The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Child Artist.

by Mrs. E. Garrett Rice.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 357-361

    ". . . Picture books also form a very important part in a child's education; they should be few in number and really good. Most of the so-called children's picture books, children ought never to even see."

In giving my paper the title of "Child Artist," I do not want to mislead you into thinking that I intend to talk about infant prodigies who can draw a dog with one hand and a cat with the other. Far from that, I mean to confine myself to the ordinary, everyday child. The word "Artist," too, is interpreted quite differently by different people; in this paper it means what the little child meant when she said: "You think a thought and draw a line round it." To do this beautifully, whether it be a "thought" for an illustration, a carpet, a wallpaper, a tile, a teacup, or a dress--that is, to my mind, to be an artist. Now, there is one rather striking point of similarity between a child artist and a grown-up artist, in that they both leave out unnecessary detail and use only the broad lines essential to express their meaning. Look, for instance, at two drawings of a man's head, one by Randolf Caldecott and the other by a child about six years.

[No illustration was included with this article, but Wikipedia's entry on Caldecott shows a couple of examples of mens' heads.]

In drawing, as Michael Angelo said, we must "purge a thing of its superfluities and grasp the essentials." Both these drawings, Caldecott's and the child's, do this, and that is their point of similarity. But there is this broad difference between the two, that the artist "leaves out superfluities," because he has learnt through careful study and observation how much and how little detail he must use to express his meaning. The child, on the other hand, "leaves out superfluities," because his eye has not yet learnt to see detail, he is really blind to it, so the leaving out on his part is unconscious, not conscious as the artist's is. Now, you will probably ask, "If every child is born with a capacity for drawing, how is it that they so often lose it as they grow up?" Well, I am afraid it is because this precious gift of expression is so effectually stifled by neglect or bad and unsuitable methods of teaching, that the child's natural desire to express itself in drawing gradually disappears.

Look at some of the recent drawing done by Elementary School children, everyone is marvelling at its beauty. Yet what we ought to marvel at is not the work, but ourselves for not realizing that the capacity to do it was there all the time, and our own lack of insight for imagining that a tedious course of freehand and model drawing was the right way to develop it. But now, fortunately for the children (and ourselves), through the influence of Mr. Cook and others, they have at last got something real in the way of an Art Training.

Think what it must mean to these children, many of them brought up in poor, ugly, unrefined homes, to have discovered that they can come into close touch with nature, that they, themselves, can produce beautiful things.

I, myself, once had the interesting experience of teaching some thirty children of the Board School class, in a provincial town. Previously, freehand (or rather cramp-hand) and model drawing had been the only drawing they had been allowed to do. They were speedily introduced to nature and did some beautiful brush-work from flowers and feathers, etc., as well as some quite creditable designs. Their enthusiasm was delightful. Soon afterwards, there was what was called a "Hand and Eye Exhibition" of work done in all the Board Schools of the town. We sent ours, but the secretary declared that it was not "hand and eye" work. To what extent of blindness does red-tape reduce a man! However, our work was exhibited, and we had our reward in the appreciation of those who had eyes to see.

That happened some years ago, and now nearly all Board Schools are adopting better methods. But there are, alas, many so-called high-class schools and public schools also, where they entirely fail to realize what an important part drawing should take in a girl's or boy's education. Drawing is still, in many schools, an "extra," a nice drawing-room accomplishment for girls; and, as for boys--well, the less said about the teaching of that subject in most boys' schools, the better. Now, I hold that drawing, when rightly taught, is one of the most important factors in a child's education, and should be given its proper place in every school, and be taught to very child.

In making this assertion, I know I have to reckon with the severely practical parent, who says: "I have no objection to my children learning to draw, but will it have some practical value in helping them to take their place in the world?" To them, I reply that drawing, apart from its artistic value, has also an immense practical value.

(1) Drawing teaches a child to observe, to use its eyes as it goes through life.

(2) Its use in illustrating is most important. In history, geography, literature, botany, and other sciences, we have found that to let the children illustrate their books is of the greatest value, not only in testing what the child really knows, but in impressing facts upon its memory.

(3) Designing is most useful in bringing out any individuality or inventiveness the child may possess. "A child values highly anything made by himself because of the trouble he has had in making it." A parent, too, would prize far more a piece of needlework made and designed by her daughter, or a piece of wood-carving which was the handiwork of her son, than the same articles bought at a ship. Here I may add, that girls frequently come to me with the idea that to dump a spray of flowers down in the corner of anything is to produce a design. This is not surprising when you look into the shops where they sell fancywork.

