Botanical Art for Children
By Marcia DeWitt
Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 12, Issue 2
Many of you are already teaching botanical art to children. For those who are contemplating such a program, I would like to share some of the experiences I have found helpful.
Botanical subjects are a wonderful venue for children to learn drawing and painting skills. Botanical art provides an opportunity to explore practical techniques that enable young artists to bring their art to a successful conclusion. It also encourages creative perspectives about objects that are part of their every day lives and helps them develop an appreciation for their natural environment. Children like the colors, fragrances, and flavors of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, which adds to their enjoyment of the process.
When designing a children’s program, it is important to consider the age group being addressed. Younger students (8-11years) need several shorter working periods and prefer to tackle a variety of subjects in order to keep focused. Older students (12 years and older) prefer to work on one drawing or painting for a longer period of time. It is also important to explain what will be covered in the class and what they are expected to do with their supplies and materials. Giving them an allotted time for setting up and cleaning up creates a structured atmosphere that allows them to do their best work, which gives them a great sense of pride.
One of the primary challenges in teaching children at any age is helping them “learn to see” because their past experiences in drawing often involved stereotyping objects using preconceived images. Seeing things as they really are can be a new experience for everyone learning to draw and paint. One way to accomplish this is to see the object from a new perspective. Examples include looking at a flower from the back where the stem attaches or looking up from underneath the flower. Another method is to use “view finders” to see the subject more objectively. Viewfinders can be made easily from paper with a square or rectangle cut out of the center. Students can then use this aid to visually crop the subject, and this helps them to see shapes within or around the object. These shapes help in translating the three-dimensional object to the two-dimensional paper. Older students benefit from the added experience of contour drawing, where they keep their eyes on the outline and the contours of the object with minimal looking at their paper. This helps them focus on the reality of what they see versus what they think they see.
Many programs are on tight budgets and some families do not have access to quality art materials, but it is possible to teach drawing skills with few supplies. Encouraging students to have their own sketchpads, even inexpensive ones, allows them to continue drawing outside of class. Children can create some beautiful drawings with a #2 pencil and a kneaded eraser. Discussing and demonstrating additional materials often results in some of the more serious students exploring additional supplies on their own. Watercolor paint, brushes, and paper, however, can be quite expensive. It would be wonderful if everyone could buy the best materials available. Since that is not always the case, inexpensive student-grade supplies can be purchased from online sites such as Dick Blick. In order to ensure success it is important for the instructor to practice using the same materials that the students are being asked to use. Even though it may be quite different from how botanical artists usually work (less expensive materials do behave differently than the more expensive ones), quality work is still possible and the students are apt to have similar materials at home to practice with after class.
In choosing subjects for students to draw and paint, it is tempting to consider working outdoors. That idea always appeals to students, but they easily lose concentration needed for successful work. Consequently, bringing the subjects into the classroom allows the children to work “up close and personal” with their subject, and they are much happier with the results. Also, providing a backdrop for their subject, such as a folded piece of white cardboard, helps eliminate many surrounding distractions and improves concentration. Encouraging students to arrange the subject in a way that suits them also involves them more in the creative process. Providing floral oasis for positioning their flowers or assisting their efforts to slice through a fruit or vegetable for a view that interests them adds to the inspiration necessary for the work to succeed.
Students need to feel their efforts have been worthwhile, so at the end of class (after clean-up time), encourage them, to hang their drawings or paintings on a wall. This allows them to see the variety of ways that the subjects have been addressed and is a valuable educational tool. Also, letting each student share what they believe to be their greatest challenge or success helps every one clarify their goals and further their understanding of the various ways to get there.
Marcia DeWitt taught botanical art to children, ages 8-15, at Camp Creativity at the Corcoran College of Art + Design, Washington, DC where she is an adjunct faculty presenting classes for the college’s Certificate in Botanical Art and Illustration. Marcia is also an instructor at the Brookside Gardens School of Botanical Art & Illustration, Bethesda, MD where she is one of the instructors teaching the school’s beginner – intermediate level course work.