Monday, February 1, 2010

Art And The Lollipop People

First Drawing, First Language

Art is our first written language. Drawing is communication and recording. Children do this instinctively. They draw pictures and when you ask them what it is, they tell the whole story. They are recording their world and their view of it. Mommy, daddy, kitty going to grandma’s. They illustrate their lives effortlessly. Their drawings record their observations of the world.

When we are children we put down our recordings of the world according to us. But is it real? Depends on your definition of real. To the child, yes. It really is amazing how alike children’s drawings can be. Their “realistic” symbols of humanity are universally recognized. We all understand the rendering of lollipop people. These rendering are a step up from most first efforts, of tadpole people, all heads with little wiggly things hanging off the bottom that represents the rest of the body

Facial Recognition and Drawing

All of this shows how important to humans is facial recognition. The face is so important that for the first maybe 3 years that is just about all children really observe of their families.

We are hardwired to recognize and respond to other human faces, and in the animals that we tend to cherish, we often “see” something human in their expression or faces. That is why our first drawings of people are often simply heads. While we know bodies are attached, most of us remain rather vague in our understanding of this. Just think back to your first full figure drawings and you will have to agree with this! How often have we got going on a drawing and had to stop to wonder just how is the shoulder attached? Where is the elbow, I know they have to have hips, etc.

Focus on the Face

Our focus on the face is, I believe one of the reasons we have such difficulties getting both facial and body proportions correct. We all tend to make our figures a bit top-heavy. We are still putting mental emphasis on the head and face.

Even with our drawing of the head, we tend to over draw the facial features and under draw the rest of the head. Leave some room for the brains people!

Still, we first recognize people by their faces more than any other body part. We have all seen those game shows where men were asked to pick out their wives by just their legs, or some other body part, and we all laughed when most could not do it. Just the reason why so often the rag mags get away with pasting Celebes heads on other bodies in Photoshop.

The Link Between The Symbol And The Meaning

The link between the symbol and meaning, that ability to make that connection is what makes written communication possible. They way we assign meaning to a learned symbol. This same learned response however, can be a stumbling lock to learning to draw well and accurately.

These learned symbols are shortcuts that speed up our drawing, in the brains attempt to change drawing into writing. The very speed of these learned response engender sabotage any advancement in drawing and art. This leads to the frustration that causes so many to abandon art in their pre-teen years, with the idea that “they have no talent”

Drawing is more than talent

Drawing is not about talent, but skill learned and applied. A certain gift is helpful. But what is really needed is desire and a willing to unlearn what one thinks they know. When we are learning to draw we need to fight this mental shorthand and learn to refocus on what we really see. We have to see the real shape of things.


  1. This is a very nice approach to art and learning! Kathleen Neff

  2. Thanks, Kathleen. I think this symbolism is the reason we have such trouble later learning to draw.

  3. The lollipop people are something child Physiologist have written about in early childhood development.

  4. What you say is so true-especially about pre-teens and their 'loss of creative innocence'. When earlier everything they did satisfied them and impressed their viewers, now they are made unsure of themselves because they have new symbols presented to them from the 'outside' and they have a need to 'fit into the flow'. Kathleen

  5. They have to be gently guided to understand just what they are doing and how to get with they want out of art, not what the teacher wants.

    Preteens and young teens go through a stage where they need realism to ground them, and if they run up against a teacher that wants "creativity" and moans about the lack there of, they will stumble and stop doing art all together, dismissing it as something for babies. That might be why so many adults think of art as a childish occupation.


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