Monday, March 14, 2016

The Mightiness of the Pencil, Crayon, Pastel, and Marker

“Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly discover the world.”
- Frederick Franck

For over a month, children across our center have been coming to the Studio to draw. They have been drawing with a variety of materials - from markers to pencils to pastels - and they have been offered a number of provocations. The results have been by turns energetic, controlled, colorful, monochromatic, expansive, minimalist, exploratory, expressive, abstract, and representational. Working with children of all ages as they continue to explore the world of drawing caused me to reflect on why this process is so powerful, and has been throughout human existence. For most artists, even those who work in three-dimensional or technological forms, drawing is a necessity. In the case of James Castle, an artist who was born deaf, drawing became the means of communicating his inner life. It is, in many ways, an essential "language" for us as human beings. 

This leads me to wonder:
What does drawing offer to young children? 

Drawing works a variety of important muscles – the grip of the fingers, the flexing of the wrist, the bending of the arm. It helps to build fine motor skills, but it can also be an outlet for gross motor movements. 

Drawing translates their movements into creation - each gesture leaves behind a trace. If your arm moves in a circle, your mark also curves round and round. Pushing your drawing tool straight forward leads to a sharp, straight line. A pencil in each hand means twice as many marks appearing on your paper. Many fast, back and forth movements leave a tangle of zigzags on the page.

Drawing invites children to work as individuals to bring their ideas to life – they conceive their own concept, they choose their own materials, they determine the composition. If they return to the same work over and over again, they come to recognize the drawing as their own.

Drawing offers children opportunities for collaboration – they find space alongside each other to work on the same surface, they share materials and ideas, they discuss, dispute, and compromise. 

Drawing invites children to make connections – they connect the lines and shapes they create with the world around them, with symbols, with movements, with each other. Drawing from life - whether doing portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, or still lifes - invites them to look closer at sights they see every day, to notice and appreciate their nuances. 

Drawing helps children enter into multiple literacies – they imagine their series of squiggles becoming words, they see lines connecting to form letters, they begin to draw representationally. Zigzag lines across a paper become a letter written to parents being missed. Three dots remind someone of their symbol, or a curved line looks like the S in someone's name. 

There are surely more things to add to this list - these are simply the ones that come to my mind when I think of the power of drawing. 

What additions would you make? What does drawing offer the young children in your life? What does it offer YOU? 


  1. Our young drawer (in T1N) seems so satisfied when she can make her "mark" on the world with deep pressure on the pen, marker, or crayon.

  2. I love seeing the intensity with which the kids approach their tools and their attempts to translate a vision onto the page. The calling forth of intent and giving the opportunity to have a vision, these are wonderful things that the studio does. And the philosophy of watching, observing, and letting the kids direct their own art-making honors and strengthens those two things.

  3. This reminds me of a short trip my family took up to Maine last summer, when we visited the Farnsworth Art Museum for the first time. There, they featured many works by the Wyeth family, and a particular quote by Andrew Wyeth struck such a cord with me, I recorded it for keeps; even though he is known primarily as a painter, he spoke to the power of drawing: "To me, pencil drawing is a very emotional, very quick, very abrupt medium.... I will perhaps put in a terrific black and press down on the pencil so strongly that perhaps the lead will break, in order to emphasize my emotional impact with the objects. And to me, that’s what a pencil or pen will do.... Any medium is an abstract medium, I suppose, but to me pencil is more abstract because it is an outline. I may go into tones at times, but to me it is a very precise and a very vibrating medium." (More about his thoughts about the virtues of various mediums here:

    I identify as someone who loves to draw; Wyeth's graceful description of drawing's ability to be both precise and nuanced, both impressionistic and detailed rang true to me. I'm sure any artist must feel this way about their chosen medium, but drawing, for me, often feels like the closest extension of our human hands. Like you mention in your lovely post, there's a reason many artists use drawing to study their subjects before they move on to finished pieces in other mediums, whether fabric or paint or clay!

    Thank you, as always, for shining light on our little artists and the deep concepts they are encountering!