7th grade 1-pt. perspective hallway "narrative"
I have a love-hate relationship with linear perspective. It is a really cool way to set up 3-d space, and every year many of my students fall in love with it. My 8th graders draw the school building in 2-point perspective, the 7th graders draw the school hallway with 1-point perspective, and the 6th graders draw a "Fantasy Room," also with 1-point perspective. 

However, it is getting to be teeth-gritting difficult to teach my 6th graders how to use a vanishing point ... many of them come to my class having had little to no art instruction in elementary school. We lost the art unit at the largest one of our 3 feeder elementary schools several years ago, and I have sadly watched the quality of my 6th graders' artwork decline since. This is not the fault of the other two wonderful elementary art teachers we are blessed to have in our town - the 6th grade elective classes were also cut in half a few years ago. I now have 6th graders for only 30 minutes per day and I don't think I've quite adjusted to it. 

I think another part of the problem might possibly be that the kids think they can draw anything they please because "It's just art, right? You can express yourself, right? There is no bad art, etc."

 However, the technique of linear perspective is one of the things that is quite simply N O T subjective in art. 

How do you break this system down into simple parts so that young students can understand it? 

Here is a hilarious Youtube video by Kari Haan; she captures the universal frustration (and delight!) of teaching art in middle school, along with the typical student response to linear perspective: 

The following is how I have learned to do it (by trial and error) - if you have any suggestions, please let me know! I am always on the lookout for better ways to scaffold instruction and apparently my methods are not quite working this year .........

**For more resources on teaching perspective, click here: Linear Perspective, Part II, Teaming Up

To start with, I attempt to motivate the kids by showing some finished student drawings (so they can see what the eventual product might look like). Also, some years we look at comic book examples or famous drawings by M.C. Escher or British sidewalk chalk artist Julian Beever. Below is a 6th grade "Fantasy Room" drawing. The assignment is to draw a "Dream Room," where they can have anything they can possibly think of. Some kids will draw swimming pools, skate ramps, doorways into restaurants, etc.: 

The 7th grade finished product is an interpretive drawing of the school hallway drawn from observation:

The 8th graders learn 2-point perspective, observing and drawing the exterior of the school (we get to go outside, y'all!). Both 7th and 8th graders are given the assignment of filling their "empty stage" with characters, colors, designs, etc. and then writing a creative short story by using this drawing as one "scene" from the story:

I start the lessons for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade at the same basic level - drawing cubes with a vanishing point and horizon. To the right is an example of what I draw on the board, step-by-step:

I explain everything in detail, holding up a cardboard box as a visual aid. Almost all of the 7th and 8th grade students seem to catch on quickly, even if they never had art before

There are many of the 6th graders, however, who seem to be clueless. Here are some examples of their interpretations of my drawing on the board: 

Even though I showed them slowly, repeating the demonstration multiple times, some students had no horizon line and many were not even using the vanishing point or drawing lines with the ruler. Why couldn't they draw the figures after watching me?

Here is exactly how I teach linear perspective on the first day or so of the unit ...

BASIC SKILL - vocabulary knowledge:

Do the kids know what  the words, "horizontal" and "vertical" mean? I ask the whole class to:
  • Step 1: hold your ruler (or arm) up and show me a horizontal line with your ruler
  • Step 2: show me a vertical line with your ruler 
The point of this is to get everyone on the same page - the kids who aren't sure can look around the room to see how to do it. 
Also, I will (with a sparkle in my eye and my tongue-in-cheek) have my students take the "Ruler Oath," where they repeat after me that, "I promise I will not use this ruler as a sword. I will not use it as a drumstick. I will not use it as a saw. I will not spin it on my pencil, I will not bend or break the ruler, I promise I will not whack any other student with the ruler, etc. I will use this ruler in the manner in which it is intended - to draw straight lines." This usually gets the kids laughing and makes the rest of the class a lot more fun.

