Teaching drawing to middle school and high school kids is intimidating. Teaching adults how to draw is intimidating. Drawing itself is intimidating. Knowing where to begin is intimidating. Heck, it’s all intimidating.
“How much instruction is too much?”
“How much is too little? “
“The kids tell me that drawing is so boring!”
“I want them to have fun.”
It’s enough to make even the most seasoned teacher nervous.
I am here with GREAT news! Kids can learn to draw with incredible success and have lots of fun in the process. Given the time and opportunity to learn and practice a series of drawing techniques, all kids can learn to draw, not just a select few who are “talented.”
Whether you are a seasoned art teacher, teaching art out of subject, or coming back to teaching art after years of being away, this scaffolded method works, both for your confidence as a teacher and your students’ confidence as aspiring artists.
As a high school art teacher, I have seen student success over and over again with this drawing method, in at least 75 different classrooms, with 75 completely different sets of kids. The common denominator is the curriculum and the sequenced delivery. I promise you, it works.
For context, this post will speak directly to learning to draw realistically. These kids, whether middle or high school, are only in class for 18 weeks minimum (or 36 if you’re on a year-long schedule) – they may never take another art class. Because the time is short and the goal is success for everyone, we don’t have a minute to waste. We have to teach everyone to draw – and draw well.
When students are starting out, they like to focus on realism, as this is an easy way to see “if they can really draw”. The finished artwork that looks like the reference image tells a story of success. This success builds confidence, taking the kids from, “I can’t draw” or “I’m not artistic” to “I can do this!” and “Wow! I really CAN draw!”
If you’ve browsed the student artwork on this website, you will see a wide variety of Drawing, Painting and Advanced Level work. There are also hundreds of student work examples on my Pinterest and Instagram too (both titled @mrstfoxresources).
I hear from a lot of Art Educators, and the question I get most frequently is, “How do you get such a consistent level of excellence in your classroom?” or my other favorite, “What sorcery is going on inside those four walls???” Here’s the funny part, no sorcery necessary. Just a sequential scaffolded model of learning that delivers student engagement and beautiful artwork.
Beginner Student Work from Drawing Scaffold:
My teaching philosophy is simple. Small steps lead to BIG victories. A slow scaffold with skills that build on previous learning leads to student success. Every. Single. Time.
Things I’ve learned in the Art Room Trenches:
*Too much concept without the necessary skills leads to frustration.
*Too much paper to cover without skills taught leads to burnout.
*Too much time to complete an assignment leads to unfinished work
*Too much concept without enough preparation leads to behavior issues. In my experience, students act out, check out, or worse, destroy supplies when they are confused about processes and/or expectations without a solid skill set in place first.
Overall, if the task is too daunting and the confidence too low, the result is discouragement.
My plan for teaching drawing is always to start small. Both in size of drawing and skill taught. Break it all down and dish it out in small pieces. It’s a scaffold. And we all climb it together.
This teaching method is perfect for Art 1 and Drawing 1 classes. Students build a firm foundation of skills that will serve them well in advanced level art. Ideation is a breeze when skills are in place.
THE DRAWING SCAFFOLD EXPLAINED
The Drawing scaffold is a “tool box” model. We fill our drawing tool box with skills and techniques that set students up to draw (or paint) anything they want. Each skill or technique builds on the one before it. By the time I introduce work “to answer a prompt” or “to develop a Sustained Investigation”, the students’ confidence level is so high that the results are nothing short of amazing.
Sidebar to showcase some amazing advanced level artwork:
Ok, let’s break it down.
I start with line drawing because it is the least intimidating of the technical skills. No shading. No color. Just a line. Students are only focusing on a line and how it travels across the paper. How to see it. How to draw it. How to manipulate the pencil. How to stop being afraid of drawing. How to readjust the way they see themselves as artists.
In the first section of the scaffold – Line Drawing – the forgery exercise is the “Aha moment” for kids. I tell them ahead of time that they can all draw but when they complete this exercise they begin to believe it. It’s the hook. We hang all the forgeries up on the board in a group and we sit back and reflect on how ALL of them are REALLY good. And I’m not lyin’. They are always ALL really good. Every year.
This group reflection has the added bonus of cementing the “community” bond. WE did this. All of us. Together.
