Medieval-themed Upside-down Drawing: Week 3, Classical Conversations

“What? I have to draw something upside-down??”

No, it is not mean to frustrate and torture. The idea behind having kids draw an  is upside-down image is to help students see only what is actually there, not what they think is there. The biggest impediment to drawing is our preconceived notions. Here is my lesson for week 3, Upside-down drawing, for Classical Conversations.

Because the point of this exercise is to allow the trick to help us see the truth of the lines and basic shapes, I will take you through this tutorial the way my students do it: with the mystery. I am revealing it is Medieval-themed, but that’s all for now! If I showed you the drawing now, I’d rob you of the opportunity to see if it works for you AND keep you from the experience students have in this.

Prep at home: Make copies of what you want students to draw. (I include a link of the original drawing at the end). But I suggest one modification. Especially if you have older, returning students, they expect to get an upside-down drawing. If I can get away with it, I won’t even let them know it’s upside down. (One year, I gave them a drawing that was sideways, to mes with their expectations–which is the point).

The entire idea of the exercise is to trick the brain to see merely lines and shapes–and not get distracted by complex images of real life that may intimidate. The attempt is lost if kids can flip the drawing around.

Problem: returning students know to expect this “trick,” so it’s hard to let the trick work its magic. Some get stubborn and don’t even want to try it upside down. Others will try, but keep craning their heads and bodies to keep seeing the drawing right-side-up, and it all results in really funny drawings that didn’t help the students in the least!

So to try to preserve the intent of the exercise by trying to preserve a mystery, I tape construction paper over part of the drawing. For this exercise, I divided the drawing into four parts by drawing faint lines across the page in 3 places. What my students get is just one section at a time visible, the rest covered by thick, opaque paper. My goal this year (with some of my masters students new to CC) is to let them know only that it is a mystery–we will do only a part at a time, uncovering the next section  only when we’re done with one.

Step #1. Pass out to students the drawing, covered with construction paper for all but the top section of the page (which is in fact the bottom of the drawing.) Of course they will try to guess what it is. Is that middle shape some kind of writing utensil or paint brush? And the one next to it, perhaps a paint brush’s end? And the first–some kind of contraption with a bird beak?

knight  drawing week 3 cc covered 1 001

I ask students to trace the basic shapes they see directly onto the paper, as I introduced in the OiLs lesson 1. I see ovals, triangles–and even a pentagon as the top of the central figure.

knight drawing week 3 cc tracing 1 001

Step # 2. On a blank sheet of paper you have handed out, ask the student to transfer their basic shapes to it. Remind them they can measure the sizes of these basic shapes–and measure the size of the blank spaces separating them, the skill we learned last week.

This year, I will try, for the first time, live drawing on the board. I did it for History Camp this summer and it worked well and added an element that the students benefited from: watching what I do rather than the copies of what I have done. Anything they see me correct will teach them more than my doing it perfectly.

knight drawing week 3 cc sketch 1 001

Step #3. As you might expect, before refining that sketch or adding details, we need to get down the whole form. Now you or a parent helper can carefully move the taped construction paper down to the next faint pencil line that bisects the paper in half. Now the students should trace the basic shapes on the black-line drawing for section #2.

knight drawing week 3 cc tracing 2 001

Now more is revealed and many students may guess what the image is. But hopefully, the mystery remained long enough to help them through, perhaps, one of the parts most people consider the hardest: that one foot!

We can tell ourselves, “I cannot draw a foot from the front-view,” (the foreshortened view). And that’s because we can look at a foot like this and panic, because it looks so hard. Instead of seeing the shape it makes in space, we can get befuddled, not trusting what we see, but what we think we know: feet are long and thin. No way can a foot really take the shape of a lumpy potato, turnip or pentagon! (And yet, this is really true! Our minds just often cannot see the TRUTH because of what we are sure we know.)

Step #4. Transfer the basic shapes to other paper. Again, measure when necessary to see ho wide nad long shapes are. Keep the lines light and meandering until you find the right shape.

knight drawing week 3 cc drawing 2 001

Step #5. Parent or tutor move the paper down to the next line, and ask students to trace the basic shapes on the original drawing.

knight drawing week 3 cc tracing 3 001

Step # 6. transfer basic shapes to other paper. Parts of these arms intimidate many people, so hopefully having to break the shapes of the armor down to the rectangles and half-moon shapes will distract them from what they think the shape of arms should look like!

knight drawing week 3 cc drawing 3 001

Step # 7. Ok, finally! Take the paper off, revealing the rest of the drawing! Trace basic shapes on that section.

knight drawing week 3 cc tracing 4 001

Step #8. Transfer basic shapes to other paper.

