My Nephew JACK was 6 years old when he drew this pin-up of Rocket Rabbit, which he gave me while I visited his family in Maryland last year. It beats the hell out of any drawing I did at a similar age, and I can make the comparison because I still have a few of the pictures I drew when I was very little, although the paper they were drawn on is now brown with age.
Sometimes, people who don’t draw ask me “When did you start drawing?” In answer, I usually ask “When did you stop?” because every child draws. I just happen to be one of those who never stopped.
I believe that in MOST cases, the amount of time a child spends drawing, and more importantly enjoying drawing, is the key to artistic ability, rather than innate talent. Whether a child enjoys drawing enough to stay with it is not necessarily tied to their ability, at least in the beginning.
When looking at drawings by a group of 4 and 5 year olds, it is hard to predict which of the kids will become artists in future, and which will become accountants. In fact, the weaker drawings may actually be drawn by the kids who DO become artists later in life.
At around age 8 or 9, the difference in artistic ability becomes more obvious. This is when many children become frustrated at not being able to make their drawings look “real” and abandon drawing. Those who enjoy it, despite the frustration, keep drawing and the extra time spent scribbling makes a difference that you can see.
There are powerful reasons for children to move away from expressing themselves with pictures at that age. Consider that when we learn to read we move from picture books, to picture books with some words, then to novels with spot illustrations, and finally to books that are all text with no pictures at all. Thus, we are culturally conditioned to associate pictures with childhood and immaturity. Children are very concerned with “growing up” and so abandoning drawing can be a self conscious attempt to leave “childish” things behind.
The fact that our education system doesn’t place much importance on visual skills beyond kindergarten is another reason that many children give up drawing. At a similar age, we are being awarded prizes for academic and athletic achievement, so improvement in those areas (and overcoming the frustrations of your limitations) is rewarded. In my experience that was not the case with drawing, where the rewards were all purely personal.
On the other hand, the fact that drawing skill was not rewarded, or even acknowledged by “the system” was a large part of its appeal to me as a child. Making pictures was the only thing that gave me pleasure that wasn’t contingent on the opinions of team members, class mates or teachers. After about the age of 10, none of my other classmates drew, so it wasn’t a question of competing or being compared to anyone else. Drawing was something that I could do on my own, free from the judgements of others.
These days I draw to earn a living, rather than solely to amuse myself, as was the case when I was growing up. Sometimes it is hard to summon up that spirit of pure joy that drawing gave me as a child because my drawings are now tied to budgets and schedules, and bills, and generally bogged down in other mundane things… yes, even including the judgements of others that I was blissfully spared as a kid… But I think that my best work comes on those days when I can somehow find that childish attitude and pour it into a picture.