I don’t think anyone can learn to draw well without the foundational lessons discovered in mirror image drawing. The longer I teach drawing, the more I am convinced this lesson is key, the one I hope no students are absent for! And all because it is the perfect place to teach artist hacks for achieving perfect size and proportions of the basic shapes (identified in lesson 1).
I drew this lion from a smaller image I found online. I drew only half for the purpose of this class. My lesson is aimed for students 9-12 whom I will teach this autumn through Classical Conversations, a masters class. For this age group, I tend to choose human or animal faces; it’s not only the perfect lesson during which to focus on a face, it’s also the only lesson in my Classical Conversations curriculum that lends itself to the focus necessary to do a face.
This fits nicely in our medieval theme because we will learn about Richard the Lionheart who began using the lion as his heraldry symbol–later adopted by the monarchy and as a national symbol of England. Granted, we are not drawing a lion in the same pose as England monarchs have used; I need to use the front view of the face for a mirror-image lesson! This lesson could be used for cycles other than cycle 2–I taught a lion drawing in cycle 3 before because I had so many students who loved Aslan and Narnia. (I was not sticking to a historical theme that year but to students’ favorite book/story characters.) A lion is such a magestic animal. Add in all the biblical references to Christ as the lion of Judah and such–well, I could teach drawing lions in different poses each year.
This is a neat lesson that will appeal to mathematical people who find comfort in precision as well as people who like to invent lines and their own shapes rather than merely try to replicate. This project has a bit of both.
Step #1. I pass out the papers with half the lion face. Just as in lesson #1, I first instruct students to look for the basic shapes that build that lion head AND trace those shapes with their pencils. I am considering using a red marker for my example copy so students can see what I did more easily from their seats. But I will not show mine right away unless to a student struggling to comprehend the goal.
Below you can see my pencil lines block out the shapes I see: the triangle of the nose and ear and chin, ovals forming parts of the cheeks, and the lopsided circle where the whiskers come out. Different students may break the drawing up with different basic shapes, and that is expected.
I also sketched in the arcing line to form the outside edge of the mane–just to get an idea for the outer shape. Note, I did not bother to trace basic shapes in the chunks of the mane, except for the unique one by the ear because it helps us place the ear correctly later. The rest I consider details to deal with later.
STEP #2. NEW SKILL! The make-or-break-it skill to reproduce a mirror image is accurately judging space and size. We could leave it to free-handing chance–but there are skills we can master to make this spot-on.
Ask students if they can identify the shape that the lion’s half face makes: half a heart! On the board, I may tape my half a lion face, with the blank side folded back so I can draw onto the board with a dry-erase marker. I will say, “Let me draw the other half a heart.” I will draw an elongated one, then a fat one. Both wrong. “How can I get exactly the right size and shape of the other half heart?”
Here we will learn to pick reference points and measurement. Look at the half-face drawing below and notice a few dots I placed around the edge of the lion’s face . I picked points to help me know the widest points and where it narrows. Let’s start with the dot below the lion’s ear, in a lock of hair. Let’s measure from the center line of this drawing to this dot–but no rulers needed! Let us use what a have at hands, namely our hands and pencils.
You may find the distance from the dot to the midline of the drawing is the length of your first finger’s middle knuckle to the end of your finger, or maybe the length of your pencil eraser to the number “2” stamped on your pencil. When you know the measurement, take your measurement directly across the paper and line up one start point on the midline. When you see that same length replicated on the blank paper, draw your dot. That tells you how far across that part of the heart shape should be on the blank side. Repeat for a couple more dots to get the shape of the heart. Then draw a line connecting those dots, and wha-lah: the basic shape of the lions’s face, the right width and length!
Another crucial decision is how wide is the lion’s mane. On the drawing, you see I made some dots around the outer edge oft the mane. Now, when you measure to do outer contours, it gets a bit trickier the further away you are for the original line or point you are replicating.
As you may recall from lessons on using a ruler, we will make two lines. First, make a dot at the top of the lion’s mane. Measure how far from the top edge of the page to the dot. The width of a thumb nail? From the eraser top to the bottom of the metal holding in the eraser? Go to the blank side and replicate that measurement, but instead of a dot, draw a line across, as in my drawing.
Go back to the dot above the mane and measure this time from that dot to the side edge of the paper? The length of your pinky? Whatever it is, go to the side edge of the blank paper and replicate that measurement, then draw a vertical line. You’ve just made a cross. Where the two lines intersect is where you draw the dot. Do this at a couple more points where the lion’s mane is its widest or where it begins to change shape. After you have your dots, draw an arcing line to connect them and give you your guide for how far out his mane will spread.
