The Water Cycle told by Hillel, 5 years old

By Nona Orbach

All children go through similar phases of artistic expression: leaving the first accidental marks, deliberate scribbling, and drawing. Victor Lowenfeld, in his classical book, Creative and Mental Growth, offers rich knowledge and developmental tables.

He recognized, and referred us to, constructing forms and compositions that accumulate as the child grows. The process is not necessarily linear. There are slow transitions and mixing of phases, and it is not perceived as regression.  

His tables may reassure teachers and therapists in an era when there are many unneeded measurements and competition.

From my observations, especially as an art therapist, I can say that each person will have their combination alongside universal development. Sometimes, different phases might be related to an emotional context. Also, there are some cultural differences. Japanese children, for example, have exceptional hand motor skills, perhaps because of the use of chopsticks?

Or, in Morocco, I noticed ornamentation in boys’ and girls’ drawings at younger ages than we see in Israel, Europe, or the US. It seemed like a natural echo to the rich cultural visuality.

First, the sun heats the water
Then the steam goes up

And there are clouds
And raindrops drop from  the sky

The process presented here is of a boy in the pre-schematic phase. This means that shapes and forms, when taken out of his composition, will lose their meaning. We will not know that it is a wave, a cloud, and/or rain.  In this phase, lines and shapes have a context only within the general drawing.

This child is particularly interested in how things work. He rarely plays with toys, except for Lego and cars. He prefers real tools like screwdrivers and hammers, watching how to fix a car, chop up a salad, vacuum, and doing things at home like father and mother. He asks a lot of questions about natural phenomena. One can admire the human wonder and how, with very simple lines, children can explain complex natural phenomena.


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

It is translated in five languages:

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