Continuing from my last post, another skill that I feel is important for kids to learn is lettering by hand. Not just hand writing, but being allowed to be creative with letters.
This dawned on me a few months ago. My eldest is learning to write, and he enjoys writing the letters in his name into different shapes, rather than just in a straight line (or in the corner of a piece of paper, as expected by teachers). What he does with his letters is clever – I see the beginnings of logo design. This is unsurprising in some ways, as he sees what we’ve been working on in the studio often, and we talk about our work.
The hard bit is, that being creative with letters is not a part of learning to write. There are expectations around conforming – and there’s good reasons for this. We need to learn to write so people can read what we’ve written, easily and quickly. There are implied basic standards for writing – left to right, on a straight line, with sentence structure and correct grammar.
The sad part is that the way writing is taught, is that it becomes a chore to write, and the creativity is only in the words we use (think writing fictional stories), but not the way we use letters (think logos or poster design). Lettering is not widely seen as art, apart from in the design industry, and I find that very limiting.
I was lucky as a kid – I was gifted books on calligraphy, fonts and hand lettering. But in a normal school environment, kids are unlikely to have the same access to this kind of inspiration. I wish that there were two types of lettering taught in schools: handwriting, and letters as art.
Limiting creativity in young kids is what I want to avoid. Creativity leads to so much more than “cool drawings”, it is a space to learn critical thinking and hone problem solving skills. It builds fine motor skills.
So my eldest is being taught why we conform for handwriting, while given a separate outlet for his creative lettering. I want him to experiment. To go through the process of learning the shapes of letters and pushing them to their extremes. To not lose his creative ideas because it’s creative thinking that will shape the world in years to come. Ideas come from thinking differently, not from conforming. And hand lettering is one of the starting points of that thinking.
Drawing by hand is such a big part of our lives here. Every design project starts with a sketch. We do some illustration too, so drawing is a pretty important skill to have.
We all start drawing as kids. Some kids stop at a point, others keep going (and sometimes never put the pencil down again). But how do you learn to go from a scribble, to a stick figure, to something more detailed?
A lot of my learning came from drawing my favourite video game characters. Nintendo was huge in the early 90s and gave me a myriad of fun and colourful characters to draw. I referenced them from my game manuals and magazines, and learnt all of the shapes that make a picture. This is where I started graduating from stick figures to full bodied people and creatures.
The trick to my learning was that it had to be something I was interested in. I didn’t care for drawing a real-life looking average Joe, it had to be something fun. And of course this sounds obvious, but I feel like parents forget this sometimes, with the pressure to learn getting in the way (I even do with my own kids).
Once I figured out how to draw all the characters I loved, I started using those skills to draw my own characters from scratch. I figured out from the practice how to get body proportions right, what details are needed on a face, how to draw expressions, and so on. You definitely learn from others, and then get creative once you’ve got the basics mastered.
Getting past the stick figures…
Two of my three kids are getting to the “stick figure graduation” stage and I was wondering how to get them over the hurdle, and I found it in Art for Kids Hub. The first part is that they cover so many different characters from toys, shows and games, there’s something to interest nearly every kid. The second part – and the most important – is how Rob simplifies the drawing steps. It’s not about grids and proportions at this early stage of learning, it’s about how basic shapes and lines create a detailed image. He breaks it down, and how I wish I had that as a kid.
And the best part? He makes it damn fun, and it’s all available on YouTube.
Even if you are nervous to draw as a parent, don’t be with his videos – I promise you will be able to follow the steps too, and have fun with your kids, while teaching them a very handy life skill.