Anyone that knows us at Mairtown, will know how much we value all aspects of the creative arts. One particular aspect that I choose to visit with children often is that of observational drawing. So, what exactly is observational drawing? Drawing from observation (or representational drawing) is what we refer to when we draw something, whilst studying the actual object right in front of us. Here is the story of how we began some amazing work on butterflies using this method of art.
Since the beginning of term 1, way back in late January, we had one monarch butterfly repeatedly visit the same spot on our swan plant every day, often many times a day. This led to lots of conversations about butterflies; in order to deepen the children’s thinking around this topic I borrowed a book from our local library ‘100 butterflies’ to share with the children. Almost immediately all the children wanted to draw. Initially they drew butterflies from memory, yet after a while I invited the children to engage in some observational drawings from this wonderful book.
Many of our children at Mairtown are so familiar with the concept that they needed little support, yet with it being the beginning of a new term, with many new children, for others observational drawing seemed daunting and challenging. Many children told me ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I don’t know how to draw’. As a teacher, I almost love hearing these words, as they rarely mean a child actually can’t do it! What it usually means is that they don’t know how to begin their work, and this is something I can support and facilitate.
When it came to working on our butterflies, I worked with many children who said exactly these words. This was their first time of completing observational drawing, and doing something new – for any of us - can feel very risky and at times a bit scary.
One way I support children in this aspect of their work is to break their drawing down into ‘bite size’ chunks. For instance, I might say ‘What do you notice about the butterfly?’ several times to encourage the children to think carefully and to look very closely. When they notice an aspect of the butterfly I suggest they start by drawing this part first, all the while encouraging them to continue to look closely at the details they see in just that one part - ‘What do you notice?’ is a sentence I use frequently in this type of work. When one part of the butterfly is finished I then support the children to look at what else they notice about the insect and soon a wonderful drawing is complete.
The results of observational drawings, are often very stunning, almost breathtakingly so, but this isn’t why I choose to engage in this type of art, the learning for all children is much deeper than the finished product. I believe it fosters not only creativity but also cognitive development and creative thinking. In accordance with Kolbe (2009), it invites children to look very closely at things and to notice all the details. In turn it encourages children to make more intricate drawings than they do from memory alone, often leading to joyful discoveries. It is part of the process of ‘learning to see’.
Of course naturally as the children worked on their drawings of butterflies from the book, and also ones that had been found lying on decks and porches etc. that they had brought into kindergarten to share, discussions around not only what we were noticing about these insects (for instance the shape and anatomy), but also what we knew and didn’t know emerged. Some of these conversations were quite passionate at times as children were certain of their knowledge and wanted to make sure their friends understood their perspectives.
Here are some of the finished observational drawing pictures, along with an extract of conversation that I heard, highlighting the sharing of such knowledge and the deep thinking evident as children work on this art form. As you read this, I think you can understand the words of Kolbe who said observational drawing leads to ‘joyful discoveries’.
|Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly|
Milla: I wonder why butterflies are scared of us?
Raina: Well I follow them, do they like being followed?
Adam: It’s cause we’re big, our fingers are little to us but are big to ants and butterflies.
Milla: Why do butterflies have patterns on them? … (She answers her own question) …Cause they have a pattern challenge. I know monarch butterflies. I tried to catch one at nana and poppa’s but it was way too quick - we tried with our hands.
Adam: You need to use a net.
Milla: You know butterflies use their tongue for picking up nectar! My one is a sunset one (the one she is drawing), that’s its name, it may be called that cause of the colours.
Adam: Or because maybe they only come out at sunset.
Milla: My favourite part of a butterfly is the antennae.
Aurelia: You know butterflies tickle.
Milla: But they don’t when they’re dead, as I’ve held one
|Glass Swallowtail Butterfly|
|Blue Morpho (underneath of wings)|
When students draw pictures of things they see, it enhances their observation of these things (Haydock)
|Painted Jezebel Butterfly|
Archie: Butterflies have 4 wings…they fly out at night.
Adam: Is that a butterfly or a moth? No it’s a moth, butterflies are out in the day.
Archie: Oh, I thought it was night time…They have eyes and look these (points to antennae). The wing has dots on and spots and my butterfly is green and yellow. I think when butterflies are in their chrysalis they think about it and choose their colour.
Aurelia: Yes, I think when they are in the chrysalis they think about it and choose their colour.
Milla: Yes, I think that’s right as I saw some colour in a chrysalis one day. You can get white ones. The white ones eat veges, they have the same top and bottom (referring to the patterns and colours). Not all butterflies have the same top and bottoms.
Adam: Lots have different tops and bottoms. Look at the wings, I can see cracks in them.
Milla: I think that’s to keep the butterfly blood in them.
Aya: The butterfly has 2 eyes and 4 wings.
Cleo: I know that butterflies hatch from eggs.
Aya: They hatch then they fly up in the air and they come down and stop on a big tree and then they fly back up again.
Cleo: Hmm, before they are butterflies they are caterpillars and then they turn into butterflies.
Aya: Yes…the caterpillars look for food cause they are really hungry and after that they curl themselves up into a little house and ‘poof’ they turn into a butterfly.
Cleo: And they eat leaves as caterpillars.
Christine: What do you notice about the patterns on a butterfly?
Aya: There are lots of patterns and colours. My one has white, orange and yellow only. That one (pointing to Cleo’s is different).
Cleo: Yes, the pattern has bumps; they are different and cool. Some butterflies look the same but they have different patterns and different colours. They have the same shape, but different patterns and colours. Like mine is golden.
|Blue Morpho Butterfly|
Hei konā mai,