Thursday, December 7, 2017

Developmental Stages of Art

I presented a few weeks ago to a new group of teachers interested in beginning a journey toward process art.  Part of my presentation included an overview of developmental stages in art.

These observations and stages come from my own work with children in the studio as well as from reading and observations by Ursula Kolbe, Kathleen Bailer, Howard Gardner and Rhoda Kellogg and Viktor Lowenfeld.

The images here are ones I have created to resemble children's art at each stage.  Here I will focus on drawing and collage with links at the end for further reading and examples of the stages.  I have settled on this version of developmental stages to share because it describes both the look of the art and the behavior of the child making the art and exploring the materials.  While the stages progress they are not necessarily linear and can repeat or circle back at different times in the developmental process.  An alternative title to this post could be:

Developmental Stages of Materials Exploration...


Mark making at this stage is characterized by exploration of the tools.  Marks appear random and varied, often with a weak line quality.  Sometimes there is evidence of the actions that make the marks such as dots that indicate tapping on the paper.  Other times there are heavy marks that indicate greater pressure or explorations of using the side of a crayon.

Adults can help guide this stage by modeling and exploring alongside young children.

In collage work, exploration is again a time of getting to know the materials.  In the collage on the left, a bit of coloring in the glue allows the child to see where the glue is applied on the paper.  Here the glue is applied with the brush and spread like paint.  Scraps stuck down appear random and some glue is left just as marks on the paper.  There is a good chance that a child may try to remove the pieces once this is dry, again testing the materials and what they will do.


The energy stage is characterized by joy in movement and mark making.  Children often have a heavy hand here, eager to cover as paper as possible with big energetic marks.  There is less awareness of what the kind of marks made than just an engagement with using the material to make energetic marks.  Mark making often focuses more heavily on one area of the paper or is layered.  As you see on the right, children may also explore alternative ways to make marks such as the lighter lines above created by scratching back into the thickly applied oil pastel.

For collage, the energy is spent applying lots of glue and then lots of scraps.  There is a randomness to the application of scraps and sometimes a pile is even dumped on top of the glue.  This stage is characterized by lots of use of material and a need for support from adults to channel energy into the paper.  Children will sometimes extend onto another's paper or onto the table in their enthusiasm.  An adult nearby to supply new paper to receive the energy is a good way to support this stage.


Children transition to the shape stage when they begin to pay attention to the results of their action on the page.  Movements create certain marks and children begin to see how repetitive motions make lines and circular scribbles.  This is also where children begin to complete shapes, traveling the crayon around the page and returning to the starting point to create a closed shape.
This is also the stage where children may begin to name and tell stories about their images.

With collage, the shape stage is characterized by more intention in the placement of glue and pieces on the page.  The collage here shows a child filling in a circle of glue in the center of the page to create a shape and then also carefully lining up scraps in a row along the bottom of the page.  Shape stage continues the exploration but the energy becomes more focused and intentional.


The design stage is one of my favorites and points to the many ways children (and adults) use drawing and visual representation.
This stage is characterized by explorations of map making (upper left), geometric designs (lower left), intentional and ordered blocks of color arranged on the page (upper right) and radials (lower right).
Again, stories and understanding the child's intentions are important at this stage.  When I first learned about this stage, it opened up for me to see children's drawing in many new and interesting ways, beyond just observational representation and to really look at ways drawing is a symbolic language.

For collage, design stage work similarly focuses on how the space is organized and sectioned on the page.  Often geometric shapes divide the space and materials may be sorted into areas such as buttons in one place, felt in another and pink strips in yet another.  Again, it can be interesting to hear the child's story with their creations as the designs often have much more intention and interest than may be evident from just viewing the work.


For drawing, representation progresses from tadpole people (a version of the radial seen in the design stage) to a more schematic version of a human form.  Notice how with the tadpole person, the focus is on what the child notices or deems most important.  The face is huge and the legs grow from the head.  Additionally, this one features fingers.  Drawings of people progress to showing a torso and additional facial and clothing details.  By school age most children develop a schema for how to draw a person as shown at right.  With practice, drawings move from this schema toward increasing naturalistic realism.

