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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.

Draw Real Animals – Beginning Artists

Draw Real Animals!

Help for Beginning Artists


Most of us are not confident art teachers and when you homeschool you realize how important it is to have great resources to fill in where you are lacking. We used the book, Draw Real Animals by Lee Hammond to provide step by step lessons in drawing life-like animals. My sons both worked through this book as part of a term’s art skills plan and they created amazingly good art for their ages. I know many of you are on the lookout for a good drawing tutorial book for your art resource library. I highly recommend this particular one. You can see a few more of my suggestions at the bottom of this post.

Draw Real Animals 1

I loved the way the book helped them learn to see how drawing animals is easier when you start by seeing the shapes.

Draw Real Animals 2

They simply used pencils and paper along with the book to learn how to shade and show fur texture.

Draw Real Animals 3

This bear was done by my son when he was 11 years old.

Draw Real Animals 4

Here is another look at another lesson from the Draw Real Animals book. I love how the different noses turned out.

Draw Real Animals 5

Looking back on these drawings I can see my sons’ emerging style of drawing. Even though they use the book as a model and try to copy what they see, there is still an individuality that shines through.

In my opinion, learning to draw is a process that is helped along the way by lessons that show how to achieve a desired result. This book that we purchased way back in 2006 has served our family well.

We highly recommend it for your family if you have a child that wants to learn to draw real animals.


Other Drawing Resources You May Wish to Use

Mark Kistler Draw Squad– Read how I use this resource in my family and in the Harmony Fine Arts plans.

Drawing With Children-Think of it as Art Copywork– Here is a more in-depth post about how copying great art is a stepping stone to learning to draw.

Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling – This post over on my other blog features a more in-depth look and lessons on learning to draw things in nature.

Please note these are Amazon affiliate links to products I have used and love!

Idea Portfolio


Idea Portfolio for Drawing

Idea Portfolio-a collection of images to inspire your artwork

From My Archives

Do your children need inspiration for their artwork? Would it be helpful to have image references as a drawing starter or to help complete a nature journal?

Here’s something that our family found helpful over the years and is simple to create.


Make an Idea Portfolio for Drawing

Old Magazines

I found some of the best ideas came from magazines. This is an easy project to do while you watch a movie or sit in the car waiting at a music lesson. Just grab a magazine or two, rip out the images you are interested in saving for future use. I always went through the magazines before I recycled them and pulled out the images and then filed them away.

Idea Portfolio drawing from a magazine image

I subscribe to National Wildlife magazine and it’s always full of photographs of animals of all kinds. I look for photos that might interest my boys in their artwork and if I find something that I think will work; I rip it out and put it in my idea portfolio.

Other great magazines: Birds and Blooms, Sunset, Ranger Rick, Country Living. I always let relatives know that we would welcome old magazines.

You need to take the stack of ripped out pages and as soon as possible, file them in the expanding file or you will have a huge pile sitting around cluttering up your workspace. I use an accordion type file to store all the pages that I’ve collected. I try to categorize them by subject so it’s easier when the boys are looking for a specific theme for their drawings.

Some categories for your files:
Animals with fur: cats, dogs, horses, bears, etc.
Animals with texture: elephants, reptiles, etc.
Seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter
People: children, adults, groups
Boats or other vehicles


Old Calendars

More inspiration can be found in calendars of all kinds. I try to pick up a few calendars when they go on clearance to put with our art supplies. I look for ones with landscapes, paintings from famous artists, animals, still-lifes, or flowers. They can be used as inspiration when your child cannot think of something to draw or paint.

Greeting Cards

Greeting cards are a great source of ideas. I try to save cards that the boys or I might like to use as a basic idea in our artwork. This idea is suggested in Mona Brooke’s Drawing with Children book.

Your children need good ideas to spark their own creativity. A steady diet of worthy inspiration is worth the time it takes to put the idea portfolio together.


Additional Art Inspiration Entries:

Building on Picture Study: This is as simple as enjoying a painting, closely observing the details and style, and then expressing in words what you see in the painting. We study a few paintings by the same artist before we move onto the next one. Using this simple method, we always have something fresh to look at and to enjoy.

Making Room for Creativity: Creativity leads to a mess which of course can be cleaned up, but it can be an eye sore as the project unfolds. I’ve had to hurdle the idea that messy is bad…..changing my thinking to messy is just a stage. I trained my kids to clean up as much as possible and tidy the work space as you go along.

HFA Grade 1 Cover Image

I’ve written simple to use art appreciation plans for homeschooling families after many year’s experience with my own children. I highly recommend my Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1 plans as an easy way to get started with this worthwhile subject. Each week is planned out for you to use with your whole family.

You can click here for a glimpse into the topics covered, the resources used, and a sample to print and view: Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1.



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