*Side note: When we were 90% virtual in 2021 the forgeries were every bit as successful as when we were in class together. (Kids learned the technique via video tutorial – included in the lesson).
THE DRAWING SCAFFOLD BREAKDOWN & TIMELINE
(based on a 90-min. block schedule seeing classes every day)
The Beginner Drawing “Tool Box” progresses in this Unit order (see image below):
- Line Drawing Lesson (2-3 weeks)
- Forgery Challenge/Quadrant Method/Right Brain Method
- Drawing using Basic Shapes Lesson (2 weeks)
- Construction Shapes/Lines/Scaling Up and Down/Maintaining Proportions
- Negative Space Lesson (3 weeks)
- Building an Image/Object using Negative Space only/Sighting Scale and Proportion
- Value – Shading Techniques (3 weeks)
- Graphite Pencil Shading/Value/Contrast/Form
- High Contrast Drawing – White Colored Pencil (2 weeks)
- Reverse Value/Contrast/Form
- Intro to Colored Pencil
- Color – Color Theory (3 weeks)
- Colored Pencil Techniques
- Intro to Color Theory
- All techniques in Sections 1-5 come together in a final display of student confidence and amazing artwork
My teaching sequence within each of the six units above is as follows:
- Small Value Scale exercise to introduce the technique and “get to know” the medium – ex: kids have to know what to expect when the pencil touches the paper.
- One to two small drawing exercises (usually a worksheet) to practice the skill and gain confidence – ex: kids need an opportunity to “make mistakes and determine solutions” prior to the final project. This is crucial to keeping the frustration level low.
- Final project showcasing the skill and confidence gained in the practice exercises.
*If you are on a period schedule and your time is limited, especially in the middle school setting, I suggest doing one practice and one very small “final project”. It is not always necessary to do a large final art project.
As I reflect on the lesson, I always ask myself, “Did they learn the concept or technique?” If I can determine this with a small final project, then we have success and we can move on. Keeping the practice work small and the final project small will almost single handedly prevent art project burnout. Kids will finish the assignment. Whoever said every project has to be 18×24 inches???
THE GOAL AND THE PAYOFF
My goal is for every student to be successful at learning to draw. Not just the kids who come in the room with prior skill. Not just the “artistic kids”. Everyone. No matter how naturally talented they are, everyone starts with the Forgery Exercise.
I set the expectation at the beginning of the year…we function as a group. Together. No one left behind. Because we have a strong community in place, the kids are on board with working at the same pace. (hey that rhymes)
I stress the value of community every day. I see us as a family with the common goal of fabulousness. We do whatever it takes to make this a reality for everyone in the room. At the start of each semester, the kids take notes on class procedures – we have no syllabus – and this community goal is part of our procedures (for details on these start of the school year procedures)
Teaching on a scaffold has the added bonus of making life stress-free for me. With everyone moving through the “tools” together, there are not multiple projects/levels/etc.
The exception, of course, is my students with special needs, and believe it or not they don’t need many accommodations (unless absolutely necessary of course). It’s been my experience that these students often excel at drawing and the confidence boost I see in them is extra fabulous as they tend to struggle in academic courses. Drawing class is often their area to shine.
If you have been struggling with where to start as you approach teaching Drawing, just know that you can’t go wrong scaffolding skills. When kids have time to learn and get good at something, it’s a win-win for everyone.
The consistency of the curriculum will add an element of peace to your daily routine. You know what comes next, the kids know there is a method behind the madness (I am famous for saying this), and they trust the process.
These drawing lessons are a great place to start with beginner Drawing instruction:
- Beginner Drawing and Shading Bundle
- Beginner High Contrast Bundle
- Beginner Colored Pencil Bundle
- All of the Above Art Curriculum Bundle with some extras thrown in for good measure 🙂
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Each one comes complete with classroom resources. Take all six!
Choose from these FREE workshop topics:
- Colored Pencil Basics
- Colored Pencil Skin Tones
- How to Draw the Human Eye
- Art Task Cards – Drawing on a Grid
- How to Draw Ice Cream
- Acrylic Painting Basics
*NEW* Check it out!
FREE Drawing Webinar now on YouTube – “Teaching Drawing Using a Scaffolded Approach”
The entire philosophy and sequence of lessons explained in detail 😀
Have a wonderful and safe year and Happy Teaching!