Shadow Drawings

(Inspired by my first assignment in intro to design in college.)

Materials: Paper, pencil, objects that your kids think might cast interesting shadows, desk lamp

The idea here is to use objects to cast a shadow on  your paper, then trace that shadow in order to fill the paper with an interesting design.

Colanders make very interesting shadows. Shortly after he began working, V, age nine, observed, “Depending on different perspectives of shadow, some things appear bigger and some appear smaller.”

I showed the boys my series of assignments from 1997 (I even knew right where to find them! crazy, I know), but that didn’t necessarily help them envision the process. My six-year-old got very frustrated at first. Instead of adjusting the lamp and object to cast a strong shadow to trace, he instead held up the object and drew what he thought the shadow should look like rather than the shadow itself.

So we stepped back a bit and I demonstrated by positioning an object–in this case one of the structures I built with wood shapes the other day–so that its shadow was clearly cast on the paper. I pointed out how the shadow didn’t look anything like what I’d expect, given the shape of the object, and then I traced it. I moved the paper and the object and traced again, and again, and again.

So sorry that photo is hard to see–but you get the idea that eventually, the paper is filled with abstract lines and shapes. After I did this, and we switched to smaller paper, N had an easier time and quite liked the process.

N’s is to the left, V’s to the right. When we were done, N and I began to add some color to our designs. With all those shapes, that’s quite a long process, and as I type, he’s not done yet, but mine is below, to give you an idea of it all.

I think we’ll revisit this activity, now that the boys have had a first attempt at it. I remember my very first attempt was terrible, a clump of shapes in the middle of the paper, but after a while, something clicked and I began to see how shape and line worked across the space.

It’s a very freeing activity, in a way, because part of it is clearly defined–you’re not coming up with something out of your head, you’re using the shadows you see right in front of you. And yet depending upon the object, whether you repeat one object or mix objects, and how you move the lamp and paper, the possibilities are endless.

6 thoughts on “Shadow Drawings

  1. Rachelle

    It’s like riding a bike — you introduce children to an idea and then it takes a while before they figure out how to pick up their feet and pedal. I see this all the time in our studio, which is why we often work on the same activity for multiple days and/or revisit activities at a later time. The brewing period seems to help solidify ideas and open up the mind to multiple possibilities.

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