You might think of step by step drawing as “cheating” or stifling creativity. But let’s look at what I mean by step by step drawing or directed drawing, some of the benefits, and why using it occasionally can be beneficial to students for building confidence and learning how to draw. I’ll also show you how to use it in a way that helps encourage imagination and self-expression and give you some tips for leading a directed drawing, even if you think you can’t draw.
Why Step by Step Drawing Has a Bad Rap
What is Directed Drawing?
Directed drawing is a technique that combines guided instruction with artistic freedom. While this idea has been around for a long time, it has gained popularity recently as a powerful tool for enhancing learning and creativity in young artists. However, it is not without its critics. Some argue that step by step drawing limits a child’s artistic expression and stifles their creativity. They believe that art should be entirely subjective, with no rules or guidelines to follow. While it is true that artistic freedom is important, step by step drawing actually serves as a foundation for young artists, providing them with the skills and confidence they need to express themselves artistically.
What Does it Teach Students?
By showing students how to break down complex images into simple, manageable steps, children can grasp the basic elements of drawing and build upon them. This structured approach helps them understand an important drawing strategy. Moreover, step-by-step drawing encourages children to pay attention to detail and develop their spatial awareness. These skills are not only essential for creating realistic drawings but also for problem-solving and critical thinking in other areas of life.
4 benefits of directed drawing for young artists
1 • Focus and Concentration
Aside from teaching fundamental drawing skills, directed drawing offers a range of benefits for young artists. One of the most significant advantages is the development of focus and concentration. When children follow step by step instructions, they learn to pay close attention to each detail, ensuring that their final drawing accurately reflects the subject. This level of focus carries over into other aspects of their lives, improving their ability to concentrate on tasks and increasing their attention span.
2 • Imagination and Self-Expression
Furthermore, directed drawing encourages imagination and self-expression. While children may start with the same set of instructions, each drawing will be unique and reflect the individuality of the artist. This freedom to interpret the instructions allows children to bring their own ideas and creativity to the process. They can experiment with colors, textures, and additional details, making each drawing a personal reflection of their imagination.
3 • Fine Motor Skills and Hand-Eye Coordination
In addition to enhancing creativity, directed drawing also improves fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. As children follow the step by step instructions, they are required to make precise movements with their hands. This helps develop the muscles in their fingers and wrists, improving their dexterity and control. These motor skills are important not only for drawing but also for tasks such as writing, typing, and playing musical instruments.
4• Mindfulness and Stress Relief
Furthermore, directed drawing can be used as a form of relaxation or mindfulness in the classroom. Teachers can incorporate it into the daily routine, allowing students to take a break from academic tasks and engage in a calming and creative activity. This not only promotes a positive classroom environment but also provides students with a valuable coping mechanism for stress and anxiety.
Incorporating directed drawing into the curriculum
With the numerous benefits of directed drawing, it is worthwhile to incorporate this technique into the curriculum to maximize its impact on young artists. One way to do this is by integrating directed drawing into art lessons. Teachers can select a specific theme or subject that relates to something they are studying and guide students through the step by step process of drawing it. Then, students are allowed to finish the drawing, adding details, background images, and their choice of art media.
Directed drawing can also be integrated into other subjects, such as science or social studies. For example, students can be asked to draw the life cycle of a butterfly or the map of a country they are studying. This interdisciplinary approach not only reinforces the subject matter by creating a visual image and providing a kinetic experience but also allows students to express their understanding through art.
Tips for leading a directed drawing
Leading a directed drawing session requires careful planning and preparation. Here are some tips to ensure a successful and engaging experience for young artists:
- Select a subject that is age-appropriate and relevant to the students’ interests. This will capture their attention and make the activity more enjoyable.
- Break down the drawing into simple steps and demonstrate each step clearly. Use visual aids, such as a whiteboard or projector, to show the progress of the drawing.
- Provide clear and concise instructions for each step. Use simple language and avoid jargon that may confuse the students. I like to describe each line as straight, curved, or angled. It might also be helpful to use a letter or number to help students understand the kind of line to draw better. For example, “draw a curved line that looks like the letter C” or “draw an angled line that looks like the number 7”.
- Encourage students to ask questions and seek clarification if they are unsure about a particular step. This helps foster a supportive and inclusive classroom environment.
- Allow students to work at their own pace. Some students may finish the drawing quickly, while others may take more time. Avoid rushing or pressuring students to complete their drawings.
- Provide positive feedback and encouragement throughout the process. Resist the urge to label something as good or right. Instead, look for things you like and point out specific examples of what you enjoy about their work. Such as, “Your Giraffe has a really happy face and makes me smile”! Recognize the effort and creativity of each student, regardless of the final outcome of their drawing. When you see a student struggling, praise them for their hard work. If a student does something unexpected, recognize them for their creativity.
