Draw Your Way into the Woods by Courtney Sanford is a book containing a series of 24 art lessons inspired by poetry and art that reflect the “into the woods” theme. It should be useful for students in fourth grade and above who have some experience in accurately copying or drawing what they see. Younger and less-experienced students might work under the direction of a teacher, while others can work independently. The course is also suitable for adults. A live, online course is also available, which should be helpful for parents who don’t have time to work with their children.
While the course was written for Christian students, the Christian content is very minimal; I spotted references to God in only the first lesson and two of the poems.
Students will need a mixed-media art journal, a #2 pencil (although having a set of drawing pencils of various hardness is helpful), charcoal or a black colored pencil, blending tools, erasers, a watercolor set, Crayola® Markers (basic colors and pastels), brushes, a felt tip pen (fine, black), colored pencils (or watercolor pencils), tracing paper, and other household items, such as a ruler and scissors.
The course is arranged in four parts titled:
- Basics of Drawing
- Drawing and Intro to Color
- More Drawing Techniques
- Getting Creative
The first two pages of each lesson feature a reproduction of an artwork and a poem that introduce the theme and sometimes the subject matter. Students should read the poem before beginning the lesson, although the lesson isn’t dependent upon it. (You might have students use the poems for copywork.) The artwork images, on the other hand, are often referenced within the lessons.
The primary emphasis is on developing drawing skills, but students also learn to work with other media, which adds even more variety. The instructions encourage students to make some of their own decisions about details to add and the use of color to personalize their work. At the end of many of the lessons are suggestions for additional practice and extension activities.
I’ll describe the first lesson to give you an idea of how the lessons work. The lesson begins with a reproduction of the painting Brittany Landscape by Bolton Jones and Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees.” Beneath the poem is the scientific observation that there are “currently 60,065 known tree species. Brazil, Columbia, and Indonesia have the highest totals for native tree species.” (A scientific comment is included in each lesson.)
The drawing instruction is prefaced with the author’s brief observations about how trees function, internally and within their environments, as well as how their wood is used.
The art instruction itself focuses first on drawing the trunk and branches of a tree, referring to the art image as an example. Students learn to shade and add shadows according to the direction from which the light comes. Next, they add leaves to their tree, either sketching them in or drawing with more detail. Students then draw a horizon line and add other details as they wish. Adding color with pencils or markers is optional. A suggestion for extra practice tells students to observe and try to draw trees with other shapes.
The lessons gradually become more complex. For instance, the next lesson has students draw both a caterpillar and a butterfly. In other lessons, students will learn to draw flowers, leaves, rabbits, wind-blown trees, snails, frogs, landscapes, spider webs, a chameleon, bears, a rhinoceros, a fox, birds, a bird nest, bees, an owl, a house, a human face, and human bodies in movement.
Through the interesting assortment of lessons, students also learn skills such as watercolor techniques, how to identify the basic shapes within figures, how to add texture, and how to create the appearance of depth.
Draw Your Way into the Woods provides a gradual progression of lessons that should be easy for older students to work through on their own and for younger students to learn with guidance.