Thursday, June 1, 2017

Drawing What We See- Still-Life in Kindergarten

Doll leaning on pitcher

All through the school year, Kindergarten artists have been practicing the skill of seeing. Seeing shapes (that apple is pretty much a circle), seeing lines (stairs are like a zigzag line), and seeing letters (the branches of the tree are like the letter Y over and over again).

Red bottle and vases of flowers 

Each time we draw something in art class, we consider those observations as questions: If I want to draw an alligator, what are its shapes? What are the lines I need?  Are there any letters I see that will make it easier to draw?
Two toy monster trucks, apples, and a pear
At this point in the year, they are really good at this. So as a challenge that I have never done before with Kindergarteners, I set up four still-life displays throughout the room, full of fruits, toys, dolls, blocks,  flowers, shells, and vases. Each artist practiced using their hands as a view finder, and zooming in on a favorite part. The job was to use their prior knowledge about shapes, lines, and letters to draw what they saw as realistically as they could- in Sharpie.
Toy plane on a book, animal bones, and a doll 
That last part, the Sharpie, might seem unfair- what if we make a mistake? they wondered. How will we fix it?
Toy truck carrying a dinosaur and a stack of blocks
Mistake-making was the very idea. Make errors, work with them, draw over and around and make it into something you love. Find flexible solutions. Show all the work it took you to make this picture. Sharpies do that beautifully. 
Blocks, fruits, vase of flowers, and truck carrying dinosaur, on checkered cloth
Artists used crayons to add color to the objects, and liquid watercolors to make a background. 

Truck, blocks, and vase of flowers on a table
The marvelous part was their excitement that they really could, in fact, draw from life, Kindergarten artists are game for everything I throw at them, and this was no different- their reactions to all of this were beautiful and priceless, including many squeals of delight at how much they love to draw. 

Vase of flowers on star-print cloth
I have been told before that Kindergarten artists are too young to do this kind of observational drawing, that it would only frustrate them, but their work evidences otherwise- they are such excellent and truly curious observers, that they notice and include the tiniest details. They have a strong stamina for art now, and worked on these for two classes. 

Ferns and flowers in a vase on plaid cloth
Especially when they have the freedom to select the area and content of what they want to observe, the rest falls easily into place for them. Look at the details of that fern!

Red bottle and two books on plaid cloth
This is why I save their artwork all year, so that families can see this growth in their finished Kindergarten art books. The skill in their work is amazing!


  1. Can I say just how much I LOVE this post? YES YES YES!!! This is what we should be doing, the way we should be teaching our littles, all the time! I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to share the link to this blog post with a Facebook group of elementary art teachers. For those people stuck in a cookie cutter rut, maybe this will be a revelation. Thank you1

    1. Thanks Phyl! Please share away. I totally understand the rut people fall into, and it's been delightful how much this approach hugely increases engagement, especially with my most challenging students!