Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sketching Live Subjects

Flexibility seems to be a theme in my life lately.  On Monday, we had planned a day trip to the forest, but woke up that morning to rain and colder weather.  We quickly changed our plans and went to the Berlin Aquarium instead.  Our aquarium houses four floors of fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects.  (In other words, four stories of fun!) As I pushed the planned forest activities to the side and packed a picnic lunch for us, I decided that I would take along some drawing materials and encourage the kids to draw one of the creatures that they liked the most.

Turtles and Caimans in the tropical terrarium. 
Nothing trains the eye or the powers of concentration like drawing live subjects.  Drawing an animal helps a child to understand and consider it in a deeper way, like taking a mental snapshot. Observing and drawing moving subjects also requires the children to process the image in a more complex way than drawing a still life.

Unlike paints, drawing materials are light-weight and easy to transport and require little effort to unpack. I brought along the following:
1) small plywood boards to use as a stable surface for drawing (you can find these at a hobby shop or home improvement-type store)
2) colored pencils
3) A4-sized paper

A word about colored pencils: always buy good-quality ones or else they are no fun for children to draw with. The kind you get on airplanes or at a dollar store can take all the pleasure out of drawing, because the child has to press down hard to make a mark and cramp the fingers.

While children are usually braver about drawing live subjects than adults, they are not always excited about it. When I pulled out the art supplies during lunch, one child's immediate reaction was to say, "Boring!"  But interestingly enough, after this child drew the first picture, he was hooked and then wanted to draw three more.

I think several things helped. I sketched with the children and was engrossed in my own work, thereby helping to place value on the activity. But I let the children choose the pace and moved onto a new animal when they were ready, even if I wasn't. I also did not demand that the children "finish" the picture unless they wanted to.

Here you can see the plywood boards and
large pencil case for the colored pencils better.

Here are some of the children's sketches:

Sharks and a sting ray.
A butterfly extracting juice from an orange slice.
A moth. 
Turtles and Caimans.
After so much intense observation, the kids were ready to exert some physical energy.  Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun came out and the kids hopped onto and into the fountain/sculpture in front of the Aquarium.

And of course, off came the shoes and we went home soaking wet.: )  A great way to spend a summery day! 

Linked to  The Magic Onions and Art 4 Little Hands and Ordinary Life Magic


  1. What a great idea! This looks so fun - what lucky children! I love the sketches. I wish I'd tried this when my children were younger. On a recent vacation my daughter and I took a class on visual journaling which included a day on drawing. It was so freeing to try - I haven't done it in years! We loved sketching with thin sharpy and using water color later.

  2. Oh, that's a fun idea to use a sharpy and then watercolor. We'll have to try that, too.

  3. Great pictures.
    We visited Berlin aquarium about three years ago while on holiday.

  4. @ 4 Kids - So fun that you've been to our city and the aquarium! Your latest Van Gogh post is also great.