Step #3. Ask students to focus on the lion’s face and the basic shapes they sketched on it. Now is the time to reproduce them on the other side. Here again, measurement is the secret! How wide is that space between the mid-line and the lion’s eye? The width of your pinky finger? Or the with of your eraser? Replicate that measurement on the blank side to know where to start drawing the eye. And how wide is that eye? The length of your thumb nail? Or part of your pencil? Using measurement, you can know exactly where to redraw that basic shape. (Rather than guessing, then later, after a long time and a well-drawn eye, realize you have to erase and start over because it’s in the wrong place!)
And remember, this is a sketch–meander with light lines, making that triangle or oval a few times on top of each other until you find you’ve made the shape you want.
This year, I will aim to draw live with the my students, letting them see me do it–and every time I need to erase and correct anything is actually a gift to them. Students will learn more from watching you try and try again than if you merely show up with a perfect outcome that you labored on at home, away from their eyes. Yes, this takes humility and the kind of confidence to allow yourself to be seen as a fellow learner rather than perfect. In the past, I was more concerned with figuring out my lessons and how to manage my class, but now I feel more comfortable in all those aspects of my role, so now I will try live drawing with them.
After students have completed drawing the basic shapes (no details) of the lion’s face, the next thing to tackle is the mane. (Note, if you’re running out of time, I’d suggest ignoring the mane and focusing on only the face. Skip to step #5 for the face. After, you can tell kids what I will say next about the mane, so they can do that at home.)
Here you may give students a choice: 1) copy each clump of the mane exactly as it is, for those who like precision, or 2) free-hand draw the lion’s mane to look a bit different, not exactly the same, on purpose. After all, no lion is nature has hair lying in exactly the same formation on both sides of its head! The work of the mirror-image has been practiced in the face, so I’d give my students the choice to do what they prefer for his mane. (This is very revealing for personality! Some kids are dying to invent their own lines free-hand!)
Step #4. Okay, now is the time for details. Time to carefully observe nuance of the lines–the exact contours of the shapes, the width of the lines, etc. Erase all the sketched lines you no longer want to keep and, with careful observation, make each shape more exact. Note: the pupil is the one thing you never want to copy as a mirror image. The missing part of this lion’s pupil is a white space that indicates where light is reflecting off it. If you make the pupil the reverse shape like you do for the shape of the eye and nose, you’ll have a cross-eyes animal! So, just for the pupil, don’t draw it mirror-image–draw the speck of white space on the left side as well.
Step #5. Make possible suggestions for student completion at home. Our class time is just enough for instruction and a good start–I do not expect students to finish a good, complete drawing in our time. I encourage students to finish at home if they want and then bring their finished version in next week. This is both inspiring to other students AND it seems to take the pressure off the students to perform and prove they can do it well from the roughest sketch; knowing they have more time and can show the class later seems to help some of my students.
Suggest students could trace their drawing with a Sharpie to make their side as dark as the original. Second, they could try to make it looks realistic, flesh it out with grays and shading (though they would need to likely find a picture of a real lion to observe for this.) Or they could color it. Below I have both the gray and the color version.
I made this lion upon request for a nephew’s birthday present; these sketches were prep for drawing the lion with marker on a fabric flag. I confess I did that project earlier this summer and then realized it could make a good mirror-image project. (What homeschooling mom or teacher isn’t trying to pull double-duty out of something already done?)
Enjoy your students as you and they discover through drawing!
If you try this, come back and make a comment about what worked well and what you would tweak. (At the end, I share post-class reflections.)
My first lesson of the unit left me wishing I’d taken the class through the steps a bit more prescriptively, holding their hands. I approached this lesson with questions about the best way to demonstrate this–drawing the other half on the board with marker they can see or with pencil that truly mimics what they should do it? Below, some comments (made by a tutor who taught this before I did) brought this problem to life. SO, taking them into consideration, I decided to tape the half of the face to the white board, paper folded back, so I could draw with marker, step by step with the students. BUT because of comments below about pitfalls I kept reminding students that they are using pencil and should draw lightly, with not too much pressure, etc. It worked! This year, my class demonstrated the best results of a mirror-image drawing I’ve ever seen in a class! I was truly impressed to see each student really doing the steps.
But it also did really take individual attention too. I pointed out to one child how the lion’s eye was much higher than his other and walked her through measuring with her eraser or finger, etc., how high the eye should be on the face. Likewise, another student was replicating the features well, but with no regard to how far apart each was from others, so I took him through a bit of the process, with praise, to observe the distance between the two eyes, the distance between the side of the nose versus the side of the eye. Talking with each student is truly the most effective way. But I admit, it is tough. It takes a lot of mental energy for me to quickly diagnose the root cause for why a student’s drawing gets stuck in a bad habit. Likewise it takes a lot of energy to motivate and positively encourage a student who is either disinterested or struggling. I admit , especially as I teach this segment near the end of my class time, among other subjects, I am getting fatigued. There are times I simply lack the resources of a good response, and sometimes I don’t give a student needed, individual attention because I was not able to come up with a help fast enough. (And her is where I rely on grace and “next time.”)
Other resources for drawing lessons: