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A Recipe for Teaching Art at Home

By Barry Stebbing
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #55, 2003.

Barry Stebbing teaches us how to teach art.
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Barry Stebbing

Many parents state that they are too busy with the regular academics and therefore would like to know why they should teach art to their children. First of all, I believe that all children love art, that God has given a joy for creating as a gift to each of us, but it has to be encouraged and nurtured. Secondly, there has been much research which reveals that students who receive an art education also do better with the academics. Finally, we all desire our students to be well rounded and enriched, capable in a variety of areas. Leonardo Da Vinci, the first "Renaissance man," was able to do many things in an excellent manner.

Can I Teach Art?

One of the major concerns with homeschooling parents is that they have absolutely no confidence in teaching their children art. I would say that 99.9 percent of parents feel this way. So, take comfort in that. First, depend on the curriculum you select to teach your children. Remember that an art book is nothing more than an instruction manual of "how to's:" how to draw, how to paint, etc. Therefore, look for a program that has simple, easy-to-follow instructions. Also, seeing that most of you are so vulnerable when it comes to purchasing an art program, ask if it has a satisfaction guaranteed policy. Likewise, make sure you look for an art program that is suitable for your needs: do you want to learn crafts, three-dimensional art, how to draw? It is also imperative that you select a curriculum appropriate for the right age level of your students. For many, a godly art program is imperative, one that instructs with godly values and purpose. Finally, don't just hand the program over to your children like a coloring book. You need to be there to direct, encourage, and evaluate to make certain each lesson is done correctly.

Learning to Draw

After teaching over 50,000 homeschoolers in three-day art classes throughout North America, my wife and I firmly believe that drawing and painting are learned disciplines. Most students have this misconception that someone is either born with talent or not. This is not true. Remember, God is an artist and we have all been created in His likeness with that ability to create. At How Great Thou Art Publications, we believe that drawing should be instructed first by learning the fundamentals. Fundamentals are the building blocks: how to draw a circle, an ellipse, a straight line, learning about light source, shading with line, one and two point perspective, etc. It is just like learning how to play the piano; all you need to do is practice as much as possible. What I look for in my students is not a great wealth of ability, but a good attitude, a student with discipline and a willingness to learn. You learn how to draw!

Learning to Paint

There are basically two philosophies when it comes to teaching young students painting. One is the "messy way" - simply give them a large sheet of paper, tubes of paint, and let them do their own thing. Then there is the traditional approach in which the student learns the "academics" of painting.

We have had a great deal of success teaching painting with structure, discipline, and the academics. One of the reasons for this is that we teach painting and drawing separately. Most students falter immediately in simply trying to draw their composition before beginning to paint it. They may have problems with the composition, making the drawing too small, putting in too much detail, or simply in drawing the picture the way it should be.

Therefore, we use "paint cards" - a paper which is thicker than ordinary paper, holds the paints well, and will not bubble up. We use 110-pound card stock, such as you can buy in Office Max. Of course, ours have the illustrations printed on, unlike Office Max! Our illustrated paint cards allow students to concentrate on the basics of beginning painting and the academics of color theory without having to worry about their drawing skills.

We have found that painting can be a great encouragement to those students who do not have confidence in drawing. Over and over again, the frustrated student (who may have a sibling who is good with drawing) has become inspired and confident in what can be accomplished in painting. This should invite some students back into art. Finally, knowing how much homeschooling students enjoy the learning process, all seem to enjoy the "academics" of painting, such as learning how to mix all the colors, studying the color wheel, how to keep a palette and hold a brush, along with the other nuances of color theory and painting.

What About Art History?

A major concern with many homeschooling families is how to go about studying art history. Many art history books can be extremely wordy; the terminology can be too technical or advanced; and most are written with a godless philosophy.

I recommend visiting the children's section of the library to find an art history book. Art history books in this section are informative, easy to read, and enjoyable. However, as mentioned, most teach art history with a secular, or godless, point of view (nudity, humanism, etc.). If you are a Christian family, you may want to go to the table of contents and search for periods such as the Reformation, Byzantine, Gothic, Early Renaissance, and even the illuminated manuscript art of the European monks of the ninth and tenth centuries.

Overcome Frustration with Practice

"What do you do with a student who has become frustrated with their artwork?" I remind my students that frustration is a part of the learning process. We all become frustrated. If you study the great masters like Michelangelo, Monet, and Frederick Remington, you will find that during the peak of their success, they became extremely frustrated with what they were doing.

I also remind students that many of them are impatient perfectionists, believing that their hands and pencil are instantly going to do exactly what they want them to do. Well, they are not. It takes patience, practice, and discipline to learn to draw and paint.

In Summary

Art is to be a joy! However, there should also be a learning process involved, learning the fundamentals and the academics. So, try to establish a program that is both enjoyable and educational. In planning, we recommend that you start with one art lesson a week. For more ambitious students, give two or three lessons a week. Play classical music to inspire them and have high expectations. You will be amazed what a little enthusiasm and encouragement can accomplish with your children. And, remember, keep your pencils sharp, your brushes clean, and pray for success!

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