This weekend my husband and I headed to the local art museum. There was a gallery featuring artwork by the local high school students. Incredible. Even the pieces missing symmetry or the ‘perfect’ level of shading impressed me. The effort. The thoughtfulness. The unique perspective of each student manifested as creative license in each piece.
I thought of my own daughter and wondered how in the world I would ever be able to encourage the artist in her, considering my lack of formal artistic training. It’s one thing to teach your kid how to glue construction paper and glitter and popsicle sticks together, but it is another beast altogether to teach a child to recreate, on paper, with a pencil, the world around them.
Naturally, I turned to my mother for guidance. How do you teach a kid to draw when the whole idea intimidates you? I grew up watching her draw–for fun, to earn some extra money, and with us. She somehow managed to be encouraging even while she carefully corrected us. She taught us to forgive ourselves when our drawings didn’t look like we thought they should. She taught us to try again, because trying again was fun. I remember drawing with her so clearly, but I don’t remember her technique–how did she teach us to embrace the challenge of recreating something on paper?
She agreed to write up her thoughts on the subject to share with you all…
It is a common misconception that children need to be taught to draw. But really! They don’t need someone to show them how to make a mark. They love to make marks—on walls and floors and brothers and bellies. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have a pencil in hand, but it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I learned how to “draw” in spite of countless hours and a small fortune invested in lessons. Soon after, I started teaching at my daughter’s elementary school as a volunteer. What I discovered is this: Teaching children to draw means first teaching them to see and teaching them to see means giving them permission to ignore the symbolic world of our educational system. There’s nothing wrong with symbols: this post would mean nothing to you if you had not mastered symbology (i.e. letters) in school. But when it comes to drawing, I find that spaces, lines, texture, hue, saturation and color are much more interesting than symbols.
What follows is drawn (sorry!) from the excellent book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards. I can’t cover all of the material in the book in this post, but I highly recommend you give it a read. . I can assure you that it will unlock your child’s inner artist—and maybe yours as well!
It’s fortunate that this is a blog about the outdoors, since nowhere else are a child’s creative urges more stimulated than in the natural world. There are no symbols in the natural world. Every subject in nature willingly gives itself over to creative interpretation. Natural subjects aren’t annoyed when they are drawn with double chins, or with noses too big or lips too small; and the level of effort on the part of the artist is a matter of whim, not constrained by the clock. I’ll leave drawing theory to Betty Edwards, but the modified exercises that follow will make more sense to you if you understand the theory behind them. Give the following exercises a try to get your budding artist started. (And I need to state that these exercises will be so much more effective if you and your little ones are all doing them together. There will be some pretty silly images; if they can see you laughing along with them at what is most certainly going to be an “artistic” failure, they will be more likely to dismiss their own fear of failure and have fun.)
You will need to judge when to start and how fast to move through the exercises. I recommend you wait to start lessons until stick figures aren’t good enough anymore and your child asks you how to draw _____ (fill in the blank). This transition from drawing at will to learning to draw can be tricky because children are by nature impatient and by the time they are asking how to draw a subject, they will know about symbols and will assume that they need to know how to make the symbol that represents a subject. You will need to use your mother’s intuition to get things started. With many of these exercises the initial goal is not to create an image that immediately looks like a prancing buck or a fine botanical illustration–the point is to learn to truly see. Once an artist has learned to see everything, there is no limit to what can be represented on paper!
I also recommend that they be allowed to stop when they lose interest.
Paper. Newsprint pads are a good choice because they are large and cheap.
Pencil. A plain old #2 pencil is fine for older children. Crayons or markers are good for smaller children.
Eraser. Erasing is fine, but won’t be needed for exercise #1. If your little student gets too carried away with erasing, move back to blind drawing for a while.
Practice truly seeing the subject–not the symbol.
1. Blind drawing: Use a drawing surface that can be steady on its own—like a table, an easel, or a stool. Tape a piece of paper to the surface. Choose a subject—the simpler the shape the better. At least for the first drawing, a stone is a better choice than a pine cone; a stick is a better choice than a maple leaf. Have your child sit so that the subject is off to the side and behind the paper far enough that sneaking a peek at the drawing surface is difficult (i.e., they would have to turn their head to look at what they’re drawing). The challenge is to draw the subject by ONLY looking at the subject, never at the drawing, and by NEVER lifting the pencil from the paper. The objective for your child is to draw every detail that they see. This exercise is good because it encourages paying attention and because it is impossible to be “wrong.” The purpose of the lesson is to learn to focus and pay attention to small details, in other words—to see. Younger children will have a very short attention span, so simple is critical.
