Sunday, May 24, 2009

WHY DO KIDS DRAW LIKE THAT?


Like everybody else I'm always surprised by the vitality of  art made by kids. Something about collecting bugs and wearing pajamas with feet gives young artists the ability to draw with shocking freshness and immediacy.  I don't pretend to know how they do it, but it's been on my mind lately and I thought I'd record my thoughts here. 

To start with, surely some of the magic comes from the little rugrats never cleaning their brushes. When they want to paint with yellow they use the same dirty brush they used a minute before when they were painting with red. The kids benefit from a lucky accident because this unintentional mixing gives the new color texture, which always makes color more appealing. Not only that but the sloppy colors benefit from the kind of optical mixing that impressionists like Seurat used to talk about.    
 


Then there's the kid belief that every living thing disturbs the air around them and emits an aura of grief marks or sunbeams (above). Where kids get that from I can't even guess. Exceptions to this rule are army men, ghosts and dinosaurs, which are never granted sunbeams.

Thanks to "N" for pointing out that the picture above is of a lion and the sunbeams are simply its mane. I don't know how I could have overlooked something so obvious, and I almost changed the caption, but my long experience with my own kids' drawings seems to confirm that kids will deliberately choose subjects that lend themselves to sunbeams, cilia and fringe. Primitive masks are often like that.  



The subject of kid pictures is never a unified whole, but is rather a collection of parts, which are separate and distinct. The lady above is a nothing more than a dress, legs and shoes. The bike is wheels and a frame. Usually the collection of parts is given grief by some evil being. Here (above) the collection of parts that is the woman is beset by a demon newsboy...or is that just the just the artist hitching a ride? 



Here's (above) a raging duck man surrounded by blue dots. Since kids like to menace their their subjects I'll guess that the blue dots are killer bees or bombs. Whatever they are, it's a safe bet that the kid who drew it had a definite idea about what they were. Kids don't draw for the sake of drawing. Everything always represents something. 

How do you like the color here? That yellow and orange ground really makes the blue pop out, and the black is a perfect counterpoint. 



Here (above) the warship goes into battle with all guns blazing. Kids don't get distracted by nuances like the color of a late afternoon sky reflected in the sea water. For kids a battle scene portrays battle, clear and simple, and the battle is one of epic dimensions. The nobility of the brave ship is honored by cilia-type sunbeams of fire power.

Interesting huh?



 

30 comments:

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Fun stuff! I spent my young years drawing Frankenstein, Dracula and haunted houses 'til my mom forced me to draw non-spooky pictures. I didn't listen to her for long though!

Chloe Cumming said...

Oh what a wonderful post...

I've been thinking about children's drawings lately too, and specifically remembering what drawing was to me when I was one...

A lot of artists talk about trying to get some of that 'purity' back or connect to it, but of course the results can be ugly, it depends on how you interpret the idea.

But I guess I always aim for aliveness, which is something these have an excess of...

And also, to aim for that level of enthusiasm for subject matter, even if it is fickle and fleeting.

I guess maybe I have the attention span of a child sometimes. But maybe the nature of intense enthusiasm is that it comes in sporadic bursts.

But how else to you connect to a subject enough to make it excessively alive?

Potty Train Child said...

My son draws these beautiful abstractions, at least that is what I call them. What could possibly be more artistic then art from a truly unexploited innocent source. Kids don't have the subconscious negative thoughts that are programmed in the back of their minds like adults do. I cherish the art my son makes for me, there is nothing better!

Lester Hunt said...

The oldest drawing of mine that I have must date from when I was five or so. It shows a giant plane dropping bombs on a defenseless city: plainly visible on the rudder of the plane, a swastika. I think one reason kids draw is to tame the terrors of life by manipulating them on paper. It's important that they be able to do this. How would you like to be completely in the control of irresistible giants with technological knowledge far beyond yours (ie., adults)? The life of a kid is scary.

David Germain said...

When my sister worked at a daycare, there was this 3 year old girl who always drew pictures of her. Every time, she'd put a squiggle over her head. My sister had no idea why the little girl did this, nor did she ask. She just told her it was a nice drawing.

N said...

Not to contest the theory you presented, but the image which you said had some kind of "beams" emitting from the main subject actually depicts a lion. Therefore, the beams are not beams at all but a lion's mane.

Jack G. said...

Kid's may not have understanding of principles but I appreciate how they are so unihibited with what they create.

I'd love to bring back some of that
unihibited feeling to my own pieces.
But I'm still just trying to
grasp some of those principles.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

N: Holy Cow! You're right! How could I have overlooked that? I'll change the caption. Thanks!

Whit said...

The last drawing of the airplane happens to be the style of the moment in commercial illustration. Every billboard, print ad and Flash animated commercial for the past couple of years seems to have been done in this raw, deliberately unschooled style. It has become as ubiquitous as the typeface helvetica medium was in the 1970's, or cooper black in the 1920's. Don't know if this is a good or a bad thing. It just happens to be.

Niki said...

Whenever I hear people talk about their love for the complex-simplicity of kids drawings I always think, "I'm gonna do that as an adult, but I'll make it look more professional" and then everything's done and I forget. This time I'll try and remember it this time.

It's awesome how they don't think about it, but when they put their all into it, it comes out amazing. I just got to practice more.

Zoran Taylor said...

