Tag Archives: drawing

Between the lines

For a few months I had been aware of the new colouring books for adults craze that is sweeping the world but had chosen to ignore it. That is, until I read a blog post by Alana Munro stating that “According to Psychologists, Colouring is the Best Alternative to Meditation” and I thought I’d add my two cents worth.

I had already been urged by some writing, publishing and marketing entrepreneurs to quickly create a colouring book and cash in on this new lucrative market. Apparently it’s easy to create a book using royalty free creative images found online and publish the books on Amazon where they have their own genre.  People are buying them by the dozens. The books are also displayed prominently in bookstores, and promoted on social media.  What is there to lose?

As a teacher and parent I have never been in favour of colouring books for children. I know some argue that colouring does have a (small) place. Children may develop fine motor skills when colouring between the lines, and colouring is sometimes integrated with other things such as graphing, mapping, and colour-by-number activities.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

But I have rarely given a colouring book as a gift. I would rather give a blank art book and a variety of pencils and pens for children to create images from their own imaginings. Their fine motor skills and their creativity will develop perfectly well that way and it may help to avoid the feelings of inadequacy that can develop from spending too much time colouring the works of others.

That’s not to say that learning some of the artist’s techniques is a bad thing. Twenty-five years ago I did a short “Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain” course, based on the work of Betty Edwards. I didn’t consider myself an artist, and still don’t, preferring to write than to draw. But being interested in learning and anything to do with the brain, I decided to see what I could do. I was amazed at the results. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pre-course drawings to share with you, just this one of a gardener, but please take my word for it that I showed little promise.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In the course I learned the importance of drawing what the eye sees, not what the mind thinks it sees; for example we might think of the roundness of the rim of a cup, but what we actually see is an ellipse. The importance of seeing accurately is true whether drawing an actual or imagined object or scene.

In the first lesson we were given this picture to copy.


I admit that I didn’t have high expectations as I began. We were told to turn the picture upside down and to start copying from one corner. In doing this we focussed only on each of the lines, drawing just what we could see. We were not to turn the picture the right way up until we had finished. There was to be no interference from what we thought we were drawing to what we were actually drawing. Everyone in the class was amazed with their results.

This is mine:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

And thank you to Bec, who was three at the time, for deciding it needed some colour!

For a short while I engaged in a flurry of drawing activities, but soon abandoned them to other more pressing or preferred activities. I had proved to myself it was possible. That was sufficient. Now someone just needs to come with a singing on the right side of the brain course for me!

These are some of the drawings I did at that time, each from observation of a real, not imagined object:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In my pre-service teaching days I was cautioned to not use simple drawings on the board, for example a stick person or a smiley face sun, for the children to copy as it may limit their drawing ability. It was always a concern of mine. I didn’t want to limit anyone’s ability!

After doing the drawing course I bought a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain for Children and used its recommendations in art lessons. In his article about How to Teach Drawing to Children Marvin Bartel warns against showing children how to draw and emphasises the need for close observation, and practice, practice, practice. I agree with his advice to not add one’s own changes or lines to a child’s drawing.

In recent years I came across some fabulous picture books by Mo Willems.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

At first I didn’t find the books appealing with their simple black outlined drawings and minimal use of colour. It was only after a colleague’s repeated exhortations that I gave in and reluctantly read one. Halfway into the book The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” I was a fan! With what appears to be a few simple lines, Mo creates a great variety of expressions and moods, telling stories that children can identify with and that have them (and their teachers) holding their sides with laughter.

In the app Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App Mo encourages children to add their voices, making the story their own. He also includes videos of how to draw the characters. The app is as much fun as the books. There are many videos by others on youtube sharing how to draw Mo’s characters, but none is better than Mo himself.

Here is a PDF of his instructions for drawing the pigeon:

Mo Williams pigeon_draw01

and a video of Mo talking about how he creates his characters. Sorry, Mo, I underestimated you at first.

So while I accept that colouring books may have benefits for mental health for adults who choose that activity and understand that colouring can induce a meditative state and be very relaxing, I think a blank piece of paper and a variety of pencils and pens would have the same effect and, who knows, you might unleash the artist within. I certainly don’t consider their use in the best interests of children’s development and creativity.

What do you think of colouring books for children and adults? Is colouring a recreational pursuit for you? Have you bought your first colouring book for grown-ups yet?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.





A sprinkling of semicolons

wordle semicolons

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about semicolons; but not the little squiggles on a page, the semicolons that are sprinkled liberally through life as new beginnings. Sometimes we see them and grasp the opportunity for renewal, other times we ignore them and miss the chance to revitalize. Sometimes we get pushed down and it takes all our strength to pull back up, grasping onto the semicolon as if it was a dragon’s tail.

