Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wild animals in the art room!

This is a gray fox and a fisher, and below are pheasants.
Why am I posting photos of animals? Because earlier this year, my students had a special opportunity for a very authentic drawing experience, drawing from observation.

The students were learning about wildlife/bird artist John James Audubon in art class, and about how he was able to draw such accurate representations of birds and other animals. I explained that he practiced taxidermy in order to have real models to draw from. Our school district is in the Adirondack foothills, and hunting is common in my students' families. The father of one of my students owns a taxidermy shop, and he offered to loan us some mounted/stuffed animals as models. So, in my room we had a vicious-looking fisher, a beautiful gray fox, and two pheasants. These are all local animals and the kids already knew a lot about them (such as "don't mess with a fischer!") and were very excited to draw them.

Unfortunately, somehow I forgot to take pictures of the student work :-(
Their drawings from observation were spectacular. The kids (mostly in grades 2-4) used drawing boards and pulled up very close to the animals. I gave them a choice of oil pastels, crayons, or colored pencils, and various sizes of white or gray paper, depending on the selected medium. Some used watercolor washes to create an environment.
The kids noticed details and characteristics that they NEVER would have seen by copying photos or doing a directed drawing. The drawings were unique and detailed, from every possible angle, and it was great watching the kids look closely and discuss what they noticed. I was very impressed with the quality of work the kids were able to do.
I am a big fan of observational drawing, and therefore often set up crazy still lifes or have the kids pose for portraits, gestures, or contour line drawing (but this was the first time I had real animals). Do you do this? Many of you post lessons that are primarily directed drawing, so I wonder if I am alone out here giving my students the experience of drawing from observation.
(Please note, I am not opposed to directed drawing or drawing from photos, so don't be offended! I do both, but find the kids really take ownership and pride over drawings that required them to really tune in and LOOK. And by the way, I also do a lot of drawing from IMAGINATION, but it helps to have the drawing experience and skills acquired from life drawing when working imaginatively.)

Do you favor one process over another for teaching drawing? I'm interested to hear your perspective.


  1. I love drawing from observation lessons! It's a little more challenging to get the "real" thing so I often look for cool stuff in nature. I put it in a box next to the drawing books so they can explore the "stuff" and draw it when they are done with a project. Sometimes I borrow instruments from the music teacher put them in the middle of the table and draw them or I borrow sneakers from the gym teachers or have the kids bring in their backpacks. Once I even got a large animal skull from a nature preserve and that was a big hit. I prefer to draw from observation so my students do to!

  2. BUT, this past year I succumbed and did a few directed drawing lessons. LIke how to use simple shapes to create architecture etc. It is a totally different feeling in the art room during these lessons but the kids LOVE having direction (because they lack the confidence to go for it I think). What do you think about directed drawing lessons? Would you do them in a perfect world?

  3. What a wonderful experience for the kids! I'm sure the kids really loved it and got a lot out of being able to look at the animal from different angles, with different light and different poses. So cool! God bless you Phyl for being there with our kids and well rounding them. :o)