Kids sometimes have really good (albeit spontaneous) compositions. I think it's because they not only know what's important, they don't even start drawing until the subject inspires them. The drawing serves a totally singular purpose. I almost feel like the rules of composition were developed because adults forget how to use the subject to motivate their drawings. Kids drawings are minimum skill-meets-maximum common sense. If everyone kept drawing their whole lives, preserving the same psychological process from when they were kids, we wouldn't need official drawing principles. Principles exist purely because people don't like to learn from their mistakes and are always short on time, energy and persistence. And adult non-artists are WAY worse at drawing than kids.

Anonymous said...

That last drawing reminds me of Andre Massons "Battle of the fishes"

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/34pqZwERv2bNcCIhPYpMHg

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Zoran: I only agree about 60%. It seems too easy to imagine kids as noble savages that adults should emulate. It's a little bit like admiring drunks for their uninhibited speech. Yeah, it's admirable, but you wouldn't want to change places with them

Zoran Taylor said...

I would never in a million years suggest that kids are superior artists. That's crazy talk. What I'm saying is that when kids draw, they are COMPLETELY absorbed in the process of making the drawing work, and if someone could sustain that attitude, that particular combination of brainwaves, for ten years, they could equal what pre-ordained methods achieve in a fraction of that time.

"Principles exist purely because people don't like to learn from their mistakes and are always short on time, energy and persistence."

Sorry, that's just flippant provocation, I admit it. (Hey, I read John K's blog all the time, it's like hanging around a smoker, if you dig.) No, principles are a glorious invention. But what I'm saying is that their primary purpose is to make learning EFFICIENT. You could figure them out by yourself, but it would take forever and ever and ever. I make this distinction because people would (and do) otherwise believe that "I gotta be told this stuff 'cuz I'm stoopid". Seriously, have we not at least begun to enter an age in which people take rules as an insult to their intelligence? Scary.

Oh, by the way.....WHERE DID YOU GO??!! Please don't stop writing!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Zoran: Interesting comments! About me leaving...I used to put up a new post every day, but I just couldn't keep it up. Nowadays I do it every other day.

I just got a cintiq and a program I'm trying to learn so I occassionally miss a day, but most of the time I hit the every other day schedule. I only wish I had time to draw and put up more home-made movies and photo essays. The internet is great. There's nobody to tell you not to do things.

Anonymous said...

Have you also noticed that all kids go thru a "the blue sky is just a strip across the top of the page" phase? When kids want to draw a blue sky, it's always just a colored bar across the top of the drawing, like the sky is a separate plane. I remember doing this, too. At the age of 6 or so all I knew was that the sky was above the ground, and it stretched out far on either side. My lack of depth perception at the time made me think it was perfectly logical to just interpret the sky as a "strip" above my head.
When you get older you actually observe that the sky meets the horizon line everywhere, and you eventually color the whole sky blue.

I think this says alot of brain development too. You cannot force logic onto a child, they will see reality in due time.

Cynthia

Craig said...

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."
Pablo Picasso

pappy d said...

I love the way kids draw a person, place or thing & not what it looks like. I can remember drawing the sky as a blue stripe at the top of the page because it's so high.

Man, that lion is so big it doesn't fit on the page.

I like the way the battleship artist poses his planes at different angles. You can see the thought going on. Great idea to put gun turrets on the keel to blast those leering submarines, sneaky bastards!

Eddie, what's the program?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Pappy: Program? Those pictures came from a book about kid art, but the text wasn't helpful.

Anonymous said...

A while ago some artists took kid drawings and redrew them. check it out

pappy d said...

Sorry, Eddie. That was vague.

I just wondered what was the new computer program you were wrestling with when you're not blogging.

buzz said...

Pencil and paper (or cursor and pixels) are toys in the hand of a child. They are playing, and their drawings are not necessarily an attempt to express a single idea but rather several layers of ideas one atop another. One would have to watch the child make the drawing to follow his/her thought process. The final effect is similar to taking all the individual images in an edited film sequence and overlaying them on top of one another.

Anonymous said...

Are you a fan of Saul Steinberg?

Anonymous said...

http://www.americanelf.com//comics/monsterattack.php

Check out this little kids comics.

Zoran Taylor said...

*DUUUUHH*
I just realized why I thought you had stopped posting - I had bookmarked a specific post. I kept being directed to that post. It's from March. I must be losing my marbles....

Kelly Toon said...

http://www.marlaolmstead.com/mainwork.html

There was a documentary abut a child prodigy, an abstract artist named Marla Olmstead. The title of the film is "My Kid Could Paint That." This five year old girl was producing massive and beautiful canvases. She rocketed to success, then went through a furor of intrigue as to whether or not she was "coached" by her father. You might find it interesting, Eddie.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Thanks guys for the links. I have to put up a new blog now and then catch some sleep, but I'll try out the links tomorrow!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Kelly: Yes, I know that girl. The paintings are better than you'd expect from someone that age, but not fine art in my opinion.

Anon: I only saw the first page. Is there more?

Anon: Steinberg is great. His parodies of modern architecture are better than better than anyones I know.

NateBear said...

this is a very fun post. never wanted to draw as much as i do right now!

Hryma said...

Good one!

It makes me think of a story I heard about a graphics designer who would push the boundaries with colour.
Someone said to him "that's brave, using pink like that."
"Whaaa?" he replied.
Turned out he was colour blind and didn't know it.

What if, I'm just putting this out there because I can't be bothered trying it.
Wear red cellophane glasses, get out your markers, pencils or paints and jumble the colours around without looking.

Looking through red makes it hard to distinguish most colours and tones. Black could be blue or a deep red? You may think it's orange but maybe it's green?

Then see what happens...?