Students gain drawing skills in afterschool program
Addi Dormaier, 7, considers next steps for her drawing of the movie character Bolt.
SNOHOMISH — A student saunters in the door to a portable classroom at Seattle Hill Elementary and lets his backpack tumble, then his coat follows, landing in a lump on the floor.
His eyes pan a table filled with multiple colors and pages in white, black, and brightly colored mediums next to stacks of paper, each with outlines of cartoon characters. Multi-colored construction paper is in a stack in front of a whiteboard with the cartoon images he can draw.
“Any idea what you’re working on today?” asks Lori Meyer, after school program teacher and substitute at Snohomish schools.
“No,” he says, panning the table with a glance.
Some students have their project already planned before they walk into Art Wizards, an after school program at Seattle Hill Elementary. It is a fine-art drawing program offered through a private business, all over the Puget Sound.
Nearby after school programs are in Snohomish, Everett and Mukilteo.
Meyer said art education is important because “it’s an outlet for kids to be creative and feel good about (their project).” In addition to a sense of accomplishment, she said artistic actions contribute to math-skills and spatial reasoning: logical thinking is enhanced with both. Meyer has a master’s in business and is working toward a master’s in art with the goal of continuing her 18 years of art-teaching, as a career-path instead of an outlet. Preparation for the class is focused on taking the mystery out of drawing, with step by step guides for beginners and more detailed projects for advanced artists. Some of the students have five years of drawing experience. The tables are arranged so options are progressive: easy projects first, harder ones moving down one table. The easy projects have the steps spelled out and defined in visual stages, and require less detail. Harder projects communicate less, and ask more of the artist.
Meyer watches students filter in. Some are still deciding which character they will draw today and with what tools: pencils to outline, and markers to darken and set that outline before adding color with a smudgable medium such as pastel or chalk. Mediums include plain white paper; gray and colored pencils, markers, watercolors, and pastels. The pastels look like oblong, straight-edged crayons. They are boldly bright handheld chunks that colorize the page and the artists’ digits. The effect can be messy, but the crowd of about a dozen is wearing enough color that any mishaps are likely to blend in.
First-grader Addi Dormaier, 7, drops her glittering pink backpack to the floor. The green accents on her tennis shoes swish quickly as she moves through the room, eyeing the table of project-options. She has blue-framed glasses adorned with stars on the handles. She snaps a page into her hand then finds a space at the window, sitting on top of a desk so she can reach to place the page on the window.
Then she pulls the pencil across the page in mentally pre-arranged curves to draw the movie character, Bolt. The light through the window makes it “easier to see because of the brightness,” she explained.
In minutes, fourth-grader Autumn Gipe, 9, saw the method as valuable, and took a seat next to Dormaier atop a desk near the window. Gipe spent much of the hour drawing Bolt. For about five years, Gipe has worked to develop her drawing skills. She likes the more detailed drawings, and said her artistic activity started at home.
“My Mom was really good at drawing, and when I was 4, I was watching, like, videos on how to draw,“ she said.
Gipe got through the early frustration of her craft with ample practice and the videos online that show project steps. She said early on, she was focused on just one drawing that felt too hard to do well. Each time she did it, she was frustrated with the process and unhappy with the result, but she kept trying.
“Every day I kept drawing that same picture,” she said, then she progressed, drawing other pictures. “I like to challenge myself.”
The level of challenge is a choice in Art Wizards. The focus is on putting kids in a place where they will persevere, but also know they have a guide and an insight on what steps to take.
Eligh Sloan, 12, is a tall, friendly sixth grader and is already an art hobbyist. “This one I came across a few weeks ago. When I was a kid, I used to like 101 Dalmations.” Asked when he was a kid, he said it was at the age of 3. “I draw whenever I’m bored,” he said.
For his dalmation drawing, he said he outlined it “lightly in pencil,” then went over that with a black marker. He found a new technique as he created, turning the pup upside-down to pen the largest dalmation-spot on its back, and completing the shading-stage. In doing that project, “I learned how to see cartoons from a different perspective,” and he practiced attention to detail.
Other students chose their art-subjects for varying reasons.
Alexa Perry, 8, a third grader, started drawing when she was about 3. She likes Bolt, so the choice was a quick one, and the detailed elements of the drawing were a benefit as well. “I like to challenge myself,” she said.
Alexa’s sister Aurelia Perry, 11, is in sixth grade. She picked an easier drawing for just that reason. “I just followed the steps, here,” she said, pointing to the back of the page.
Lucy Choyke, 11, sixth grader, speaks while clapping her hands to punctuate the words she says. “My Mom put me in it. I got ‘permission,’”she said, holding her fingers up for air-quotes. She said she enjoys the class, which flows with a pre-set structure with ample opportunity for artistic liberation, through decision-making. Students choose the drawing subject, the difficulty level, and the method for creating the project: mediums to where they sit in the room.
To find a voice
Near the end of the hour, any student who has completed their drawing can have free-time to draw something unassigned and of their choosing. The class wraps up with an “art walk,” where kids present what they have created, and develop public speaking skills.
Students line up facing the front of the room and prepare to talk about their work. Owen Choyke, 8, is in third grade. He drew “Evil Wall E.” Wall E is a robot in a children’s movie, and his name stands for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth Class.” In the story, he was left on a littered Earth, and spends his days cleaning it. During Choyke’s presentation, Meyer asked for an analysis of the drawing: “How do you know he’s evil?” and Choyke answered “his eyes are red.”
The Art Wizard program was developed by doctorate Ilene Adler, an education psychologist as well as a sculptor and professional artist, according to the company’s website. When children see a scene, Adler writes, they see color, texture, and get some other impression. As the thought-process carries on, then they take in the rest of what they see. The red eyes were a hint of that impression. Super heros always have a nemesis, and there is a reason the viewer knows why: red eyes and the abrupt color scheme of red and black.
Students continued to present, guided by Meyer. “One at a time,” she said, telling another student, “that’s beautiful. I feel like this is one of the best you’ve ever done.”
On another picture, she helped students translate the visual communication created in the drawings, asking questions about details such
as the position of irises on the eyes of a cartoon. “Can you see how his eyes are looking over there?”
One student drew a llama wearing a suit, and when asked to talk about her drawing, she explained, “It’s a business llama.”
At the end of the class, some students collected their backpacks and readied to exit.
Some were still working as Meyer reminded artists to sign their drawings. Dormaier sat, star-adorned glasses just inches from her page, eyes fixed on her still in-process Bolt drawing. She pressed the tip of a Crayola marker into the drawing for an added stippling effect, amidst the drawing’s multi-colored background.
While Meyer can speak to the educational benefits drawing can offer, she has moments in the class where she lets them operate with little input:
“I want them to find their passion.”
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