Afterward, look at the drawing with them and remark on any detail in the drawing that reflects paying attention to the subject. If you can get them to pay attention long enough, do this several times in a row. Encourage them with each iteration to see more detail. Part of the value of this exercise is to make the shift from symbolic consciousness to immersion in observation, a skill that’s natural to children.
Notice the Little Details
2. Mirror Drawing: Modify the blind drawing exercise to allow peeking. A good subject for this second lesson is your student’s non-drawing hand, since it is so close. Same story–with emphasis on drawing every detail without lifting the pencil from the paper… and while they are allowed to peek at the paper, focusing on the subject is best. Share your drawings and see if you can link the little curves and angles in the drawing with details in the subject. Your child may be dismayed that the drawing doesn’t look just like their hand. Congratulate them on the little details and remind them that ‘success’ here is measured by not lifting the pencil and by seeing details, not by representing a hand.
Now take that drawing and cut away one segment so that you are looking at just one part of the whole drawing (to start, chose the simplest part). Since it is just one part, the tendency to symbolize the object is thwarted. Using just the first line as a pattern, draw a mirror image of it. Make it fun; even if the two are not true mirrors, there will be some detail to remark about. Again, have fun with the designs and patterns that emerge and keep them focused on noticing the details.
It’s Okay to Trace.
3. Tracing: We are all taught that tracing is cheating, but that’s not true. Tracing is an excellent way to create muscle memory. Seeing the line and replicating it requires very finely tuned eye/muscle coordination–tracing is a good way to lay this down. For this exercise, you will need a line drawing of something recognizable. A page from a coloring book works well if the image is fairly simple. Have the children trace the drawing three times: The first time, turn the picture upside down for the tracing. The second time, they can’t lift their pencil from the page. Ask them to see if they can do it without drawing over their lines (the secret is to start with the outer edge and work in a circular fashion to the center). The third time, have them draw only the spaces between the objects in the picture. This brings us to negative spaces.
Learn to Draw Everything–Except the Subject.
4. Negative Spaces: Negative spaces are the empty areas around the subject. In terms of artistic composition, negative spaces are one of the most important elements of a drawing. As an example, consider the Rubin vase; the subject is a vase, but in the negative space (the white area of the image) are two opposing faces. But before your little artists can begin using them for composition, they have to learn to see them. One of the values of learning to see negative spaces is that it forces your brain to stop seeing the symbol–the object that occupies the positive space. For this exercise, use natural objects arranged on a piece of colored paper. It is important at this point to use the paper to create an outside boundary–the negative spaces on the outer edges are easier to see with a boundary. Sticks, leaves, and rocks are good choices. String coiled on a sheet of paper also creates nice negative spaces. Cover most of the paper with these items, so that there are only one, two, or three spaces where the colored paper shows through.
The exercise will be to draw the non-subject space—the space that is open between the objects. Talk about looking for round parts and angled parts; have them use comparisons to get better shapes (this line is shorter than this one, the space is wider than this line). Compare drawings and remark on the shapes that are closest to the real space.
Now remove a few more objects and open up a few more spaces. Either add them to the drawing or start a new drawing. Again, with each iteration, remark on those spaces that are true to form.
Keep removing objects and drawing spaces. At first the spaces will be just spots on the paper, but as you remove items and the spaces become bigger, the “space” between the spaces will start to look like leaves and rocks and sticks (see pictures below, with a few more objects removed.)
Seeing it all–lines and spaces
5. Upside-down Drawing: This is the most complicated exercise. You will need to judge if your child is ready for this. Using the same image you used in exercise #3, turn the image upside down. On a clean sheet of paper, ask your artist(s) to draw exactly what they see. The finished drawing will be upside down. Ask them to look for spaces and to pay attention to details. They (and you) will be surprised at how closely they have been able to replicate the image. Try it again with a more complicated image, At this point, stick to line drawings–nothing with dark and light or shadows. Again, the point is to force the mind to see an object as it is, not as the symbol it has been trained to think it should see. When a familiar image is upside down, it is harder for the brain to associate it with a preconceived notion of how that object ‘should’ look.
