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Submitted on
November 29, 2013


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 I've been thinking about how and why we learn to draw for a few years now.  I started self-analazing my own drawing and character design thought process when I began writing my first art instruction book, "Creating Characters with Personality".  It was harder than I thought to verbalize how I've learned and how I process drawing.  This has led me to start looking back at my artistic life and how I learned art.  What made me learn the most?  What drove me to draw and stick with it?  What led to others I knew as a child to stop drawing?  I think I'm ready to present some of those thoughts here on DA and hear what you think.  So, this is part 1 of three in a series.  I'm not sure where this is leading, but step one is my establishing an online art instruction school called Taught ByA PRO ( that will (in phase one) concentrate on drawing instruction for all forms of media.  Here we go:

I believe there are THREE major problems in the way we learn art instruction in the United States. 


PROBLEM #1: Well-meaning adults kill a children's joy for drawing 

Most of us have fond memories of drawing as a child.  When you are a child, you draw for the joy associated with creating something out of nothing.   Even at the most basic level, children learn they can communicate funny stories with their drawings.   How many kids have waged wars with airplanes, tanks and legions of troops all on a piece of paper as they describe the action to their parents or friends?  Drawing is a shared experience when we are very young.  Just like talking or walking, we can all do it.  Then, at a certain point- usually around ages 5 to 10, some of us start becoming VERY GOOD at drawing.  Better than most.  The great equalizer that drawing used to be is no more.  Now, its competitive.  This is the point where drawing becomes work for most kids.  They loose their confidence and therefore loose their interest. 

Simultaneously, around the age of 4 or 5, children begin getting more and more art instruction from well- meaning adults.  Some of it comes from parents: Jimmy, grass is green, not blue.  Or from teachers: HOW many legs does a dog have?  The pursuit of reality or realism in your drawings starts to make drawing something to get frustrated over.   I believe the pursuit of realism in drawing at an early age is something that is pushed on children much too soon.  Later in life, there is nothing wrong with trying to obtain realism in your artwork, because it is an advanced artistic lesson.  It is a pursuit of perfection.  If you can create something that looks exactly like a photo or someone you have seen before, for many, that is the pinnacle of artistic talent.  Why is this?  Because many parents, grandparents, or other adults in the life of a child artist cant explain how to improve the art they are looking at.  They look at it (and because they themselves stopped drawing as a child) cant find the words to describe what is missing in the artwork they are being shown.  The easiest thing they can do is instruct the child to draw a picture in a magazine, a comic book, newspaper, or the vase on the table.    Children artists soon figure out that the closer they get to copying what they see in front of them, the better the compliment from the non-artistic adult.  What also comes with this is non-artistic rules.  When non-artistic adults, who dont know how to explain concepts like perspective, lighting, or shape-based construction of figures and elements, they say vague terms like that doesnt look quite right or something is wrong with that picture, it doesnt look like the photo

Suddenly, there is a right and wrong way to draw.  Before this, it was pure joy and free-form expressions of whatever popped into your head.  Once there is a wrong way to do something, there is automatically a displeasureable outcome associated with not getting it right.    These (unwanted) art lessons begin and some children adapt and rise to the occasion to start applying them to their drawings, which leads to the above point of some children getting better than others.  For other children, this shuts them down and they slowly stop drawing. 

Some would say that this culling of children that just enjoy doodling and those that will one day become professional artists is natural; maybe even necessary.  I agree with that point to a degree, but I have met too many talented artists that feel they missed the boat early in their childhood development and turned away from an art ability/desire that they loved to pursue something more practical.   Teachers or parents instructed those young artists that they would not have a future in art, so they stopped pursing it.   Most of us know someone who has told that sad story.  This leaves me to believe that this early childhood discouragement is more of an epidemic than we know. 

I believe that, just like our schools have done for math, reading, and writing, we need to have a curriculum in the schools that progresses students throughout their childhood and into adulthood (or high school graduation, at least).  Not all students would stay with the curriculum, but those that want to should be able to grown beyond elementary artistic basics and repetitive concepts.  The Masters where taught to draw very early in their lives and grew in that knowledge of drawing until, later, they started painting.  We give children paintbrushes as children without telling them how to use them.  We tell them to paint a tree before they know how to draw one.   We are setting them up to fail. 

