Timed Quick Sketches, Buildings, Grades 4 & 5

In the coming weeks, grade 4 and 5 students will be entering into a series of lessons working on 3-D forms, depth, shading and depicting images in space. As a lead in to these lessons, the students have been exploring buildings and basic building shapes and practicing short, timed observational sketches using soft lead pencils and crayons of 1, 2, 5 and 10 minute duration. The subjects of these sketching sessions are black and white photos of California Missions and typical houses they might see in our Bay Area neighborhoods.

For the past year, I have encouraged students not to erase during warm ups and short drawing assignments. Learning how to sketch, observe and block in the main shapes quickly without erasing has a practical side: live subjects (for instance, if you were sketching animals at the zoo) may not stay in the pose you started the sketch in for long! I also want students to feel comfortable with stray or awkward lines and working with what happens on the paper--going with the quirks of the sketched line instead of judging them and trying to 'fix' them too soon. In addition, a drawing is a record of the sketched moment--what you were doing, seeing, feeling, your level of skill in the use of materials and in laying down a sketched line--consequently, for these sketches, I asked students to leave them alone when the time was up so that the drawing could serve as a record of that moment in time.

The sketch below demonstrates the loose, expressive quality that can be achieved in a quick sketch. This sketch was completed in one minute.


In my experience as an artist and in my observation of students over the years, timed sketches seem to help the brain to 'snap to' attention and focus--I have felt this 'snapping to' attention myself and it is an intense and amazing experience. It is incredible to me how accurately the image can be seen by the eyes, sent to the brain and down to the hand and transferred to the paper when the mind is at attention in this way. An example of this kind of accurate observation can be seen in the student work below.


One of the objectives of these sketching activities is for students to begin to observe light, medium and dark areas and to use their fingers to smear the soft lead pencil or the side of a crayon to get shading effects. Students often comment to me that the building suddenly takes on a more 3-dimensional effect when they begin to add shading to the drawing. Below is an example of a student exploring shading with both the pencil and side of the crayon.


The student sketch below shows the wonderful, expressive quality of quickly drawn lines when the student is loose and relaxed.


It is possible to achieve very realistic depictions of what you see when you are practiced at observational drawing. But something that I find incredibly intriguing is the way an observation is altered by the journey through the brain and down the hand and onto the paper. I love the expressiveness of these kinds of drawings. This is another reason why I encourage students not to erase--some of the things that happen in a drawing, the quirks, the lines that were meant to be straight but instead curved, the shapes that somehow became elongated or squeezed or shortened or the enumerable transformations that can happen during sketching are delightful to look at and can be more expressive and tell a stronger, richer story than an accurate depiction. The sketch below is an example of a drawing where the house almost looks like it is breathing and attempting to stretch up and towards the top of the paper. To draw like this takes a relaxed and nonjudgmental mind that is willing to go with what is happening in the drawing.


Click here to view more observational quick sketches of missions by the 4th and 5th grade students.

Click here to view more observational quick sketches of houses.

For the next couple months you will also be able to see student sketches up on the bulletin board in the hallway across from Ms. Smith's and Mrs. Papciak's rooms.