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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Hokusai Style Waves

This was a great lesson to teach. I told the class a little about Hokusai, his 30 name changes, 93 house moves and immense productivity of 30,000 art works in his life time. The children identified the foreground , middle ground and background in 'The Great Wave'. They were surprised to learn that there was a mountain in the art work! Many thought it was a wave. We discussed how Hokusai created movement, looked at what texture could be seen, talked about the vocal point, the artist's point of view and that the art was a wood block print. The group was attentive, learned about the artist, the artwork and that Mt Fuji is a significant Japanese mountain.


The children were provided with a step by step sheet and a small copy of the original to help them draw the main shapes in the picture. Dividing the page into quarters assisted with the sizing and placement. The detailed complexity of the original wood block print had the potential to put some children off so I emphasized that the curly details didn't need to be included in their art works because they would be painting the wave crests. I showed them some student Great Wave art featured on Deep Space Sparkle to highlight that their art work would be perfectly okay without the details. 


Once the main wave shapes were done and outlined in black Sharpie the children drew lines on their waves. These they coloured with alternating colours. Some used textas and others painted them. This is when they noted the drama and movement of their waves. The next major step was to paint a gradated sky using warm tempura colours contasting with the cool coloured waves. Most choose to paint the crests of their waves using white acrylic and some children added white spots to show the spray.


This was a wonderful lesson. I approached it with some trepidation as it could easily have not worked effectively for the broad range of ages in the groups.  Being well prepared and giving the children permission to leave the details off their art contributed to the children's success.

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Wrapping Paper Smiles

This was lesson was a follow up to the collage flowers lesson. The children and I had so much fun. My youngest student had the biggest smile that it was almost coming off the edges of his face.

We started the wrapping paper by spraying large sheets of butcher paper with tempura paint in red, yellow, blue and green. If the paper was too wet the children blotted it dry. They then made a small printing block using printing foam that they learned to ink and print. It was a very busy lesson with children also making cards for their mums using buttons for decoration. So many elements were going on that only a few photos were captured of the work.

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Collage Flowers

My planned lesson was modified as I had an ah-ha moment and realised that the original plan would take at least two lessons for the children to complete and it wouldn't work at this time. So I kept to the theme of flowers and drew inspiration from Hundertwasser's lollipop trees and Kandinsky's concentric circles. There are many variations of lollipop tree lessons on the internet. This class did another version. They turned out vibrant and eyecatching and I hope the mum's enjoy their artistic Mother's Day gifts.

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A new take on Mona

During this lesson the children learned a little about the extraordinary life and accomplishments of Leonardo Da Vinci. many children contributed their knowledge about Leonardo to what I presented to the group.

The lesson task I had planned was to place Mona Lisa in contemporary clothes in a modern setting. Most had their own ideas of how they wanted to dress and place Mona Lisa. This was wonderful so they did and produced some great art.

The children received photocopies of Mona Lisa's face and hands. If I do this lesson again I would only give them the face without the neck. Incorporating the hands proved a bit tricky on the size paper they had to work with and proved a point of confusion for some children.

Colour was added with coloured pencils, texts, sharpies, and watercolour paints.

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Paint and value

This lesson was drawn from Trees in Gradation by arteascuola. To ensure that the children had an understanding of what tints are and how to make them the class did an introductory exercise on mixing tints. It is always exciting for me to observe the children's sense of wonder as they discover that they can create a range of colours using just white and one colour.

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Lines and more lines

This was line activity was intended as a full lesson but sometimes students power through things much faster than planned. A back up lesson comes in handy! It also works the other way-they become so engaged in an activity that it may take two, even three lessons to complete.

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