Archives for April 2012

Art + Literacy Connections

After two evenings of freestyle art exploration with cotton swabs and on aluminum foil, K and I dived into the foundational techniques of drawing. I got him started on some introductory exercises from Mona Brooke’s book, which focused on the five elements of shape: the dot, the circle, the straight line, the curved line and the angle line.

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After the initial warm-up, I showed him a picture of a cat like this picture here,

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and I told him that he could draw cats. Any type of cats, it can look like this, or he can draw his own cat.

(K, I think is a closet cat lover. He claims that he prefers a dog for a pet, but the soft-toys that he has developed affinity for are all cats, and there are like at least 4 different ones).

K went with the suggestion of drawing his own cat, or rather, cats and ended up with a drawing like this.

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These stick men figures in the picture shows that K is still in the symbolic art stage, and he hasn’t move to representational stage. (Here is an informational article about the stages of art development in a child OR do read Susan Striker’s Young at Art to understand more about children’s art development).

According to Mona Brookes and Susan’s Striker’s books, Symbolic drawing is perfectly normal in a child’s development. Parents or art educators should try not to interfere with their child’s effort to express him/herself through this form. It should not be compared to realistic drawing, and it is best not to push the child to prematurely stop this activity. When children draw symbolically, they have internal conversations about what they are drawing, which in turn, helps them communicate and deal with symbols.

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If I did not read both books, I might have the common notion that I should try to ‘help’ my child to ‘progress’ to the representational/ realism drawing stage, and be naturally concerned that he is possibly slow in his drawing development.

As mentioned in the books, only the rare child learns how to draw realistically or representationally on his own. Learning to draw is like learning to play the piano, learning to dance or to write. There are the occasional gifted or talented child who picks it all by himself/herself.

Symbolic drawing is a lot about how the child communicates and in this instance tell a story. As K went on to tell me that after illustrating the pictures, he wanted to author his drawings.

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Text deciphered :

‘The cats are running away from us

We must do something

About the cats

We must catch them

Ok GT Ng (apparently that’s him) Ok spiderman

We need the gold

So we need to punch the cats face

Ok we need to kill them’

At this juncture, he told me, “Imagine you read all that, and then go to sleep, you will have a bad dream.” So he told me that it is important that he adds the last sentence, to justify the violence of punching and killing  -_-

‘They are bad cats’

Again, this development did not happen overnight, as it started with our daily read-alouds, highlighting the illustrator’s name and the author’s name of each book. And then repeatedly telling him that we all can be illustrators and authors too.

His writing journey started almost 6-8 months ago, started with simple 1-2 element drawings, and simple phonetically sounded words. As he continued with his line drawings leisurely whenever he wanted to draw, he did occasionally write some words with the drawings.

Often I am unable to figure out the words, until he ‘reads’ it out for me, but I never once gave him the pressure to spell the words correctly from the start. Also i did not correct his use of upper and lower case in his words, as I believe ability to use upper case or lower case in sentences, will eventually be picked up from our daily read-alouds.

It was only from this month, that he has been requesting to spell the words correctly. So he tells me the sentences that he wants to use to describe his drawings, I then encourage him to sound out words phonetically, letter by letter.

So this experience have proven that indeed drawings or art have lots of direct influences in a child development in literacy, and possibly many other academic areas as well.

Next post on Home Learning Art Lessons – Learning about the forms of shapes and exploring oil pastels with abstract art.


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Real Artists do not need to copy things

Do you agree with this statement; ‘ A real artist draws from his/her imagination and don’t need to copy things.’

I used to agree with this whole-heartedly, after hearing all too familiar exclamations from proud parents from the baby boomer generation about their children who have shown some good results in in art; “My son, XX, draw/created this all by his imagination. See how unique it is, I haven’t seen anything that look like that before!”

But after reading this book a while back, it has changed a lot of pre-conceived notions that I used to have about children learning art. And has truly empowered me to believe that even as a non-artist, it is possible to nurture my child’s creativity and interest for art.

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‘Drawing with Children – A Creative Method for Adult Beginners too’ by Mona Brookes

This book is written from the perspective of an international acclaimed art educator who runs her own art school in the States. Who have successfully brought out the artists in many young children to middle age adults.

Many of the people whom her art programme have nurtured, show little or no prior talent in art. ‘A real artist draws from his/her imagination and don’t need to copy things.’ was one of the key points that were mentioned in the book that strongly de-mystified the process of learning art.

Most renowned artists who work with realism, or subjects in nature or animals, usually observe these things in its natural environment. Also use photographs, look at other visual references and make rough sketches from picture of those things, so as to study the structure and shape of what they will draw. Some will re-arrange, add ideas from their imagination, or remove some details from the original picture to create their original piece of artwork.

What is even more interesting, is that famous artists like Picasso and Michelangelo both copied artists work for two years as part of their initial art training. Degas also worked with photographs of his subjects, and plenty of painters have used other paintings for inspiration.

