Media & Techniques

Take the Boredom Out of Observational Drawing

Let’s face it. Observational drawing can be downright boring for our students. The default setting many art teachers revert to when approaching observational drawing with is a traditional still life. A vase of flowers, a cube, a sphere, a box filled with a bunch of random objects from a thrift store from 1975. Woo Woo.


Put yourselves in your student’s shoes for a minute. If you were 15 or 9 years old what would you be interested to sit and look at for hours and observe carefully and draw? Chances are it isn’t the same objects that the masters got thrilled about 100+ years ago. Just saying. The times they are a changing.

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In the end, does it really matter WHAT your students are drawing, as long as the skills are taught, students are learning the concepts, and are engaged with the media?

In short, I think the answer is no, it doesn’t! Sometimes we get stuck in our ways and taking a step back and thinking differently can make a huge impact on student attitudes and motivation. Plus, when students are engaged, classroom management also improves.

When conducting observational drawing with my 5th grade I found it was one of my HARDEST lessons to manage. Kids come squirmy really quickly and they were negative. So, I decided to change it up. I allowed them to draw an item of their choosing that was part of Pop Culture today. iPhones, Wii Controllers, Lipstick Tubes, Shoes, etc. Wow! The students were so excited. The lesson was a hit.

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Another perk? Meaningful drawing exercises can so easily be transferred to a printmaking project that everyone can be proud of.

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I encourage you to take an audit of your still life closet and freshen it up for your next big drawing project. See what kind of reactions you get from your students. Maybe even allow them all to contribute to the still life and personalize it. I bet the reactions will be positive.

How could you set up a still life for the 21st century?

What is the most successful thing you’ve allowed students to draw?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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