TIP #8: Dog Before Fleas

TIP #8 Dog Before Fleas

This week’s TIP is a quick bit of art theory, and a fun way to keep it ‘front of mind’ for your students.

The expression, “Dog before fleas” (a.k.a. “Paint the dog before painting the fleas”) refers to the order in which a drawing or painting is created. And it could really apply to any artistic discipline.

I don’t know where this phrase originated, but I’ve heard it in enough different settings (and over many years) to realize that it’s been around for a very long time!

“Dog before fleas” is a reminder to work from the largest areas to smaller ones, or from general to specific. It speaks to the idea that it’s best to get your overall layout settled before you get caught up in adding details.

As an example, when beginning a portrait it’s important to determine the size, shape, and placement of the head before getting carried away with the details of an eye. Each aspect of the portrait should be built up together equally, one step at a time.

In addition to the fact that it’s really great advice, one of my favorite things about the phrase, “Dog before fleas” is that it requires so few words to get its point across. It’s quirky, catchy, and attention-grabbing. Kids like it and remember it!

Once you’ve taught your students this important art concept, all it takes is a casual reminder of, “Dog before fleas!”, while students are working. There’s no need to single anyone out or go back over the theory again. Kids hear this and instantly know to check that they’re not getting carried away with details too soon!

To learn more about creating a strong composition, check out my blog post, “Foreground, Middleground, Background”.

an inspiring quote:

Almost all artwork, no matter what the final form, begins with drawing because drawing is the artist’s fundamental tool.”   ~ Mary Blair

Mary Blair is known for being the Disney artist who designed the “It’s a Small World” ride. Her artwork was featured in many of the early Disney movies as well. With drawing and composition being so vital to Mary’s work, “Dog before fleas” was likely a concept she adhered to. I wonder if she ever heard that expression when she was in art school?

a question worth considering:

What other artistic process could this expression apply to in your classroom?