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Learning to See – Help for Beginning Artists

learning-to-see-cm-beautyHave you struggled with helping to teach your children to draw? Perhaps because you don’t feel confident in your own abilities or because some time in the past you became frustrated with making drawings that didn’t look “right”. I invite you to read a bit of encouragement from Charlotte Mason and then a few of my own insights from my experiences tackling the job of teaching beginning artists.

“Appreciation for beauty usually comes after recognition. Notice how, from the time he’s little, this young child tries to capture a flower’s beautiful color and graceful form with his own paintbrush. A wise mother is careful to make her child aware and appreciative of stylized art. She has him look at a wild cherry tree from a distance, or a willow tree with its soft pussy willows. Then she shows him how the picture on a Japanese screen has captured the very look of the thing without being an exact representation. When he compares a single pussy willow or cherry blossom with the ones in the picture, he can see that the pictures aren’t attempts at exact duplication. From an early age, he learns the difference between painting what we actually see, and painting what we know is there even if we don’t see it. He learns that it’s more satisfying to try to paint what is actually seen.”

Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, Chapter 7

childs drawing of person

My son drew this when he was about 5 years old. Yes, it is supposed to be me.


An example of this is when your children try to draw things like the human face or human hands. These are things that they have seen hundreds of times and yet they often draw hands with five fingers all sticking out and eyes as big as saucers. They understand that the hand has five fingers on it and they draw it that way. But, that is not what we usually see when we look at someone’s hands. We see parts of hands, parts of fingers, and hardly ever the palm facing out.


This is where we see the struggle of the child trying to draw what he thinks a hand should look like as opposed to what he really sees. The same thing happens when children draw ears and noses and mouths. They end up drawing the symbol for what they think are these facial features instead of what they really appear to be on the human face.

drawing of apple

Here’s another example that illustrates this phenomenon. Notice that my son drew the apple seeds that he knows are on the inside of the apple even though we are looking at the outside of the apple. His brain is telling him that there are seeds inside even though clearly his eyes don’t see them. I find this truly fascinating.

Art copywork using great artists painting

Viewing Art – How do other artists solve these problems?

I learned from Charlotte Mason’s writings the value of viewing paintings as a way to learn how to represent objects realistically in our own artistic pursuits. To see from a variety of artists the solution to making hands in a painting look “right” is just a matter of taking time to study each painting one by one over a period of time. This is called “picture study”. We can see how other artists have solved the problems before us and learn from their examples.

From My Archives

Just What is Picture Study? – Here are a few beginning steps to viewing famous artwork with your child. As your child gains some experience with really looking at great art, they will start to see how various artists make things look life-like. This takes some time so just get the process started and little by little your children will come to appreciate each painting and remember it like a friend.

art copywork john singer sargent

Great Reproductions- Another Helpful Lesson in Copywork – Here’s an entry that gives you loads of instruction on how to use picture study and then art copywork as a stepping stone to learning to draw more realistically. This entry is aimed at high school students but you could easily use the resources and adapt the ideas with younger children.



Drawing With Children – Helping Moms to Learn to Guide Little Artists

A valuable resource for helping your family to learn to draw is the book, Drawing With Children by Mona Brookes. I recently shared some thoughts about this book here on my blog. I invite you to read her words and be encouraged to use her methods with your family.

Here is the entry: Drawing With Children – Free Lesson Plans

“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


Please note these are Amazon affiliate links to books I love and highly recommend.

Drawing With Children Markers and Free Lesson Plans!

Drawing with Children – Marker Preferences and Free Lesson Plans!


I receive many questions about my preferences for art supplies: Which brand? What size set? Where to buy them for an affordable price?

Many times these questions are asking me about my suggestions for markers to use with the learn to draw book, Drawing With Children by Mona Brookes.

Please note this entry includes affiliate links to products I use and highly recommend!

My short answer is that if you can afford to purchase a set of Prismacolor double-ended markers you won’t be disappointed.

Prismacolor markers are expensive but this is one area where the up-front cost is worth it. You will buy these once. The tips on these markers are great and with the double-ended design you can pick a thick or a thin line to start with. One warning about these markers: They will bleed through most paper so you want to make sure you have a scratch piece of paper under your artwork.

