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I am wondering what are some good ways for children to learn to draw. Is it best for them to start by trying to copy things they see in front of them, like simple things such as cups or windows, leaves, trees... Are there any gold standard books which are used in good art schools for kids to help kids increase their skill in drawing? Is it best to just use blank paper? I am just unsure of how to best help a child learn to draw cause I am myself not very good at it. Please recommend some kids drawing books written by real artists who wrote the book with the intention to show the true essence of learning how to draw. I'm not sure what common wisdom or what most art teachers do at the best art schools but when I read things like this Copy?...Real Artists Don't Copy I wonder if there are some common methods in use today at good art schools.

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    I actually disagree with "real artists don't copy", because many artists copy what they see, some just imagine it and draw it
    – Isaac750
    Feb 3 at 3:00
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    ... and copied stuff for years and years to be able to draw the stuff they imagine
    – Lapskaus
    Feb 4 at 12:16
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    My recommendation would be to first abandon the concept of "should" when trying to help anyone learn anything about drawing. In art, "shoulds" simply do not exist. Mar 8 at 1:35
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The biggest problem in this question is the age of the child.

If we're talking pre-teen, then I see no chance that the child will spend regular time practicing pen strokes or how to draw straight lines, because that simply isn't fun.

Children want to have fun. Coloring books are fun because you can achieve a pretty result without putting too much effort in it. Drawing mom as a stick figure an declaring that "it looks like mom" is fun because it's quick and sufficient to express what the child intended. Indeed, this art of reducing the real-world information to the minimum required to recognize the object can still be helpful as an adult if you happen to design graphical user interfaces for computer or phone apps.

What you need most is listening to what the child wants. Do they want stick-figure-mom to look more realistic? Or do they just want to express their phantasy by creating colorful blobs on paper? Are they interested in drawing comics or mangas? Or do they want to create cool tribal style tatoos? The only thing they will practice voluntarily are the things they truely want.

Since all of the above examples require very different techniques, there is no one book or one art class we can suggest. But there are many different books and online sources that cater to teens and young adults and teach them how to (better) execute one single art style. One of the all-time classics is figure drawing where you start drawing a cat by linking a few circles together, and in each chapter the circles get more and more pronounced until you only need them as guidelines for the finished cat. The same is true for comic and manga drawing books where you're shown how to simplify the human body by linking circles and rectangles.

My suggestion is to observe what kind of art the child is creating now and asking them what they love drawing the most. Then translate that to adult terms like "figure drawing", "landscape drawing", "still lifes", "comic art", "water color" or whatnot and go looking for one very short beginner tutorial (either as book or online; I personally prefer books because you can easily find them again and reread a chapter if you forgot. Printing an online tutorial is a cheap alternative). Give it to your child and let them explore without any pressure. They might forget about it for a year and then suddenly be in the mood again.

Don't give them more than 2 books at once, it might feel overwhelming. Don't go for the thickest book available, those are usually intended for older and more advanced students. Don't be discouraged if your child finds a particular book unhelpful, they might not have the required skill yet, but will probably return to it once they acquired the skill level. If your child tells you that a certain book doesn't help them at all, listen to them and ask them what they expected / want to read about, then go looking for a different book that covers those topics. Even if you have no idea about drawing at all, you probably are able to recognize those topics if you see them in a book.


To the question of copying:

Copying reference images is the first step for almost all professional artists, because it's the best way to produce encouraging results and learn the required technique.

Portrait artists spend countless hours copying photos of peoples faces. Landscape artists spend countless hours copying landscape photos. Comic artists spend countless hours copying photos of people in different poses. It's the best way to learn.

Granted, the step away from reference photos to your own imagination is a hard one, but forcing a child to take this step even before they learned things like shading or body proportions (by copying photos) is extremely discouraging.

And by the way: The full title of the article you linked is

"Copy?...Real Artists Don't Copy!" but Maybe Children Should.

The article talks about how children are discouraged from copying artwork from their peers and teachers in an attempt to encourage originality. But how is a child supposed to create "beautiful" original art if they were never allowed to learn the technique by copying existing beautiful art? If a child can only compare their own stick-figure cat with a real cat, their judgement of their own skills will be devastating. If they can compare their drawing with a stick-figure cat of another child, they will see their own skills in a much better and realistic way.

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  • Thank you Elmy. This was helpful. It is for a 6 year old. Do you have any books you can personally recommend for drawing?
    – kiwani
    Feb 3 at 15:51
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    I'm not sure how much a German book would help you... this is an international community ;). What I can recommend is looking for a book section in craft or art stores and leafing through a few examples. You can also ask a person in a big book store for age appropriate books. I'm not sure if they would be sorted into the childrens books section or the hobby section. Anyways, you want a book with more pictures than text. And google for "drawing instructions for kids", there are some great and simple step-by-step tutorials available (can be printed as well)
    – Elmy
    Feb 3 at 20:14
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I have no interest in art and was surprised when my eldest became fascinated by drawing at the age of 10. She figured out how to teach herself. These are the steps she took:

