Drawing With Children-Think of It As Copywork


“We need to stop mystifying the drawing process and explain to students how artists actually achieve the results they do. For instance, Picasso and Michelangelo both copied other artists’ work for at least two years as part of their initial art training. When Picasso began to express himself in what were considered “unique” styles he was actually copying many of his images from African masks. Painters such as Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec worked from photographs of their subjects, and many famous painters have used each other’s paintings for inspiration.”
Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, page 11 in the section, Changing Your Attitudes and Abilities

For many of us who grew up wanting to be better artists, this idea that real artists worked hard at learning by copying other artists would have been like a breath of fresh air. I remember sitting many times in front of a blank page and trying to use my imagination to congure up something interesting to draw and it wouldn’t happen. I thought that all *real* artists were able to have a flash of inspiration and off they would go with pencils and paints, going on to make a work of art that all could admire. I did not have anyone to tell me that learning to draw and paint were skills that needed to be learned and nurtured.

Now as an adult when I work with children, I try to remind them how it was when they learned to read and write. It wasn’t easy, it didn’t happen overnight, and it took lots of practice and guidance. Charlotte Mason used dictation and copywork to instruct her students in language arts and similarly, she used picture study and then subsequent copying of the painting to teach art skills by imitation. She provided lots of time to freely use materials and to work carefully to copy the artist’s style and subject.

I am suggesting that parents begin to view picture study as a stepping stone to learning to draw. Copywork of a sort. We all have become familiar with the idea of having our children copy passages of well written literature and poetry and I am going to suggest that we give copywork in art the same focus to see how it works and how our children benefit from not only viewing great artwork but to then go one step further and try to imitate the style and technique on their own.

Not only is copying paintings a great way to train the eyes to really see the painting, but it is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. There is a sense of freedom in having the subject clearly before you and to see how the artist solved the problems that he encountered….how to make a tree look like a tree but not exactly like a tree or how to draw a mountain in the background and have it look as if it were in the distance. Eyes are trained to look for shadow and reflection and to use color and texture to make paintings more realistic. These are all ways that we can allow our children to not only experience the painting intimately but then to allow a little freedom to add their own signature to the finished product. No matter how many children paint Van Gogh’s Starry Night, each one will be unique and have a little of that child’s personality hidden in the brushwork.

We have used this “art coypwork” in our family for many years and I have seen my children’s confidence grow. Here are a few examples of our most recent attempts at art copywork.

Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam
We only sketched the hands.


Claude Lorrain’s Lanscape with Apollo and Mercury

My son chose to paint just the background for this project. You can view the complete painting at the top of this entry.

Ruysdael’s Benthium Castle
This is a work in progress but you get the idea. We are using oil paints for this project and it allows the boys to work over a period of a couple of weeks on the same project.

I am firm believer that the learning happens in the process of a project and not so much in the finished product. Are the boys always happy with the finished work? Nope. Are they willing to give the next project a try? Yes. Each time they tackle this sort of project….sometimes on their own initiative…..I see the satisfaction with their own work growing. My goal is not to make great artists of my children but to introduce them to a very enjoyable way to spend their time and maybe learn something along the way as well. (Shhhhh, don’t let them hear me say that.)

Art Copywork….my next great passion.

Even after saying all that, I know one of my sons would rather be working on this…

Or something like this…..

Oh well, there is a time a place for most things.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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