Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pen & Ink Hands!

This was a fantastic introduction to pen & ink for my third-fifth graders!  I borrowed the project from Art Projects for Kids and adapted just a bit (but not much).

This project makes it possible for all students to feel successful, which is really important at this age when so many of them get frustrated with their drawing skills and are at risk of giving up altogether.

Lovely cross-hatching by a 5th grader.
I used the project to introduce three pen & ink techniques: basket weave, stippling, and cross-hatching. I did a thorough demonstration of proper technique and pen use for each, then had students practice until they were comfortable with at least one. 

Pen & Ink has always been very meditative for me, and I was surprised to see how deeply my students got lost in the process, as well. They absolutely LOVED this project and, while working on their drawings, were the quietest they've been all year long. And that speaks volumes, friends.

Time: 2 or 3 45-minute classes (depending on how quickly students work)

  • 6"x9" white drawing paper
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Medium or fine point Sharpie markers (one per student)
The project: 

1. Use a pencil to gently trace part of one hand onto a 9"x6" piece of white drawing paper. I then show students how to look closely at their hand to add wrinkles and fingernails. Questions to ask: "How many knuckles do you have on each finger?" - "Do your fingernails extend beyond your finger?" - "How do the lines on your fingers curve?" - "Do the lines touch wrap around your finger or are they just on 'top'?"

2. Trace the hand drawing with a Sharpie (or other fine-tipped marker).

I think some of the "unfinished" drawings are quite nice...
3. Choose one of three pen & ink techniques demonstrated to fill in the negative space/background of the drawing.

I found the inspiration for this project on Art Projects for Kids. While I'd love to be able to say that all of my best projects are the product of my own amazing imagination and experience, that simply isn't the case. Most of my experience teaching art prior to this year has been in private schools and through small community non-profit centers, both of which generally allowed for much smaller class sizes than those I have in public school. As a result, I've spent most of this year trying to rethink my approach to certain techniques and concepts in order to make them work for larger groups of kids. Beg, borrow and steal (with credit) has been my mantra, whether from wonderblogs like the one above or from my fellow art teacher at NAGE (who's been at this longer than have I and has been very gracious with ideas and feedback). 

This student wanted to intentionally leave an organic edge at the top of his drawing. He also worked hard on the gradation from dark to light values.

For basket weave, I encouraged students to work in a spiral, starting with a central "block" of 4 or 5 lines and alternating horizontal and vertical blocks, working out from the first one. This is to avoid visible lines of blocks and white space. However, I think the negative space created by the basket weave lines in this drawing create intriguing movement within the drawing. Sometimes I'm glad the kids don't listen to me. :)

How do you not love a 10 year-old who can reference Star Trek??

A small fraction of students' drawings...there are hands everywhere!


  1. I like this project. Your students did a wonderful job. How many sessions did you use for this project?

  2. Thanks! It's a very student- and teacher-friendly lesson. Low mess, they can work independently and feel proud of their work, and they can take their new skills home since all we used are Sharpies, pencils and paper.

    We used three 45-minute classes - The first to have them trace their hand, draw the details, and trace in pen. The second to demonstrate background techniques, practice and begin on their background, and the third to finish. Some worked really quickly and finished in the second class or at the beginning of the third, so I let them do another drawing and either choose another of the three techniques for the background or come up with their own pattern.