The tree drawings below show the continued transition from the schema for natural objects, "m" birds and lollipop tree to a more naturalistic view of a tree with branches and roots and shading for the colors of the leaves.

For collage, the stage of representation marks the beginning of assembling shapes to represent an object such as the house shown here.
Sometimes children will represent objects they see with collage sooner than then can draw those same objects.  The ability to build with shapes in collage may help to facilitate this.
This representation with collage may also look similar to the kind of teacher-directed crafts that allow children to represent with shapes by following directions.  It is important to note that while these sort of projects can model the potential for building with shapes, children need time to practice these skills on their own and come up with their own creations using open-ended materials.

This second collage shows how collage work can progress from simple flat representation to something that shows texture, layering and depth in an image.  The chance to explore open-ended materials allows the creator to enter into conversation with the materials and explore and discover along the way, ultimately creating more complex images and designs.

An understanding of stages of development is an important part of facilitating process art and can help to deepen observations of children's work with materials.  For examples of these stages with clay work, visit my introduction to clay powerpoint at this link.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sanctuary Studio: Different Kinds of Conversations

Sanctuary Studio: Different Kinds of Conversations: I read an article this week about my first drawing professor, Richard Crozier.  The article originally appeared on the UVA Today website an...

Sanctuary Studio: Practicing Conversation....Without Words...

Sanctuary Studio: Practicing Conversation....Without Words...: I have an activity I often use to begin talking about observational drawing.  It involves working with a partner with a set of blocks.  Eac...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Space for Shared Practice - A Reflection on Art in Community

When I first became interested in art with children there seemed to be a split between process-based art and product-based art.  Typically, process-based art is more open-ended, more child driven and the outcomes have a much greater variety.  Product-based art is characterized by children’s creations all looking the same or very similar, is often more craft than art and involves a similarity of materials and method - to the point where it is often more a following directions and fine motor activity rather than a creative act.

For a long time I have been firmly on the side of process-based art.  With art in general, but particularly with art for young children the process is really where the richness is to be found.  I feel honored to witness the unfolding of the work and of the story as children immerse themselves in their process.  

The past few months I have moved out of my studio into working in the community and so I think more about what defines my work.  Yes, it is about the process but it is not just process for the sake of process.  We focus on the process as a way to develop shared habits and routines to support artistic practice.

What do I mean by artistic practice?  What conditions help to support artistic practice? What is the role of community in nurturing and supporting this practice?

Artistic practice is about making as a part of routine experience.  Materials are available, routines are established for set up and clean-up and planning focuses on ways to optimize creative control for participants.  This practice is grounded in a belief in the capability of participants and a desire to build on their sense of agency.  The goal of the facilitator of such a practice is to set up a place for things to occur but not to control the outcome.  A successful facilitator of artistic practice will feel most successful when most surprised.  In general the goal is also to build the habits of practice in participants to the point where they too can serve as facilitators for peers and for newcomers.

Time, space and materials are the beginning ingredients to support artistic practice.  Along with these, it helps to have mentors and fellow travelers.  Shared spaces support creativity by making greater resources available than might be available to an individual. Shared spaces also create a center for creative energy so that makers working in the same space might benefit from the energy and influence of others working side by side, as well as other groups who  gather there at different times.  Makers leave traces and these in turn inspire new work.  

This also leads me to the role of community in supporting and nurturing artistic practice.  A very natural response to a new discovery is the desire to share it.  We need spaces and people to share our discoveries, our observations, and our questions.  Creating requires a safe space to be vulnerable.  Having a gathering of other makers to check in with at regular intervals serves to support and sustain creative work.  As we begin programs again this fall, I look forward to continuing to explore practice in community.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Attentive in the Way of a Conversation

I spent the morning as a guest at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church on the occasion of their Ode to the Earth Service.  It was lovely to enjoy the music of the service, the readings and especially the time for quiet writing and reflection that led to beautiful sharing by the congregation.  In the quiet, members were invited to write an ode to the earth.  During the sermon time there was time to come forward and read.  It was a lovely celebration of creativity all around.