Putting it all together.
6. A drawing for the portfolio: It’s now time to put it all together. For the final drawing, use a fairly simple object, with spaces and lines. A chair is a good choice because it has well-defined lines and angular spaces; or give them a mirror and have them draw their own eye. Other options are piles of rocks, a leaf, a flower.
(Hint: to help them see the negative spaces around the outside of the object, teach them to use their hands to create a picture frame.)
Give the students as along as they need to draw the object. Encourage them to remember what they learned about drawing spaces between lines. Even if the drawing is not an exact replica of the object, pull out the parts of the drawing that show attention to detail. Compare the final product with their earlier attempts at symbolic drawing. Celebrate success! Remember, even if the drawing is not worthy of the Metropolitian Museum of Art it IS a success.
From this point, it is likely they will be drawing all the time. Experimenting should be encouraged. In school, they will be encouraged to practice symbolism because it can be standardized to all skill levels, but this isn’t a bad thing if they have the opportunity to let go and draw what they “see” outside the classroom. Whether or not your students become artists in the commercial sense, they will be have begun to develop an important naturalist skill–the ability to “see.”
Today I’m joining a a group of outdoor bloggers in listing our favorite campgrounds in the US and Canada (be sure to scroll to the bottom to see more lists of great campsites).
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not really a campground kind of girl, but every now-and-then I’ve found myself in a low key backwoods campground where I actually didn’t mind having a few neighbors and sometimes even a bathroom. Here, in no particular order, are my favorites (in the West, where I’ve most often found myself pitching a tent).
1) Kodachrome Basin State Park. Cannonville, Utah.
Kodachrome Basin is just outside of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and just down the road from Bryce Canyon National Park. This campground tends to be relatively quiet (as in not a lot of people). They have toilets, showers and picnic tables and quite a few trails (many of which are good for kids). It’s a small park, but very picturesque and it’s close to all sorts of amazing exploring opportunities.
2) A Campsite near Lassen Volcanic National Park, California.
I have no clue what this the name of this campground is, but I can tell you that it’s between the Cinder Cone trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park and Highway 44. It’s a little Forest Service campground tucked away and apparently not advertised. It’s such a great little spot with big trees, a little stream running by and just a few miles outside of the park. I posted about this trip here.
3) Coast Camp. Point Reyes National Seashore, California.
I really like all the campgrounds in Point Reyes, mostly because you can’t drive to them, you have to hike in. Coast Camp is my favorite because it’s an easy hike in for kids, 2 miles along an old dirt road, or you can bike there, or push a stroller. It accessible but provides that added element of adventures to anyone willing to give it an effort. The campsites themselves are nothing to write home about, but whole experience is what’s worth it. It’s really close to the beach, and some tide pools, and it’s got the best rope swing I’ve ever had the privilege of swinging on.
4) Anza-Borrego State Park, Arroyo Salado Campground, California.
You have to hit Anza-Borrego State Park in the spring, during wildflower season. It’s warm and colorful when most of the rest of the country is still cold and drab. There are quite a few different campgrounds in the park, but we always migrate towards Arroyo Salado because it’s never crowded, probably because it lacks a few amenities. It’s got a pit toilet, but that’s about it. Still, we get down there every spring we can.
5) Buckhorn Draw. San Rafael Swell, Utah.
This place is pretty darned awesome. The place we camp doesn’t have toilets and tables, but there is a campground at San Rafael Bridge Recreation Site that does have some amenities (toilets, tables, flat spots but no water). It’s a long dirt road in, so you have to be dedicated to finding beautiful scenery well off the beaten path. The campground is right in the heart of petrogluphs, climbing, hiking and off trail exploring.
6) Gold Bluffs Campground. Orick, California.
This campsite is amazing, especially in the winter when it’s totally empty. There are not many campsites left on the West coast that let you set up camp so close to the beach. They have showers, restrooms, fire pits, water and picnic tables. They don’t have RV hook ups, in fact large RV’s are not allowed in. It’s a sandy campsite well off the main highway (off a dirt road) with golden bluffs on one side of the campground and the ocean on the other. Sometimes you get Elk wandering through your camp and the campground is by one of the most beautiful places in all of Northern California, Fern Canyon (which also just so happens to be the perfect hike for kids).
