This is a short, energetic, drawing exercise using charcoal. It
is intended to foster confidence, dexterity and fun. It creates
trust in the creative process and in the child’s individual approach to a simple creative task.
The circle is an instinctive and easily drawn shape which
encourages fluidity and, through repetition, overcomes drawing inhibitions.
Children will make a variety of lines and marks from the
wobbly, light, graceful or bold. They will draw in all sizes,
thicknesses and be hesitant at times. Praise all of these as
unique ways of drawing so that children can learn from each
other’s marks.Project aim:
to let children experiment and become familiar with charcoal. To
enable children to understand line, light and shade. To develop students’ drawing
skills, helping them to make a tonal chart from black through greys to white. To
encourage children to use an eraser to draw light. To find new and unexpected
ways to draw, and talk about them.
Duration: 60 minutes
Suitability: Appropriate for all class levels.
-Charcoal, eraser, kitchen roll and A3 paper.
-Torch, polystyrene ball.
-History: This provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss
the circle in nature, art and invention. For example the story
of the wheel across different civilizations. Also, the symbolic
meaning and uses of the circle – mandalas, etc.
-S.P.H.E: This exercise helps children develop self-awareness, recognise their individual abilities and cope with
- For groups of more than ten, ideally have an assistant to
monitor progress and guide children one to one.
- Call out instructions and respond to results as they happen, respond to marks as they are found in order to discover more and varied marks. When giving instructions use
adjectives such as: ‘Softer, lighter, darker, stronger, gentle,
heavy, quiet, loud...’ in order for children to find new ways
- Patterns of behaviour emerge through drawing circles –
nervous participants may make tentative stuttering circles,
these can be overcome by encouragement.
Someone overly-cautious may draw a series of small,
careful circles. A confident child will often draw a large bold
circle. A sensitive child may make delicate lines, encourage
these, and also their opposite.
An excited child will draw quickly and get bored rapidly.
Ask this child to breathe, to slow down, to draw slowly. This
calms the child and allows them to harness their excitability,
while grounding them. If they are not grounded, they may
disrupt the other children and / or lose their own focus.
If this happens, pause the exercise and ask all children to
close their eyes and breathe. Explain that drawing begins
with the heart - through breathing. From here it moves to
the mind to instruct, and to the shoulder, from there to the
elbow, from here to wrist, now to hand, now fingers.
- Through looking at their drawings teachers can observe
what each child needs and how they respond to instruction.
Adapt your language to aid clear communication with each.
The circle exercise requires the facilitator to pay attention to the actions and responses of the child:
Child is hesitant, encourage child to draw a wider circle. Person is over excited, will
draw lots of circles over each other, encourage to breathe and slow down. Participant’s hand or wrist is tense, encourage to loosen their grip.
- To enable group fun and make the exercise part of ‘play’,
ask children to draw a circle in the air. Shake out hands and
arms, wiggle the fingers, draw a circle in the air with your
Tap your foot in time to a 4/4 beat. Call out this beat and
explain drawing has a rhythm. Follow this with clapping.
Interrupt circle drawing with these physical fun exercises so
that children are less self-conscious of their drawing, and so
they draw naturally and instinctively.
To draw and think we must breathe. Compare drawing to
a sport: practice improves our skills. Use this lesson as a
guide and be willing to improvise.
See charcoal drawings by Michael Wann
David Begley - Breathe, charcoal animation 2014
Warm-up and introduction: 10 minutes
- Introduce lesson as a fun drawin g exercise to warm-up the
- Give each child 2 sheets of A3 cartridge paper, 1 sheet of
good quality A3 drawing paper charcoal, eraser and tissue.
Use front and back of paper.
- Ask pupils to follow your instructions as quickly as possible. There is no right or wrong response.
- Ask students to draw a big circle on the 1st sheet of cartridge“Draw a circle as big as you like. Do it again. Bigger.
Faster. Faster!” Walk around class as you instruct. Hold up
children’s drawings as examples so that children discover
from each other. Continue for 5 minutes. Notice and celebrate all the variants of circles.
