There's more to draughtsmanship than paper and pencils. David Bocking finds a hands-on exhibition that gives children an opportunity to broaden their mark-making horizons
There's Wassily Kandinsky and Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Rembrandt and John Constable. And then there's Kid Acne, graffiti artist, with his wall-high, spray-paint vision of an African warrior in a low-cut dress and buffalo helmet.
"It's a good ice breaker," says art teacher Betty Bartrim. "It's a large enough piece of work, and it's in their face enough for them to have to think about it."
Betty's first-year GCSE art students are sitting in front of Kid Acne's Zulu Peep Show and Vicky Richardson, Sheffield Millennium Galleries learning projects co-ordinator, has asked them to think hard about the Kid and his pink and black artwork.
"What is drawing for?" asks Vicky. "It's about expression," volunteers 14-year-old Nathan. "It's a way to tell people what you're thinking."
Nathan is called upon to rip coloured sheets off a pad on the wall to reveal the key questions a gallery-goer should be asking: Do you like it? What can you see? What do you think it means?
The students and teachers from Silverdale Secondary School, Sheffield, are surrounded by more than 100 drawings - from a 1200bc etching of a baboon on a piece of Egyptian ostrakon to Kid Acne via Sir Christopher Wren's designs for the dome of St Paul's Cathedral and Andy Goldsworthy's brown stain depicting the melting path of a sand- encrusted snowball.
The education team at the galleries like to ask fundamental questions about the nature of drawing. The idea, says Vicky Richardson, is to help teachers and students make use of art galleries generally, not just The Biggest Draw exhibition now on show at Sheffield Millennium Galleries.
"We talk to teachers about what their aims are, and we'll link into whatever they're doing in school," she says. "But we like to work on ideas to challenge what preconceptions the students have."
She bends a piece of wire into different shapes to illustrate her journey to work in the morning. "Is that drawing?" she asks. She then distributes thick black pencils and asks the students to produce not particularly flattering pictures of their friends in the style of Frank Auerbach.
"A lot of teachers feel uncomfortable about standing up in front of an artwork, and think the thing to do is to give children a worksheet to keep them occupied," says Vicky Richardson. "But we'd like them to see a place like this as a creative resource. For some people, the best lessons are through doing." Around her appreciative students breeze through the gallery space, past the Van Gogh and the Hockney and Harry Beck's original sketch for the London Underground. Her message has obviously sunk in. "It's not always what drawings look like, it's what they feel like," says 14-year-old Aasha Khatun. Her fellow 14-year-old, Tim Durrant, says: "Drawing is not just pens and pencils and crayons - it's any way of conveying a picture or a motion on paper or a screen or a wall... I have a different view of drawing now."
Sheffield Millennium Galleries has a team of 11 education staff.
Self-guided educational visits to the galleries are free, with a charge of pound;10 for a short session by an enabler like Vicky Richardson. The education department usually provides a free curriculum-linked teachers'
pack for each exhibition. For the Biggest Draw the pack contains flashcards that cover eight of the exhibited works, including a description, a copy of the artwork, suggested activities, discussion points and links to further information.
l The Biggest Draw is at the Millennium Galleries until December 15