7) Loma Linda Campground, Summerhaven, Arizona.
This place isn’t too far outside of Tucson, and the drive from the valley floor all the way up to 9,000 feet on Mount Lemmon is incredible. The campsite features all the amenities (i.e. tables, bathrooms, etc.) It is a little pricey, but worth it for one night, just to watch the sunset from so high up. It can be crowded in the summer, but the off season isn’t bad at all. There are a number of other campgrounds on the way up to Loma Linda as well that may be just as nice, and numerous hiking trails. And if you’re the extra adventurous sort, I highly recommend the dirt road off the back side (north side) of the Santa Catalinas and winds its way down to Oracle.
8) Gibson Reservoir Campsite, near Augusta, Montana.
I stayed here before starting a backpacking trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to see the infamous Chinese Wall. I had the whole place to myself… and between the incredible views, the little reservoir, and the crisp air in August, I was in heaven. The drive up the Sun River to get here isn’t too shabby either. Facilities are minimal, but (when I went) it was also free!
9) Desert Pass Campground, near Las Vegas, NV
While the night sky isn’t the best you’ve ever seen from here, this little oasis in the desert is pretty cool, and pretty isolated considering the giant city not too far away! We’ve enjoyed combining the contrast of a night in Vegas with the serenity of camping in the desert, and this little place provides the perfect contrast. The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is not well-traveled so you can expect lots of peace and quiet, and this little place features Ponderosas and a nice breeze–quite a change from the Mojave desert surrounding it! In the spring, the flowers can be stunning, and there are Big Horn Sheep and lots of birds that migrate through. The road in here is bumpy, but exciting. Make sure your spare tire is in the care, and inflated, and that you bring extra water! There are several trails up into the mountains… a nice summary can be found at this website.
10) Aguirre Springs Campground, near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The best thing about this campground is it’s proximity to so many fun and unique things. Aguirre Springs is in the Organ Mountains, which rise from the desert floor suddenly, and spectacularly. There are trails to the tops of their jagged peaks (we recommend hiking up there very early for sunrise or sunset), and this place is open year round (we recommend visiting between September and May because that is when it is least visited, and when the desert is coolest–and we mean both kinds of coolest). The view is phenomenal, and a half an hour away is White Sands National Monument which is good for several days of fun! The campground is cheap, with clean but simple facilities and plenty of picnic tables and tent sites. As an added bonus, the giant boulders scattered around camp make for fun exploring for kids.
Moms. Let’s face it. They play a huge role in the people we become.
We’ve done interviews with lots of amazing moms over the last few years, but lately we’ve both been thinking about our own moms, and how important their lessons 30 years ago influence us now, so many years later.
For me (Lindsey), it was suddenly having a daughter. That mother/daughter relationship was brought to the forefront of my mind. The thought of raising a daughter seemed daunting. I started to examine how I turned out so… well, cool (by my own standards of course). The answer: My Mom.
The three most important things I learned from her.
1. There is no substitute for hard work.
2. Letting your kids run outdoors unsupervised is a good thing.
3. Taking your kids out for adventures is exhausting. My Mom did it with 6 kids in tow. Get over it, and get out there.
This is the interview with my Mom (6/14/2011) Nancy: Adventure. Exhausting, but worth it
For me (Olivia), my mom is constantly in my head. The older I get the less I need to call her and ask for her advise (though I do…) because I can hear what she’d say without her having to say it (some people have bumper stickers on their car that say WWJD; What Would Jesus Do–my bumper sticker should say WWMMD; What Would My Mother Do. And honestly I think Jesus and My Mother would do similar things, though I am unfamiliar with what Jesus took on camping trips).
From packing for camping trips to married life to (very soon) taking care of a little girl, I think back to my own childhood, and what my mom did, to figure out what I should do.
The sacrifices she made were completely lost on me as a child. It is only decades later that I realize what an incredible mom she is.
This is the interview with my Mom (5/5/2011) Bonnie: Raising Outdoor Savvy Kids
Happy Mothers Day to all the great Moms (future, present and past) who read this blog.
