Relationship Building

Three Tips for Perfectionist Art Students

Perfectionist Art Students

Last week we talked about the role of tracers in the art room. Today, I’d like to tackle how to handle students that have what I like to call “tracer dependency.” You know the kids. No line is straight enough, no circle is round enough, no butterfly is symmetrical enough.  They want, no, they NEED to support to get started. Usually these kids have issues with perfectionism, which can be a big issue to tackle.

So what’s an art teacher to do? Here’s what I recommend.

Three Tips for Perfectionist Art Students

1. Remind students that real art isn’t perfect.

Because I don’t use tracers in my art room often, I don’t have a lot of kids ask for them. However, I do have kids that deal with perfectionism as well as students that move in from other districts where tracers ran rampant in the art rooms. They used oval tracers for self-portraits, fish tracers for ocean paintings and rulers for castles. These students are afraid to draw anything for the fear it won’t look “right.” In these situations, I find it’s helpful to pull out some famous drawings or paintings to illustrate that art is not perfect. Imperfections make things more interesting. Matisse’s paintings are a great place to start, but you may want to hide the Mondrian’s :).

2. Give students practice time.

One of the art teachers in my district has been teaching art for over 40 years. He is truly an art ed guru. He is always reiterating the fact that we need to give students time to practice new skills. After one such reminder, I really took a look at my curriculum and saw that many times, I was rushing kids from one project to the next. There was no time to practice! I saw that this impacted my kids with perfectionist tendencies the most. They were afraid to start because they feared they couldn’t get it right the first time. Asking for a tracer or ruler gave them a sense of mastery right away. With this in mind, I changed many of my drawing lessons to include either a warm up or chance to sketch for students that wanted it. Taking even five minutes at the beginning of the lesson to practice has definitely eased anxiety in my classroom.

3. Give support and encouragement, then walk away.

When I have a student that is really struggling with drawing something and wants to use a tracer, I use a variety of strategies. I may pull out visual references, help the student brainstorm which part to start with, or help the student break down the object into simple shapes. Providing this kind of support helps students see that a tracer is not the only option. After I talk with the student, I walk away. I just feel like the last thing an anxious kid needs is me hovering over him while he draws.

No matter what, a caring, supportive environment is the most important thing you can provide to help students overcome their anxiety about drawing.

Tell us, how do you help students overcome a fear of drawing?

Do you let them use a tracer or try other strategies? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.


Amanda Heyn

Amanda Heyn is AOEU’s Director of K–12 PD & Media and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She enjoys creating relevant and engaging professional development just for art teachers.

More from Amanda