How to get children to draw big

How do you encourage children to produce images large enough to paint or color? It’s a great question, isn’t it? One of my DSS Facebook readers asked this very question so here is my response….

How you choose techniques and tools will greatly determine how “big” a child will draw. Pencils are not a regular part of my art room for the mere fact that they encourage details and details are usually small in nature. Of course, there are other reasons why I don’t use pencils but one of them is because you can erase a pencil line. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s a whole other post!

Use oil pastels…

In most of my art lessons, I have my students use oil pastels or paintbrushes to draw with. This is especially true with my Kinders through 3rd grade students. I love how forgiving an oil pastel is. There is no pointy end to draw the tiny details with. Oil pastels literally beg to be stretch across the entire page. If a child makes a “mistake”, we simply paint over it and if we aren’t using paint, we may just ignore the pesky problem altogether.

Try templates…

No matter how you feel about them, templates (or tracers) are a great way for a child to create a starting point for a project. I love to use an oval template when doing portraits lessons with my Kinder classes. Once the main shape is made, children are on their way to create facial features, hair and clothes for their portraits.

What about crayons?

You would think that crayons have a similar quality and outcome as oil pastels, but they are really different. I rarely use crayons for drawing because the nature of the crayon means that you need to press just a little bit harder to achieve a smooth line. Anytime pressure is applied, drawings tend to be more rigid. Go ahead and try it. Draw an image (say a butterfly) using crayons and then again using oil pastels. What did you discover? How does the medium feel in your hands? Think about this before you teach your students.

Filling up the paper…

Technique also plays a big part in determining how large a child will draw. I like to do directed line drawings with my younger students. Simple tricks such as finger placement, making a dot where the eye should go and talking about the edges of the paper will help develop the space children view as their canvas. I continue with these instructions all throughout the grades and soon, the children realize that small drawings are hard to paint and large ones are much, much easier! I demonstrate many of these techniques in my Teaching Art 101 e-course, so if you have a chance to take this class, you will see how I do this.

When to use pencils…

Sometimes I will use pencils to help develop the drawing techniques for older students (grades 5 and 6). These drawings are often done on smaller sized paper so that the student can focus on the details. Or when a project calls for detailed work such as my castle or victorian homes project, pencil is used to lay down the foundation lines.

Do you have this problem? What are your tips for encouraging little fingers to draw on a large scale? Share your tips!

21 comments

  1. Mary Lou Etten says:

    Thank you so Much!

  2. Jackie says:

    I think you were reading my mind…I just asked myself this the other day. My grandkids especially one LOVES to draw and paint and cut and paste and you name it. But like you said they draw so tiny. I will give your suggestions a try. Love this blog and you inspire creativity. Thanks!

  3. J Addy says:

    One assignment I have is for kids to draw monsters. To make them large, I give them circles to trace for the eyes, which they do first, then they build around that to make the rest. They all turn out awesome and are all different.

  4. I agree totally, I’ve been phasing out using pencils for pre-drawing for a while now, for the exact same reasons! Through trial and error I’m using oil pastels instead. I wish I’d read this post 6 months ago!!

  5. Lauri says:

    I always make two examples, one good and one bad, then kids decide why one is good and the other bad. I always draw the bad one much smaller than than the good one- kids pick up on it right away and I have very few problems with teeny-tiny drawings…..

  6. I earn so much from you. Thank you.

  7. Angie says:

    love your blog! thanks so much. I have just starting using pencils again after the children have begged for them but I agree they spend the whole time erasing and drawing small. but do you not find oil pastels to be so messy!!?? especially with the younger ones??

    • I really don’t find oil pastels messy. There are different “oil” levels in oil pastels as some are very soft, which would obviously be very messy for little ones. Now, chalk pastels are extremely messy, but that’s a different story!