BASIC SKILLS - using a ruler to draw a straight line and drawing very light lines that are easily erased

The students use a scratch sheet of paper to:
  • Step 3: practice using the ruler to draw 10 vertical lines very, very lightly
  • Step 4: practice using the ruler to draw 10 horizontal lines very, very lightly.
I will teach the kids to "eyeball" these lines, comparing them to the edges of the paper to keep them straight (not diagonal). For example, they can look at the sides of the paper when drawing straight vertical lines or the top/bottom of the paper when drawing straight horizontal lines.
  • Step 5: They then get a new sheet of paper and lightly draw a horizon line, from edge to edge. It should be somewhere in the middle for this practice drawing.
BASIC SKILL - using a vanishing point to create a sense of depth
  • Step 6: The students then make a vanishing point, "the magic dot" somewhere on the horizon, this represents where the viewer's gaze ends on the horizon, almost like a laser-beam shooting "out yer eyeball."
  • Step 7: Then, they will draw 4 squares - one above and to the left of the vanishing point/horizon line, one below and to the left, one above and to the right, and one below the horizon and to the right.
  • Step 8: I will instruct them to, "Let the edge of your ruler touch 2 places: the corner of a square and the vanishing point, then draw a light line that goes from the corner of the square to the vanishing point. The ruler doesn't just touch the side of the square - it touches the corner. The edge of the ruler doesn't cover up the vanishing point, it just barely touches it."
 Here I will ask the students to repeat these instructions: "The edge of the ruler touches 2 places, which 2 places does the edge of the ruler touch?" They answer: "the corner and the vanishing point!" (Sometimes I will tell the kids that the ruler is like the hands of a clock - they are forever "stuck" to the center, and the ruler is forever "stuck" to the vanishing point.)
BASIC SKILL - drawing parallel lines to finish the "cubes"
  • Step 9: I explain that every line has a "twin:" "What is the twin for a horizontal line? Another horizontal line, of course! What is the twin for a vertical line? Another vertical line! These lines you drew to the vanishing point would not really go back that far; the horizon is between 2 and 3 miles away! So, you've got to "chop off" the lines somewhere, and to do that you draw twins. They look just like the letter "L," sometimes upside down, sometimes backwards. Be careful not to let your horizontal and vertical lines become diagonal!"

As a matter of course, one would assume that having seen the teacher draw (and describe) the figures slowly, repeatedly, on the board, the students would understand how to do such figures. Is their difficulty developmental? Is it immaturity? Is it motivation or lack thereof? Is it the students' need for attention, their need to have the teacher explain it to him or her individually at the table? Hmmmmm.......

How in the world can I make things simpler? What are your suggestions?

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Anonymous said...

Great article. Just from what I read in your article, you go the extra mile for your students. I don't believe you could modify your instruction any more and be any clearer. I don't believe there is a simple answer to your question regarding why some are understanding and some are not, I believe the answer to the problem is most likely a little bit of all of what you suggested.
Since all students are different, with different learning capabilities, it is difficult to know in advance how a student will react to your instruction.

Casey Williamson said...

For my 7th and 8th graders, I start off with showing a ton of photographs, artwork, and “real world” examples through my ipad presentation. I then take each class out into the hallway outside of my classroom. I make them stand on one end of the hallway, then I tape the “vanishing point” (made out of construction paper) to the other end of the hallway. I walk over to the students and physically show them how the lines look like they are moving. We go back in the classroom and everyone draws a horizontal line in their sketchbook. I then go over what the vanishing point is and how we are going to learn to draw boxes in one point. I first demonstrate how to make a box in one point, while all students are watching me. Then, I have students draw one box alongside with me. I wait and watch them draw each part. We draw one more box together, then I let them try it on their own. Usually they do a pretty good job. This year I gave my advanced students the option of taking their project a step further and think outside of the box of what they want to draw in one point. Most of my rookies stuck with cities.

Wendy Gilbert said...

When I teach perspective I will do a guided drawing using the document camera.

I love your ruler oath!

One of the reasons perspective is challenging is the students are trying to draw what they know to be true versus what we physically see.

I will hold my coffee cup directly under my camera so they see the rim as a circle."what shape do you see?" a circle. I will tilt my cup to change the angle "what shape do you see?" now most student but not all will say circle - "No, its an OVAL!" will come over the din. "What shape do you see?" "oh it's an oval"

We see an oval but our brain tells us it's a circle because the actual shape is a circle.

We then look at the top of the tables and repeat this process.

Then we start looking around my classroom and begin to realize that nearly everything we know to be a rectangle we actually see as a trapezoid.

One of the many ways our own brain messes with us.

This helps get them to understand we need to draw what we see, not what we know to be true.