Learning in Contours

June 24, 2021
Carolynne Thomas
Stephanie Reisch


School: North Fremantle Primary School 

Year Group: 5/6

Teacher: Carolynne Thomas 

Creative Practitioner: Stephanie Reisch

Creative Practice: Visual Artist

I can still recall a quote from my days as a student by the artist Paul Klee, that likened drawing to “taking a line for a walk.” My imagination began to work in overdrive as I pictured my hand and pencil travelling the world together. As an application, a simple line allows the artist to explore and search. It doesn’t have to make sense or have a fixed destination, so long as it continues to move forward. In this light, drawing and learning can be considered twin souls.

Drawing is one of humanities first forms of expression and earliest explorative endeavours. Before children learn to speak or tie their own shoelaces, they are drawing. They don’t consider whether their work is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, representational or non-representational - they are purely invested in using drawing to understand and navigate the world around them. In simple terms, they are learning to observe their environment in contours. 

Further, unlike counting, speaking, or writing, the process of drawing as a way of learning is innate. From the moment we come into being, we are making our marks on the world and developing our own unique perspectives. We can even gain insights into another person’s emotional state just by studying the integrity of a line. The drawn line is an extension of our most authentic selves and should be embraced and nurtured. If drawing could be considered humanities default for seeing, thinking, observing, communicating, exploring and connecting with the world, then ideally drawing would be at the heart of every curriculum.

At North Fremantle Primary School, Carolynne Thomas and I chose to structure a Year 5 and 6 Biological Sciences curriculum, predominantly around drawing. In this class, drawing became the primary vehicle for teaching the students about the structural features and adaptations of deep-sea creatures living in the Mariana Trench. We used drawing to imagine, to observe, to measure, to document, and to communicate our growing understanding of these incredible and mysterious beings. Implemented in this way, drawing moved away from being a singular ‘arty’ activity and became a broad and valuable tool for understanding the complexities of nature and the role humans play within it.

Over the course of seven weeks, the students learned to see the world as it is and not as it is represented. They developed their hand and eye coordination and practiced persistence by learning to value drawing as an inquiry-driven process. They also began to use drawing to measure and scale their subjects. Most importantly, they became more astute and empathetic observers of the world around them. 

My semester at North Fremantle Primary School served as a reminder of why drawing should play an integral role in pedagogy. It is a universal language that can be adapted to suit any age group or curriculum area. Unlike the written or spoken word, the ability to run a finger, an eye, or a pencil around the form of an object, is open and accessible to everyone. In short, drawing doesn’t discriminate.