From Bruce Van Patter: illustrator & author

Family Activity: Drawing from Nature

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Drawing from Nature

As an illustrator who regularly draws in front of elementary school kids, I'm frequently asked how I learned to draw. My answer seems simple, I know: really look at things and draw what you see. Easier said than done, for most kids. But there's no substitution for sitting in front of the thing you want to draw or paint and really studying it before trying to put it on paper. Even a great painter like Renoir daily brought in flowers and fruit from his garden to paint so he would stay familiar with how they really looked.

Let me show you how this can work. One beautiful spring day, my daughter Grace, 4, and I sat down to draw a pansy.

Step One: find the simple shapes

Always start with the overall shape of things. As we looked at the petals of the flower, we saw that the front petals looked like this: an upside-down heart shape at the bottom, and two balloon-shapes at the top.

We added two more petals behind the front ones. Overlapping objects are tough for little children to see, so you'll need to point them out.

Step Two: see the details

Now we looked very, very closely and noticed a dot of yellow in the center of the flower.

Then we added color.

I started it on the bottom petal with marker. She started in marker then changed to colored pencil. I helped her to see that the color streaked out from the center (another detail). She mostly got this right -- amazing for a four-year-old.

Now for the stem and leaf.

We noticed the leaf was like a bumpy oval. Then we saw a new detail: the leaf had a pale line in the middle. This was a little hard for Grace to do, since she had to draw the pale line, then draw around it in darker green. After a little help, she colored it in.

Step Three: know when to quit

Grace added her own special touches to the final drawing. A key part of drawing with small children is to not try to do too much in one sitting. We didn't draw the whole pot of pansies, just one. And though I would have liked it better without all the doo-dads, they made Grace feel the drawing was really hers.


What is art but a way of seeing. -- Thomas Berger

Remember, the goal is not a great drawing, but training your child to see. How do you choose what to draw? Find something your child is fascinated by. Beatrix Potter, beloved children's illustrator, drew an incredible range of things: animals, mushrooms, skulls, beetles, flowers, fossils, and even ancient Roman nails. Your job as a parent is to help your child notice the shapes and details. Fill up their mental library of ideas. And give them the pleasure of discovering God's creation with you at their side!

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter
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