What is directed drawing?
Directed drawing is step by step guided drawing. I love doing directed drawing with students because it builds confidence in their artistic abilities in a fun and engaging way. I think the appeal of directed drawing is centered around confidence. Teaching students step by step how to draw something, anything, shows them that even if something looks “too hard” in the beginning, that it is actually attainable and requires a pencil and some good ol’ fashioned growth mindset. The goal isn’t to replicate the steps so you create an exact copy, and that’s one of the reasons I love them…they are all unique! I know plenty of adults that don’t feel like they can draw well. But here’s the thing. Drawing takes practice, just like any other skill. It may come easier to some, but that can be said for pretty much everything (even Olympic athletes have to practice their sport daily), so that shouldn’t be a reason to think of yourself as anything other than an artist in training. Everyone is an artist. Here are my fool-proof steps to trying directed drawing in your classroom.
- Before you begin your first directed drawing, I recommend having a discussion about that confidence piece I mentioned before. And what is my favorite method to introducing a topic? Read alouds of course! These 2 books are PERFECT for getting that message across: Ish and/or The Dot by Peter Reynolds.
- Talk about page orientation (i.e. hot dog vs. hamburger). Make sure all students have their page orientation ready before starting.
- Discuss the importance of drawing size in comparison to page size. Model how if you start really small, you may end up with a tiny drawing. I frequently use the phrase, “DRAW BIG.”
- Location, location, location. Every page has real estate. You can model how to talk about a page in quadrants (I prefer just 6 sections) so students know where a step is located, so if you tell them this part is on the top or bottom, left or right, middle top or middle bottom, they’ll be able to understand where to start drawing. If a student begins drawing closer to the bottom when the area they need to start is at the top, they’ll likely run out of room pretty quickly (depending on the drawing of course).
- Practice with dry erase boards. If you have a particular drawing you know you want to go well (i.e. it’s going to be a holiday present for their parents or something), you may want to try another directed drawing first. An easy way to do this is to use dry erase boards. They’re quick and you can have students start over at any time as they get used to the concept.
- Have students use pencils first. Talk about pencil pressure. If students push too hard, it may be difficult for them to erase later. You may even want to remove markers or other drawing tools from their desk/tables to prevent them from being used first. Talk about and model NOT filling areas in with pencil (some students will be tempted to “color” or “shade” an area with their pencil. Remind them that they’ll have an opportunity to color at the end of the lesson.
- Tell students they may not skip steps and try to do the rest of the drawing on their own.
- Decide whether or not you’ll show students what they’re drawing. In some cases, it’s good for them to see the end result so they get a better idea of where they’re going. And sometimes, it can ruin the fun and uniqueness of each one. You’ll have to try it both ways to decide for yourself. If you choose not to tell them what they’re drawing, ask them not to blurt out what they think it is as they’re drawing.
- You can show the steps in a variety of ways. I like showing the steps on a screen because it’s BIIIIIIIG. This allows me to walk around the room and make sure everyone is on track, as well as check for anyone that is trying to skip steps and jump ahead. You can also model drawing on a whiteboard or using a document camera and projecting your hands as you draw. This Directed Drawing Bundle comes with a PowerPoint file so you can display each step as you go through them (or you can print them if you’d rather do that). I’ve also included writing prompts, calendar pages and self portrait directed drawing options.
- However you display the steps, make sure students can see the whole page so they get an idea of that location, size and orientation I mentioned earlier.
- Ask students to put their pencils in the air when they’re ready for the next step. I do this for 2 reasons (and I do it all day long, not just for directed drawing). One, it allows me to quickly see if I can move on or if I need to wait. Two, it prevents students from skipping ahead.
- Outline: Have students trace outlines in black marker. This really helps the drawing stand out. I recommend keeping thin and regular sharpies on hand for this.
- Sign: I like students to sign their artwork (in thin Sharpie) before coloring. We talk about how the act of signing it is sort of the finishing piece, like the cherry on top of a sundae. I show examples of famous artist signatures and how *most* of the time, you can find them in the bottom right corner.
- Color: I really like the look of crayon on directed drawings, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use a variety of mediums so students get to try out different ones. Let them try oil pastels, watercolors, and markers. And if you’re feeling brave, test out multiple mediums on the same drawing (I recommend you doing this on your own first so you can decide what works best for whatever drawing you’re doing).
- Write: Adding a writing component for art is a must for me. You can have students write about their drawing and what they like most about it, choose a writing prompt for them, or tie it to a book that has the same subject as the art subject (i.e. read aloud a book about reindeer, complete reindeer directed drawing, write a summary or book review about the reindeer book).
- Display: Obviously, your students worked hard on their drawings, so why not display them? I know, I know, you don’t have time to swap out what’s on the bulletin board now. I got you. Directed drawings look fantastic when they’re glued to a piece of colored paper (or my favorite, colored paper and black cardstock backing), hanging on a clothespin wire across the classroom. This is by far, the easiest way and my preferred method. I manage hanging them up on a clothesline wire (see photo below)by asking students to stand under their individual clothespin when they’re ready (a silent signal for an adult to attach it for them). I’ve learned that if they turn them in and I have to hang them all up at once, it just doesn’t get done and I end up sending them home instead….
If you would like to try a free directed drawing activity with your class, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter below and I’ll send you the Pirate Directed Drawing as a gift. Talk Like a Pirate Day is Wednesday, September 19th this year and it would be a great low-prep activity! Tip: Make sure to check your spam or junk folder if you don’t see the confirmation email within a few minutes after signing up. It comes with all of the steps, and different writing page options for you to use with your class.
If you’re looking for more Talk Like a Pirate Day Activities, my friend Martha over at Primary Paradise has a TON of adorable ideas and even a fantastic collection of Pirate books to check out! Click the image to read all kinds of fun pirate-y themed ideas.
So that’s the gist of how I teach directed drawing in the classroom. Feel free to share any helpful directed drawing tips that you’ve discovered below–I’d truly love to hear about your experiences and what you’ve found works and doesn’t work!
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