A Drawing Program I Can Cheer About...

My husband's family and I have an ongoing debate about artistic talent that goes something like this:
Them: Artists are born, not made. It's a gift. It is a natural talent that I don't have, you do, and I'm pretty sure I can't be taught. Have you seen my stick figures?
Me: Art is like any creative discipline. It starts with the practice of small, manageable skills practiced over and over again. Natural talent certainly helps but is not required. It's like music. Almost anyone can learn to play an instrument. Most musicians and artists are not geniuses, just really dedicated students.
This is an unresolved argument primarily because they are uninterested in being taught (but don't tell them I said that or you're going to get me in trouble!).

They look at a fully developed picture and say "I can't do that" because they don't see the smaller elements, they only see the full picture, all at once. A bit overwhelming to be sure. Most kids see artwork from a similar perspective. They see a great drawing and say: I can't make something that cool. 

That's true. To a point. They can't make it all at once. But they can make it...one line at a time.

Enter Simply Draw with Bob Parsons; a drawing program that starts with the basic line, which anyone can manage, and transforms it slowly into a work of art. When the good folks at Timberdoodle offered to send me this program in exchange for an honest review, I was very excited...and I have not been disappointed.

First Impressions...

Simply Draw scored major points with me right out of the package...

#1--It's fully reproducible, which for an art program is incredibly nice.

#2--It's 3-hole punched and binder ready. Have I told you about my fascination with binders? I'm not going to tell you how many I have but I will tell you that I have dismantled perfectly healthy books in order to make them binder-friendly. This makes for easy access to reproducible pages (no squishing bound books in the copier), adds pockets for my notes, and hard cover protection for well-loved programs.

#3--The pages are all CARD STOCK...almost 200 pages of it. I could hardly believe my fingers! *sigh*  If only all programs could be printed on lovely, sturdy card stock!

#4--The program includes a DVD with a list of corresponding lesson pages and DVD lesson duration times. My kids love video instruction and so do I. While the course is not entirely taught via video, the provided demonstrations and lessons (about 3 hours worth) and PDF file of all practice pages are sufficient to assist any beginning art teacher. The DVD is designed to only play on a computer but this is not a problem for my family...and not strictly necessary for using the program.

First Lessons...

There was no age recommendation for the program so I went ahead and began teaching with all interested children. (Who wants to learn how to draw? Meeeeee!!) I love drawing and all things related but have never pushed the children. I want art to be a joy and not a chore. Not surprisingly, all the children (ages 5, 8, 10 and 12) were interested. (It may have had something to do with the fact that chores were postponed but I'd rather think that they just have the passion, you know?)

The first lesson was wonderful from my perspective, focusing on the simple (but mighty) short parallel line. Not incredibly exciting but quick and simple. The 6-year old had no trouble. The 8-year old just about pulled his hair out with boredom (he wanted to learn how to draw a castle with a full company of knights and a moat and a dragon and a....), although he refused to quit. The 10-year old was in a state of bliss. And the 12-year old pretended like he wasn't quite as interested as he was.

Student objections: "Is that all?" "But I want to draw something!"

Like all disciplines, art has its share of tedium...it is helpful for the beginning student to know they are headed somewhere. Parsons quickly covers the basics, encourages practice and has the student using their new basic tools in pictures by the third lesson. Objections disappear and new skills take their place in their little masterpieces.

Here are sample worksheets from our first lesson. The page on the left is the 5-year old's practice page of short parallel lines. The one on the right is the 12-year old's. In spite of the great age difference, they don't look too dissimilar. While I don't doubt that there will be significantly greater difference between later comparisons, I think this one makes a good point; this little building block is manageable by even the very young or the self-proclaimed "untalented." 


Simply Draw is to drawing what phonics is to reading. The sight reading method does work but leaves the reader with gaps where solid building blocks should be. Phonics teaches an understanding of common elements that go into all words. The word may be yet unknown, but the student knows he will be able to read it someday soon.

With a proper drawing program, the artistic masterpiece can still be admired; but the student recognizes the smallest components and sees it not so much as a mystery but as a masterful display of creative discipline. "I could never do that" is replaced by "That looks very difficult but I'd like to try."

While we are still only in the beginning lessons of the program, I can already call it a success. The children are enjoying the learning process and I am finding it very manageable and successful from a teaching perspective.

I definitely recommend Simply Draw for students of all ages (including interested adults). You can find it for sale at Timberdoodle along with a large selection of very cool art supplies .