Observational Drawing for Kids

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observational drawing collage

Are you wondering how to help your kids get started with observational drawing? I’ve done this with toddlers through tweens and wanted to share some tips here.

But first, what is observational drawing?

Observational Drawing for Kids - How to Get Started

Observational drawing is drawing what you see. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

It can be a flower, a person, a still life, a landscape, whatever. But it’s drawing what you see in front of you as realistically and as true to life as possible.

Observational Drawing for Kids - Learning How to See

Observational drawing is a great exercise in seeing.

When we look at something with the intent of drawing it, we tend to look more carefully than usual. We see, truly see, the shapes, the patterns, the perspective, the colors, the shadows, the contours, and how all of the details interact.

I love Maia’s attention to detail in this multi-media drawing she did of our backyard this past week!

A photo posted by Jean Van’t Hul | Artful Parent (@jeanvanthul) on

Observational drawing is also a great way to improve drawing skills.

In translating 3D objects to 2D drawings on paper, we practice getting shapes and proportion right, we learn how to show depth with shading, and we try different techniques for showing texture and detail.

Some artists do observational drawing exclusively and some simply use it as a drawing exercise to improve their skills but then draw from the imagination or make abstract art.

Today I’ll share some simple steps and tips for helping kids draw what they see.

Observational Drawing for Kids - Still Life

Observational Drawing for Kids

MATERIALS

  • Paper
  • Pencil or charcoal
  • Other drawing tools, such as colored markers or pastels (optional)
  • Eraser (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Set your paper and art materials down in front of the item you want to draw.

Sketch the overall form loosely, and as large as possible, on the paper, then go in and define the contours and shapes. (See my tips below for coaching beginners through the process of drawing what they see.) Look back and forth from the object to your paper, as you translate what you see to what you are drawing.

Once you have the big picture outlines of your drawing subject on paper, you can begin to add details, shading, patterns, and colors as desired.

Note :: Young children will usually focus on the overall shapes of the item they are drawing as well as the colors. As kids get older and gain both observational and drawing skills, they are better able to incorporate more elements into their observational drawings, including details, proportion, perspective, and shading.

Tips for Getting Started with Observational Drawing for Kids

Drawing Fruit from Real LifeIf your child is having trouble getting starting, you can talk them through the shapes and details they are seeing and how they might translate these from three-
dimensional forms in space to a two-dimensional drawing on paper. For example…

If drawing a simple shape, such as an orange, you can say…

“What shape does that orange look like to you?”

“Yes, the orange looks round, like a sphere or circle. How big are you going to draw the circle on your paper?”

“That dimpled texture of the orange peel looks like dots to me. Where do you see most of the dots? Along that side of the orange? Where is that on your drawing? Is that where you want to draw them?

Observational Drawing for Young Kids

If drawing a more complicated shape, such as a flower, you can say…

“Why don’t we start with the center of the flower? What shape does that look like from where you are sitting?”

“An oval? Okay, where are you going to draw your oval?”

“Now, let’s look at the petals… See how they are long and skinny, with rounded tips? Are you ready to draw those next?”

“It looks like you’ve finished drawing the blossom, now how about the stem and leaves? Look at how long and skinny and straight that stem is. Do you see where it attaches to the blossom? Why don’t you start there and draw the stem. Now, what shapes are the leaves?”

Observational Drawing for Kids - Drawing Flowers from Life

Once you have the overall picture down, you can zone in on the details of the stamen and pistol, the veins in the petals and leaves, the color variations, etc, if you like.

Observational Drawing for Kids - Figure Drawing, Portraits, Still Lives

More Observational Drawing for Kids

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Observational Drawing for kids

 

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Francie
    May 8, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks for these ideas . It is so true that you look more carefully if you are reproducing a likeness than when just looking. I sometimes add a frame around the object to be drawn to give an idea about scale with respect to the paper.

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      May 9, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      That’s a good idea about the frame, Francie! Do you use a real picture frame?

  • Reply
    Yvonne | The Prudent Homeschooler
    May 9, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Jean, what a great outline for observational drawing! We’ve just begun to do this at home with our five and three-year-old, and it is phenomenal what they are able to observe and create simply by ‘seeing.’ Some days I am amazed at the detail our five-year-old can depict through his drawings. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      May 10, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      Isn’t it amazing what these kids are capable of, Yvonne? And what they see is not always what I would see. I love seeing this process in action!

