Perspective Drawing - Art in the middle grades

Teaching perspective drawing to seventh graders has always been a highlight for me. This is one of those magical moments where the curriculum meets the students everywhere they need to be met.

 Thirteen year olds are always right.

 Just ask them ;)

 A seventh grader is desperately trying to form his or her own point of view and beginning to understand that we all see the world through our own, unique lens. The most important concept of perspective drawing is the establishment of point of view. In perspective drawing, the artist must constantly ask "how would this look from my perspective?"

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The Horizon Line

The horizon represents the limit to how far the eye can see, assuming we can look beyond the buildings, trees, and mountains that might be in the way. In perspective drawing, the horizon is a straight line that establishes the "eye line" or point of view of the artist. In reality, we know that the horizon is not straight because the earth is round. We draw it as a straight line because that's how we perceive it. (More on perception versus reality later)

It's fitting that a seventh grader should grapple with the idea of learning to understand the world between him/and the flat horizon which, in turn, begs the questions: "What's beyond the horizon? and... Isn't the world round?"


Vanishing Points

 In the sixth grade, students are often satisfied with isometric three dimensional drawing. All of the lines of an isometric box are parallel. It looks real! Life gets a little more complicated in 7th grade, however,  as the students move farther away from the simplicity of childhood. The typical seventh grader begins to question everything (especially the teacher!).

 When it comes to teaching perspective drawing, I like to teach by asking questions. "If the sides of this cardboard box are equal in length and parallel in real life, why do they look like they're getting closer together as they go off into the distance?" Soon they discover that straight lines going into the distance appear to line up with vanishing points on the horizon. Now they are ready to construct rules for drawing the world as it appears to us.

 On more subconscious level, there is another phenomenon at play. As human beings, we can venture beyond the horizon in the physical world, and we can explore the depths of our inner selves. The vanishing point on the horizon mirrors the vanishing point inside each human being. Interestingly, both the horizon and the vanishing points are not fixed.

They are simply boundaries placed by the artist based on his or her unique perspective at a single moment in time.

Art as metaphor for life.


Perception vs. reality

 I love taking seventh graders through this journey of building a set of rules to create reality and then realizing that we need to keep bending the rules when a new piece of information is introduced.

 "Why does it seem like there's more than one vanishing point?"

 "Why does it seem like all the vanishing points change in reality when I move my eyes?"

 "Is there really a point out there?"

 Some students are happy to live inside the set of rules for perspective drawing and some edge closer to the idea that this set of rules is a convention that humans created. It's a method of taking our visual perception of the three dimensional world and putting it onto a two dimensional surface in a way that accurately represents the artists point of view at that particular moment in time.

The process is akin to learning a language in order to express your point of view. It's all the more valuable if our students can be guided towards developing this set of rules on their own. As they work with the drawing exercises, I encourage you to try not to give in to the temptation of TELLING them what they are experiencing. The questions that lead to the rules will naturally flow out of them if they are given many opportunities to EXPERIENCE the drawings!

~Brian (& Robyn!) Wolfe

Content related to the middle grades:

Why Waldorf Chalk Drawing?

Chalk art in the Waldorf curriculum is a medium for extending the storytelling that is happening. It is a medium for enlivening the curriculum through pictures.

In Waldorf Education, it is always through storytelling that the images arrive. Surrounded by story, the children live into their imaginations and each will create mental pictures unique (and most meaningful) to them. Through the artistic activities that follow the review portion of a lesson, the children are able to live into the story experience again. Here they place their own feelings on it. This allows a true and unique connection to the content of the lesson.

Image: ©Waldorfish, all rights reserved

Image: ©Waldorfish, all rights reserved

“Children are more receptive to authority in teaching through art. Consequently, we can accomplish the most in this sense during this period of children’s lives using artistic methods. They will very effortlessly find their way into what we wish to communicate to them and take the greatest delight in rendering it by drawing or even painting. We should make sure, however, that they avoid merely imitative work.”

~Rudolf Steiner, in Rawson and Masters, Towards Creative Teaching, 1997

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“Ordinary everyday life can be portrayed in meaningful pictures and images. The teacher must fill with inner conviction and warmth the pictures he/she presents to the souls of the children. They can derive strength for the whole of their lives from lessons that stream from heart to heart rather than head to head.”

~Rawson and Masters, Towards Creative Teaching, 1997

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Waldorf Grade One Painting : Out of the Color

Children in Waldorf schools begin painting with liquid watercolors on damp paper in preschool and kindergarten. The use of this medium continues into grade one, however at this point there is a shift in the way the weekly painting lesson is presented.

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The 6-7 year old child learns through experiences. They’ve left kindergarten and are transitioning slowly into more structured learning.

