November 20, 2013

Nature Journaling Skills : drawing what really is

There is a beauty in giving simply the impression of a thing in our art.  Our recent adventures in more Waldorfish schooling have really highlighted that fact for us.  Still, when nature journaling, I find it necessary to draw objects as they really are in as much detail as possible.  

This can be quite difficult for kids.  You know how often a child asked to draw a leaf will simply make a green oval, maybe a little pointy at one end if they are being especially conscientious, and make one heavy line down the middle and some randomly spaced, very straight lines branching out from the mid line.  This is fine much of the time.  It's lovely, even.  But in our journals, we are looking to record the amazing detail that is all around us.  

To get them to work towards drawing what really is even though they are little and have still untrained and sometimes clumsy hands, I give them plenty of examples and non-examples.  Before sending them off to work in their books, we look through examples of drawing realistically, and then examples of drawing an impression of a thing.  

Often, for art class, we will look at major works of art from the schools of realism and from expressionism, and discuss the differences and qualities of each.  Then, if our art class is leading towards a nature journaling session, we will choose one thing like a leaf or an acorn cap, and work out how to draw it in each style.  I will make a line, like the curled over edge of a drying leaf, and ask them to make that line.  Then then next line and the next until they've got something that is at least an attempt at drawing the leaf as it really is.  They need far less instruction in creating an impression of the leaf, though for the sake of art class, sometimes I will teach specific techniques for that as well.

I will ask, "Which of these is more interesting to look at?  Which one is more artistic?  Which gives us more of an understanding of the subject?"  All of those questions help them consider they styles of drawing that they have to choose from and which is better suited to the activity at hand.

The emphasis with young children shouldn't be that the finished product actually look real.  It should be that they are aiming to draw what is, that they are looking at the fine, rough edges of natural objects and taking note of them, even if their hands cannot precisely recreate those lines on the page.  It's not about asking them to do a task which is not developmentally appropriate, but rather asking them to be aware of their ultimate aim.  With that in mind, they begin to see how the toothed edges of the maple leaf differ from the smooth oak leaf edges, whereas before they would just scribble out that vague leaf shape and call it a day.

In the time that we've emphasized that aspect of our sketches, their journals have improved significantly in quality, and rather than tucking their journals promptly away on the shelf after they are done, they walk around showing them off to one another, oohing and ahhhing over the images on the pages.  

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