Learning to “Draw with a Light Touch”

Drawing circles with a light touchJan­u­ary is the month for New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions.… for exam­in­ing our habits and think­ing about changes we should make. Kids hear adults talk­ing about this so it’s not a new idea to them. This means we can seize this oppor­tu­nity to talk with stu­dents about their own habits that may not be serv­ing them well and sug­gest ways they can change these habits to improve their artwork!

As an Art teacher, if you had to choose just one art-related habit for your stu­dents to really focus on and improve this year, what would it be? For me, the choice would be easy.… I would choose learn­ing to con­trol the amount of pres­sure stu­dents apply when draw­ing or sketch­ing with a pen­cil… learn­ing to draw with a light touch is a skill worth developing.

This may seem like such a sim­ple thing, but as with many sim­ple things, its impact can be far reach­ing. Visual com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a skill your stu­dents will use their entire lives, whether or not they pur­sue an art-related career or hobby. Once they make a habit of draw­ing with a light touch, this will not only help them with their art­work, but will also carry over into their adult life beyond any art-related appli­ca­tion. Quick, light sketches are the key to com­mu­ni­cat­ing visu­ally in both home and work settings.

Most projects and ideas begin with a sketch or a sim­ple draw­ing. How many times have you seen your stu­dents get frus­trated right at the begin­ning of a project by try­ing to make changes to lines that are already too dark to be erased with­out leav­ing a “ghost” of the orig­i­nal image? I’ve often felt like a “bro­ken record” remind­ing stu­dents to press lightly when they draw! You can always make your lines darker when you decide you’re happy with them, but eras­ing a line com­pletely can be impos­si­ble if you’ve pressed too hard to begin with.

So here’s an idea to help your stu­dents develop this habit of draw­ing with a light touch. Try begin­ning each class with a quick chal­lenge or con­test. Pass out some scrap paper or inex­pen­sive printer paper and have stu­dents “warm up” their draw­ing hand by quickly draw­ing as many cir­cles as they can, as lightly as they can. If you make it a “con­test”, you can walk around the room and look for the light­est cir­cles you can find. Stu­dents will enjoy show­ing you their best cir­cles. I’ve been amazed by stu­dents who can’t seem to make them­selves press lightly when I remind them to, but can sud­denly make cir­cles that are almost invis­i­ble once there’s a com­pe­ti­tion involved!

Try this activ­ity with other lines and shapes, too. You can call out dif­fer­ent lines to draw (i.e. ver­ti­cal, hor­i­zon­tal, diag­o­nal, wavy, etc.) or dif­fer­ent shapes (ovals, squares, tri­an­gles, etc.) to mix things up a bit and give stu­dents even more prac­tice con­trol­ling their pen­cil pres­sure. Some­times stu­dents can prac­tice this warm-up right on the back of their projects, then just turn their paper over when it’s time to start working.

Offer this warm-up each time stu­dents get ready to draw, and encour­age “light touch doo­dling”. You’ll watch stu­dents’ draw­ings improve as they learn to draw with a light touch, quickly able to make the changes they want with­out hav­ing to erase so hard.

I’ve seen this easy activ­ity really make a dif­fer­ence for my stu­dents.… try it and let me know how it works for you!



7 Responses to Learning to “Draw with a Light Touch”

  1. Art Mom January 12, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    I’ve found that teach­ing kids to “pull” the pen­cil along the paper rather than “push” it into the paper cre­ates much lighter lines. I use both def­i­n­i­tions of the word draw when teach­ing draw­ing:
    Draw: 1. pro­duce (a pic­ture or dia­gram) by mak­ing lines and marks, esp. with a pen or pen­cil, on paper. 2. pull or drag
    Art Mom recently posted..Art Con­tests For Kids – Decem­ber 2013My Profile

    • Cheryl Trowbridge January 15, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Wow — that’s inter­est­ing.… I’ll have to try that! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Julie Munnerlyn January 13, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    Hi Cheryl,
    I have enjoyed your blog for a few years now and appre­ci­ated all the work you have put into it. I taught art to K-6th and found great projects on your site. I cracked up over this one, because it was a con­stant chal­lenge to have the stu­dents “lighten up” on their pen­cil mark­ings. They just could not see how dark they were get­ting on their sketches. I switched them to 5H blue pen­cils finally and found great suc­cess with a lighter marking.

    I also have a ques­tion that you may be able to help me with. I have a 16 year old gal and two of her tal­ented friends who are inter­ested in learn­ing greater tech­nique. I am hop­ing to hire a tech­ni­cally skilled artist come over to my house to do a stu­dio les­son with these girls about 1x/week. Do you know any­one in the com­mu­nity who is up for this task. They are all very tal­ented, but would like to take their skills fur­ther and no stu­dio in town or art class at their High School is able to pro­vide these skills. I would love to hear any ideas. Thank you for your efforts and fun ideas!
    Julie Munnerlyn

    • Cheryl Trowbridge January 13, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Julie! I’m so glad my blog has been help­ful to you! I love your idea of using the 5H blue pen­cils for sketch­ing… thanks for shar­ing that!

      I do have an idea for a won­der­ful local art teacher/artist who may be will­ing to come to your house, assum­ing you’re in the Santa Cruz area. Let me know and I can email you with her con­tact info. You can use the con­tact form on my site, or email me at cbtrowbridge[at]gmail[dot]com.

  3. Ana February 21, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Cheryl. Great post!! I agree with you that hav­ing a “light touch draw­ing” is a must for a suc­cess­ful art piece and kids need to learn that. I feel bad when they are try­ing hard but leave all those marks in their paper. You post inspired me to per­se­vere in reach­ing that goal with my stu­dents.

  4. Melissa June 27, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    This is BRILLIANT! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge