Observational drawing: Musical instruments

Published by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2008 at 03:00 PM

When I'm teaching children how to do observational drawing, I talk a lot about "tricking our brain" — our brain that's in a big hurry, so it tells us "oh, we know how to draw a flower — it looks like this!"


Everyone who sees our drawing knows that it's a flower, but how much does it look like the flower that's really in front of us?


We talk about the differences. We look very closely at how the petals attach to the center of the flower. And the center — is it smooth? What is it made of? Sometimes we use a magnifying glass to look at all the parts. (Observational drawing is very easy to integrate with science activities.)

One of the ways to help children be successful at observational drawing is to give them things to draw that are less familiar — so their brains can't immediately throw out a quick symbolic drawing in response.


French horn, by D, age 7

Musical instruments make a perfect subject for observational drawing, because not only are they beautiful and filled with interesting details, but they are unusual enough that there's no correlating symbolic drawing stuck in our head. We have to look to draw, and that's the key to observational drawing.

Why is observational drawing important? Not just because it makes us better at drawing (which it does), but because it makes us wake up and see. It ignites the curiosity of children, and that interest can explode into a dozen different directions.

Just to give an idea of where one can go on this path, taking observational drawing as the starting point, take a look at some sculptures that were created from initial observational drawings of musical instruments. These sculptures/models were made as part of a long-term study of musical instruments that branched into studying the science of sound, the physiology of the human ear, classification systems, and much more.



Observational drawing is just the first step onto a path that leads to investigation, engagement, and expression in many different media.

Related stuff:

Art lesson: Observational Drawing

Benefits of observational drawing

Observational drawing with the young and/or reluctant: tips

Sharing our work: Observational drawings

Observational drawing: Where do we go from here

Art lesson: Blind-contour drawing


Comment by meg on February 20, 2008 at 01:03 AM

really, really cool.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 20, 2008 at 01:15 AM

thank you, meg! i love that drum set down in the lower left-hand corner of the sculptures/models picture.

btw, i think we need to start a new game .. heh heh heh.

Comment by michelle on February 20, 2008 at 01:25 AM

Wanted you to know that we did a little observational drawing over here. I thought it wouldn't work, but saw that he was sort of doing it on his own. We have a strained art relationship, so I was weary of pushing him too much. Turns out he loved doing the observing, so much so that he would feel the objects (couch and chair) with his hands and arms to really learn about the pieces. I ended up pushing him a lot because I could tell he was enjoying it. He wanted to watch a video at the same time, but also wanted to draw. So, I tried to get him to focus, and in some weird way he liked the whole thing. I'll post photos later. We drew together on the same drawings.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 20, 2008 at 01:41 AM

michelle, that is fantastic. thank you so much for telling me about it.

i love when the observing can include touching - children love to get close to their subject!

can't wait to see your photos.

Comment by Hans on March 5, 2009 at 05:23 PM

I like it, very creative and excellent articles that provide inspiration

Comment by Kelly POT on April 18, 2009 at 09:57 PM

these are very creative pieces keep it up!

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