Observational drawing is an important part of the national curriculum in art and design, but it can be frustrating for teachers and pupils alike. When pupils draw objects sitting on a table, they usually draw the table from a bird's eye view. The tops of the objects (ellipses) are often given the same treatment, but the objects themselves are more or less seen correctly. An art teacher first needs to teach pupils how to see, before teaching them how to draw what they see.
Place a mug on a table and ask pupils to stand, sit and kneel on their chairs, noting the change in eye level in relation to the narrowing of the mug's ellipse.
There is a simple solution for drawing the table, too. After drawing the objects as best they can, get the pupils to hold up their pencils horizontally and locate the "back line" of the table. This intersects with each object, then disappears behind it and reappears again.
The pupils can make a pencil mark of where, on each drawn object, the "back line" intersects and then draw it. Immediately, they have a flat surface, or perspective, on which they can add tone and shadow, and create a convincing illusion of space. Corrections inevitably follow, as the position of some objects will be wrong. The back line becomes an "absolute" around which the rest of the drawing can be improved.
Head of art, Moyles Court School, Hampshire