- Sometimes, the most creative kids are the hardest to teach. They will resist a step-by-step drawing. They are rule breakers and don’t want to follow directions, which can be a good thing in the end but frustrating for both the teacher and students in the beginning. My suggestion is to assure them that if they can follow the first few directions, they can make more creative choices later, either in this drawing or by allowing them to make a second drawing on their own. Explain that there are some skills that you want them to learn by doing the steps; however, you are not showing them the only way to complete a drawing. Hopefully, in their minds, they can separate skill-building and creative choices as long as they are allowed to eventually make creative choices.
- Display the finished drawings in the classroom or school. This not only showcases the students’ talent and hard work but also inspires and motivates other young artists.
What if I can’t draw? Can I lead a directed drawing?
One common concern among educators and parents is the fear of leading a directed drawing session when they do not consider themselves skilled at drawing. However, it is important to remember that the purpose of directed drawing is not to create perfect or photorealistic drawings but rather to foster creativity and learning in young artists.
Focus on the Process
Even if you do not consider yourself an expert at drawing, you can still lead a successful directed drawing session. The key is to focus on the process rather than the outcome. Take each step one at a time without worrying about what the final outcome will look like.
Be mindful of your self-talk or mindset. If you say, “I can’t draw”, then students are more likely to think the same thing. Instead, show them that you have a mindset for learning and trying something new. You could say, “I’m still learning to draw, so let’s learn together,” or something similar.
If you are unsure about a particular step or technique, it is perfectly acceptable to learn alongside the students. This can actually be a valuable learning experience for both you and the students. It teaches them that it is okay to make mistakes and that learning is a continuous process. Maybe even ask students for help or suggestions.
Remember, the goal of directed drawing is not to produce identical drawings but rather to empower students to explore their creativity and develop their artistic skills. By embracing the process and encouraging experimentation, you can create a positive and enriching experience for young artists. Once you have the basic drawing done, encourage students to add their own details and put their own finishing touches on the drawing. Instead of focusing on making all the drawings look the same, look for opportunities to make each drawing different.
But most importantly, have fun!
Students learn best when they have fun. By demonstrating that you are having fun despite making mistakes, you are being a positive role model for taking risks and trying new things.
Examples of directed drawing activities
Directed drawing can be applied to a wide range of subjects and themes. Here are some examples of directed drawing activities that can inspire and engage young artists:
- Student Interests: Find out what your students or children are interested in and look for simple drawing resources that give you step-by-step examples. Learn how to draw something together.
- Animal Portraits: Guide students through the step-by-step process of drawing their favorite animals. Using a cartoon style is a fun way to simplify the animal. One of my most popular directed drawing resource is this Winter Animal Directed Drawing set.
- Flowers: Flowers are a great subject for a directed drawing because you can easily simplify them or even make them into a stylized flower design. If you’d like to give students lots of choices for making their flowers, you might like my Flower Drawing resource.
- Abstract Art: Look at an abstract work of art and try recreating it. Or you can use an abstract art resource to add elements to your work step by step. My Abstract Drawing Cards resource is a unique way to make an abstract work of art. Students can add the line or shape that they see on each card to make an abstract work of art. With 30 cards, every picture is sure to be different.
- Self-Portraits: Help students explore their own identity and self-expression by guiding them through the process of drawing self-portraits. This activity not only improves their drawing skills but also encourages self-reflection and self-awareness. If possible, have a mirror for students. Guide them through the steps for a basic portrait, but have them look in the mirror and observe the lines, shapes, and proportions of their face. If you need a little guidance for your students, take a look at my Portrait Drawing Handouts.
These are just a few examples of the countless possibilities for directed drawing activities. The key is to select subjects that are relevant and engaging for the students, allowing them to explore their interests and express their creativity.
Conclusion: The lasting impact of directed drawing on young artists
Directed drawing is a powerful tool for enhancing learning and creativity for young artists. By following step-by-step instructions, children not only learn fundamental drawing skills but also develop focus, attention to detail, and spatial awareness. Moreover, directed drawing encourages imagination and self-expression, allowing children to bring their ideas to life on paper. This engaging and interactive approach to art not only nurtures a love for creativity but also improves fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Incorporating directed drawing into the curriculum provides students with a valuable opportunity to explore their artistic potential and express themselves artistically. Whether it’s drawing animals, nature, or everyday objects, directed drawing empowers young artists to unleash their imagination and develop their artistic skills. By embracing the power of step-by-step drawing, we can bring out the potential of young artists and nurture a lifelong love for creativity.