After the service I led an arts workshop exploring the connection between making and mindfulness.
As I prepared for the workshop, a quote from a book I have been reading really jumped out at me.

"Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration."
-Matthew B. Crawford in Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

His quote really spoke to the kind of invitation I hope to offer people in working with materials.  It is an invitation to conversation with materials, with mark making and with color, shape form and texture.  It is also an invitation to conversation with others through the shared experience of making.

The best part of this workshop was the intergenerational gathering of makers and the way the sun room quickly took on a quiet meditative studio quality.  The dining room and buffet table were home to more energetic making by some of the younger kids and to more of the conversations about making.  It served as an entry way and introduction, allowing the sun room to be quieter and more focused.  I loved watching people making in ways that were personal and meditative but also happened in the setting of a group.  See below for some of our makers working on their creations.

The last person to finish was very immersed in her process and expressed an interest to continue at home as well.  Before she left, she shared more details of her process with me, sharing how the image she created changed during her making.  She began with an intent to complete a center spiral connected to a heart button she found.  When the felt for the top pieces would not cooperate, she adapted to an image she found in the remaining pieces.  The image of the chalice emerged from this process.  Her story was a lovely example of a conversation with materials where things happened she never imagined or intended and she was open and willing to welcome them and let them speak to her.

Art Workshops and Dinner Parties

"I don't think of working with art materials as"messy," although it is very possible that it can be so.  When you sit down to a beautifully set meal table, it is impossible to eat without creating some disorder.  Forks and knives are rearranged, plates and glasses will need washing, and crumbs may fall on the floor.  Likewise, as you paint, cut, paste or use clay, things will get redistributed.  But they need not get out of hand if you plan and set up the workspace carefully."
- from Doing Art Together by Muriel Silberstein-Storfer

The dining room of the Hollin Hall at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church provided a great setting for art making.  It reminded me that one of my favorite ways of thinking about setting a table for art is to compare it to setting a table for a dinner party.

Things need to be accessible and ready for guests and a sign of a good dinner party is that food is eaten and there is a bit of a mess at the end of the meal.  Similarly, supplies are used and the table shows traces of workers process at the end of an art-making session.  For this group the cluster of tables in the dining room offered our materials buffet while the attached sun room offered additional seating to gather in small groups for making.  We were flexile enough to make room for makers at the materials table as well. Intergenerational art making like intergenerational meals involve some improvisation and flexibility.

Different meals require different utensils and part of the job of the host is to orient guests.  If I serve steamed crabs and a guest has never picked a crab, it would be wrong to not teach this person how to pick a crab. On the other hand seasoned crab pickers are ready to begin and don't need to sit through a demonstration from me.  In group art making I try to strike a balance between giving enough direction to get started and getting out of the way to let people enjoy making at their own pace.  Similar to hosting a meal, I am also on hand for unexpected spills or to see if someone needs more of something - in this case paper or glue or a different kind of drawing tool.

A difference between art workshops and dinner parties is that in a dinner party most of the creating happens before the event and the guests consume what you make.  In an art workshop, the creating happens during the time together and consuming and sharing supplies results in these wonderful creations that offer traces and reflections on our time together.  Thanks to all who were open today to sharing their creations through these photos.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Space for Slowness

I drew this doodle inspired by a logo I saw from the slow food movement.  They have a "snail of approval" award.

I've been thinking a lot about spaces for slowness since reading this quote in Ursula Kolbe's wonderful book on drawing with children, It's Not a Bird Yet.

She writes,
"As anyone who has watched young pattern-makers knows, they build their configurations slowly, contemplating each step almost meditatively.  'She goes into another world,' aid one mother of her five-year-old pattern-making daughter." 

In another instance Kolbe writes,

"...when children make things, they also create spaces for themselves to be in.  A special place where they can pursue their own interests, where they feel free to be who the are, where their presence is somehow magnified.” 
- Ursula Kolbe in Children's Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses

The more I observe young makers and indulge my own creative process to allow for slowness, the more I see where spaces for slowness are such a gift to both adults and children.  

I love how the slow food movement has embraced this celebration of slowness and am curious where other educators and makers see connections as well.