Drawing warm ups are a great way for kids to transition into art time from their other subjects or activities. This shift requires both a physical and mental adjustment in order for kids to move quickly to a new focus.
What is a drawing warm up?
A “drawing warm up” is a one or two minute exercise done at the very beginning of art class. Similar to “morning work” or a “bell-ringer” activity in an elementary classroom, it marks the transition to a new subject and refocuses students’ attention.
Drawing warm ups get students’ hands, wrists, and arms loosened up for drawing or painting. They also get students thinking in terms of lines, shapes, and pattern. Practicing repetitive motions builds muscle memory, helping kids improve their drawing skills.
Drawing warm ups are not…
Drawing warm ups are not the same as drawing prompts, which you often find when you google “drawing warm ups”. A drawing prompt is simply an idea or suggestion of something to draw, and typically takes much longer than a true “warm up” would.
“Draw something you ate today”, “Draw a dream you had”, or “Draw what you see outside your window” are examples of drawing prompts. They can take a few minutes or an entire class period.
Drawing prompts have their place, but serve a very different purpose than drawing warm ups.
A drawing prompt will often be a complete project in its own right. But drawing warm ups serve as more of a bridge between making art and whatever students were doing prior to that.
What you’ll need
Pencil and paper are all you need for these drawing warm ups. But you could also use markers, watercolor, or even plain water and a small brush. (And the symmetry warm up will require some tape.)
The beauty of drawing warm ups is that you can tailor them to the medium and project you’re warming up for.
A timer might also be helpful because kids won’t want to stop! Set it for a minute or two, being sure to leave plenty of time for your main project.
So grab some paper and your drawing tool of choice and give one (or all) of these drawing warm ups a try. These are also fun to save and fill in with color or patterns later on.
1. MUSICAL SHAPES
Decide which shapes you’ll be using, and post an example of each shape along with its name, if that’s helpful to your students. Remember, this is not a test, just a low stress warm up!
Start by calling out a shape. You could use popsicle sticks, choose names of shapes from a jar, or just call them as you think of them. But the randomness is part of the fun.
As you call out a shape, students fill their paper with an assortment of that shape in various sizes. They can overlap, change direction, or place smaller ones inside of larger ones. They just keep drawing that same shape until a new shape is called out.
As a fun spin-off of the game, “Musical Chairs”, you can also play music while kids are drawing. Then pause the music as each new shape is called out, and then the music starts again. Repeat several times.
Encourage students to draw quickly, filling their papers and striving for an interesting composition.
Have students save their “Musical Shapes” drawing and add some “Musical Lines” to those shapes next time!
2. MUSICAL LINES
This warm-up is similar to Musical Shapes (above), only with lines. You can begin by brainstorming as many different kinds of lines as you can think of.
As you brainstorm, draw examples of these lines where everyone can see them. Then label each different line with what you’ll be calling it.
Some examples might be straight lines, curvy lines, wavy lines, zig-zag lines, loopy lines, dotted lines, spiral lines, etc. You can get creative with lines made of fish scales, cross-hatching, cursive letters, and open figure 8’s.
Then call out these different lines, one at a time every 20-30 seconds or so. Lines can create shapes as they cross and overlap, but keep the focus on drawing lines, not shapes.
Lines can go across the paper from edge to edge, or they can be short and confined to a small area. But encourage students to use their whole paper and create a balanced design.
3. MIRROR SYMMETRY CHALLENGE
Here’s a warm up that’s as stimulating for your brain as it is for your hands!
Students will need two pencils and two pieces of tape. Have them fold their paper in half, either direction. Then open it back up and tape the paper to their desk so the fold line is vertical.
Now with one pencil in each hand, have them place the pencil points touching each other anywhere on the fold. Then work outward from the middle in both directions, left hand moving to the left and right hand moving to the right. Students will slowly draw a symmetrical, abstract design… without lifting their pencils!
The fold line gives you a “line of symmetry” where everything on one side of the fold mirrors or reflects everything on the other side of the fold.
By starting with both pencils at the same point on the fold and then moving in “mirror” fashion at the same speed, students should end up with two sides that are mirror images of each other. This is also known as reflective symmetry, or bilateral symmetry.
This kind of drawing is challenging to do, but it’s a great exercise for your brain, as well as your eye-hand coordination. And it gets easier with practice!
Remind students to take their time, and pause when necessary if one hand gets ahead of the other. The goal is to fill their paper with a continuous, symmetrical line drawing. This can be as simple or as detailed as you have time for.
A quick warm up before making art will help kids transition and can also help them find flow. Want more creative ideas for drawing warm ups? Try my Circle Challenge, Echo Drawing, or a Blind Contour Drawing before your next art activity.
an inspiring quote:
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
~ Walt Disney
The statement above is true for many things we need to do. And occasionally it’s even true for the things we want to do!
Talking about doing something can be a necessary part of “warming up” when transitioning to a new activity. But take care that it doesn’t turn into procrastination.
Next time you’re transitioning to art from another activity, try moving quickly from “talking” to “doing” with a drawing warm up!
a question to consider…
Do you have any “go-to” warm ups that you like to do before starting your own work? Keep in mind that sometimes a warm up might look like “doodling”!