I’m pretty good at drawing. So are my kids. But in my career as a homeschool teacher I’ve found that the things that come easiest to me are the hardest for me to teach. When things are second nature I don’t know how to explain what I do. So when I wanted my kids to learn how to draw things that look three dimensional, or make cityscapes which seem to recede into the distance, I needed some help. There are lots of tricks artists know, and they’re not hard to learn. You just need the right instructor.
Klutz books — those wonderful little volumes that teach you arts and crafts with tools and materials included — have two books that fit the bill perfectly. Drawing For the Artistically Undiscovered by Quentin Blake and Watercolor For the Artistically Undiscovered by Thacher Hurd (both edited by John Cassidy) give kids the art-store quality paper, pens and pencils, brushes and paint – as well as plenty of inspiration and guidance.
While not cartooning books per se , both are filled with fun, light illustrations to show you what effect they’re explaining and get you started. And although these books leave plenty of room for artistic imagination, for me their real value is the way they introduce the ideas of perspective, line quality, and other helpful tools for beginning artists.
Blake, who did Drawing, has illustrated many of Roald Dahl’s weird novels, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Drawing offers “art school” exercises in blind drawing, and lessons in shading, creating movement, and the proportions of the human face.
Hurd (son of Clement G. Hurd of Goodnight Moon fame) is the creator of one of our all-time favorite children’s books, the song-based Mama Don’t Allow, among others. He gives readers tips on “discovered art” (incorporating smudges and mistakes), not overworking the paint to keep the colors vibrant and unmuddied, mixing colors, mixed media, washes, and other handy basics.
For kids who haven’t yet been taught the basics of drawing and painting (including homeschoolers and students whose schools have cut back on art in the curriculum), these books make a great first step. But really, they are good enough to use at any age. I bought an extra copy of Watercolor For the Artistically Undiscovered for myself, to help me learn to use a medium I’ve only dabbled with.