Materials: Drawing paper; various drawing materials, all black (eg: charcoal sticks, vine charcoal, charcoal pencils, black conte crayons, graphite); some round things
I limited this to black and white to provide focus. Color is wonderful, but it can be hard to focus on line, or shape, or anything else, really, when color comes into play. Mostly I wanted the kids to explore the different materials, and the round things were there to provide something to look at, a starting-off point. They could easily be square, or triangular, or tall and straight. Just as long as there’s not too many of whatever it is.
The boys chose some charcoal to start with and set to. My older son decided to draw what he saw.
My younger son complained a few times that he thought we’d be doing a project (by which I think he meant, where is the thing I’m going to make? What am I supposed to do here?). Both boys pressed the charcoal quite hard, and I suggested they see what the material could do—Look, I said, as I drew on my paper, it can be dark, or light. You can shade with it. When it gets all over your fingers, you can create a filled-in spot with just the dust on your finger.
My older son began with a methodical experimentation of the various materials, discovering how charcoal was different from conte crayon was different from graphite. An artist doesn’t know the best tool for the job until he’s gotten a chance to experiment. As the boys worked, I drew, too, circles of different sizes, very loose, just playing with the black and grey, the positive and negative space.
My older son noticed, and his own drawings got looser as he went on. “I’m sort of copying you,” he said. “There isn’t any copying in art,” I told him. “We just inspire each other, that’s all.” My younger son got interested in how the charcoal smudged, and all the dust it created.
I’d set up black paint at the easel for my two-year-old, but once she was done she wanted to draw like her brothers, and then the boys wanted to paint. I think the attentions get split a little that way, and you might want to leave that out. A toddler is not too young to explore a charcoal pencil.
(She found a piece of sponge on the table and decided to see what would happen if she rubbed it on her drawing.)
Charcoal can get messy, but it’s nothing soap and water can’t handle. Our art table surface is melamine, which wipes up incredibly easily. If you’re concerned about your work surface, cover the table—even large sheets of newsprint taped to cover the area will work.
In the series of drawings each boy did, it’s easy to track their experimentation and their increasing comfort level with the materials.