Why teaching pupils to draw can expand horizons

17th April 2015 at 01:00
Best-selling illustrator says art is as vital as maths and English

Drawing should be given the same priority in schools as reading and writing, according to a best-selling illustrator.

Korky Paul, known for the successful Winnie the Witch series of children's books, believes that drawing is undervalued and often taught in ways that make children feel inadequate.

"I think drawing should be taught as much as reading and writing," Mr Paul told TESS, between sessions with schools in Clackmannanshire and Fife.

The illustrator, pictured below, who was taking part in the annual Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour organised by the Scottish Book Trust, said: "It's such an important part of communicating - and it's not taught. I'm not expecting [teachers] to go into the whole fine arts thing, just the basic skills: a bit of perspective drawing, understanding how things lock in, drawing maps, explaining a room."

World of inspiration

Mr Paul grew up in Zimbabwe and was inspired from an early age by his grandmother's paintings of Kalahari Bushmen, going on to study fine art and work in advertising before turning to illustration.

He believes all children can be inspired by drawing, but that many teenagers decide it is beyond them because of unhappy early experiences. "I'm a great advocate of encouraging children to draw from their imagination, not to copy stuff," he said. "When children are asked [in school] to write on a particular subject, they're encouraged to use their own words, their own expression - they're not told to write it in the style of Philip Pullman or Jacqueline Wilson.

"But when you come to draw, they want you to do a drawing in the style of Picasso or Van Gogh or Monet. So you create something that doesn't look like Picasso, you feel inadequate because it doesn't look right, and you think, `Ugh, I hate this stuff.' "

Mr Paul, whose books have sold more than 6 million copies, added that drawing benefited children in many ways: it was crucial to design, improved hand-eye coordination, expanded the mind and opened doors to the "billion-dollar UK arts industry", he said.

Mr Paul also highlighted the therapeutic benefits he had witnessed through The Art Room - a project in Edinburgh, London and Oxfordshire that uses art to increase self-esteem and independence among troubled children.

Part of every subject

But Orla Gaynor-Kirk, 15, a National 5 art and design student at St Mungo's High School in Falkirk, was wary of imposing drawing upon people who did not enjoy it. In any case, she said, drawing was already part of every subject: apparatus had to be drawn in biology or landscape cross-sections in geography, for example.

She agreed, however, that the benefits of drawing and other art forms were sometimes underappreciated. Drawing helped her to relax, she said, and she had seen art's therapeutic benefits first-hand through her weekend voluntary work with a primary-age boy who had suffered from a brain tumour. "It helps you get out what you want to say if you can't put it in words," Orla said.

Amanda Gizzi, an art and design lecturer at the University of Edinburgh's School of Education, believes that drawing is not easy for schools to teach but can have profound benefits.

"We live in a more and more visual world - honing our visual skills could not come at a more important time as we prepare children for a world where they will need the creativity that drawing brings," she said.

Drawing could be described as "solving visual problems", Ms Gizzi added, and the "delight" of getting this right had a clear impact on pupils' learning.

Last year, TESS reported on a project in which Ms Gizzi encouraged English and maths teachers to bring art into classrooms. One English teacher said that working with an artist "allowed me to see talent that sometimes might not emerge properly in the classroom".

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