click on picture to see the full-sized version

* Jeffrey has concentrated on one dragon and the dancing puppeteers who collectively bring it to life. Hogan's dragon was big on cognition and formal relationships: Jeffrey's is more expressive of feelings, less decorative, faintly reminiscent of German Expressionism, a good example of a huge category of child art where feeling and expression are more important than the formal elements of design. Hogan, apparently, is an artist who sublimates feelings in classical form while Jeffrey keeps his feeling closer to the surface.

* Jeffrey's dragons are more frightening than Hogan's and how can we fail to interpret the solitary figure holding a mask aloft as anything but a severed head on a pike! If this seems macabre for a child of six, we should ponder why we expose children to fearsome dragons in the first place. Perhaps the drawing serves the child as the parade serves the community,  to symbolically banish dragons from the unconscious, to come to terms with the darker forces of nature.

* The dragon parade is an ancient celebration in Chinese culture, the dragon a symbol of spiritual energy, not, as in our culture, an evil incarnation. Just being there as part of the crowd and recording the event later from memory, these kids of Chinese ethnicity were participating in their ancestral culture. The drawings, Hogan's in particular,  evoke drums throbbing,  cymbals clashing,  firecrackers exploding. We feel the ancient group dynamic in both drawings, understand the solidarity of a community faced with the dragons of life, ancient and modern, good and evil.

*  Hogan's drawing employs the decorative  patterns of late childhood.  In Jeffrey's, the dragon is something else, a devouring maw, more from the story-telling traditions of the Black Forest than from China. As part of  creating a dragon that looks like the real thing, Jeff takes two steps towards empathic realism: the figures caught in the coils are farther away and smaller than the ones closer to the viewer which  suggests a growing awareness of perspective, of creating depth on the flat surface of the paper.


click on picture to see the full-sized version

* It is more or less a given that children who draw spontaneously and enthusiastically in their early years are likely to face a crisis of self-confidence when they reach pre-pubescence.  (I have coined the term "post-naive" to cover  the  years beyond this life-changing physical and psychological transition.) When children lose their self-confidence and even interest in spontaneous drawing the  "I can't draw" syndrome takes over and drawing simply dries up. It may be  construed as a transition to maturity but we look at it as the loss of an important language resource, a loss to the human mind-pool. In the Drawing Network, we believe that this is not inevitable. We have developed remedial strategies to restore self-confidence in spontaneous drawing.

* Sammy's story is the best evidence I have to support the notion that children will not experience the "I can't draw" syndrome if they have been nurtured in drawing throughout their early school years.  Sammy was a teenager when he made the drawing, and one of the older children in Ms. Sue Leung's art program. He has been attending private art classes since his early childhood in a program where the emphasis is on motivation and authentic daily practice at home and in art school.  I take this to be evidence that careful nurturing in the early years lessens the impact of the "I can't draw" syndrome in the later post-naive years.

* Consider the drawing: Sammy made a conscious decision - and remember he has reached the age where the distinction between preconscious empathy and conscious rationality is possible and increasingly helpful -  to fill the benches of the aquarium with spectators. The result is a frieze of happy faces rendered in detail.  Sammy is now  aware of being an artist, of making art, of making personal decisions about art. Without giving it a thought he quite naturally combines  intuition and rationality -as we have been discussing them -  and is quick to invent new ways to present subject matter effectively.

* Against the  background of spectators and attendants  he places the simplified forms of the dolphins as they perform before the crowd. He employs the technique of ‘overlapping planes' in a way that is effective and appropriate to the subject and he uses x-ray technique to show the animals above and below the  surface of the pool.

*  He divided the drawing in two, but not above and below ( nature above and human activities below as in"Boat Holiday") nor left and right, but as two planes one slightly behind the other. The plane on which the spectators is drawn is covered by a transparent panel on which are inscribed the cavorting sea-mammals. Each plane occupies its own narrow depth of field. It is part of the drawing's charm that the slightly more distant audience plane is treated in detail while the performing animals, closer to the viewer, are rendered in simple, elegant shapes. This device contributes to form and content, content because it is true to the glistening surfaces of wet marine animals;  form, because only a radical treatment like a total lack of detail would  allow the nearer plane to stand forth in such clarity.

* Normal viewing brings the crowd into focus and then the performing animals pop into view. Shifting focus, back and forth - as the drawing's formal organization encourages us to do - creates the ‘3D' effect of an old fashioned stereopticon.


click on picture to see the full-sized version

* This drawing reminds me of an ancient frieze from the Tigris and Euphrates, the very ‘cradle of civilization' as my history professor was fond of saying. That Parsa's ancestors came from this region may or may not be coincidental. Is it a genetic effect, a cultural influence, or both?

 * A coincidence: the day this drawing came in the mail I happened to see a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings on television. The English army is shown cowering under a dense blanket of  shields but a shower of arrows, similar to Parsa's, won the day for the French invaders and English history changed radically and forever. Of course, Parsa's  drawing is neither anthropology nor history but the expression of a ten-year-old boy's fascination with battles and war. It is an episode from an adventure yarn, perhaps historical but more likely futuristic, a theme in which interplanetary kings, armed phalanxes and super-heroes  play fantasy games.

