December 18, 2010

The Graveyard War

Over the 10+ years I’ve been teaching kids how to draw, I’ve encountered some real funny characters, as in both the kind of characters kids draw and the kids themselves. I’ve got so many funny stories but this one from last evening takes the cake.

I was teaching a class comprised of a young group of kids, and their drawing abilities are kind of all over the place, as is their ability to pay attention.

On this night, one student stood out. I’m not sure how old he is but he must be quite young. He’s far from being the best artist I’ve seen, but his enthusiasm for the material is through the roof. He knows all the super heroes and just loves this stuff. He usually shows up on the weekends, though he hasn’t been to every lesson and so he came to this class to catch up. It’s been a lot of fun having him around, but this class in particular was hilarious.

The lesson was about drawing characters with different ages. The assignment was to draw 3 or 4 characters, each one with a different age. Well, my little friend here took it a couple steps further and started adding more and more extra stuff, creating a huge storyline as he continued to draw. I’ve seen this from kids before. The more they draw, the bigger and longer the story gets, even through everything is on one picture.

His picture started with a drawing of a Grandpa, two kids, and a tall skinny guy. These were pretty much just vaguely humanoid scribbles, but at least they were of different sizes, so he got that part right. Things got really exciting when he revealed that the tall guy was wearing an eye patch. I thought that was interesting because, from a character design standpoint, that is something that creates visual interest from the audience. So I asked him if he had a story about why he was wearing this eye patch. He said it was because the kids in the drawing had thrown rocks at the guy’s face.

So I asked if the guy just happened to have been carrying the eye patch with him this whole time, since he would only be wearing it after getting hit. I was told that he needed to keep an eye patch with him because of his boxing. Makes sense to me! He also added both peace signs and a skull and crossbones to the guy’s shirt, though I convinced him not to add another eye patch on the other eye. Perhaps he was a pirate hippie?

Things took a grim yet amusing turn when it was decided that his confrontation should take place in a graveyard. So he started drawing tombstones and told me that the rocks that the kids were throwing came from breaking the tombstones with a hammer. I did not ask where the hammer came from, but apparently this whole graveyard attack was masterminded by the Grandpa, who was getting the kids to fight for him.

In fact, this was no simple attack. As the story continued to develop, I was informed that Grandpa and the tall guy were having a war! They were at war with each other! Perhaps I should have asked what started the war, but instead I informed him that wars were usually held between entire countries, not just a few people. So he said “This guy is from England, this guy is from Britain, and this guy is from Africa… I mean Canada!” I told him that Canada and England never went to war, we just wanted independence and said goodbye. So he asked me “But how do you know how to say goodbye in England?” So I said that it was “Cheerio!”

At this point I am laughing too much to make any suggestions, and the kid is just having a blast with it. The story continued with more and more things added to it, with new twists and turns, including a tombstone for a mouse that got involved for some such reason. Everything he drew he would either explain it to me or just speak aloud what was happening next. None of this was at all a part of the activity I had instructed everyone to work on, but at least he was drawing and enjoying it, which is the most important thing when dealing with the young ones.

As class was about to wrap up, we were talking about our plans for the holiday break. I was asked what I was going to do, and always feeding the fire, I came up with something ridiculous to say. So I said “I’m going to…” and just before I was about to say “…get into a big fight!“, this kid, with the most sincere and believable tone of voice I’ve ever heard, honestly finished my sentence for me by saying “…beat up a lot of wrestlers?” I laughed so hard and told him yes, that is in fact exactly what I would be doing.

You just can’t make this stuff up, folks. This one kid’s drawing in this one class was almost as good as Axe Cop. Some kids can be taught all day and night and they just won’t take to it, but this little fellow was right in his element. The quality of his artwork didn’t really matter. This crazy, imagination-expanding, creativity developing stuff is what teaching kids how to draw is really all about.



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