How to encourage your kid to draw

How to encourage your kid to draw

even if you don’t know how yourself!

In Seattle, we are looking at another remote school year. Many parents I know are looking for fun, educational activities for their kids that are not on screens. Art is perfect because it is simply creative play that just so happens to touch on quite a bit of learning.

So, how do you encourage your child to draw? The short answer? You draw with them! It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Just keep it simple and fun. Read on for some tips from an art teacher …..

Direct drawing is the method that shows step by step how to draw something using simple shapes. There are lots of books and videos using direct drawing and it’s worth a search to find something that really sparks your child’s interest. (On that point, let them draw what they want!)

Instead of trying to guess what they are drawing, say something like, “Wow, you are putting in a lot of detail! Can you tell me about your drawing?” It’s discouraging when someone tries to guess what you are drawing, and guesses wrong. Creative process shut down. Art teachers all make that mistake exactly once and then never again try to guess what a student is drawing.

Half Skeletons by Tyler age 5

When my son showed me this drawing, I was thinking of surrealism and Salvador Dali’s melting clocks, but I’m glad I didn’t say that because my association has nothing to do with the artist’s intent. He was drawing half skeletons of a person, dog, and cat. Of course! Creepy, but cool.

If kiddo wants to draw something specific, put a picture in front of them. It’s really hard (even for artists!) to pull from memory what a warthog looks like. But if you look at a picture of a warthog, you can start to see the shapes and proportions. Looking at a picture is not cheating, it’s a visual reference.

Here Tyler is looking at a globe to draw the continents. I didn’t suggest that he use a globe – we’ve just been using visual references since he started drawing, so it has naturally become a part of his process.

Map of earth by Tyler age 5

When I’m drawing with children, I will sometimes intentionally make a “mistake” so that they can see how I work through it. I will say, “Oh, gosh, I made that circle too big. I accidentally drew Mercury bigger than Mars! What should I do?” And together, we brainstorm solutions to the problem. If I can’t erase it, I can make all the other circles bigger in comparison. I can paint over it. I can glue a small piece of paper over my circle and try again. I can turn it into a collage. What else can I try? My son loves to help me work through challenges in my artworks.

Solar System by Tyler age 5, acrylic on foam core

This is the hardest one: Do not say “I can’t draw.” Anyone who can hold a pencil can draw. You can say, “I would like to get better at drawing. The way to get better is to practice. I like making art with you. It’s fun!”

Pluto Will Not be Forgotten by Tyler age 5

In art education, we often say process over product. What this means is that the goal is not a beautiful product. The goal is to find that feeling of awe and wonder when you create.

Let go of perfection – it doesn’t matter what anyone’s artwork looks like. If you have fun, that’s what your child will remember.

“The Deep” at Hanson Scott Gallery

“The Deep” at Hanson Scott Gallery
May 7 – May 30
Join us for First Thursday Artwalk May 7, 5 – 8 pm

312 S. Washington St. Studio D
Seattle, WA 98104

Appell_Untitled_mixed media on canvas

“Untitled” by Nicole Appell, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 18″ x 24″


Woodblock collage workshop at Garden Essentia

Join us June 13 for another woodblock collage workshop!


June 13, 2015 1:00 – 3:00 pm
$35 Per Seat

Back by popular demand! Hurry – sign up quickly. The last class sold out! Register here

Join professional teaching artist Nicole Appell as we create a unique mixed media collage on a woodblock, using a variety of interesting papers, matte medium, and acrylic paints.

Inspired by the multi-layered approach that Nicole takes in her own work, participants will have the opportunity to explore colorful and patterned papers to be incorporated into their personal collages. Optional: If you have any special photographs or images from home that you would like to incorporate into your piece, please bring a copy.

There are no mistakes in this playful process. No experience is necessary. All Materials Provided.


“Our Community” at McClure Middle School
An Artist-in-Residence Program


Nicole Appell in collaboration with Carolyn Grane and 7th grade students at McClure
1915 1st Ave W Seattle WA 98119

2014 – 2015, Mixed media on plywood panels, 36″ x 184″

transcending the dreaded artist statement

birdframeIf making art isn’t hard enough, writing about it is even more difficult. I find the artist statement elusive and intimidating as I struggle to put into words the multitude of messages that can be read in layers of imagery.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, as I was writing my artist statement for the upcoming “Plumage” show, it launched my work in a new direction.  Usually it’s been the opposite for me.  I make the work, and then struggle to find words to describe it.  This time, I wrote first and created second.