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Two dancers by Edgar Degas


So does this fact about famous artist dis-mystify the process of how children/adult can learn art?

Imagination does play a huge part in the process of art, however it is not mutually exclusive from how people can learn or observe from visual references.

Her book also brought out valid arguments towards:

– why one does not need to exhibit a talent to be given formal lessons in art,

– the ability to draw can be learnt,

– structure drawings lessons are appropriate for young children. Children do not just develop their ability through free exploration and expression only.

I highly recommend this book if you are keen to start your own journey towards becoming an artist, or plan to embark on a DIY home-learning journey to teach your child art.

As I continue on my Art Home-Learning journey with K, I will be making numerous references to the techniques mentioned in this book.

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Art lessons re-visited

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Out of curiosity, I walked into an art school with K on Saturday.

I never really had the intention of signing K up for an art lesson, it was just an attempt to see if the art classes offered from this school was worth sending a child to. The trial was after all free, so the cheap mom in me grabbed the opportunity for K to experience a short session and to evaluate the programme.

The boy was very enthusiastic and gamed to attend the trial, since he tend to enjoy doing those paint art craft activities in those malls, and thought that this was something similar.

Before K entered the class,  I asked the lady at the counter area a whole host of questions;

Me : Can I know how are the lessons conducted?

Lady : We will show you the final product after the class so that you can decide if the programme is suitable for your child.

Me : Arhh.. isn’t art more about the process and not the product?

(After reading those early childhood art development books from Susan Striker and attempting many art activities with K from some of Mary Ann Kohl books. Hearing this words from her sounded the alarm bells in my head, especially when I am so influenced by these authors that art is ‘the process and not the product that matters’, when it comes to teaching art to young children).

Lady : (she looked quizzically at my comment)

Me : Oh ok, what I meant was, what is the structure of the lesson like? What are the children taught and how does the teacher teach them?

Lady : Oh 30 minutes, we will let the children do free hand drawing. Then the next 30 minutes of the class the child will do this activity.

The lady behind the counter showed me a A4 printer paper that was divided into half, the top part of the paper showed a black-line drawing of an apple, and the bottom half was blank.

Lady : The child will be asked to draw this apple, and use oil pastels to color the picture. Afterwards, the teacher will guide the child to teach some techniques of blending, just like these pictures you see on the wall. (She pointed to the colored creations pasted on the studio’s wall that were done by the other students)

Me : So what exactly does a child learn in foundation class, and then after that, what do they learn when they progress to the higher levels?

Lady : Foundation course is for kids between 4-6, where they will do tracing, follow the dotted lines in the picture, and then color in the picture with the blending methods that the teacher will teach. Then after that, when the teacher thinks that the child is ready, we will move the child to Level 1. They will learn composition, layering, and the gradation of colors. See this picture (she pointed to another set of pictures, with a consistent Orange in the middle of the picture, and the rest of the pictures was filled with the children’s own drawings). These pictures are from Level 1 and 2, the child will be given a picture with a line drawing of a orange, while the rest of the picture is blank. The child can fill in the picture with their own drawings and then blend the colors on the picture.

Right after 45 minutes, Kyle emerged from the class, and the lady behind the counter showed me his ‘product’ from the class. I was not able to show the picture on this blog (they are probably afraid of people like me, who will do this…heh). And what I saw was a nicely blended picture (right to left – dark red to lighter red, in 3 gradated shades) of the apple on top, and Kyle’s self-drawn and colored purple apple at the bottom of the paper.

Well, I squirmed myself out of not signing up for the classes, by telling the lady behind the counter that I am still evaluating which art school to send Kyle to.

I think if a child attends the class, they might eventually reach this stage of being able to blend an apple, or any other thing very nicely.

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Just a random picture of an oil pastel blended apple from google


I told hb that the experience was quite a disappointment, and his remarks were, “It is only $35.00 per class, what do you expect? Blending is after all still an art technique to teach the young ones. This is a supervised activity of sorts for the young children, you can’t expect the teacher to be passing down the technical details of art in that 30 minutes per lesson to the child. I hope you are not expecting that the teachers are art graduates or NAFA trained? Art is like how it has been in ancient times, children go under the tutelage of famous artists, who all then hand down their expertise. Teaching art needs a lot more time and effort on the part of the teacher.

I did not quite agree with the part about being an artist to teach a child art. I am not an artist, but I think using the right techniques + with the help of books, guiding K over time to build his creativity and interest for art is possible. I have after all taught myself to sew and to craft, and I think that can be considered another kind of art form.

So, I walked straight to the bookshop right after K’s trial session, to buy a box of 50 oil pastels for K.

Next up, art lessons home-learning style!

See this youtube video for quick tips on blending with oil pastels

See this previous post on picture books about art and creativity.

And here is a great article from Sarah of The Playful Parents on introducing the concept of geometric shapes in art, as shape is a foundational concept in teaching a child art.



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