Scaffolding for Drawing

Children need to learn how to look at subjects they are learning to draw. This doesn’t come naturally or easily for most children. They require scaffolding. Rather than providing a recipe to draw a fish or a teddy bear one way I teach children to look is to identify the underlying geometric shapes of the subject. Once the basic structure of the subject is drawn they add the curves and details.


Each year I structure a lesson around the Chinese New Year animal. This year being the Year of the Rooster the children viewed several pictures of roosters and discussed the geometric shapes underlying the roosters. As a class we then focussed on one picture and identified that triangles were the main shapes underlying that particular picture.

I demonstrated how I would draw the triangles to provide structure, stressing to draw lightly so these lines could be erased.

The students were instructed to consider the direction/slope of their triangles.

Did their triangles, when placed together, provide something that looked like a rooster?

What did they need to change if they didn’t?

Did one line require adjustment? Did more lines need adjustment?

Was one triangle too small or too large? Was the triangular composition too large or too small?

Was it placed on the page so that all of the rooster would fit?


Next I demonstrated how to add the actual lines for shaping referencing back to the picture.

The children were shown how to add a bulging curve for the breast, a slightly indented line for the lower back, details such as beak, eye, shanks, hocks, toes, wattles and comb. Lastly they added various feathers. It was encouraging to see the tails varied significantly.

Once the children added the various lines over the geometric shapes they were required to erase the triangular shapes. When they felt confident they started on their final work.

They used black Sharpie or Uniball pens on their outlines and filled their rooster with Zentangle patterns. According to student ability pattern choice and complexity varied considerably.


This approach to drawing with children can have its drawbacks.

Younger children are still developing their fine motor skills and may not yet be able to draw lightly meaning erasing these guidelines is difficult. One on one demonstrations of light drawing assists but it will not happen overnight. Children will develop this in time with constant reminders and encouragement.

Younger children, as well as some older ones, will not be cognitively ready to understand that the geometric shapes are for guiding the final drawing. They will just go over these geometric lines to produce their subject. This also takes time.


The benefits of this approach are that it can allow children to plan the drawing.

They can see how it will be positioned on the page.

They can plan the size.

The basic shape can be adjusted to more accurately reflect the subject.

The ability to breakdown the subject to basic components can take away some of the overwhelming aspects when confronted a more complex drawing a subject.


It is important to remember that not all children will use this.

Some just draw the lines accurately to begin with as their ability to translate their observations to their drawings comes easily.

Others may be confused by this approach either due to their cognitive developmental stage or they just don’t get it and dislike it. 

This approach isn’t for everyone. Art is as diverse as are the artists who create it.  The importance of providing varied opportunities for young artists so they can meet with success as they learn can not be stressed enough. Therefore I have other approaches in the toolkit to assist children to develop observational skills that will inform their drawing ensuring  different learning styles are catered for over time. 


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Black Forest Primary School - 679 South Road Black Forest SA 5035

Phone: 0401 749 466


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Black Forest Primary School

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