Psychologists have learned a great deal about how our minds function from the way we draw. They have evolved a number of tests, based on drawings, whereby they can discern quite clearly the problems of the people taking the tests and how they are trying to solve them. This is a comparatively new study and there is still a lot of work, and compiling to do, but many very interesting books have been written on the subject.

Naturally most of the work is done with children, who are not able to express themselves in words very coherently and find expression through drawing and painting the most satisfactory medium, because they can dominate it at once (unlike writing or music) and have no complexes about whether their pictures are good or bad. Thousands of children’s drawings have been studied and psychologists now realize that they have certain meanings which reveal their desires, problems, needs and anxieties, usually deeply veiled in their subconscious.

A child who draws very small pictures with a great deal of space all around his figures shows that he finds his world very big and overwhelming. If a child draws near the left hand side of the page, he or she is likely to be very timid and insecure.

Normally, children will draw their own sex larger than the opposite sex, but if they make a very marked difference or ridicule either sex in any way (say by drawing all men in shorts, or women with short hair and an angry face) then it means they fear and distrust someone of that sex.

Children often forget to put all the parts in a face but only children suffering from a deep emotional disturbance forget the mouth. Optimistic children draw large eyes. Very conceited children often draw enormous heads in their figures.

Depression and indecision in children might be shown if the arms of all figures hang down limply; or feeling guilty (about thoughts and feelings as much as actions) if they hide the hands of their figures in pockets or behind their backs.

Colour also plays an enormous part in how a child expresses himself subconsciously. Exclusive use of red means the child is experiencing a period of great emotions, either of joy or hostility.

Yellow means happiness, if a child chooses brown, black, greys or violets it is possible that they are feeling unhappy or fearful.

Too much use of blue often means anxiety, tension or fear.

If a child covers up his or her bright colours with blacks or violets it means the child is worrying about something.

A child who keeps its colours separate on the page and/or only uses a fraction of the space available denotes someone who feels either very lonely or controlled and who should be allowed more freedom and/or receive more attention and loving.

As an artist, specializing in portraits of children, I feel that all children should be given every opportunity to draw from the moment they can hold a pencil. First, from the point of view of getting rid of pent-up emotions, and second because of, as I said in the beginning, the right for every human being to express himself.

Children should really not be given colouring books. Instead they can be given sheets of paper and soft pencils or wax crayons with which to draw and colour. Tempera and paints too, every now and again, if their mother has time to supervise.

All teaching should in fact be done verbally and a mother, amid all her encouragement and enthusiasm can gently guide her children by bringing to their attention such details as proportion.

Very small children draw one thing after another very quickly, the last drawing forgotten almost as soon as the next one is started, they are not concerned with even creating a picture. Don’t worry about the incoherence, so long as their drawings are an inch and a half or more in size, spread all over the page, and once they have interpreted them to you, quite clearly, there is no need to say anything. But you can always encourage action and mental activity first by drawing the child’s attention to everything draw-able. How a leaf looks, how a simple flower is constructed. How figures look when running or kicking a ball. The pointy ears, four legs pointing down and the upright tail of a dog. How doors reach right down to the ground. How trees are usually bigger than houses and how houses are much bigger than the people beside them. What a sailing boat looks like, what a car looks like or a truck or a train. All in words. The child then forms word-pictures in his mind and recreates them from his own imagination. If possible he should observe but not copy other photographs or pictures.

As soon as children are old enough, about seven, they could be given larger sheets of better paper, tacked on the wall and several large paint brushes and tempera paints, once or twice a week they should be allowed to ‘paint’ to their hearts’ content (at least an hour). However, they should always paint every bit of their picture. It should always be completely painted everywhere and that is why having a parent or grandparent around at these sessions in order to control and encourage is best. Neither should they draw their pictures in pencil. They should draw them in yellow paint and paint all the parts which are flesh, (face, arms and legs etc.) in orange, in this way they will get into the habit of using bright, strong colours.

It is important that they should be shown how to hold a brush properly and paint with brush strokes and not bash the brush against the paper, thus breaking all the hairs.

Black and white should be used sparingly and usually at the end to add high lights or outlines if the drawing has become blurred in places. All the better pictures could be dated and kept in a special folder (named if you have several children).

Children should not be encouraged to trace and should never be unkindly criticized. Each picture should be treated seriously and attentively. In this way a child will feel that what he or she does is important to you and will take care to improve their work.

Suggestions on your part should not be too frequent, let them draw a certain subject several times before dropping a few hints on how it could be improved.

Another idea, but a rather messy one, is to have a large black-board and coloured chalks. Children adore this, it saves a lot on paper and teaches a child to draw large pictures and to create them vertically and not horizontally.

It is important to remember that our little children depend on us for every facet of their physical mental and spiritual lives. In thirty or forty years’ time we will be depending on them and will be reaping the harvest of our efforts. One must always remember that every word of encouragement and guidance, every good (or bad) example sinks down into our children’s minds and become seeds for their later development.

This is our responsibility to ourselves and to humanity, for the next generation has been entrusted to us. By using art in its fullest sense, I feel we can help children to develop into sensitive, appreciative, imaginative, interesting adults, well equipped to cope with the problems they will have to contend with.