Creative Diaries: Taking a line for a walk
I currently teach art and design on primary initial teacher training at the university. I normally start my first session by allowing students to reflect on their own art experiences, either from childhood or through their school placements. What comes into light is normally negative with many saying that they were not able to produce anything at school and hence are no good at drawing or painting. They also express their anxieties in teaching art to children as a result of their own experiences. So is creativity about the end product? Not really. I always make a point to students about the process of creativity, rather than the product.
Tina Bruce proposes the idea of ‘cultivating’ creativity, which emphasises the vital role of adults supporting, rather than imposing the creative process. Bruce (2004, p.12) states that lack of adult support means that ‘emergent possibilities for creativity that are in every child do not develop or can be quickly extinguished’ as per the students own experiences. In order to build confidence in students and get them to understand the process of ‘cultivating’ creativity in young children, I normally start my class with a simple mark making activity; this being the emergence of early drawing. The provision of mark making opportunities can help children develop imaginatively, creatively and physically. Mark making is important for many reasons. It is a visible way for children to tell stories and express feelings, record what they have to say, solve problems and discover solutions – and sometimes it is just an outlet for pure physical enjoyment. In this article, I would like to share with you the activity I use with the students; what I teach them, I have also introduced to young children.
Swiss-German painter, Paul Klee, describes drawing as ‘simply a line going for a walk’. Taking this concept I encourage students to take their pencils for a walk as an early form of mark making. A large table is covered with lining wallpaper to create a large canvas on which to draw. Pencils are provided to create the marks. This is a group activity where story telling is the starting point. It aims to engage the imagination allowing the making of marks to develop spontaneously. A member of the group is chosen to begin telling a story. All the group have a pencil each and respond in an immediate way to the story, making marks on the paper as the story is told. When the story teller has finished their part of the story they then pass the story telling onto the group member next to them, and so on. Story tellers are encouraged to use their imagination and explore a range of contexts that encourage movement. All the members of the group draw at the same time in response to each story teller. The aim is to make marks and not draw graphic representations e.g. pictures of flowers etc. Often students will initially restrict their drawing area to where they are sitting so I may have to intervene to encourage more active group work by asking them to stand up and move around the table, giving permission for the group to draw over the top of each other’s work. I also increase the challenge of the activity by suggesting words that need to be included in the story, such as jumping to create dotted lines, or asking each person to hold a pencil in both their left and right hand and drawing with these at the same time. If you are working with young children you may wish to lead the storytelling. If students are finding it difficult to invent a story, or there is a risk of the activity not unfolding, I normally use the story, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and read the first section when the characters get to the river for example ‘OH NO!’ and really use different tones to read so students follow my voice and make marks to what they listen to.
At the end of the activity I support the group to focus on the range of lines they have used and ask them to look closely at what they have done, and use descriptive language to describe the lines drawn i.e. spaghetti, scribble, squiggly. The descriptive titles are what students immediately think when they analyse the lines ‘Oh that looks like a heap of spaghetti!’ ‘It’s just a scribble’. The resulting ‘scribble’ records the group’s journey. The students have represented their imaginative thoughts and ideas through marks, as young children do in the scribble stage, as described by Austrian professor of art education, Victor Lowenfeld. Matthews (1999, p.19) states that ‘scribbles are products of a systematic investigation, rather than haphazard actions’. The aim is for students to become confident with a pencil and blank canvas and realise that ‘scribbles’ are a process of art. I then challenge the making of marks further by asking students to change their pencil for a crayon, and to take their line for a walk against 3 different music pieces that I play. This encourages movement around the table and some fascinating dance moves by the students! There is then a discussion around any new lines created. Here story and music have been used to stimulate movement, creating the drawing of lines and making of marks. Students have been encouraged to explore the element of art ‘line’, creating as many different types of line as possible.
I then get the students to focus on the shapes of their lines and come up with real line words e.g. zig-zag, straight, circular, jagged, waves, curves lines. Which lines can you identify in the above images?
To further get trainees to understand that their created marks can now take a form of artwork, I provide an A3 cartridge paper and a box containing black and white materials such as black charcoal, graphite, oil pastels, felt tip, wax crayons, pencils, biro pens, masking tape, and much more. Students are asked to select a form of line from those they have created i.e. zig-zag, straight, circular, jagged, wave, spiral, straight, dots etc. And are asked to create a monochrome inspired picture just using that form of line (monochrome describes paintings, drawings, design or photographs in one colour or shades of one colour). For example, if a student chooses the spiral line form, their picture can only contain spirals and no other form of line. Time and imagination is dedicated to this, and students are fascinated with what they have produced as I place them on the wall next to each other.
In early years settings, children will have many different ways of representing their thoughts and feelings. Some will choose music, dance or song, others will prefer to tell stories through role-play, drama or using small world resources, but most will at some point be naturally drawn to represent their ideas graphically. Often in settings blank paper and pencils are provided to children, something blank like this can appear daunting to children, and it is about building that confidence and cultivating the process by giving children investigative opportunities to allow them to be able to use the tool - the pencil or crayon - with increasing confidence and control in their work. Children should be allowed to explore this more and more as they will include more and more details so drawings start taking forms thus developing realism. Creativity emerges as children become absorbed in action and explorations of their own ideas, expressing them through movement, making and transforming things (DfE, 2012), and this is where adults need to continue the role of cultivating creativity. However, this can only be achieved if adults themselves feel the confidence to do so.
The activity that I have shared with you can be delivered to children over a period of time, so I do hope that you will try it. It will also be great for staff training sessions on mark making or creative development. Have fun!
Bruce, T. (2004) Cultivating Creativity in Babies, Toddlers and Young Children. London: Hodder and Stoughton Educational.
Matthews, J. (1999) The Art of Childhood and Adolescence: The Construction of Meaning. London: Falmer.
Department for Education (DfE) (2012) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Available at: https://www.educatio.../DFE-00023-2012
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