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Lessons and Projects for Young Artists Part 2

May 23, 2011

In a previous post, I outlined a simple art lesson/project for younger kids. Here’s one for kids that are a little bit older. I did this exercise for the first time when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. Recently, my ten-year-old daughter was begging me to teach her how to draw, so I decided to try this exercise out on her:

Start with a triangle (fig. a). Warp it in space (fig. b) so that two sides are convex and one is concave. It need not be symmetrical. Draw quickly, using the motion of your arm to create sweeping shapes. Don’t try to draw them slowly with the motion of your hands and fingers–this will result in wavy and crumpled shapes.

Stack four of these elegant shapes on top of each other, so that in one spot, all four shapes overlap. Things to avoid: 1. Triangles that are tight and small (eye traps). 2. Three lines intersecting–(also an eye trap). 3. Corners overlapping lines–(yet another eye trap). It’s a puzzle in and of itself to arrange these shapes according to these rules. If it’s done right, it will look something like fig. c. If it’s done wrong, it may look something like fig. d, where you can see lots of overlapping corners and intersecting lines. I count five eye traps in fig. d. (Disclaimer: eye traps are not necessarily bad. The artist just needs to be aware of them to use them properly. We are trying to avoid them in this exercise, but rules are made to be broken, right? Especially in art.)

Now, let the shading begin! You will probably want to use kneadable eraser and three pencils, a hard pencil (2H), a medium pencil (HB) and a soft pencil (3B), all of which you can buy at your local art or craft store. Start by drawing lightly with the hard pencil, and gradually move to the soft pencil for dark areas. Where the four shapes overlap should be darkest–as black as you can get toward the edges. Where three shapes overlap should be a little lighter. Where two shapes overlap should be lighter still. And where the single shape has no overlap should be the lightest. Within each shaded area, the outer edges of the shape should be darker than the inner edges. There should be a beautifully even transition from light to dark. Use your eraser to lift out splotches of dark, and use sharp pencils to get rid of any lines.

My daughter worked hard and did a good job with this exercise, so I let her be finished with it. If she were a bit older, I would want her to get rid of any directional lines, make her edges sharp and uniform, and make the sweep of her shapes as continuous and smooth as possible. I’d like her shading to be a little more even and precise. But really, I’m ecstatic that my ten year old was able to do what you see here.

So there you have it! Things that should be learned from this exercise:

1. How to draw beautifully sweeping shapes.
2. How to organize shapes without creating eye traps.
3. How to shade with a full range of lightest lights to darkest darks.
4. How to create definition among shapes–light sides against darker edges.
5. Patience. It’s a hard exercise to finish well, and it makes young artists realize how much work goes into a finished work of art.

Let me know if you have questions about this, and if you decide to do this exercise, send me an image and I’ll post it below.

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