Monday, April 23, 2012

How We Do a Picture Study

A friend asked me almost a month ago how we study a picture.  I am sorry it took me so long to reply.   Here is an example using Norman Rockwell's illustration, The Discovery.  I think Norman Rockwell is an excellent first choice for picture studies, because so many of his illustrations are about children and home life.  It is easy for children to identify with the pictures.

Settle down with the kids and look at a large print of the piece of artwork you are studying. Then ask, "What do you see in this picture?"  Some responses my kids gave to this picture were ~
  • "The boy looks shocked."
  • "I don't like the green carpet."
  • "He is making a mess."
  • "He should not be in his Dad's drawer."
  • "Why are there marbles (actually moth balls) on the floor?"
  • "I guess he knows Santa isn't real now."
Then I would ask for more details, such as, with this illustration, whether the bedroom was on a first or second floor (stairwell off in the distance) or how they knew it was the father's dresser (pipe on top of men's dresser).  If they were having trouble getting into a study, I may ask them to describe the picture to me as if I were blind.  Sometimes, I get the most amazing information this way!

I often leave a picture up for a few days after our first look at it and then do it again.  The second time we sit down to discuss it, we often start creating stories about the picture.  My kids have some wild imaginations!  However, they tend to remember tiny details.  For example, just now, long after this picture study, my son looked over my shoulder and reminded me that I STILL have not gotten moth falls for them to smell.  LOL!

Some of my favorite resources for learning how to do a guided picture study are  listed below.

The book, Discover Great Paintings, asks great questions and pulls details out of the picture so a young child can easily see them.

Once children are more experienced in looking at art, I find The Art Fraud and The Great Art Scandal to be wonderful adventure stories to do with the kids.  Each book has about 35 famous paintings to study and has wonderful mysteries to solve.  We will be working our way through The Art Fraud for the rest of this school year.

For the older student, Great Artists Explained is a great book to learn more about picture study and artists.  I used this book when my oldest son was over  12.

I suggest finding 8x10 prints or larger of the paintings you are studying.  I am very pleased with the Rizzoli Art Series.  The prints are large and they cover many of the most famous paintings from a particular artist.  Unfortunately they are expensive on Amazon.  So I have kept an eye out for them at used books sales and homeschool stores and found them for much less. 

Blessings, Dawn


  1. I love it! Thank you for the links to great resources! It's refreshing to see it done in a very casual, familial sort of way, which I think is best in a home setting -- at least mine!

  2. Thank you for breaking it down this way. I had never done any art studies in my life, but having a few budding artists in the family, we have done a fair bit of art. One of the local art centres here offers classes for homeschoolers that are fabulous and each one usually studies a certain type of art or artist and then has the kids recreate their own version of the work.

  3. Thank you so much for explaining what you do and for sharing the resources you use as well. We have one of those books. :-)

    Hugs to you

  4. We love our Art Fraud Detective book! I picked it up last year and it was an immediate hit.
    I love reading about how you all do things. You put everything into such do-able perspective.

  5. For some reason, I wouldn't have thought of using Norman Rockwell paintings...what a great idea! I like how you explained your process, and thanks for sharing such super resources! I am very interested in the Art Fraud Detective and The Great Art Scandal.
    Thanks for linking with Look What We Did.

  6. We've used several of those books and enjoyed them. We do art study quite a bit different than traditional Charlotte Mason, but we have both learned so much over the years! We are headed to Paris in a few weeks and can't wait to visit the Louvre!