PrismaColor Markers

Note: You will need to train your children to put the caps back onto these markers securely or they will dry out rather fast. You will need to be vigilant about checking the caps when you put them away after your art lesson.

I’m giving you a link to a rather large set but you can purchase smaller sets at your local art supply store. I buy my Prismacolor markers at Michael’s and you can purchase individual colors as you need to replace markers from the set.

I also have one son who actually prefers to use Crayola markers for his artwork. I’ve given you links to the two sets we use the most in our house. These are a great marker and I actually still use these in my own drawing and art projects.

Crayola Super Tips Markers




Are you interested in using the Drawing With Children book alongside your nature journaling? I have created a complete series of lesson plans to go along with this book that you can download for free! You will need to click over to the first lesson and scroll down for the download.

Drawing With Children – Nature Journal Style  Lesson Plans





Cover Grade 4

Please note that Drawing With Children is part of the Harmony Fine Arts Grade 4 Curriculum. You can click over to read more about this art and music appreciation plan here:

Harmony Fine Arts Grade 4 – Explanation

Harmony Fine Arts Grade 4 – Sample

The plans in Harmony Fine Arts Grade 4 relate the lessons to a study of great art and artists. Please see page 9 in the sample linked above to get an idea how I do this in the plans.



Art Supplies for Kids graphic

You may wish to read more about my various suggestions for art supplies on my Hub Page: Art Supplies for Kids.


Drawing With Children: How to Model a Positive Attitude

The introductory pages in Mona Brooke’s book Drawing with Children should be required reading for every parent who hopes to encourage a young artist. These fifty pages are a simple guide to knowing how to offer art projects, give constructive feedback, and present a positive attitude that is so very necessary to encouraging an artist of any age. Reading these pages would save a lot of heartache and frustration.
I value the advice so much that I read the introductory pages in this book every year right before school starts.This year it has been especially helpful.

Every homeschooler should own a copy of this book.

“Your use of language is as important to the process as any technical information you impart. If we truly want children to believe there is no right or wrong way to draw, then we have to back up our assertions with nonjudgmental language.” Drawing With Children page 33

I am currently leading an art class two times a month where the youngest student is eight and the oldest is thirteen. They are all at various stages in their art skills, some having had taken art classes before and some are true beginners who think they can’t draw at all.

I approached my art class this week as a fun time where there would be no right and wrong answers. We focused on the process involved by learning to use the brushes right, experimenting with paints on scratch paper, and giving and receiving feedback from each other…including other students. I watched as some of the students wanted to give up after their first tries at the project were not what they anticipated, making a lot of negative comments to themselves.

I think that it is terribly insightful to hear how children encourage other students and then turn to their own work and become super critical. I tried to help them see that we are all in different stages of our lives and abilities. I explained that creating art is all about solving problems and we each can learn to solve the problem if we don’t give up.

“Help them remember that it is a question of deciding whether or not they choose to change something that they don’t like.” Drawing with Children, page 35. 

In the end, after some coaching on my part, applying some of the ideas from the Drawing with Children book, everyone ended up with a project they were happy with. It meant starting over for some with fresh supplies and fresh attitudes. It meant looking at more examples and looking at how fellow students were solving the problems differently than they were….using imitation and yes copying from each other. 

  • How did you make your wine glass look real?
  • What colors did you mix to make that effect?
  • Going back and filling in the white spaces.
  • Creating a “mood” by picking certain colors.
  • Learning to show overlapping. 

If you don’t have a group of children working together, either siblings or friends, perhaps the parent needs to participate so that the child can learn from you and you can learn from your child. Yes, I totally am serious about learning from you children. They have such an innocent outlook when it comes to projects…their style is freer, their colors are more bold, and they usually are better at looking at shapes then we are as adults. I find that just sitting and working with my children encourages them to be braver with their artwork.

If you have this book on your shelf, pull it out and read those pages today. Don’t try to teach another art lesson before you read the encouragement and guidance found in the first fifty pages of Drawing With Children. 

You may be interested in reading my Squidoo lens:
Drawing With Children – Nature Journal Style with Printable Lesson Plans

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