Saturday, 21 July 2012

Elephant No. 293: Drawing Like a Child

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted a delightful drawing by her young daughter. My friend suggested that I should try making a children's drawing for this blog, so today I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm certainly not the first adult to try drawing like a child, and I won't be the last. But I must admit that this activity actually filled me with a vague sort dread. I suspected that drawing like a child would require, well, that you be a child. There's a reason Picasso famously said, "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."

The World According to Caroline by Caroline Richard, age 5.
This is the drawing that started it all.

If I could have gotten away with it, I would have hired a child to draw for me: perhaps one of the twin boys next door, or one of my little nieces. On the other hand, when I asked my artistic six-year-old niece Riley if she knew how to draw an elephant (while she was already drawing), she politely said, "No," without looking up. So perhaps I'm better off on my own for now. 

Drawing by a six- or seven-year-old child. For a professional photographer's
interpretation of the drawing, click here.

I actually studied quite a few children's drawings to see if I could get a sense of the principles behind them. Here are the main things I discovered:

1. Children like blocks of colour and rarely include any notion of shading.
2. Children see in terms of simple geometric shapes, and rarely combine them. If something needs to be both square and rounded, they will superimpose the two shapes, or attach them to one another.
3. Children see things in three-dimensions, but flatten them out when they draw them. This distorts shapes, and is interestingly similar to the principles behind Cubism.
4. Children include very little sense of movement in their drawings.
5. Children exaggerate the emotions they see or sense. For example, to make someone appear very happy, a smile will take over the entire face, and to make someone appear very sad, individual tears will be half the size of a person's head.
6. Children haven't yet developed the fine motor ability that would allow them control their lines in the same way as adults, and are somewhat challenged by curves (although they seem to be good at circles).
7. Children have very little sense of spatial relationships or horizon lines.

Drawing by a four- or five-year-old child.

There are many other things one could say about the way children draw, but the observations above are about all I needed to start.

To stick as close to the spirit and execution of a child's drawing, I decided to work with markers and cheap sketchpad paper.

Faced with a blank page, however, I was at a bit of a loss as to where to begin. Draw an elephant from memory? Draw from a scene? Draw with my (highly) non-dominant left hand? Scribble?

Then I decided that, since children don't overthink their drawings, I probably shouldn't either. I did try to use the principles listed above, but I didn't want to make too cynical a copy of children's art. 

My first challenge was figuring out how to hold the markers. Then I remembered that, every time I've seen a young child hold a crayon or marker, it's held in a sort of fist, rather than guided by an index finger. So I decided to try that. 

This worked quite well for me, because it allowed some control, but no fine precision, which I figure is exactly what a child has to deal with. 

For the rest, I kind of went with the flow, using some of the principles I listed above, such as blocky shapes and no interest in spatial perception or perspective. But I honestly didn't think much about it. I drew vague shapes with a somewhat clumsy hand, joined them together as an innocent mind might do, and coloured them in with scribbles, because that's how kids do it. And if I felt like adding something where an adult wouldn't think it belonged, I did that, too. That's why there's a fish swimming under the elephant's feet on one drawing. Just because.

When I've watched Riley draw, I've noticed that she makes each drawing quickly, then moves on to a new page. So I tried to emulate that as well. Each of my drawings took about ten minutes—which is longer than Riley would take, but still much less time than I would normally take to draw just about anything. And sometimes I really had to stop myself when I was about to draw a proper curve or use perspective. Picasso was right: it's hard to unlearn how to draw.

I don't think my style changed much as I went along, as you'll see in the succession of drawings below. I've presented them in the order in which I drew them.

If I actually needed a child's drawing for a project of some sort, I think I'd hire a real child to do it. But I must admit I was a bit surprised—and rather pleased, if I'm honest—that I managed to draw somewhat like a real child. I feared I'd end up with the kind of drawing that you can tell is drawn by an adult pretending to be a child, but I think some of these (almost) look like the Real McCoy.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Because children's drawings are generally lighthearted, today's elephant lore is simply a video of a young elephants playing with a soccer ball at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust near Nairobi, Kenya.

Play like this is important in terms of socializing elephants, and helps them to develop various skills. As you'll see in the video, a couple of the elephants kick the ball to one of the keepers, then trumpet, waiting for the ball to be returned—just as a pet dog will bring a ball, drop it and wait for it to be thrown again.

Elephants are playful creatures, and are also keenly aware of the moods of those around them, whether elephant or human. While able to amuse themselves quite easily, elephants also respond quite readily to praise, laughter and applause.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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