  8. Phyl says:

    I’m not as big a fan of oil pastels as you. For pre-drawing for painting, when I want something big, I would have kids use crayon, or if I don’t want the line to be visible,or if the artwork is on colored paper, I love using a piece of chalk for drawing. It can be easily rubbed out and also can be painted over.

  9. Melissa says:

    I use their hand as the measuring two. “Make the body three hands high and two hands across.” Or, “try to draw your head three hands big.”

  10. kalanicut says:

    I had to smile when I saw this post. How many times have I found drawings that are almost microscopic with huge white space all around them. I love your suggestions. I’m visiting from BYW class. So glad I found your great resources. Great inspiration to foster our little one’s creativity.

  11. mercadee says:

    Plan out where you wish to place posters, lettering, etc. on glass by drawing on the BACK of the glass with a whiteboard marker. Adhere your items then wipe off the marker from the back. This is a great tip for placing lettering in straight lines.

  12. Abby L. says:

    I was so excited to find this blog post! I’m a homeschool mom and we’ve just started, in the past few weeks, exploring art a little more deeply. I grew up hating art. I couldn’t tell you why, it was just the class I most dreaded during school. I probably felt I wasn’t good at it and therefore didn’t want to bother. I don’t remember.
    But I love viewing and learning about art and I didn’t want my kids to be as averse to it as I was. So we’ve just been taking the time several times a week to learn together using various art books we’ve found. I’m now going to incorporate this blog into my curriculum.
    Anyhow, I’ve noticed my daughter’s drawings being so very tiny and all of this massive space around it that she usually fills with patterns or colors. But I haven’t known how to respond to it. Probably wouldn’t have even thought to pose the question, “Why is my kid’s drawing so tiny?” I’ve mentioned to her that if she wants to paint the details in the drawing, she might want to make it a little bigger. But those particular words haven’t impacted her drawing. I also know in my head about the concept of scale, but can’t manage to communicate it. This post helps immensely. Some good stuff in the comments too.

    Thank you so much for this very helpful blog, from a very inept art teacher/homeschool mom.

  13. Wish I had read this post before I led some young children through a recent project where drawings need to be big. Getting rid of my pencils!

  14. [...] (This was difficult for some of them- they love to add tiny details!) UPDATED TO ADD: I just read Patty Palmer’s post on getting kids to draw big. She said she often doesn’t use pencils because it encourages little details. Instead, she [...]

  15. Miss says:

    Some great tips here. I always struggle with teeny-tiny drawings with my youngest students. Huge fan of your blog, Patty- so many wonderful ideas that you generously share with everyone!

  16. Sabrina says:

    Ah! So useful. I remember being frustrated as a child that my teachers wanted me to draw bigger… I have little hands, why should I draw so big?! But now as an art tutor I am frustrated that my students want to draw so tiny, and take forever so it is hard to finish a lesson in the allotted time. This article helps me not only with tactic, but also how to explain to determined minaturists why sometimes bigger is better.

  17. leanie says:

    pastels are way better than crayons-as an artist and teacher I do not let my students use crayons-. if you can remember what pastels felt like as a kid, you would definitely love pastels.kids somehow dont mind the mess with pastels but somehow with pencils they know it requires detail and can be erased. pastels also blend easier

  18. Kathleen Machado says:

    Just by this site I have disregard using pencils to draw and it has been working out like a charm. However the black pastels from Blick. I did find them very soft and messy. I did buy colorations pastes and they had seemed harder and less messy

  19. [...] oil pastel, black paint and crayon or even a pencil (but that’s my least favorite option and here’s why). I used 12″ x 18″ white sulphite [...]

  20. Rahul says:

    Nice how to draw drawing lesson. Children learn easily.

    Rahul

  21. […] Use age-appropriate products/paints: Liquid watercolors dispensed in a baby food jar with a single brush in each color, tempera cakes, liquid tempera squeezed into plastic tubs with single paint brushes in each container, 76 lb sulphite/smooth construction paper, and no pencils. Instead use oil pastels for the drawing. Why? Read this. […]

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