Development: 40 minutes
- Invite everyone to stand up. Ask them to draw a circle in
the air. And again, slowly. Now with Both hands. Ask them
to shake their hands, now elbows. Then to shake a leg.
Expand on these physical exercises, encourage laughter!
Demonstrate how to hold charcoal freely, like a drumstick.
Drawing is not hand writing – we need the freedom of our
shoulders, elbows and wrists to move.
- Ask students to turn paper over. Ask them to draw a circle,
then to wipe out their circles with their hand. Then to draw
another circle on the same page. Repeat. Patterns will soon
emerge: small careful circles, large ovals, round ones etc.
Ask children to hold their drawings up for the class. Let
everyone see. Notice how everyone’s circle is different.
- Ask children to wipe out their circles with their hand. Ask
them to draw a circle with their eyes closed. Repeat. Most
or many of the children’s circles will be more fluid, natural,
more circular. Praise them. Let the children know they can
all draw in their own way. We all have a natural ability to
draw. When we allow ourselves to draw, we can.
- Advice children to take the 2nd sheet of cartridge. Ask
them to draw a circle with the hand they were not using be-
fore, then swap hands. Repeat. There is no right or wrong.
Now anti-clockwise. Repeat. Wipe out. Repeat. Repetition
creates textures on children’s pages and may for some,
- Notice any unusual ‘accidental’ marks made by children
caused by scratchy charcoal, fingerprints, smudges etc.
Announce, praise and show these to class as they appear.
[...] then swap hands. Repeat. There is no right or wrong.
Now anti-clockwise. Repeat. Wipe out. Repeat...
Pin up discoveries as they happen. Ask children to make as
many new marks as possible on their sheets.
- Ask students to use the 3rd sheet (Good quality A3 drawing paper) and write their name at the bottom of the page
using an eraser. Then ask them to rub over the letters with
dirty fingers until their name appears. Children will learn
that the eraser leaves a rubber skin on the paper and that
this can be used to make deeper blacks.
- Invite pupils to fill the page with circles. Ask them to wipe
out with tissue, leaving the paper grey. On this grey background invite them to make lines, any length or thickness.
Ask to wipe out with tissue and repeat. Highlight the importance of making sure the entire page is grey – they can use
their hand or tissue. Ask them to then erase the top third
of page to white. Blacken bottom third. Now they will have
white, grey and black.
- Ask them to stop drawing, then explain that to make black
they have to cover area in charcoal then smudge to make
grey, and cover again.
- To make white they need to rub out. Erasers are used to
- Explain tone.
Demonstration of light and shadow
- Darken the room. Shine a torch on a large polystyrene ball
in order to demonstrate light and shadow. Anything closest to the light will be brightest, furthest will be in shadow.
Discuss light, grey and black on the ball.
- Draw a line down the left side of your three toned A3
sheet, about 8cm from the paper edge. Divide this left edge
into six boxes. Starting with black at the bottom, make 5
grades of tone, from black to white. Mid grey in the middle.
Now ask the children to blacken in the rest of the paper.
- Congratulate children on their discoveries. Encourage
children to discuss what they’ve learned and how they might
use these marks to create an imaginative composition.
Possible image to inspire: James Arthur O’Connor’s The
- Ask children to create a scene which includes a full moon,
using their textured paper. Explain how below the moon
there might be a sea, land, or island. Encourage them to
imagine how the light of the moon will create light and shadow on the elements below. Explain that as drawings evolve,
they can add stars, clouds, a comet, mountains, trees,
buildings, animals, etc. Drawings should include black, grey
- Instruct pupils to begin by leaving tonal charts on the left
of the page and using an eraser to rub out light, then ask
them to draw a full moon any size anywhere on their paper.
Conclusion: 10 minutes
- Invite children to clean up the space and hang up their
drawings. Wash hands and faces. Ask children to close their
eyes and breathe. Take time to discuss the exercise and
reflect on what was achieved.
- Photograph a selection of works and use these images
other sessions to discuss mark-making discoveries. Do this
every session, making sure to encourage and rotate sample
images so that all children are featured in presentations.