Friday, November 24, 2006

My drawings are no good: The minor miracle of oil pastels and tissues

“My drawings are no good. They never turn out how I want them to turn out. They don’t look beautiful. I want to draw good hamsters… “are sometimes the common refrains from children who have written output struggles.
Leaping in with … “nonsense that’s not true, I think you’re great at drawing,” whilst well intended will not always diffuse the steam of gloom in moments like that. It’s very important to acknowledge the frustration and counter it on several levels with a broader approach than “you’re good at it because I say you are” This is especially important with gifted children, who are often perfectionists and can be highly discerning. You have to counter with open ended questions, not statements.
One thing I have found helpful is to introduce many art references with a heavy emphasis on more abstract artists. You have to broaden their artist vocabulary so they don’t become too dependent on the idea that art is singularly about drawing a decent tree.
More important still is the tangible experience for the child to get closer to reproducing something in the manner they desire.
I asked my child what he thought a beautiful picture looked like. In rather startling and poetic terms he described a very particular scene involving an airballoon, a red sunset, a person and a cat based on something he had seen somewhere and tried to reproduce and had been disatisfied with the results.
I suggested we try again and use different materials like oil pastels, where fine lines aren’t the main route to rendering an image.
Somewhat skeptical, he began with a line and then asked is that right, a line for the sky? So I asked if he ever saw the sky begin and end in a neat line. I pointed out that most things merge into one another. At a certain point when the sunset was suitably underway, I remembered seeing someone smudging a canvas with some kind of kitchen roll at an art workshop recently. I showed what happened if you used to tissue to soften the pastel. He found this tool very encouraging and began to layer and experiment much more with the colours. He was very caught up in it. He was finally happy with the sunset.
There were a few stumbly areas when the person needed to be drawn where he tried to get me to do it. Slowly I talked him through it offering encouragement more than any specific direction about how he might drawn the person. I could see it was a very fragile process because he might become intensely dissatisfied suddenly with some aspect of it and abandon it. I didn’t want that to happen. It seemed helpful having someone to hand the pastel over when requested and just listen as he listed the stages of what would happen aloud.
Sometimes it’s just about taking the time to go back over an experience when a child declares they are no good at something and introduce a more varied menu.
I find the example of music a good one to use when children who struggle with written output propose they want to be like all the other children (which is, of course, a very valid and understandable feeling.) I often give the example of a singer by saying if Pete Seeger wanted to be like everyone else there would be no Pete Seeger. It usually helps if the CD is playing in the background!
Another tip I found is encouraging the child to trace things the child likes eg: pokemon cards, or book covers.
Materials that may be useful to experiment with: tracing paper, canvas, soft pencils (2b)(3b), oil pastels, chalk pastels (especially on darker card).

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