* The base-line is a carry over from earlier days when the artist was little but it still serves to give organization to a potentially chaotic situation.  Some thirty archers  are packed into the tightest possible space. Together they make a frightful war machine. The army is divided into three areas: the royal command post, the tightly packed archers, and the shape of those flying arrows, which, for me  evoke the sound track of the Olivier "Henry the Fifth". Boys are attracted to war themes, but where is the enemy force in this drawing? Its absence  creates a dream-like effect of violence as a potential never realized. Arrows are shot into the air with no visible target. Like the celebrants in Keat's "Ode to a Grecian Urn",  the arrows will forever fly through the air and never land. It is an archetypal war image that falls short of bloodshed!


click on picture to see the full-sized version

* Boys who draw compulsively and without adult motivation  tend to  choose war fantasies,  not often elderly ladies watering  gardens! It is central to the Drawing Network approach that adult care givers are needed to motivate themes that might not occur to children on their own. There are good reasons for this: 1) children tend to stick to themes they feel comfortable with, which feel familiar and safe. We see an advantage to stretching minds by sharing the responsibility of choosing  themes with the child-artist. 2) When parent and child, or teacher and children, discuss what to draw, literacy too is expanded because drawing can lead the way into neglected and challenging subject matter. 3) Discussions about serious themes is bound to  lead to a stronger bonding between caring adult and child artist. It is easier and more natural to "talk serious" when a drawing is there to refer to. Wise parents will understand that a remark about the drawing may point to a personal problem. A series of drawings stemming from a fruitful conversation may help solve the problem.

* My guess is that "The Happy Gardner" was a response to a theme set up by an adult. Indeed, I happen to know that Richard's teacher once dressed herself  like an elderly prairie homesteader who tended a large garden and was part of the teacher's early memories. By prior arrangement she took her pupils to a kitchen garden near the school and posed for them with a hoe. This theme was intended to introduce a social studies theme, to expand the children's interest in community themes and  to experience and practice drawing from observation leading to drawing from memory back at the school. War themes are healthy for growing boys but a thematic menu which includes gardening, wilderness, nature,  family and community would be more balanced. I have found a contract approach useful: the theme is chosen by the individual drawer but on alternate days, the adult gets to choose.


click on picture to see the full-sized version

Myths are narratives imbedded in the individual and collective unconscious,  stories that reveal psychological truths and social conditions. When sufficient numbers become touched by a story it may become an archetype, legend, fairy tale, folk tale, parable, poetic metaphor, or  ceremony. Children are fascinated by the literature of  mythology. Parents and teachers recognize the myths of other cultures, as well as our own, as a rich source of motivational themes for drawing, writing, oral expression and reading. When myths are shared from other cultures, the imagination is stimulated, demons are put to flight, the individual  psyche is strengthened and the child's communal life is  celebrated.

* Thrust, tension, and balance, are powerful sources of aesthetic energy. The composition is constructed around the roof peak of the house which serves as a fulcrum, an actual symbol of balance. If you look again you will find counter-forces that threaten balance but are held in check. The sleigh on the far left - you can just  make it out, and the six reindeer that provide the horse power - struggle against gravity. On the other side of the fulcrum, Santa swings boldly out into space, a physically impossible feat but possible in a myth. The effect is to counter the downward pull and freeing the lead reindeer to pull the parade into the night sky. Life itself is shaped by the pull of gravity and we feel a response in our own muscles as we examine the picture. Great art celebrates life by echoing  physical condition in formal relationships. The energy of this drawing comes from its implied relationship to the basic facts of physical existence.

* In works of art Form and Content are inseparable and in this drawing Form is Content and Content is Form. Santa  is powerful enough to go head to head with the animals on the other side of the fulcrum. He is aided by  arm gestures which pull to the right, creating a diagonal against the curved line of the reindeer  (form reference). His arms function as a welcoming gesture, an intimation of playfulness (content reference). Santa's cap is part of a traditional costume (content) but adds a small curve echoing the larger curve of the reindeer (form).

* Consider the reindeer:  the largest and closest are struggling for purchase: you can almost hear them scraping the shingles seeking purchase. The second team is barely off the roof. The third team soars skyward, gravity free. * 'Progression' is a principle of design that applies when similar units are lined up on the surface of the picture plane. Begin with the sleigh with its twist-form launch skyward movement. The eye goes first to the largest team, the one closest to the sleigh,  and from there to the next team at the mid-way point (the one linked to Santa) and finally to the smallest in size and farthest away, gravity defying and free to soar. A progression which serves content and makes use of a  form principle, transition.

* It is useful to imagine a line running through the centre  of forms which we can identify as the ‘axial line'. Start with the tip of the sleigh handle, and move upward through the axis of  several forms to the lead animals and you have followed an axial line that turns out to be a ‘French curve'.  The 18th C. English painter, William Hogarth, thought this was a particularly effective form and called it "the line of beauty". Here it reminds us of  the "hidden order of art".    