In his Colour Lectures, Rudolf Steiner talks about the importance for each artist (student) to know each of the colors, to understand them individually, and also how they interact with each other. He specifically says that we need to experience the colors in our feeling life in order to understand them. Once we understand them in their trueness, then we can really use them.

Let us try to sink ourselves completely into what we receive through colour from the rich and varied world around us. We must feel what is in colour if we wish to penetrate into its true nature, bringing insight into our feelings. We must question our feelings about what is living in the colour which surrounds us.
— Rudolf Steiner, Colour Lecture 1

Painting lessons create opportunities for students to develop an intimate understanding of the colors through their imaginations, movement, and imitation. When the teacher brings the lessons in partnership with short verses and stories (which help to personify the colors), the children live into each experience fully.

“Painting lessons also provide the teacher with a further opportunity for getting to know the children’s soul constitution in even more detail. Different temperaments and constitutions reveal themselves through what and how the children paint.”
— The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, Rawson & Richter

In grade one the lessons are simple color experiences guided by the teacher. It is purely artistic work - there is no expectation of the children creating a specific form or picture of something. These experiences are ordered in such a way that allows the children to begin to understand the dynamics of the colors by themselves, and in relation to each other.

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The painting lessons begin very simply, with yellow by itself. Then the children will experience only blue. Eventually the two, yellow and blue, will be brought together on the page and the children will experience them together. Next, red is introduced by itself. Eventually red and yellow will be presented together, and then red and blue. Each of these experiences offers the children something new to live into, all the while expanding their understanding of the nature of each of the colors. (Of course, a natural result of bringing 2 primary colors together in a painting lesson is the birthing of the secondary colors - orange, green and purple. A wonderful moment in any painting lesson!)

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As the year progresses, the teacher guides the children as they experience all 3 colors on the page together, culminating towards the end of the year with the children learning to create a color wheel.  The color wheel becomes the foundation of many future paintings the children will create in each progressing grade.

Link to the Rawson & Richter book mentioned in this post.

Looking for support around painting with your grade one child? We made you something!

What is Form Drawing?

"The child’s capacity to develop an integrated sense for spatial orientation – upwards, downwards; left, right; center, periphery – is supported in the practice of form drawing."

Creative Form Drawing with children aged 6-10 years, Workbook 1

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I will freely admit to anyone that knows what Form Drawing is that I was terrified to bring it into a home school environment. What, exactly, was encoded in those mysterious lines and shapes? What esoteric wisdom did I need to attain before I could try to impart this practice to my son? Like most things I fear, the answers were not as complicated as I originally thought. 

Form drawing, it turns out, is a brilliant way to work with one’s senses...senses being of great importance in a Waldorf education. Paper and pencil serve as a lantern, illuminating our inner selves, the forms creating a blueprint of our inner (and outer) orientation.


" Rudolf Steiner, in his many lectures on this subject, speaks of twelve senses. Added to the usual five, there is a human sense for rhythm, warmth, balance, movement and so on..."

The Incarnating Child, pg. 73

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Beginning in first grade and extending throughout her time at a Waldorf school, a student engages in drawing exercises that range from very simple to very complex, according to her grade and various topics of study. Straight and curved lines form the foundation for letters in 1stgrade, for Celtic knots in 4th and Geometry in middle school. Over and over, drawing both imparts knowledge and folds it back into oneself. 


"Straight lines and curves are the starting points for form drawing. This begins with the discovery that the line is a path along which one can move. Children should experience the characteristic difference between straight lines and curves through drawing them, after having explored their character through whole bodily movement in space."

- The Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum, p.137



Much can be ascertained about the Form Drawer from this kind of work, and the analytical angle is an important one. There is, however, another important aspect of Form Drawing that should not be overlooked: it’s a lot of fun. As soon as I embraced Form Drawing as the journey itself (instead of a perfect form being the destination), our weekly work became something to look forward to.

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Don't forget to practice!

Forms can and should be returned to time and again for a variety of reasons that will become clear to you as you study, draw, reflect, and repeat. Remember that they are not about achieving anything in particular. Think of them as a friendly guide. 

Form Drawing is a deep ocean that one could spend an entire lifetime learning to navigate. Don’t let this stop you from jumping in. Buy a book, look up #formdrawing on social media and reach out to people whose ideas are of interest to you, but most importantly pick up a pencil, chalk, stick or block crayon, suspend your judgment, and encourage your child to do the same. 

This radical act of trust in the power of art to teach and transform is the lynch pin of Waldorf Education.

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Cristina Havel lives in Southern California where she and her husband have worked together for nearly 2 decades. They homeschool their son using the Waldorf pedagogy as a guide and believe in the transformative powers of art and nature.


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