At first, I was writing about some older pieces that I was thinking of showing, but then when the artist statement was complete, in addition to describing the earlier “blue” series, it was also describing some works that did not exist yet.  I’ve been in the studio every minute I can, ever since, trying to create what I can see in my imagination, what I feel in my heart.  The work is not there yet, but I am standing on the precipice of a new doorway, filled with light, exploring new themes such as landscape and surrealism, with all its’ inherent symbolism and layers of meaning.

Below is an exerpt from the statement that launched this new series.  The wonder of art is that it can have different meanings for different people.  I’m not including the artist statement in it’s entirety because I want you to find your own meaning in the work.  You can read my statement at the opening for the Plumage show April 19 at Gallery 4500.

thebestschoolsPlumage Show Artist Statement, Spring 2013

Birds represent passages to me.  Flight reminds us of transitions, a change of seasons, a turning of time….


TWO Art Shows and the Courage to “Take it to the Second Floor”


TWO art exhibits in the same week?!  It’s all because I agreed to be interviewed for a doctoral dissertation on the need for courage in creative work.  Sigh.  Now that I’ve gone on record exploring this idea, I guess I can’t let fear get in my way.

In 2011, I was approached by Sibel Golden, Ph.D, LMHC, a (then) doctoral candidate in psychology who was writing her thesis on the role that courage plays in creative work.  I am one of three artists she interviewed for her thesis.  She has been to my studio, seen my work, knows my walls are filled with art.   How could I be the subject of a doctoral thesis on courage in creativity, but allow fear to keep me from hanging my work in her office?

Then another opportunity fell in my lap to hang some work in the West Seattle Artwalk.  I looked around my studio, wondered if it was enough for two shows, and thought “Oh well, I’ll just hang up some of the artwork that’s hanging around my house.”  No biggie.  Since we’re talking about courage, what excuses do I really have?

Is it finished?  Not even close!    wewilltakeflight

In my recent work, I’ve been challenging myself to push beyond the place where I usually stop, inspired by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, a mixed media artist in New York City.  I’d been following her “Take it to the Second Floor” challenge, an invitation I felt personally compelled to respond to in my current defiance of fear and the safety of my comfort zone.  For the past few weeks, I’ve taken down most of the work from the walls of my home, and pulled works out of storage I haven’t looked at in years.  I’m looking at it with fresh eyes, and working over the top of varnish in many cases, transforming pieces that had been “finished” years ago.

Ms. Fei-Fan Balzer’s prolific production and courage to share is an inspiration.  She makes art and shares her work every day.  While I’m nowhere near as frequent a blogger as she is, her energy and enthusiasm for the creative process often propel me to my art table and easel where I can play, create, and make a mess without fear.  Now if only I can be as courageous and enthusiastic about putting my work out there as she is.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.”  – Scott Adams

Art show details:

West Seattle Artwalk – December 13 – Better Builders, 4800 SW California Ave, Seattle, WA  98116  (December 13, 2012 – January 8, 2013)

Blakely Wellness Center, 2901 NE Blakeley St. Ste 3B, Seattle, WA 98105  (December 16 – indefinitely)

Come artwalk with me on Thursday night!

Wax painting

Another successful community push toward recycled art!  THANK YOU to everyone who contributed crayons.  We collected about 25 lbs. of old, beat-up crayons for this project.  TWO of my favorite things – UPcycling, that is, diverting items from the landfill to use in artworks, and collaboration, that is, folks coming together for the sake of art in the community.

Our theme for this visual art series was the Circus.  Inspired by old-time circus posters, we created accordion-style books from mat board scraps, newspaper, black tempera paint, duct tape, and crayons melted into liquid wax form.

Students discovered that the process of starting with a newspaper background, and sketching with a fat paintbrush with black paint led to a loose, painterly underpainting.  Then they gooped on layers of melted wax to create a deeply textured surface, which could be carved into and manipulated in an almost sculptural way.  The wax cooled quickly so we had to work fast.

Details may have been a bit elusive with this medium, but that places the burden of emphasis on your composition and form, or in layman’s terms, it forces you to focus on the big picture instead of getting lost in the small details.  Art presents many profound lessons for life.

Warhol-inspired Self Portraits


Artist Residency 2011 – 2012 in collaboration with Artist Carolyn Grane and the 7th grade class at McClure Middle School, Seattle, WA.

For inspiration, we focused on Artist Andy Warhol and the pop art movement of the 1960’s.  Looking at examples of Warhol’s pop art imagery – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Mao Tse Tung, Campbell’s soup cans, etc, students were led through a drawing and painting sequence.