  • Reply
    Mohammad Asir Ali
    July 5, 2018 at 11:22 pm

    Good

  • Reply
    Divya
    December 2, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Wow! That’s nice! I have learnt something new today and am going to teach this to my children as well as my students. Thanks a lot!

  • Reply
    gertie (gertrude for long)
    December 3, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    hey guys!!!
    yip this is jis so awes will defo be usin it for even just ya no i mean we all shld no this but srsly dont be disheartened you will always do grt no matter what and this brings me to another point i luv this stuff so much i dream about it in my sleep so gd luk w all the preps 4 the wedding member the pink shoes and bags and dont forget the signiture blue ring also the REALLY plain dress and dont you dare wear you name tag πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰
    luv yas all

  • Reply
    Kashizo
    December 3, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    hey y’all!!!!

    suuuuup?? literally i am jus sooooo excited to be doin this with y’all!!!! you hav absolutely noooo idear how much i luv y’all coz u’s are all such GREAT drawers literally u jus amazeing!!!!
    aw man i jus canet waaaaiiitttt to git started coz i hav always wanted to be incredible at drawing like i mean i already am but u no…a good artist always aknowleges eny noo tips coz ya know ya learn sumthin noo everyday!!!!😏😏😏😏

    Enyywayyyz!!!! luv ya’ll an post agin soonπŸ˜˜πŸ€—πŸ˜‡πŸ˜πŸ˜˜πŸ˜‚πŸ€—πŸ˜

  • Reply
    kashizo
    December 3, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    hurry up Gertie….πŸ˜’πŸ™„πŸ˜–πŸ˜Œ

  • Reply
    gertie (gertrude for long)
    December 3, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    srsly i mean jis copy GERTIE (GERTRUDE FOR LONG) next time
    jis such a copycatterera

  • Reply
    kashizo
    December 3, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    ferrggzzz Gert u r queerπŸ™„πŸ™„πŸ™„πŸ™„

    • Reply
      margaret
      December 3, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      now now girls you rly shldn’t be fighting!!!
      i rly dont agree w it

  • Reply
    kashizo
    December 3, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    laiikke srsly

  • Reply
    penelope
    December 3, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    yes yes margaret i rly agree wuth u so tru just farting and farting all the tarm an we get ebsolutely no peace and quart!!!

  • Reply
    Rosa Bonheur
    December 3, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    WOW!!
    It’s just so awesome for the kids to be able to get onto websites like these!! I can’t wait to try this with my kids…. I’m a world famous artist myself and would love for my children to be, too. I want to say thank you so much for this website. I am really grateful😘
    Also I would like to say that Kashizo and Gertrude have been very rude and disrespectful to the founders of this inspiring website. Very disappointing

  • Reply
    Maisie
    December 3, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    WOW!!
    I can’t believe that Rosa Bonheur really said something on this website!!!!
    Mrs Bonheur, I’m a HUGE fan!!!!😘

  • Reply
    Rosa Bonheur
    December 3, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    Aw thank you Maisie! That’s really sweet!! 😘If you let me know where you live I could maybe arrange to meet up with you sometime?

  • Reply
    isabella
    December 3, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    thankyou thankyou thankyou rosa
    at least someone cs my point of view
    luv me
    p.s. i am ur biggest fan and i hope i will see u one day but also would never want to miss an opo to see u but sure hope u can come c me 1 day at my new house

  • Reply
    Maisie
    December 3, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    Aw I would love that!!!!
    I live in Ballarat, Vic 3350
    Aw my goodness I am soo excited!!!! I really hope you can come….

  • Reply
    Rosa Bonheur
    December 3, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    OK I will see what I can do

  • Reply
    Rosa Bonheur
    December 3, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    Oh Isabella! I didn’t see your comment! Of course we could meet up sometime! Maybe not at the moment as I am working on a massive masterpiece but I’m sure a meeting could be arranged. See you!

  • Reply
    Tina W
    December 4, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    This website is fabulous!! The above comments were very interesting….🀣was that the real Rosa Bonheur?
    I cannot wait to try this with my kids!! I’ve always loved art…!!

  • Reply
    Sabrina
    December 4, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    I’m s’posed to be doin my work but i jis decided to drop in n say hey ur website is awes!!!!

  • Reply
    Jean Van't Hul
    December 4, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    i am very disappointed at how people are abusing this website. i can’t believe that Rosa Bonheur has really messaged on the website i wish you the very best with all your recent projects.

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