By Tim Chambers
Based on a recent survey, ten out of ten kids love to draw! I asked kids at my recent art workshop for a show of hands to the question “Do you like to draw?” Every hand went up. It was unanimous. (No animals were hurt during this survey, though some of the kids did get paint on their hands and clothes.)
Seriously, most kids do enjoy drawing, and it shows in their work and their enthusiasm. We love to hang our children’s art up on our walls, our refrigerators, and in our offices. They remind us of what it means to do something for the pure joy of it, don’t they? We frame some of our kids’ art, and even years later, they evoke a smile when we look at them.
I grew up watching my father do wonders with a plain canvas or paper. There was always an ample supply of art supplies and art books in his studio. My dad’s steady encouragement, instruction, and resources are a big reason why I followed in his footsteps as a professional artist. Many of us have children who love to create, though without an artist in residence to guide them. I’m here to give you a few ideas. Read on for practical suggestions about what you can do to cultivate your child’s art interests.
1. Stock up.
Unless you don’t mind new masterpieces on your walls—not hung, but actually on your walls—then you need to stock a plentiful supply of materials. I recall my father telling me to stop and clean my palette when it was full, for otherwise my creativity was stifled. I think the inverse happens when it comes to paper supply and kids. A stack of blank paper is an invitation to create! For younger kids, purchase packages of copy paper (500 sheets costs about $3 at Walmart). For your more advanced artists, a good quality sketchbook is ideal. Get a spiral-bound one filled with acid-free paper (about $7 at www.dickblick.com).
You will need plenty of crayons and pencils to transform those blank sheets into something glorious. Crayola crayons offer a wealth of rich colors for young children. For older kids—those who have enough motor skills to write—a set of colored pencils is ideal. I recommend a good quality pencil that offers deep, rich color. Again, Crayola pencils are among the best I have sampled.
You should also have plenty of regular (graphite) pencils on hand. The old standard #2 pencils (typically yellow with the pink eraser on end) are just fine. Advanced children can opt for graded pencils for more control in shading. Grades range from soft (B) to hard (H). I advise my students to purchase several of each of these: 6B, HB, and 4H.
A good pencil sharpener is partner to pencils and crayons. Nothing dulls creativity like a pencil without a point! My favorite is the Alvin Brass Bullet Pencil Sharpener available at www.dickblick.com. Less than $5 and works like a charm.
Though I discourage erasing during the drawing process, instead teaching them to work with a light hand before shading, a kneaded eraser does come in handy at times. All of these supplies can be found at your local art store or online suppliers.
My daughter often comes into my studio and moseys about. I will ask, “Hey—would you like me to set you up to draw or paint?” She always gives me an enthusiastic “Yes!” So I get everything she needs—pencils, paint, palette, etc. (I have an area reserved as a work area for my children), and then comes the inevitable: “I don’t know what to draw.” All dressed up with no place to go!
Just as watching others do their craft can inspire us, whether it be an Olympian on the balance beam or an artist working on a canvas, we, too, can cast a vision for our children. The Scriptures are chock-full of examples of this. Sharing drawings and paintings of artists past and present can inspire kids and give them something to aim for, though not necessarily as a standard. This is how I oftentimes will spur my daughter when she draws a blank—I bring out the books of art history.
By having my daughter browse books filled with photos of great paintings, she gains inspiration. She also finds answers (more on this in a moment). You can also find plenty of resources online for images of great paintings via museum sites, web searches, and more. Visit your local museum’s site, the Smithsonian sites, the Louvre’s site, or do a search on an artist that correlates with other subjects you’re studying in school (time/place). Your library is also a great resource for art books. As you study the work of masters that are offered in museums, you will most likely find worthy examples to follow for style, technique, and form. You can also learn invaluable drawing lessons by copying the masters.
Teach your children the art of asking questions. I know what you’re thinking—the last thing you need is your children questioning you. I agree (though God seems to use it for accountability at times). No, I’m talking about training your children to use questions on themselves to set a course. For example, when my daughter hits artist’s block, I can pose questions like these: What are you excited about lately? (Draw that topic.) Which painting in this book do you like the most? What is it that you like? How about we draw something similar?
You can also teach them to critique their own work with good questions: What is the strongest thing about my work? What part is the weakest? What can I do to improve it a bit further? Avoid, however, giving the expectation of perfectionism.
4. Be there.
Designate ample segments of time when your child can work. In this age of instantaneous hi-tech, it can be easy to crowd out traditional things. Yet, how often have we found time spent in these things more enriching and fulfilling? An hour spent playing video games versus an hour spent painting a work of art? For my kids, there is no comparison. I know there is a time for everything, including times when we are just plain beat. Relaxing and listening to music rather than playing it is what we need, but when my kids are bored and looking for an activity, creating can be quite fulfilling. The key? Planning. If you don’t plan for time to practice creativity through art, it likely will not happen.
5. Share your space.
Right alongside planning the time for art is the need to plan the space. Having a specific location(s) to do your creating keeps things seamless, offering an easy transition to “drawing time” (or “painting time”). The key is to eliminate obstacles (and excuses!) that get in the way of the creative time. You’ve probably applied this same technique to your exercising or dieting—planning ahead is a big step toward success.
You don’t need a whole lot of space either. It can range from a simple tabletop to a spot for a small easel. Keep pencils and paper stocked, accessible, and near for a creativity-friendly setup. In other words, leave no excuse for not having fun here.
6. Say something nice.
Last, but certainly not least, is the need for encouragement. “Encourage one another all the more as the Day draws near”1 proves to be apples of gold for the young artist. Acute observation, not flattery, is important here. Words of praise based on the critique questions (see point 4 above) will be uplifting and will reinforce good habits. There is a big difference between empty praise and constructive praise; the former is generic, and the latter is considerate. We all recognize when someone is considering us, and such attention goes a long way in the battle to persevere in doing good and giving praise to God. (See Galatians 6:9–10, Hebrews 10:24.)
Creating can be a great way for a child to discover. . . and for you to discover your child! It is always a delight to see how a child will express his heart and mind in his art. A steady diet of drawing and/or painting provides children the opportunity to relax in a delightful activity. It also trains a child to express abstract concepts in defined forms, as well as to take defined ideas and express them in abstract manners. This can parlay to greater ability in other disciplines, such as writing, organizing, and even leadership.
Following the six suggestions in this article will yield dividends all around. Not to mention, you will have some wonderful artwork to hang, accompanied by some great hugs.
1. See Hebrews 10:25.
Tim Chambers is a full-time professional artist who has founded www.IguanaPaint.com, a great place for kids to enjoy serious art instruction. Tim echoes Charles Hawthorne’s advice—“It helps your work if you have a good time.” Read more at www.timothychambers.com. For information about his online art classes, visit www.iguanapaint.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.