Placing a sheet of Plexiglas over their photo, the students traced their picture, exploring varying qualities of thick and thin lines, patterns in hair and clothing, and the selective omission of lines. (wrinkles, smile lines, etc.)

In our painting session, student artists were challenged by exploring the ancient reverse-painting technique.  The process invloves painting in reverse, or mirror image on the back of the glass.  The front will be the glassy side, the linework visible through the glass.  The kids were excited to use bright, unrealistic colors in the vibrant style of Warhol, expressing their colorful middle school personalities.

The 150 finished artworks are permanently installed in the school.

Thank you to McClure PTA for fuding visual art.

Auburn ArtRageous!

Auburn ArtRageous is a free art festival in Auburn, WA. I led a hands-on art activity, making mixed media art dolls using fabrics, recycled bits and bobs, and found objects.

My booth was next to a chalk artist, and I enjoyed watching her creation grow throughout the day.  She had a section for kids to contribute as well.  I couldn’t see it from my booth, but I was close enough to one of the Pianos on Parade to hear lovely music while making art with lots of folks on a hot summer day.

John Hay Community Art Project

John Hay Community Art Project

“Your words are in the trees, in the sun and moon and stars.   Your poems and stories are in the blades of grass and in the waves of the Sound. Your art is the heart and song of the works that you see and we have been privileged to work with each of you.” – (excerpt from Carolyn Grane’s artist statement for “Our Community”)  May 30, 2012

Carolyn Grane & I worked as Artists-in-Residence at John Hay Elementary, 2011 – 2012, and together with more than 550 students, parents, teachers, and staff, created 11 mural panels for the school lunchroom.  Each panel is 8′ x 4′ and represents artwork created by all the students in the school.

As the school represents a diverse urban population, we wanted to honor and reflect upon the more than 50 languages spoken within the school community.  We asked families to contribute a written piece of text from their family’s cultural heritage.  Some brought in pages from special books, handwritten notes, calligraphy, etc.  We incorporated all of their words in their many languages into the collage-mural panels, becoming parts of the Space Needle, the clouds, the bricks in the school, etc.

We would like to thank Kari Hanson, Sarah Pritchett, Kim Clements, and the John Hay Partners Board for supporting the arts in public schools.


mosaics“Peace by Piece,” A mosaic stepping stone installation in collaboration with Artist Carolyn Grane and McClure Middle School.  Thank you to Mayor Mike McGinn, the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Seattle City Council members, and McClure PTSA for funding our community art project.

Through an after school program and drop-in art sessions during lunch, students at McClure Middle School had the opportunity to design and create 20 mosaic stepping stones to be incorporated into the “School to Pool” landscaping project scheduled for summer 2012.  The stepping stones will be installed along a well-used public sidewalk between the school, community center and swimming pool, and a prominent location as the site of the Queen Anne Farmer’s Market in the Spring and Summer.  This public space will be transformed with fresh landscaping, new benches, and a mosaic installation that everyone in the school community had a hand in creating.

The students were so excited to have the chance to create art, and especially when they saw the colorful glass.  We purchased beautiful stained glass and mirror tiles, as well as recycled, tumbled glass from Bedrock Industries.  The students were fascinated with the glass, and with learning to nip tiles in controlled shapes.

students making mosaics

We worked over a template covered with contact paper and laid our glass pieces on top of the contact paper.

working on mosaic    mosaic

Then we taped our tiles into place with tile tape.

mosaic in process

When we were ready to adhere the tiles to the concrete paving stones, we removed the contact paper from the back and placed the tiles into the wet mortar.  Because we were working in a studio that was COLDER than the cold temps outside, we had to let it set up for over a week, slicing up the tile tape to let air in and expidite dry time.

Finally, we were able to peel off the tape without losing too many tiles, do a bit of touch-up, and then my favorite part, GROUTING!!!

There is always a moment of pause before you slop on the grout.  I usually use dark grout, so the transformation is even more dramatic.  You cover it in goopy mud, and make a mud pie, just like I used to do as a little kid.

grouting mosaics

It is so amazing to see the background fill in and unify the design, making the colors pop.  Mosaic also teaches us that the negative spaces, the gaps in between the tiles, are just as important as the positive shapes.

     mosaic    mosaic stepping stone   

Carolyn & I are both so excited about the community art projects we’ve been working on.  It is so inspiring to see the joy on the children’s faces as they create.  It is a priviledge to bring art to children who don’t have it.  They are hungry for it, asking when we will be back to do more art, and when will they see their piece in the finished product.

mosaics     mosaics     mosaics