The hand-eye play of scribbles

Threads scrlbbles

by Roberta Pucci


What is the relationship between hands, eyes and the mind while drawing? So intriguing, isn’t it? The deepest essence will probably remain a mystery, but still we can know something about. Let’s start from the beginning.

The first lines emerges from a movement that leaves a trace of itself, or better, from the awareness of the sign left by a movement, as Nona Orbach describes in her post Genesis of line. The mind is involved since the early experiences in terms of awareness and intentionality, but the main player is the body.

In fact, all the basic scribbles drawn from 2 years old (accurately described by Rhoda Kellogg), derive from the natural movements of the child’s hand and arm, without the need of eye-control. The directions of lines correspond to the spontaneous articulation of wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.

The basic scribbles, from Analyzing Children’s Art by Rhoda Kellogg

Then, another important player soon comes in. It occurs when the child is drawing on a precisely delimited area, like a sheet of paper or any kind of surface with a well-defined perimeter. Here the eyes have an important role. After the child has drawn a scribble, the sheet of paper will send him back a visual stimulus. This will affect the next drawing step, which in turn will create another new stimulus and so on. 

Is the scribble in the center or close to the edges? Up or down, left or right? Horizontal or vertical? All this information can arise from the relationship between the scribble and the paper area only if the scribble is placed within a defined context: the child – perceiving the sheet of paper and the scribble as a whole – consequently reacts according to their relationship. Seeing a set of different things “as a whole” is a natural characteristic of human perception, studied by the Gestalt psychologists.

Some of the 17 position’s templates identified by Rhoda Kellogg

That’s how the process of drawing develops like an amazing play with its inner rules, continuously going back and forth, a series of mutual “provocations” and reactions: it is the the flow and play-frame of drawing that Suzanne Axelsson described in her post. 

In this stage, the action of drawing implies the hand’s movement and visual perception, with no other cognitive or symbolic aspects involved. Thus, asking “what have you drawn?” makes no sense here. 

Later on, as the drawing process unfolds through its next stages, this first active role of the eyes, as well as the importance of the body’s movement, will not disappear but progressively interweave with new skills and interests, like for example the symbolic or realistic representation. In fact, the aesthetic question that adults or even mature artists deal with, is still connected to the same “rules” of our visual perception (as well as to many further aspects, of course).  

In his book Art and Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim explains it very well, putting the Gestalt perception theories in connection with visual art works. For example, if we have a very quick look at the picture on the lower left, we immediately know that the circle is not in the middle of the square. How?

Graphic interpretation of an image from the book Art and Visual Perception by Rudolf Arnheim

Our eyes do not “measure” the distance between the circle and every side of the square for comparing them, but see the two geometric shapes “as a whole”, perceiving the asymmetric position of the circle in relation to the square.

Besides, there’s more. We also perceive the circle a bit unstable, or unquiet, as if it wanted to reach the center… or as if the center was attracting it. It’s because the visual perception is a dynamic experience: like a stone falling into the water, every element creates a kind of force lines and attractive points (for example the corners of the square, its median axes and its center, as shown in the upper right image). All of us have dealt with this kind of visual balance sometimes, maybe composing a greeting card:  a little further… the text is too high… maybe these two ones are a bit closer… perfect!

From the first scribbles of a child to the greatest masterpieces, from a toddler educator to the master of an art academy, let’s always observe with wonder and respect the constantly evolving process of drawing, one of our most precious gifts as human beings.


This is the third of many posts of the project Grammar of Drawing by Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

It is translated in four languages:

You are welcome to join our journey on the Facebook page the Grammar of Drawing or on Instagram Grammar of Drawing

The Genesis of Line

by Nona Orbach


Toddlers first lines are formed by chance from a sensory-motor need. They notice and discover that their body movements can leave a mark in substances.


Video by Jasmin Berman
Image by Gili Benders

They try this magic countless times, with immense enjoyment. They then create deliberate lines and marks in their porridge that smears on the table, in the sand, and later on paper.

In the beginning, the marks can migrate to the walls and furniture as well. As they grow up, they notice how marks can also turn out to be a sign.


Images by Orly Cohen Shulman and Ruth Hillel

I have always felt magic in those moments when I could witness how the brain and body collaborate.

Observing my toddler daughters, and later my grandchildren, while engaged in learning/living – always felt wondrous and sacred.

These young pioneers are discovering the universe, and we are privileged to notice their journey.

It is a completely personal, intimate process for each child, at the same time, all humanity has experienced these moments for centuries.

We are fortunate to notice such miraculous moments.  

Slow down. Look closely. Listen deeply. Take Notice.


Upper image by Nizan Sedler


This is the second of many posts of the Grammar of Drawing, a project about the expressive language of drawing in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci.

All the posts are translated in four languages:

The flow and play-frame of drawing

As a play-responsive educator I view children’s drawing with the same respect as I view children’s play. In play-work there is the theory of the “play-cycle”, where the idea to play first manifests in the imagination, a play cue is then signalled and responded to, which evolves into a back and forth of cues and responses that becomes the flow. This flow is found within a frame – a space that is physical/mental/emotional surrounding the flow (so it is not a fixed space but moves with the play). 

The flow of the play can be interrupted, annihilated in playwork language, by the cue not being responded to, or the frame being destroyed interrupting that flow. For example, a child may see a ball, get the idea to play catch, pick it up and signal to another child, through words or gestures, and throw the ball to that child. This child then responds by catching the ball, and sends a new cue when throwing back the ball to which the first child responds to by catching. Flow is created as the ball is passed back and forth. The space that the children are playing in is their frame.  If an adult (or a child) were to step in the middle of this frame/space there is the potential for a new cue, or for the flow to be ruined. 

As play-responsive adults, we have the responsibility to protect the frame to allow the children’s flow to continue until it comes to a natural conclusion, or it is paused to continue later or another day. We can use the same theory when children draw. 

A child could see pen and paper and be inspired to draw something. They pick up the pen and begin drawing on the paper, the paper and pen respond by marks appearing. Sometimes the pen and paper do not behave the way a child expects and therefore sends a cue back to the child, which the child can respond to (or not). A flow develops between the child, the pen and the paper. 

Just like in play, this flow is found within a frame. The flow can be disturbed by an adult (or child) sitting too close, or by asking questions about the drawing, or by moving the materials. Our role is to facilitate the children’s flow. This means we need to be aware of both the flow and the frame, and also the flow and frame of all the other children in the same space so that we do not cause the flow to decay prematurely.


This is the first of many posts of a project about the language of drawing in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci, where all our voices will be shared via our websites/blogs to share our collective wisdom. All the posts are translated in four languages:

  • Italiano
  • Svedese
  • Ebraico
  • Inglese
  • You are welcome to join our journey on the Facebook page or on Instagram

    Register to newsletter for receiving a video link about the 100 languages!
    Register to newsletter for receiving a video link about the 100 languages!