And now, after having, I hope, convinced you of the importance of having your children taught to draw, a few hints as to the best kinds of drawing for children may not come amiss. First, let me say that it is important that children should be taught to draw by people who can draw themselves. A child's art education should begin in the nursery, not at first with the hand, but with the eye. Have nothing but good art on the nursery walls -- and only a little of that. There are certain posters done by good artists, illustrating various nursery stories, such as "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Little Bo-peep," etc., which make excellent nursery pictures. They are large and simple and the colours which are few and chiefly red, are laid on in large flat masses, without any light and shade. These posters are far better than most Christmas numbers, which are complicated with light and shade, which little children cannot understand, and with a great many different colours which they do not see. Red is the first colour little children are attracted by and in most of these posters, as I have already stated, red predominates.

Picture books also form a very important part in a child's education; they should be few in number and really good. Most of the so-called children's picture books, children ought never to even see. Give them Randolph Caldecott's and Walter Crane's, let them look at them over and over again until they are old friends.

As to toys, these should be few in number, simple and strong. Any observer of children will see that the elaborate toys made nowadays never please children for very long and are very soon broken (fortunately). A child will love an old wooden engine or decrepit rag doll, when toys which are much more costly will have been forgotten. Any why? Because the costly and elaborate toy leaves nothing to the child's imagination, there is nothing that he has to "pretend" about, everything is there.

Now we will suppose the child is old enough to reproduce so that the hand-training can begin. The first drawing done by a child should be on a blackboard, not with a pencil. At first there will be only scribble, but do not interfere with it. It is a good plan to draw yourself on the blackboard sometimes, choosing such things, for instance, as a "puff-puff," without of course forgetting the smoke. Children are always attracted by movement, and to them the smoke of a "puff-puff" is its most important feature. Painting for very young children is almost too messy for most nurses to tolerate, but the child might be allowed to make dabs on blotting-paper with a brush filled with clean water instead.

As the child grows older, blackboard drawing should change from scribble to the making of forms such as the ellipse, circle, spiral, etc., drawn large and at arm's length. Do not let the child draw on small chequer paper, which gives an inaccurate and stinted style of drawing. At this period a child should be encouraged to make simple patterns with the forms he has learnt to draw.

A word as to brush-work. There have been numerous books published, shewing what pretty patterns can be made with "blobs," i.e., an impression made by pressing the brush flat down on the paper. But blobbing has been done to death, children are allowed to "blob," when they can perfectly well draw with the brush, which is a very different thing. Blobbing becomes such a habit, that I find the most satisfactory way is to teach children to draw with their brushes (i.e., to hold them as an artist does) from the very first, though the results at the beginning are not so "pretty." Another form of brush-work, which is a good deal neglected in favour of "blobs," is putting on flat washes, which is of great use later on in the colouring of maps and illustrations.

Here, a word as to painting books may be useful, and I can only say, as a class, shun them. Rather let the child take a blade of grass or a flower-petal, or leaf, and first try to reproduce the colour and form, and afterwards, perhaps, use the form in the making of a simple pattern. A child should be, from the very first, encouraged to go to nature for beautiful forms and colour.

As to Clay-modelling, I hardly need say anything about that, as nearly all children take to it so happily. I think, on the whole, that quite young children should begin by making simple patterns on a background of clay, and afterwards reproduce such objects as fruit, shells, etc., in the round. Teach a child that clay has limitations, that you cannot reproduce thin flower petals, for instance, just as they are seen in nature.

Lastly, let me recommend a home magazine, in which the children put their own ideas, their own reproductions, such as drawings from nature or illustrations of stories read by them or to them. This sort of picture-book, however poor the pictures, is of far more value to them than dozens of elaborately illustrated bought picture-books; and parents will reap their reward for the little trouble and encouragement necessary to keep the magazine going, because they will find it of such infinite value to them afterwards, as the most beautiful, touching, and complete diary of their children's mental and spiritual growth, of thoughts which may never come again, of childish impressions as fleeting as an April cloud.

[Christmas numbers seem to be the Christmas editions of magazines. The illustrations would be overly sentimental and designed for popular appeal. If this example doesn't work, try doing an image search for "Christmas Numbers" and any year around 1900.]

["Puff-puff" may be a train.]

Typed by happi, Mar 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020