know that it has been the MOST repinned post of several hundred art projects --- so a big Congratulations!!