Right Brain vs. Left (8th Grade Drawing Unit)

I have an irrational fear of drawing.  Of teaching drawing.  Which is crazy, because as you may realize, I’m an art teacher…so in reality, I should have no quarrels.  The root of my fear stems from the fact that every single person, talented or not, has the ability to draw but drawing can be done an infinite amount of ways, I hate to shelter them into my way. But drawing is important; it’s so important to have an understanding of value, line, ratio, and what have you that I can’t leave it out of my curriculum. In fact, I decided to be brave and step my entire drawing unit up about 10 notches this year and take on drawing the parts of the face; eyes, noses, and mouths.

Students have an irrational fear of drawing that mirrors my fear of teaching it.  They use their “left brains” to process the concept and are discouraged by the result.  My job is to foster their “right brain” into helping out.

I have a firm belief that in order to be good at the big picture, you must understand the little pictures too.  You can’t build a car if you are unaware of all the parts you need, therefor when think about drawing the face; I realized that my students needed to work on the puzzle pieces to get the whole puzzle together.  Step one, then, was to take the face apart.  To keep things sound, I stuck to the three major elements of the face: eyes, nose, and mouth.

Student A attempts to recreate the images he sees on the handout.

First day was a pre-assessment. Using cropped images of these facial parts, students spent about 40 minutes trying, to the best of their ability, and past practice to draw the different parts.  Essentially they would end up with 2 eyes, a nose, and a mouth.  This would allow me to gauge where I needed to concentrate and help students compare their first drawing with their final project.  Needlesstosay, after the first round of students, I knew there were some basics we needed to get back down to.  Most of this stemmed from their use of “left brain” and as you can see by the example, some of the fundamentals regarding the shape of eyes, noses, and mouths were left out.  This is just one example, but you can rest assured, minus a few, most students were still behind the curve.

The second day was spent completely on eye work.  Student received a basic step by step that they spent 5-6 minutes trying out.  This was catering to their “left brain” but used skills that the “right brain” could get better at. I explained, and this helped with my anxiety, that this not the right or wrong way to draw an eye but a good guide to remind us what to pay attention to.  6 basic steps walking them through a process I developed by combing many examples together to get the essentials out of them.  After 5-6 minutes of individual work, I pass out a small sheet of paper, nice paper, that will become part of their final project.  We then, using the step by step as a reference, walk through the important parts of the eye and what to concentrate on.  We talk about things that help eyes look realistic like tear ducts, the direction of eye lashes, the white space of the eye, etc.  They can then compare their project paper to their beginning sketch.

The third day is spent on noses.  Same routine, 5-6 minutes of using instructions to get a feel for the nose and the a class process of walking through all the highlighted important parts.  They will recreate a mouth on their project paper. They again, make comparisons and can now go back and see which one needs more improvement.  With remaining time, students can get new project paper and increase their ability by noting what is lacking and working on it.

This is a quick sketch of what develops over time. I use Crayola Dry Erase Crayons to make sketching easier on the white board.

The fourth day is spent on mouths. Same routine, 5-6 minutes of using instructions to get a feel for the mouth and the class process of walking through all the important parts. They will again, use project paper for a final mouth of the day.  By the end of this day, they have at least one eye, one nose, and one mouth that have gotten better over practice.  They can make comparisons and see how they are doing.

On the fifth day, students will take out all of the project pieces (I give them a folder to use) and assess how they have improved and what still needs improvement. I have discussed, at this

Student A’s improvement after instruction and practice. (Impressive transformation.)

point, their left brain thinking (what they did in the beginning) versus their right brain skills that they have enhanced.  I have yet to have a student disagree when I ask if they think they’ve improved. Typically, one body part stands out more than the rest as far as understanding but in the end they will choose one mouth, one nose, one eye, and one of their choice to enhance using value techniques.

Value scale practice.

Value scale practice.

On the sixth day, students practice three value techniques; hatching, cross hatching, and stippling. The important thing to work on is consistency; no breaks in the value scale so students understand how to gradually go from dark to light.  Hatching and cross hatching are always more challenging because students tend to use lines that are long and crazy as they lighten up.  It’s important to remember hatching is like it sounds, short and quick; cross hatching just does that plus crossing. I just use a small sheet of paper for each student. Once each student is successful in their scales I move onto the final aspect of the project; bring it all together.

The next step (usually the seventh day continuing into the eighth day), students apply the techniques learned (hatching, cross hatching, stippling) to the four facial parts they practiced.  They can first practice on their sketches and any “duds” they may have drawn, keeping in mind that hatching and cross hatching can get very “hairy” [looking] if they don’t keep it short and quick.  Stippling is also important to pay attention to because if you fail to dot in the same directions of the lines you drew, it can become very unrecognizable.  I prefer that students use one of each technique.  So for example, an eye with stippling, a nose with hatching, a mouth with cross hatching, and the fourth of their choice can be what they choose.  As I state to them, “I’ve challenged your left brain into using your right brain to draw accurately so now lets apply what we know about value and continue the challenge by adding these techniques.

Example of final project.

On the ninth and final day, students can erase the pencil, add touch ups and trim their project paper to be more appealing and assemble their collage of facial parts like you see here.  I apologize for the glow on the picture; that’s just my cellular camera being terrible.

What I enjoy most about this project is everything is seems to encompass. Students are forced outside of their comfort zone and influenced to try new drawing techniques.  By the end of the unit, 100% of the students feel like they’ve gained some improvement.  No, they’re not perfect but considering these kiddos have just started learning these concepts, they are already steps ahead of where they were.  In years to come, they will have more experiences that allow them to foster their right brain but for now, the smiles on their faces after accomplishing this are worth while and they really walk away with more knowledge then they had previously.


3 responses to “Right Brain vs. Left (8th Grade Drawing Unit)

  1. Pingback: How to Draw a Nose | Art Class With LMJ·

  2. I’m having a similar experience–I am a first year teacher in a Brooklyn turn-around school…and this is the first year that the kids have had an art program. So I want to teach drawing, but a lot of kids don’t have the pre-requisite skills, and I don’t want to overwhelm them. So, I’ve started a little technique based art-club so that I can play around with different ideas and ways to teach technical drawing. Recently, we’ve been working through the Monart method, which sounds a bit similar to what you did. Essentially, it is teaching kids to see shapes as opposed to pre-conceived ideas of what something looks like (left-brain vs. right-brain). Anyway, great post! Thanks for all the details. I think I might try the kids on it after we get through the Monart lessons.

    • DoodleSync,
      I love how you are approaching this with your students – my technology teacher had a similar problem recently where she talked about wanting to use fun programs and apps with students but the foundational knowledge to make those work wasn’t there yet – so she had to start from the beginning. Sometimes those are the most rewarding outcomes, anyway. Good luck to you – I would love to see how you continue this!

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