Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

Keep reading for step-by-step instructions to draw a Narnian centaur using the OiLs method, aimed at Masters level students (ages 10-11).

This is my first art lesson on the first day of class to new students, so how do I start? How do I talk about drawing and art with my students–especially when I don’t know what baggage or beliefs about their abilities they may carry with them? To read how I introduce this unit, read How I Talk to My Students About Drawing on Day 1.


I chose the centaur this for week one because I’d met my students at orientation and learned how many of them loved the Narnia stories. I found the original drawing here.


Step #1. Every student gets a copy of this coloring page, and I explain that we are doing only the centaur–to ignore all else on the page for the lesson. First, I ask students to take their pencils and trace the “OiLs”: any circles, straight lines, dots, angled lines and squiggly lines–directly on the drawing. This is basic stuff I know they know; easy. Kids in this program have been taught these basics from Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes each year. But this may be the first time someone asked them to not just look for the basic shapes but also to trace them directly on the image.

Step #2. Then we take it the OiLs concept to the next logical step. I draw basic geometric shapes on the board: triangles, rectangles, etc. I show them how those shapes are made out of OiLs shapes–how merely putting angled lines together gives us triangles, rectangles, etc.

I ask the students to look at the centaur and find any basic geometric shapes lurking behind the lines. I ask them to trace/outline what they see on their paper. I do that to my paper as they do, and then I show them mine. (Some REALLY need to see mine; it can be an abstract concept, like looking for shapes in clouds.) I point out how I see the hands as circles, the legs and arms as variations of circles, ovals and squares, how I see the torso as as a trapezoid sitting on top of a slanted triangle.

centaur shapes tracing 001

Now, my way of breaking up the body into basic geometric shapes is not the only way–students may break the form up differently, because there is no one correct interpretation! Step 2 is complete when the ENTIRE centaur is carved up into basic shapes.

TIP: I’ve found by now that this is a crucial lesson with new students whose capabilities you do not yet know. To avoid this lesson falling flat, I do suggest walking through this as a group. Instead of saying “Everyone trace the shapes you see,” as I did my first two years tutoring, might I suggest being more specific. “Everyone, let’s see what you can do with those legs. What shapes do you see making up the hooves, the calves, knees, thighs?” I’d then show mine and check students. Catch early if someone is not getting it. Skipping this step leads to later steps being impossible. Then I’d have the class, as a group, move to the next part of the body until all portions of the form have been traced on.

THIS is THE skill for this week–spend the most time here for the biggest fruit for the unit! 

Step #3. Next, I hand every student a blank sheet of paper. I ask students if they are capable of copying one of their circles or triangles or rectangles from the body of the centaur–and they smile or laugh! Of course they can! This is it, at its most basic level: breaking down complex shapes into simple ones, and copying those simple shapes.

centaur 1 001

I aim to do step 3 live, on the board for them, in marker. I used to not do that, showing them only my sketch done previously.  I taught the History Camp for practicum last summer and tried out a drawing lesson this way, and I think it is most effective. Students got to see me do it in real time–and most importantly, they got to see not just my finished product, but all the lines I didn’t keep. They saw how the knight I drew from a Prescripts illustration had one leg longer than the other and his neck and head too far to one side. They got to see how I navigated making corrections. They got to see that someone really good at drawing is still making many changes!

I want to model that drawing is a practice–not a performance. This is both good for novice drawers as well as those who identify themselves as artistic. The latter group especially needs the freedom to see a drawing class among peers as a place to try new ways and practice–rather than always performing and proving and protecting their identity as “artist.” It is hard for such students to follow instructions and try something new; they can feel they have a lot to lose if their first attempt isn’t brilliant. A tutor/teacher who can show the vulnerability to practice on the board and show the whole journey to a good drawing–incorrect, erased lines and all–gives more to his/her class than the tutor who shows a perfect, polished example.

Tips: This is a sketch! Draw lightly, and meander into the best/correct shape. Take a look at just one oval I drew. How many ovals did I draw on top of each other, around and around, feeling out the space until I settled on the one I felt was the right size and shape? 3-10? Yep–we’re just testing things out, drawing lightly, warming up.

Also, note that some students will find this lesson frustrating. Particularly ones like my son whom I taught in class last year, who may feel they are good at drawing and don’t want to be bothered with this step! You may have many students who have their own way of approaching a drawing and want to continue in it. They have habits already–they want to start with the eyes and eyelashes and work their way down the rest of the page, detail by detail. They may want to do details first or to always completely draw the head before even sketching anything else.

My son is a perfect example of this. He taught himself to draw his way, and that is a strength–but also a weakness. And I find students who get that head just right and then realize they drew it too far to the left, or at the wrong angle, to get it to match up with the body. And then they do not want to erase their wonderful details in order to re-capture the integrity of the over-all shape. Therefore, their final product has some great details but over-all looks wonky or out of proportion. And so I encourage all students to humor me and get the basic shapes down before they do any details!


Step #4.  Then we get to the part of refining the contours of the shapes. Start anywhere–say the backbone or the arm. Using the basic geometric shapes as a guide, and observing the original drawing closely, draw lines to form the outer contours of the arm, complete with the pieces of armor. The basic geometric shapes can be erased when they are no longer needed as a guide. You can see from my example how two steps of the drawing are still evident. Now I can feel free to erase my guiding shapes.

centaur 2 001


Step #5. Now it’s finally time for all those details! Eyelashes. Buckle. Hair. Nostril, etc.

Unfortunately, the length of our class is not long enough for most students to complete a polished drawing with every detail. Remind them, this is merely practice. I encourage my students to finish their drawings at home and bring them back to class the next week. And some have done so, and I have seen that inspire others.

Thankfully, this is week #1 in CC, and there is not much material to review for the review portion of the class, so that if you need a little more time complete this lesson, it’s possible. In my plans, this is my template for each week. We will add other skills in, but each week, I have my students repeat these same steps. Week 1 with extra time is a good way to lay the groundwork well.

For another idea that works well with week 1, due to the extra wiggle room, check out Drawing Demystified’s lesson 1 idea of doing a baseline drawing in week 1–so that at week 6, students can draw the same image again and see with their own eyes how differently they have learned to approach their drawing tasks. I did this last year and loved it–It was amazing to see the student progress, comparing apples to apples. So the art time looked like this: Without much intro, let students choose a coloring page of the choices you bring in, and give them ten minutes to copy the image onto a blank sheet of paper. (You want these options to be the same images you want them to choose from for the week 6 project.) Collect them and explain that at the end of the 6-weeks drawing unit, they will get them back to compare. Then I launched into the week 1 drawing lesson above and gave it its full 30 minutes. (Again, because it’s week 1, I’m borrowing that extra 10-15 minutes from review since there is so little to do in that department.)

For another Week 1 drawing lesson, here is one of a horse I did for cycle 2. It could easily be used to fit the theme of Cycle 3 American history if that’s what you’re looking for, or Cycle 1 Ancient History:

Other blogs:

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

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Summer Conundrum: Never Enough Time For All the Things





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
This entry was posted in art lesson, homeschooling, teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

  1. Pingback: Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4 | Renee Lannan's blog

  2. Pingback: 3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well) | Renee Lannan's blog

  3. Pingback: Week 6 “Final Project” Drawing Lesson: Character and Landscape | Renee Lannan's blog

  4. Pingback: Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses | Renee Lannan's blog

  5. Pingback: Norman Rockwell lesson | Renee Erin's blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s