  1. Borrows books from the library on how to draw Anime characters. Everything is broken down step by step. The figures are simple. Does this for a year.
  2. Uses birthday money to buy a book on how to draw dragons. Works through the examples over the following year.
  3. Learns perspective drawing at school. Continues to practice on her own.
  4. Mom springs for summer art classes. Kid learns to mix colours and draw from life.
  5. At 15, sets goal of drawing every day. More practice.
  6. Mom springs for more art lessons, including human models (minor ethical crisis at nude models. Nothing bad happens).
  7. Kid uses birthday money to buy books full of photos - like plants or motorcycles. Practices drawing things.
  8. High school offers art courses; kid attends. Learns various media.
  9. Kid currently 23 year old software engineer. Draws whatever she wants from life or from her imagination.

So it took over 10 years of frequent practice. She started with how-to books; progressed to copying from photos; then just started drawing what she saw. She got a small amount of paid instruction, and several courses through the school system. It just takes a tremendous amount of patience and attention to detail. If the kid doesn't want it, it's not going to happen.

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You don't specify an age, so here's an example.

I've got a 7-year-old who has always liked drawing (and currently wants to be an artist when she grows up!). She likes books, reads loads, appreciates the detail in the illustrations, but hasn't got on with drawing from books. Here's what has worked:

  • Video tutorials of something the child likes (age-appropriate complexity). In my daughter's case that's cartoon animals, especially Rob Biddulph's YouTube channel. He's a children's author/illustrator who has put loads online in the last year. I can see her skill increase from the first time she did them in summer to now.

  • Draw together. I'm pretty rubbish but can have a bash at something from a book tutorial while she's drawing something else, or follow along with the cartoon animals, and customise them into characters, making up the details as we go along.

  • Thinking (together, but she does the drawing) of ways to represent things on paper - drawing a map, or illustrating a process. This is a nice complement to copying a tutorial or trying to draw what she sees as closely as possible.

At this young age it's still about the basics for most kids - fun and practice.

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    Thank you Chris, I like Rob Biddulph's youtube channel. This is great.
    – kiwani
    Feb 3 at 15:51
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The best way to teach them is to give them exposure to materials and drawing tools and let them express themselves freely. As they grow and mature, their drawings will become more detailed and reflect the world around them. It really depends on their age... I would recommend you to start teaching them in a slow way, start with simple exercises like: In the journal's first line, they can draw circles, then in the second line, dashes then lines zigzagging, etc Then you can put them to copy things around them like apples, shoes, trees, and stuff, its a matter of practice.

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    You start well but then you spoil it by suggesting writing exersizes.
    – Willeke
    Feb 3 at 11:20
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    Thats how I dominated the pencil, now I can draw whatever I want
    – Isaac750
    Feb 3 at 19:14
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When my now nearly 21 year old, extremely talented artist son was little, he'd always pester me to draw him a dragon. I'm not very good at drawing myself, but I did my best and he always watched me very closely.

One day when he was maybe five or six, he was in a super 'mom draw me a dragon' mood. I'd had a hard day at work and I was on the phone dealing with some bill I couldn't pay at the time and I handed him a pencil and paper and told him he needed to draw his own dragon. I felt so guilty at the time, but when I was finally done on the phone 20 minutes later, he was about halfway through drawing his first dragon, and he never asked me to draw him a dragon again. I was always pretty good at coloring, so he started letting me color the amazing stuff he started creating. Sometimes he & I would sit down for hours and I would color while he drew. He kept at it and here's a link to his Instagram, he absolutely learned how to draw dragons.

It doesn't matter if you are the type of person who can quickly sketch amazing art, or if your best drawing is an uneven stick figure. I recommend sitting down with your kid and drawing and coloring with them.

How to draw books can be very helpful, my son ended up asking for some when he was 12 or 13. Before I got him the books he wanted, he would trace the pages of coloring books.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone who is learning to draw copying and tracing. It's a really good way to begin training the muscles in the hands and arms. Drawing takes a lot of very fine motor control and there is nothing wrong with using a guide.

Copying and tracing can become a problem when people try to pass off tracing someone else's work as their own. Make sure to explain to your kid that it's okay to copy and trace to learn, but that they should never take credit for someone else's artwork.

One thing to keep in mind is that art should be something your kid explores naturally, especially if they are young. Let them experiment. Experiment with them. Introducing a book and telling your kid that they have to follow the instructions in the book can potentially hinder their own creativity. Save the how to draw books for when they're older and don't push a how to draw book on them. Get it for them if they ask, but if they don't, they likely don't even want one. It's important to let them develop their own style.

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  1. Start Drawing Early. Research has shown that even infants can recognize shapes used to make up a drawing.
  2. Teach the Shapes. (all drawings are made up of shapes, for example, a house's roof is a triangle, the body is a rectangle)
  3. Encourage Creativity. (Give them ideas!)
  4. Draw with Your Child. (You can see how they learn)
  5. Demonstrate Technique.

That's it! But as Elmy said, if your child doesn't want to draw, it would be very difficult to teach them.

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