Starting very soon (as in any day now) I’ll join the league of females with their own special day to be appreciated each year: Mothers.
Growing up, we celebrated Mother’s Day (and in August, my mother’s birthday) with a trip to the desert for some exploring of new roads and mountain tops, but with one slight change. Mom got to pick where we were going all day long. At every fork in the road we yielded to her whims. I don’t know if it is how she wanted to be appreciated, but to us kids it seemed like a pretty big deal. It seemed like a huge responsibility too… what if she chose wrong? What if the adventure of a lifetime lay down the right fork, and she chose left? I wondered if she might have appreciated a new sun hat more than the weight of Fate resting on her decisions.
Looking back I realize we never once regretted my mother’s choices–never once did we go home thinking “Man, that’s the last time we let her decide which way to go!” And I also recall her enthusiasm about what we saw after each decision (“oooooh, look! A Short-eared Owl is hiding in that Juniper!”, ”My goodness! Have you ever seen such a view?” , “Those clouds remind me of a Maxwell Parish painting!”). Adventure is in the eye of the beholder, and mom showed us how to recognize it, no matter which path you took. (more…)
Starting today we here at Outsidemom have joined
Frankly, we’re thrilled, and have already begun the initiation (i.e. Lindsey is on a field trip all day, and I’m headed outside for spring cleaning just as soon as I hit the Publish button!). (more…)
Have you heard of this?
When I say napping outside, I’m not talking about letting your child finish thier nap in the stroller after a walk or letting them fall asleep in a pack while you hike – although those are both great ideas. I’m talking about people who put their children outdoors to take nap every single day, no matter what the weather. No matter where they are, which is often right outside their own home.
I first read about this idea on DesignMom, in a post about a trip she’d taken to Sweden. She described the country as “one big Waldorf school” where kids spend a lot of time outdoors. They play outdoors, spend school time outdoors, and yes, their kids take naps outdoors. It’s sounds like the OutsideMom’s version of a utopian society to me. (more…)
I recently moved down the street from a lake. A bonafide honset-to-goodness lake. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into stand up paddleboarding (SUP). Preferable with my kids. So I knew just just the person to go to for advise. Danielle and her husband own Sweetwater Paddle Sports in Southwest Florida and run a SupMommys group, a class where Moms AND their kids come to learn the ways of the paddleboard.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom Danielle. Can’t wait to try this out.
How did you get into Stand Up Paddleboarding?
I grew up in Naples, Fl (on the beach), then lived in the Virgin Islands with my husband for a few years. Being on the water has always been a part of who I am.
Three years ago my husband and I got the urge to try stand up paddleboarding since surfing is rare on the southwest coast of Fl. After a few times out on a board my husband and I decided we wanted to open our own stand up paddleboard shop, Sweetwater Paddle Sports. We’ve been open for 2 years, have been crazy busy and are now expanding!
What made you decide to start your SupMommys group? (more…)
So Stacy Tornio sent a copy of her (and Ken Keffer’s) new book to me a few weeks ago. I’ve been reading through it ever since. So many ideas (448 to be exact)! So well organized! She’s giving away autographed copies of this book, as well as kids CLIF bars (Zbars) through the end of April. Having read through much of this book, I highly recommend you sign yourself up for the giveaway.
Let me tell you.
These guys get it. Their book tallies up the essence of outdoor parenting blogs everywhere. This is from the introduction: “Nature is a destination, but you don’t have to travel anywhere to find it. Just open the door and step outside. The tiniest of porches can house a flower container. A backyard can provide a lifetime of natural experiences. Nature is everywhere….” This book is perfect for first time moms, as a really awesome baby shower gift, and for those who wish they did more things outside but aren’t sure how to start. (more…)
It is so close to springtime here. The grass is mostly green. The Fox Sparrows are back in front of the house. Robins are perusing the lawn for tasty grubs. The Red-tailed Hawks that live in the Cottonwood just down the road are searching the fields for voles again. Mud Season has just about passed and I don’t have to wipe the dogs’ feet every time they come in the house. Flowers will be unfurling their splendid banners any day now!
They may already be blooming where you are… and if you aren’t sure, there are a number of excellent websites that can keep you up to date on the blooms occurring in your neck of the woods. Here are my favorites, arranged by region (this list is hardly comprehensive, but is a start). (more…)