knight drawing week 3 cc drawing 4 001

Step # 9. This is a preference, but at this point, you may want to tell you kids they can turn the drawings right-side up. I prefer to turn the drawing right-side-up before adding details. WHy? Because upside-down, I think things look pretty good. Time to turn it right-side up…

My knight kept getting wider and taller the more of him I drew! (I stopped measuring and tried to eye-ball it. Sometimes, I can be accurate, but other times, not so much.) I see the slant of the sword is different, his chest and neck are rather wide, and his head slants back. So I am glad I did not finish with the details–many would need to be erased! Going back and forth between upside-down or right-side-up, whichever helps me the most, I go back and erase much of the sword and the arm on the left and try to thin his torso and fix his head. Below are my corrections after erasing:

knight drawing week 3 cc drawing 4 corrected 001 Ok,that’s better. You may see scant remnants of my erased marks around his elbow. I moved some things in. It’s not perfect–the other arm is a bit too wide as well, but at least he looks like a knight in correct proportion!.

Step #10. Now ask studnets to erase lines they don’t want to keep, refine the ones left, and add details for the finish!

knight drawing week 3 cc final details 001

Sorry this drawing is smaller. For all previous stages, I had access to a photocopier to make things larger, but by the time I finished, I no longer had access to that kind of photocopier.

You may find this is more than enough to occupy your students. But in case someone does finish early, or someone wants more of a challenge to complete at home, there are details I didn’t even provide the students with. The drawing I found online here featured more details, such as links in the chain-mail. I could show my students that drawing if they wanted to add further details. Or I could email it to parents in my weekly email.

The reason I didn’t start students with that drawing is two-fold: 1) It printed out as fuzzy, not crisp as it looked on the screen. Plus it had too many details that I was concerned would distract the students. But I liked it better than other choices because it is really historically accurate.

And so, I decided to use the picture by tracing it with a sharpie in order to get crisp lines and skip some details. Below is the full-sized modified drawing that I used; you may possibly see the faint pencil lines I drew across the knees, waist and chest to divide it in four parts. I think if you right-click on it, you should be able to copy the image and paste it into a Word document. If someone finds another way to capture and print this, please let us all know in the comments. Writing up art lessons is new for me.

(Post-class reflections at end.)

knight drawing week 3 cc real 001

Post-class reflections:

What my class drew evidenced that they just were not simplifying the image enough. Despite the amount of details I excised from this drawing, they mostly still focused on details–leaving me to think, how can I teach this better??

This is my hardest lesson to simplify and find images for. For the past two years, I’ve though I’d simplified the original enough, and then wished I’d found something even simpler.  I think my class this year would have done better–and gotten further–if I’d done one thing explicitly: shown them my “basic shapes” drawing FIRST, before letting them loose to do that step on their own. I needed to ask them what they saw in mine and see how simple it was. Even me drawing on the board with them was just too late for them to see a demonstration of the goal.

The key in this task is teaching then to get the basic shapes down, fast and loose–the whole form quick, so that then they can go back and refine the rest.

As it was, hardly anyone even got the entire length of the body on paper before class was over. Their beginnings were too specific and slow for them to get very far. A couple were very detailed, despite repeated encouragements from me to wait for the details!

Next time I teach this task, I will give considerable thought for how to approach this to better get the desired result of a quick basic shapes drawing, toe to head–with enough time left to go back for details!



Other resources for drawing lessons:

OiLs Lesson 1: How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations

Mirror Image Lion Drawing: Week Two, Classical Conversations



About Renee Lannan's blog

I live, write, teach and enjoy life from a place of hope and a belief in miracles from seeing first-hand the depths of redemption
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9 Responses to Medieval-themed Upside-down Drawing: Week 3, Classical Conversations

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  5. Elizabeth Ly says:

    Thanks! I always struggle with the fine arts portion.

    • Renee Lannan's blog says:

      Elizabeth, glad to help in things where I can! God gave me this passion an I like to share it with others, students and tutors alike!

  6. warrickfam says:

    The link to the original drawing at the end goes to a “URL server not found” page. Could you check the link source? Thanks for all these lessons–they are so perfect for my class and for me, in my 4th year tutoring, to have fresh ideas and perspective.

    • Renee Lannan's blog says:

      The drawing at the end is my own drawing, and it’s not online. To print it, right click on it and choose “copy.” Copy it into a Word doc, then print it. I hope that clarifies! I am glad this has helped you have fresh new ideas!

    • Renee Lannan's blog says:

      I am so sorry I never even saw this comment until now! The original drawing at the end is not located online. you can, however, print it by right-clicking on the image, then selecting “copy.” You can then press “control” and C” to copy it into a blank document. I’m sorry this is weeks past your asking!

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