Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

The biggest impediment to drawing is our assumptions. We often miss the actual size or shape of a line or area because we get stuck or intimidated about what we think it should look like.

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.  Here is my lesson for week 3, Upside-down drawing, for Classical Conversations. I did this in cycle 3 for a class of Masters students (ages 9-12) who really were into the subject matter of the drawing.

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. 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 #1 at home: Make copies of what you want students to draw. Especially if you have older, returning students, they expect to get an upside-down drawing. 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 show that the lesson didn’t help the students in the least! (Because they weren’t game for giving it a shot.)

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 three parts by drawing faint lines across the page in 2 places. What my students get is just one section at a time visible, the rest covered by construction paper.

Prep #2: At the end of this post, you can see my original and where I drew the lines to divide it into thirds. To make this go faster in class, I suggest that you also draw, at home, the lines on the blank sheet of paper the students will draw on. Easiest way: lay the original lion with its dividing pencil lines on a surface. Lay a blank sheet right next to it. On the blank paper, make a dot right next to the end of the lines on the original drawing. To get the dot on the other side of the blank paper, move the ion drawing to the other side, line up again, right next to each other, and draw the dots on the blank paper right next to where the dividing lines begin on the original. Last, take a ruler and connect those pairs of dots across the paper. You’ll end up with the blank paper divided exactly as the original drawing. (Students CAN do this with instruction, but I wanted to use the time for drawing.)

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. Some may guess correctly, but I say nothing to affirm or deny.

I ask students to trace the basic shapes (and the simple geometric shapes they compose) they see directly onto the paper, as I instructed in the OiLs lesson 1. This is fast and loose–not painstaking and exact. I found a lot of ovals in this and some great, curvy lines, and a triangle. Other s may see the shapes differently, and that’s ok.

lion top tracing 001 (2)


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.

As they draw, I model this on the board, drawing with a marker on the white board to transfer the basic shapes I traced onto my original. I make a point to show that I draw multiple ovals in one space, until i get the shape right. I don’t bother to erase the light lines of the “drafts”–that’s for later. This is meant to be done fast and loose, drawing lightly until we’re sure.

lion top basic shapes drawing 001 (2)

Step #3. This looks really, simple. Really, really basic. Good–that’s the goal. 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.

lion middle tracing 001 (2)

Now more is revealed and many students may have no doubt what the image is. But hopefully, the mystery remained long enough to help them see it differently.

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

lion middle basic shapes drawing 001

Step #5. Ok, finally! Take the paper off, revealing the rest of the drawing! Trace basic shapes on that section.

lion bottom tracing 001 (2)

Step # 6. transfer basic shapes to other paper. Such an unusual view of the face can intimidate people, so hopefully having to break the shapes down to the rectangles and triangles will help them see the REAL shape of the face!

lion bottom basic shapes drawing 001 (2)


Step # 7. This is a preference, but at this point, you may want to tell you kids they can turn the drawings right-side up. (And they’ve all noticed this drawing was on its side–not upside down. Such is my tactic for returning students who expect somthing upside-down; I just gave them the drawing oriented a different way.)

I prefer to turn the drawing right-side-up before adding details. Why? Because we’ve recorded the basic proportions and shapes–the part that tricks us.

lion bottom details 001 (2)

Step #8 Now ask students to refine their lines by carefully looking at the original again. They should erase ones they don’t want to keep. You may still see ghosts of erased lines on my drawing. Last, add in all the details: eyes, foot pads, detailed lines of the mane, etc.

Post-class reflections:


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.

Some students struggled because they couldn’t resist working on details, despite repeated encouragements from me to wait for the details! The problem was they ran out of time to get the whole form down and in proportion.


I found the original as a coloring page online, but just now I cannot relocate it.

lion original 001 (2)

So your drawing could be Aslan, as it was for my Narnia-loving class, or just any lion. (It could go with cycle 1’s science taxonomy memory work.)

So for those of you who have tried this or another approach, what do you think are the keys for making this lesson successful? Share in the comments!



Other related posts:

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

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical ConversationsCreating an Encouraging Classroom

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)











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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