* On Santa's side , three forms attach Santa to the reindeer: his hat, his right arm, and his right leg. The almost hidden chimney - vital to the Santa myth - also points to  the reindeer parade. Children like details and Brendan didn't forget the chimney. And speaking of details, if you count reindeer  legs.  Every team has precisely eight, the correct number! Brendan: mythic poet and literalist!   

* There is another side to Santa: his cape, left arm and left leg pull away from the reindeer procession to keep him in a state of balance, frozen in time, forever defying gravity. He is portrayed as an old gentleman who cracks his heels and holds a complex composition in a state of suspended balance.  


click on picture to see the full-sized version

* At seven (two years after "Santa") Brendan had reached the age when a literal belief in Santa or any other myth is unlikely but his teacher introduced a creation myth as part of a study of West Coast Native culture.  His drawing represents a transition to ‘empathic realism'.  

*In "Raven" he has freed the components of the picture to interact with each other in a positive/negative way. Forms flow into one  another - Whale into Thunderbird, Thunderbird into Earth Island and Earth Island into Mountain Top. As positive forms flow, so do negative spaces.

* Teaching children the elements and principles of design - positive and negative form and space, for example - is a current preoccupation of art teachers. In the Drawing Network we believe that it should be done informally and after-the-fact and should never be the motivation for drawing. Give priority to content and narrative and allow  design to appear  as a by-product of empathy. When the drawing is finished, formal qualities can be discussed as something to discover and internalize.  

* The level of form/content integration suggests a  mythic state of mind which is really to say an empathic state of mind. Without consciously thinking about it, the shape of Earth Island (itself a powerful myth) imitates the shape of Thunderbird. Both soar in mythic space: it must be mythic because only in such a space could a bird capture and support a whale! Earth Island is populated with mythic elements that echo the universality of the bible story of creation:  two kinds of trees, coniferous and deciduous,  an archetypal house providing shelter for the human family, one bird and one animal. Fish are absent, but sea life is represented by the whale.  And note the sun, shining as ever in the imagination of children who make drawings!

* Brendan and his mother were reading my notes on his drawings when he asked this question:

Brendan: "Mom, why did Bob think that I drew these pictures as he described? I didn't have that in my mind....The Santa drawing and the whale in the sky drawing and the other drawings. I didn't plan it or have it in my mind while I drew." His mother added, not to her son but to me in an email:  "But Brendan did agree  that your descriptions matched  the outcome but he never thought of it like this himself."

This candid and revealing comment supports what we have been saying, that a child's drawing is the product of preconscious  intuition. Brendan may not recognize the source but he did recognize the validity of my comments. It adds weight to my point that children invest all subjects with a kind of mythical presence but without necessarily being aware of it.

* Animals have always played a role in myth making. This drawing  represents a concern for living harmoniously with the environment and those who dwell within it. It is no romantic fantasy but a matter of survival and children are quick to realize this truth. Environmental education is vitally important and ‘daily drawing' as a way of experiencing empathy is meant to be part of it. As Native cultures have claimed repeatedly, the land and all who inhabit the land, must be treated as sacred and mythic. Having children draw themes from nature in ways that promote empathy will help them enter mythic space. And over time, it will help create  a critical mass of  adults  prepared  to undertake the reforms needed to save the planet. Introducing the myths of other times and other cultures is a step in this direction, a step towards universal understanding, peace and harmony.


click on picture to see the full-sized version

*I will bring this survey of astonishing drawings to a close by including the one that graced the cover of my first book, "Draw Me a Story"! You will agree, perhaps, that it is sensitively and flawlessly designed. The theme is lighthearted, like th circus music that is part of this parade. Indeed, it strikes me as a composition infused with music.

* If he had thoughts about drawing the  parade as though viewed from the sidewalk, he rejected the notion. Nor is it a view from a low flying helicopter. Rather, it is an exquisite arrangement of some eighty circus parade elements arranged as informal rectangles spread out as no photograph could manage. There is a full band with drum major, a parade proper with elephants and caged lions and houses line up on a street with observers. Four groups of sidewalk enthusiasts - including one using a hoola hoop - a balloon vendor,  a house with small children fenced in and, in a completely unrelated anecdote, a boy playing street hockey.  

* "Parade" offers a neat solution to the problem of color in the ‘daily draw'. In other Network pamphlets we have taken the  position that  line -  not tone, not texture, not color, but line - is the drawing technique most conducive to language expression.  Line offers a level of specificity  to the story the child wishes to tell. It  has the advantage of immediacy and, incidently,  of taking much less time than other techniques.  Children get caught-up in the coloring-in process, a discipline suitable for  arts and crafts , but not when language-use is the focus. But, I hear you saying, children love color - and so they do.  Geoffrey offers a solution in  "Parade"! He drew in line but used colored line. Colored markers, pencils, ballpoints, colored ink and old fashioned straight pens, all are available and all  satisfy the need for line and color. (As a transition to painting, it would be a short step from colored line to colored line-wash paintings executed in the arts and crafts period at school or at home, without interfering with  the "daily draw".