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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.

 

 

More from Cristina:

More Than Meets the Eye: The Role of Art in Waldorf Education

Transitioning Your Child Into Summer

Staying True to Steiner: Honoring the interplay between routine and variety.

At the crack of dawn on a recent Sunday morning, my husband and I -- and our 9-year-old son -- piled sleepily into our car in Los Angeles and started driving across the Sonoran desert to watch a baseball game in Arizona. About 3 hours later, we crossed into our neighboring state and made note of the meandering border between us: the Colorado River, glistening gold and blue.

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After experiencing some highs and lows (low: the Dodgers lost; high: the acquisition of a game ball) we drove 5 hours home. On the same day.

Why would we do that, you might ask? Well, there are two answers to that question.

One is, we had to work on Monday.

The second is, we are a homeschooling family.

We follow the Steiner tradition of education, and in his words: “the children are the curriculum” (Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum, pp. 15).

I take that to mean that our children and their interests, abilities, and experience of the world cannot and should not be segregated. In order for our son to truly get a feel for distance and time, we felt that it was important for him to see the expansive desert for himself and experience it by day and by night. Our hope when he is a father, is that he too will be inclined to make sacrifices for his children, and do things that they will remember for the rest of their lives, even if they are tiring and inconvenient for him. Love is action, and education encompasses not only knowledge but character-building.


I was clear about the fact that school was not going to be happening on Monday morning after a 18-hour day on Sunday. However when we did return to our school work, I had a good idea of what I wanted him to explore.


"A variety of ways and means are needed to bring vital skills and useful knowledge to young people so that they feel inspired by and invested in learning: education is a process through which culture becomes personalized, and in becoming personalized, culture is also changed and re-charged." (Tasks and Content, pp. 14)
 

The first involved his love of the Japanese language and his favorite baseball player, Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda. I printed out a screenshot I’d taken from Maeda’s Instagram story on game day and my son got to work translating his message. Maeda, born in Osaka, writes almost exclusively in his native language. The abbreviated nature of Instagram Stories made it a suitably brief passage for translation.

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"...heart, head, and hands [form] the primary educational paradigm at a Waldorf school. Rather than focus the educational work solely around the objective of acquiring knowledge, creating a meaningful learning process itself becomes the focus." -- Jack Petrash, Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching From The Inside Out, pg. 24

The second thing I asked of him, after we studied the southwestern United States in our atlas, was to record a blind contour drawing of the Colorado River in his Geography main lesson book, then write in landmarks on either side of the border. It was interesting to watch him decide what to include, and moving to see him join the great human endeavor of understanding ourselves and our places by putting pencil (and in this case, a beeswax block crayon) to paper.

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Routine is essential, but so is variety. Check the boxes, but think outside the box. None of the activities described above were directives found in a pre-packaged Waldorf curriculum (not that I do not love and make use of several, I do!), but I believe that they are aligned with Steiner’s ideas about education.

Steiner emphasized a creative framework above all else. No matter what your sources, have fun and trust yourself!

(photo credits: Cristina Havel)


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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.

Perspective - 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?"


If you'd prefer to listen to the audio version of this post, you can do that right here:


 The Horizon

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

*Want more? Read another piece from our Art in the Middle Grades series - Black & White drawing, G6.


Black and White - Art in the middle grades

The Waldorf art curriculum is smartly designed to meet children where they’re at in each phase of their development. If we provide children with the right tools at the right time, the whole experience nourishes them on a deep level.

In the early grades (1-4) students live in a playful artistic realm. The experience of playing with colors and finding basic form is more nourishing than technique and detail.

Students use art as an extension of their imaginations and the stories they hear. Around fifth grade, students are learning about ancient civilizations and how art was used as a method of communication and story telling. From early cave art to the hieroglyphics of Egypt and the mandalas of ancient India, the painting and drawing styles were full of imagery and color. Early art tends to also be fairly two dimensional. It's primary purpose was to tell a story, honor the gods, and represent culture. This is perfect for a child (such as the average 5th grader) who is on the verge of puberty but still lives in the imaginative world of childhood. 

As puberty sets in, the child moves away from the colorful imagery of these ancient peoples into a world of realism and perspective. From the beginnings of civilization and the golden age of Greece the curriculum moves toward the fall of Rome as children enter the 6th grade. Their arrival in Rome begins the next phase of artistic expression.

Black and White - Art in the middle grades

Teaching art (or any subject!) in the middle school is challenging yet meaningful work. Students generally are starting to compare their own work with that of others. They are also realizing that they are very different from each other. Each student is on his/her own journey both internally and externally. Most of us remember the battles we faced each day in middle school. The inner struggle to understand how and why the body is changing is contrasted by the outer struggle to find one’s place socially. The child is thrust into a world of polarity. These polarities are often expressed verbally by middle school students. “I HATE my drawing!” “This is SO TOTALLY fun!” “My teacher has NEVER liked me!” “This is the BEST class!”

There may be no better way to meet this moment in their development than to introduce the polarities of black and white drawing along with the multitude of greys that come with studying the nuances of light and dark.

Students begin to study optics in Physics and using a phenomenological approach are encouraged to look at the world as infinite expressions of light and dark. By learning to see light and shadow and positive/negative space, elements of realism and depth begin to emerge. 6th graders are also generally hungry to learn technique. “It doesn’t look right” is the most common complaint I hear from middle school art students. Their ultimate goal is to make their drawing match what they see (either in reality or in their mind’s eye). Learning how to effectively use lines and shading helps the students become better able to draw what they see, as everything we see is based on relationships between light and dark.  Black and white drawing, with it's emphasis on using lights and darks to shade & add depth, is the best way to help them begin to achieve more realism in their art work. This new skill meets the children perfectly as they are beginning to see their social environment through their own internal polarity lenses. Things are fair or not fair, someone is telling the truth or they are lying. That experience was either the BEST, or the WORST. Sound familiar?

Black and White - Art in the middle grades

Emotions tend to run hot and cold at this age. Socially, students tend to feel “in” or “out.” As teachers, we strive to have the experience of the grey scale between light and dark be therapeutic for them, on a deeper unspoken level. While black and white is the main theme at the start of adolescence, the shades of gray in between hint at the next stages of complexity in the development of the human being. As students move beyond the 6th grade towards the end of middle school, vanishing points will expand artistic horizons and bring an entirely new perspective in the grades to come.

~Brian Wolfe

**Looking for some black & white drawing inspiration? We made a Pinterest board for you loaded with resources and ideas!