By Paula Briggs
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Our Drawing Feathers workshop with children aged 6 to 10 was a great opportunity for the children to put to use all the mark making skills they had been learning over the past few weeks, and I was amazed by the quality of the drawings – some were really sophisticated in their use of materials, line and colour.
The image below of a Peacock Feather drawn by John Ruskin inspired the workshop – I used to visit the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield. His drawn feather is small but it draws you in.
We started our workshop with some blind drawing, using a cardboard screen and writing pens as the drawing material. Blind drawing is a classic drawing exercise which helps participants practice close looking and also practice matching speed of drawing with speed of looking.
The children spent about five minutes on their blind drawing, looking only at the feathers (and not at their drawing) as they carefully made their drawings under the cardboard screen. I stressed to children before they began that they shouldn’t expect their drawings to look like feathers, but the resulting drawings had a charm and beauty of their own. It was quite difficult for some to continue to concentrate so carefully for five minutes – this exercise gets easier with practice – but it is worth persevering and it makes a great exercise to transition from one part of your day to another.
We then moved on to the main part of the workshop and spent the next 40 minutes making drawings of feathers. The children were free to choose their own materials (from graphite, charcoal, chalk, oil pastel, charcoal and soft erasers), but I asked the children to really experiment with layering the materials one on another.
The children responded well and were able to let the marks made by various materials work in their own right and in combination. For example detailed, specific marks made by sharp pencils were layered with smudges and broad shapes. Beautiful tensions then resulted from the combined materials.
The children worked energetically for 40 minutes – if they began to flag I gave them individual challenges to stretch their exploration of materials and forms. Five minutes before the end many children suddenly made huge break throughs in terms of pushing the materials which reminds us that we need to allow children time and space to develop and discover.