Charli was inspired by Project Semicolon that provides this explanation:

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence if your life.  Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.”

Every day can be a new beginning in some way. With our thoughts, words and actions we can change our own lives, or the lives of others. The impact may be deliberate or unintentional. We may be aware of the effects, or we may never know the consequences.

Without wishing to diminish the importance of helping those “who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury”, which is the focus of Project Semicolon, my focus as always is on education and the importance of maintaining curiosity and an interest in and love of learning.

jimmiet, A colourful monarch butterfly   https://openclipart.org/detail/19002/monarch-butterfly

jimmiet, A colourful monarch butterfly https://openclipart.org/detail/19002/monarch-butterfly

What better analogy of a semicolon of life than the transformation from a caterpillar in a pupa to the beauty and flight of a butterfly. An inspiring teacher can mean the difference between full stops and semicolons in learning.

To illustrate this I refer a post called Deeper Learning: Highlighting Student Work written by Ron Berger and shared on Edutopia.

In the article Berger discusses his obsession with “collecting student work of remarkable quality and value . . . the work of regular students in typical schools around the country . . . (whose) teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm”.

Berger discusses ways of engaging students in authentic work, work that can have an impact on their communities and on the way they see themselves as learners. I remember Charli Mills telling me about similar work that her children were engaged in when they attended The School of Environmental Studies in Minnesota; and I shared some of Chris Lehmann’s work at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia here.

Berger says,

“Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom — work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful — that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.”

Semicolons in teaching and learning, all.

As with the three cited above, the situations referred to are often of teenagers in high schools. I am an early childhood teacher and, while I find the work exciting, I sometimes struggle to see the relevance to my situation. However, in this article Berger shares the work of Austin, a year one student from Boise, Idaho doing a project about a tiger swallowtail butterfly.

Austin was to illustrate his project with a detailed scientific drawing of the butterfly. His initial drawing was what I would consider to be fairly typical of a year one child. However he received feedback that was specific and not mean from follow students; and through a series of six drafts finished with a drawing that was much more sophisticated and demonstrated more careful ‘scientific’ observation.

Berger also shared work by year two students at another school, demonstrating what can be achieved “when students are allowed, compelled and supported to do great things”.


Last week Charli’s flash fiction challenge “the day the earth turned brown” prompted me to write about a student mixing all the colours together to make one muddy brown. The teacher paused before responding. There are many such pauses, (semicolons) in a teacher’s day. The teacher knows the power of every remark and must consider the impact that a response may have.

If you had provided each child with a palette of primary colours and black and white expecting them to mix a variety of colours and shades and tones to create an interesting picture; then found that one child had mixed them all together to make one muddy brown, how would you respond?

There were a number of comments on the flash including one from Geoff Le Pard  who said that there were “So many questions as to why the little girl is making muddy browns and lathering them everywhere.”

So true. The teacher’s response would be influenced by knowledge of the child’s background, interest in art, and behaviour that day, among other things.

Charli Mills said that “It could mean many things and nothing!” She recalled, “mixing paints as a child hoping to create a vivid new color and (being) disappointed to end up with mud.Anne Goodwin agreed, saying that “mixing paints to make a muddy brown, (was) a distinctive childhood memory”.

In my experience there was usually one child who ended up mixing all the colours together, often for no other reason than to see what happened. Sometimes the process of discovery gave as much pleasure as would a colourful painting of a house a tree and a sun.

house and sun

However, there might be more to it than that. Charli Mills sympathesised with the teacher, saying that “So much is put on the teacher to figure it out.” She thought that the child “might be disturbed, highly imaginative or confident enough to experiment”.  Sherri Matthews suggested that perhaps the child was “troubled . . . living in a dark, mixed up world, but . . . trying to find their way”.

So much to consider. So powerful the response. Will it be a full stop, or a semicolon?

This is my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a renewal story that proclaims, “This isn’t the end; I will go on.

muddy brown

She paused. The muddy brown extended beyond the paper virtually cementing it to the desktop. The palette too was brown with little trace of the beautiful primary colours she had prepared. Looking from desk to child she observed two large smears adorning the shirt. A bruise-like smudge on the cheek showed where an intruding hair had been brushed away. “Oh!”

She breathed; she counted to ten; and back again; “Breathe,” she told herself. “Why?”

She moved on, observing the assortment of smiling suns, houses and garden paths, but her mind was on the mud; the child . . .

What would be the appropriate response?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.