Thoughts?  (Part 2 and 3 will come shortly) 

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mtman318 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
During my pre-college years, I don't recall every drawing anything for the sake of drawing, unfortunately.  In middle and high school I learned I had talent, but since I disliked school so much (and still do, to a degree), it never occurred to me that it would probably be more enjoyable if I tried it outside of class/homework.  I didn't discover THAT until a year ago, at 25 years old no less.  I could have saved a lot of time, effort, and grief if I had known I love drawing sooner, but I still learned many things about other aspects of my life which I value now--so perhaps it was for the better.  And while I was concerned about beginning this path relatively late, the universal advice seems to be that you are never too old to draw or animate.

(Now that I think of it, I'm pretty sure I didn't hate art in school either, but for some reason it just never occurred to me that it was a path worth pursuing.  Of course, animation was basically never discussed in those classes, so that may be why.)

Anyway, I better make a point so I'm not just rambling!  I think it's important for parents and teachers to not only refrain from squashing desire early on, but to encourage children to experiment art, music, etc, and perhaps discover a love and/or talent for one of these fields that would not have been discovered otherwise.

Also, others have already mentioned this, but we need to stop perpetuating the idea that only certain occupations are worth getting an education in.  I say bring on the Philosophy majors; we need more of them!  Bring on the artists, the musicians, the writers, and the storytellers. I don't believe our careers should bring us down to an early grave from stress and lack of meaning.  I hope I can be excused for that little soapbox rant, but I feel strongly on that subject.
mtman318 Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Oops, that's "*ever* drawing" in the first sentence, not "every drawing."
tombancroft Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2014  Professional Filmographer
Great points, thanks for adding them.
SimeonLeonard Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Now that this series is complete, would you consider updating each entry with links to the next and previous parts? I'd like to share this on Facebook but people who aren't familiar with DA might have some difficulty finding all three parts. I found this very interesting! Thanks for sharing your insight. 

tombancroft Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2014  Professional Filmographer
Good point.  Thanks
bj0yful Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2013  Professional General Artist
Nail on head, Tom! I can testify to the scars of early childhood discouragement.
In the third grade I painted a poster-sized solar system that received a D because my parents weren't supposed to help me.  (My mom showed me how to use the compass to make round planets. The rest was all me.)

I was also plagued with the stigma that being an artist was not a viable career option. I got the ol' "You better marry for money" bit a lot. I know my parents meant well, but the damage was done. I learned to hide my talents in more "acceptable" ways... volunteering to paint theater sets, etc.
To this day the voice in my head that I'm "goofing off" if I'm creating art is loud and clear. Even when I'm designing for clients I have to muscle my way through the lie that making art is somehow "playing" and not serious work. My head knows this is false, but that message has been so ingrained it takes a conscious dedication to override it. 

tombancroft Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Great thoughts. Thanks for the addition to the strand.  
Tiquitoc Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm in agreement there.

True is the fact on the first cildren's interest is to draw, and they want to catch the worl who surround them.   Sadly, bit per bit, the adults try to kill that initiative due they think the kids must be taught, mainly for a society well accepted carrer, you know: lawyer, medic, engineer, etc.

So then, is the moment when the love for create starts to die, and it's painful to see how it progress, but, the first contact, the children must to explore by themselves, to touch the paint, feel the brushes, hold a crayon, and let their imagination leads her hands; later, we can start to teach them how to use the materials and later, who knows, maybe we are having the next Da Vinci in front of us! :D

So I accept that part where we must not start to kill that interest, that curiousity, because, there is the magic...
JazyLax Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013  Student Filmographer
I remember when I was around 7 or 8 when I decided I was going to become one of the greatest cartoon artists of all time... Its still a long way now that I just started my animation studies, but indeed one of the things that I always did was draw for fun, for the joy of it, and without caring. Suddenly my friends (of a bit greater skill than mine) would tell me I was wrong, but ya know? I drew what I liked and how I liked, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding. But now I draw for both things. I draw for fun because its my dream to create an influential comic, but I also draw because if I am to become a professional, it wont always be about the fun, but about how greatly skilled I am. 
bj0yful Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2013  Professional General Artist
Glad you had the gumption to stick with it! Keep drawing! :)
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