Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Should I Start Art Lessons For My Kids?

My first response would be to say "Well, it depends". What I mean by that is that there are several things you will want to consider before starting "formal" art lessons.

I've been an artist from as far back as I can remember.  I was drawing 9 panel storyboards at 4 years old.  I still have one of them! I was also naturally into music but my grandparents, whom I lived with, could never afford piano lessons or a piano as much as I kept begging for them.  So the next best thing for me to do creatively was draw and that was pretty cheap.  Just give me enough coloring books, crayons and drawing paper and I was content.  I quickly moved from coloring to drawing the images I was coloring.  Fascinated by Disney cartoons I began to draw them, over and over until I could draw them by heart. In 3rd grade I had mastered Donald Duck.  Unfortunately, as I grew older and more advanced in my art I had a tendency to draw everything with a Disney flair.  Even after college I had to try to lose the Disney style in my illustrations when I worked professionally.  I still have it to a degree but not as much as I used to.  It's very important for an artist to develop his own style.  Of course I didn't know that as a kid.   Which is why I don't encourage only drawing things like Anime, or trendy art at least not for too long, unless that's all they want to do.

I  have and continue to work professionally as Graphic Design as there weren't any full time jobs for illustrators. Those jobs were primarily for freelancers which was another thing I didn't know or they didn't tell me in college.  And illustration is tough competition.  It's very hard to make a living doing it.
I found Graphic Design the next best thing which I sort of fell into right after college.  And I wasn't even a Graphic Design major!  But it paid the bills and I could still illustrate on the side.

In college I had to draw from life and realistically but I had always preferred cartooning when given the option.  Today I juggle between illustration, graphic design and fine art.  I like doing it all.  Illustration and Graphic Design go hand in hand so I do tend to put more concentration in that area but whenever time allows or I get commissioned I'll put my fine art cap on.

"Art" is such a broad term. It can confuse the child and parent when they begin to think about lessons. Art can be sculpting, drawing, painting, dancing, music, photography, etc. For the purpose of this article I'm going to refer it as learning to draw and paint. Also, it should not be confused with "crafts". Although, some crafts CAN incorporate elements of art it is not the same discipline.

Most children's first exposure to art is usually with their first set of crayons and a coloring book. We all like seeing our kids coloring and drawing and making up stories in art and then telling us about it. I, too, have fond memories of my children doing this. By simply providing those elements you are offering your child the opportunity to experience art.

We all remember showing our kids how to color within the lines, right? It didn't take an art teacher to tell you that. Although I have met a few parents that actually said they don't tell the kids "how" to color but just let them do their own thing, I personally prefer to show kids the "discipline" of coloring in the lines and encourage parents to do the same.There is a discipline to art just as there is with music, dancing, etc. You have to know the basics first to go beyond them. Hopefully, you teach your kids to eat properly at the dinner table. You wouldn't want them eating anyway they feel like it and making a mess. If you give your child a paint brush and paint, I know you're not going to want them painting on the furniture and walls! So, teaching them to color within the lines should not be overlooked either. The reward is the child's satisfaction in seeing his or her work completed and knowing he or she can control the outcome.  And plenty of encouragement and praise goes a long way.

The key thing is to know "when" your child is ready for art lessons. One is never too old to learn but one can be too young or simply not ready.

So how do you know? Here's what I tell parents.Give your child a coloring book and crayons as soon as they can hold the crayons. My daughter was coloring at age 2 as seen in the picture below. They may not hold the crayons well but at least they'll get a feel for it. Coordination will come along with everything else. Don't be in rush, guide them and show them but don't force. It's helpful if you can color with them so they can watch how you do it. When you see that they can hold a pencil pretty well and they show more interest in art this could be your cue that they might be ready for more. I have seen five year olds with amazing coordination that I know would do well with art lessons but this is more the exception not the rule.

Be mindful of the difference of a drawing class as opposed to a generalized "art class" which can be made up of mostly craft projects. When in doubt talk to the teacher.Also realize that there can be a difference in teaching styles among art teachers. Because I'm also a professional artist I may have a more disciplined style of teaching than someone who basically does art for fun. Which is why I prefer to teach ages 8 and older. Although, I do encourage lots of fun (shhhh...don't tell.) Don't be afraid to talk to the teacher, ask questions and maybe pay a visit to see if it's the right fit for your child.

One test I offer as a suggestion is to give your child a coloring book. Tape a sheet of tracing paper on top of one of the uncolored black line drawings and have your child trace over all the lines. Pick something relatively simple like a single character.  Have them do this several times over a period of weeks. If they catch on and can complete the "test", they are ready for more formal art lessons.

If your child isn't ready yet, that's okay too. You don't need to be a professional art teacher to expose your child to any form of art. Exposure is what will build the interest. Take them to concerts, art shows (be careful though, not all are "family friendly"). Sing with them, make clay bunnies with them, draw with them! They don't know if you're good or not. I watched my mother draw these funky looking cats on a piece of paper and that encouraged me to draw! I never had any art lessons as a child other than the occasional school related art projects.  I was an only child and had little distraction so I'm sure that helped too. But you get the idea.  It wasn't until college I had any formal training.  I can only imagine how much further along I would of been if I had been given lessons earlier on.

So when's a good time? When they're ready. If you can't tell often a teacher can.Don't be put off if a teacher tells you to maybe wait a year or two. It's frustrating for both the teacher and student when the child isn't ready and can create a dislike for art altogether. I encourage you to try short term art classes before you commit to a longer time.

Sometimes, though, art is more "interesting" when it's taught by someone other than the parent. My kids learned by osmosis and maybe a few of my classes but since I home schooled they probably had had enough of me when it came to art.  I wasn't going to pay for them to have art lessons by someone else so after a few tries I stop trying to teach them.   Although my son can draw pretty good so something got through! And my daughter does an amazing job with complicated paint by number projects. I showed her a few tips with the paint brush and away she went.  Music was also big in our family so both kids actually gravitated toward that.  Ironically we didn't do much teaching in music until they were older but we were all very involved it.  They were exposed to it a lot and now very active in music ministries.

For the majority of children art is simply fun and good to know for recreational and school projects.   However there are a few that will exhibit a strong passion for art that will be noticed early on.  You will generally see a gravitation toward it without much effort on your part and an eagerness to want to try new things.  It's that natural inclination that will warrant bringing in an art teacher sooner rather than later.

Although only a very small percent end up being little Rembrandts art can be an enriching experience even if it's interest is only short lived.

Here's a picture of my daughter at 2 years old coloring.

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