Children begin the practice of drawing – or mark making – from the moment they can clasp a pencil, crayon or stick in their hand. Drawing takes place on a multitude of surfaces: not just paper, but on walls, the pavement, in the sand. For children it is one of their earliest forms of expression and an activity that is free and full of wonder and discovery.

As children get older, they naturally begin to draw the world around them – themselves, families, their house, their pet. Through drawing they are making sense of the world and their place in it. We see early impressions of ideas and the breadth of their imagination.

As educators and artists, we believe this approach to drawing should be protected as that child gets older and begins their formal education journey; and that curriculum expectations in terms of skills progression are applied in a way that doesn’t detract from individual creative voice.

So, what is drawing?

Like any skill, drawing improves with regular and repeated practice. But that’s not to say drawing is a skill through which one learns a series of formal or technical steps and by the end of those steps you are good at drawing. Approaching drawing this way can undermine the full range of possibilities available to the learner. When we think about what drawing is, and the ways in which it can happen – then we are in a different space altogether.

Drawing is essentially marks, or a series of marks made on a surface by a person using a drawing tool. What that surface is and what that drawing tool looks like and crucially, what the intention of that drawing is, is wide open.

Drawing can be messy, dynamic, quiet, neat; chaotic; gentle. Embrace it in all its forms. Keep it wide open.

Skills progression and knowledge for drawing

When we start to consider skills progression, knowledge and curriculum pressures, it can be easy to forget about ‘thinking out’ and instead begin to narrow down what drawing is. Drawing isn’t just careful shading using pencils. Try to resist narrowing down and know that providing a range of regular drawing opportunities is key. Enable the children who love small scale technical drawing as well as the children who prefer to draw expressively and in large scale on the wall using charcoal (and everyone in between) and you can build a rich and creative educational experience.

It’s through these wide-ranging opportunities that you can uncover and discover what your children’s creative preferences are. Through this you are best placed to give them room to reach their potential and for you as an educator to assess and reflect on their work.

So how do we want the children we teach to feel about drawing by the time they finish Year 6?

 Consider the following resonating statements:

  • I have enjoyed exploring different ways of drawing and different types of drawing, and I have found ideas, techniques or materials which I personally can relate to.
  • I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of scales. Not all the drawing I have done has taken place at a desk.
  • I understand key vocabulary relating to drawing and understand the vocab through practical experience.
  • I have used a wide variety of drawing media and been given the opportunity to practice my skills. I have also drawn on a variety of drawing surfaces.
  • I have made drawings from observation, and imagination, and I have experimented with my approach.
  • I have drawn alone, and I have also created drawings as part of a group.
  • I have explored the many different reasons I might draw (i.e., drawing from its own sake, drawing to build my understanding, drawing for development and sharing of ideas, drawing to communicate emotions or beliefs).
  • I have drawn from a variety of subject matter, including drawing from life (including people and places), as well as drawing from photographs and film.
  • I have been inspired by the drawings of other artists, craftspeople, designers and architects, and I understand the role of drawing to my world.
  • I feel I have been able to develop my creativity through drawing.

Understanding that drawing can be embedded across different curriculum areas and across multiple contexts, realises its potential not just as an art form, but as an important means of expression and consolidation.

So how and when can we draw?

Drawing activities can be delivered as warmups and ice breakers to any lesson or transition point in the school day. These short 5–10-minute exercises can provide welcome ‘brain breaks’ and focus minds out of one and into the next activity. Whilst these activities don’t have to be formally attached to the curriculum, whenever or however you do them, you will be building skills and experience regardless.

Warmups can also lay the foundations for larger drawing projects– or a larger project encompassing other art disciplines. Try to provide opportunities for both drawing on its own (and in all its forms) as well as the foundations for working with other disciplines.

To achieve this, it’s important that we create as many kinds of opportunities as possible so that each child can find the thing which strikes a chord with them. That means covering lots of different disciplines, techniques, materials and approaches. It can be complicated knowing what to fit in and what to leave out, and how to order activities. By providing a balanced yet rich offering, progression of knowledge and skills will be automatically woven throughout.

In practice, that might mean one day a child is practising observational drawing skills, another day they are working from their imagination making larger scale images, and another day they are discussing as a class how the context in which art is presented can change its meaning.

The richness and relevance of experience makes learning memorable and impactful.

Where to begin?

If you are new to an art lead role, or a class teacher not confident teaching art, then beginning with a gentle introduction to drawing, delivered over a half term block, is a good place to start. It’s worth noting that by introduction, we don’t mean something that’s delivered in year 1 and not delivered again. Repeated and regular practice throughout the year groups, with variations and adaptations, layers opportunities, which layers skills.

Using sketchbooks for drawing

If you haven’t used sketchbooks yet in school, begin using them as part of your weekly timetable. As sketchbook practice develops, they become places where we test out, develop (or discard) ideas, where we explore the work of historic and contemporary artists and where each child has a space to develop their own drawing skills and creative voice. Go on a sketchbook journey with your class to discover the potential of what these simple objects can do.

Sketchbooks offer a place of ownership and are a place perhaps for more individual work. But collaborative drawing also plays a valuable role in fostering good team or group work. Having a conversation while we draw allows emotions to be expressed and ideas to form –both our own and those of others. Whole classes can draw together, and these activities are a chance to push the tables to one side and move around, with paper on the floor or walls. Engaging with the physicality of drawing means adaptative learning can take place. Those who learn best via experiencing something physical or tactile can reach their potential, while those who turn more naturally to small solo work can be gently pushed outside their comfort zone.

Embrace drawing in all its forms and watch as creativity grows.

Some further links to explore:

With many thanks to Access Art for sharing their advice, guidance and suggestions in this blog.

AccessArt is a UK Registered Charity and a member of The Council for Subject Associations.
AccessArt works to inspire & enable high quality visual arts teaching, learning & practice. It was founded in 1999 by Paula Briggs and Sheila Ceccarelli, graduates of the Royal College of Art Sculpture School. In 2004 AccessArt became a charity (Registered Number 1105049), with the aim of furthering advancement in the visual arts.

AccessArt is now the leading provider of digital visual arts resources in the UK, providing inspiration and ideas to the whole community.