Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – chapter 5

Chapter summary

Development of drawing in children

From 18 months, children start to draw in a manner characterised by random, circular scribbling (the circle being a natural shape given the configuration of the arm and shoulder). With the development of motor control comes early attempts at figurative drawing. Although the child is focused principally on faces, they’re primarily based on symbols and there’s little to distinguish between individuals and even non-human subjects.

The artist was 1 year 10 months when this was drawn. Soft crayon on paper. Uploaded by parent. (Wikimedia Commons; uploaded by Monika Wirthgen)

By three and a half, a child’s pictures reflect an increasing awareness of their environment: heads develop bodies (although the more important head is much larger). By four, details of clothing, fingers and toes appear, although the quantity of fingers and toes is somewhat creative (Edwards says they have seen drawings with thirty-one fingers on one hand and others with only one toe per foot). At this point, children begin to develop favourite ways of drawing various parts and repeat them frequently, embedding the technique in their muscle-memory.

Drawing by Oaklyn Ward, 3

At four to five years old, children start using narrative, exaggerating elements to convey importance, and at five or six, children start drawing landscapes, often featuring stereotypical box-like houses. Symbolism still reigns supreme: the ground is at the bottom of the picture plane and the sky is at the top; these elements are either represented by the edges of the paper or by a single line of colour.

The house may have windows with our without curtains, but the door always has a doorknob – something essential to its function. The composition of these landscapes are generally good, the pictures being balanced and executed with certainty.

Village Prelesne. Ukraine. Donetsk region.
(Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Yakudza)

By ten years old, children start to aim for greater complexity in their drawings. Composition is left by the wayside, along with a large degree of the certainty (or lack of regard for criticism) of younger childhood. Cartoons become a popular subject, using familiar symbols in a more sophisticated manner helps negate some of the criticism, and pictures are often small studies floating in space. Hands, feet and other problem areas are hidden behind the figure, or by some other contrivance, indicating a lack of confidence and a fragile ego.

Everybody begins with Stick figures by Shabazik

Around the age of eleven, children begin to demand realism, but moving from the symbolic to the naturalistic is incredibly hard and young artists rapidly become disillusioned when they fall short. Fundamentally, many people fail to reconcile what they see with what they know is there and their verbal knowledge overrules their observation, resulting in a technically incorrect drawing. Although artists – most notably the Cubists –  have explored this in the past, they do so from a foundation of technical competence and deliberate choice.