A student practices symmetry, drawing a butterfly during the Big Draw.

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, students at North Chevy Chase Elementary school gathered for an unusual day of classes. Math, reading, science and other subjects were put on hold. Instead of practicing the three R’s or preparing for standardized testing, the students of NCCES made art. 

Artists, museum educators and designers led students in drawing and painting lessons throughout the day in an event called the "Big Draw." All students in grades 3-6 had the opportunity to participate. Fourth grade teacher Jacqueline Moore first developed the Big Draw for her class in 2008, and it quickly became a school-wide event. Plaza Artist Materials has been a proud supporter of the Big Draw over the years. This year we donated approximately 400 sketchbooks that the students used during the day’s many drawing activities.

“The Big Draw helps our kids hone their powers of observation and it demonstrates how they can apply artistic skills across several different disciplines,” says Moore. The event also teaches kids how to work in different modes of creativity and to appreciate the works of others by recognizing the effort and skill required to produce different types of art.

Art education is vital, but it is often an afterthought in many schools. Art classes allow students to learn life skills that aren’t necessarily learned in other classes—skills that help reinforce proficiency in other subjects and translate into professional careers. When times are tough and funding is cut from school districts, subjects like art and music are always the first to feel the squeeze. Events like the Big Draw are important learning opportunities because there isn’t enough educational time allotted to the arts in most schools. More schools should hold events like this, and hold them more often.

The students of NCCES are very lucky. The inspiration of teacher Jacqueline Moore, along with the cultural wealth of Washington DC, has allowed these students to have a unique learning experience. Each year during the Big Draw, museum educators and professional artists lead students in activities to develop the whole child. Participating museums have included: the National Building Museum, the National Postal Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Read on below for photos and summaries of the day’s events. If you are an educator, maybe you will get some ideas for lesson plans of your own! All photos courtesy Ms. Moore.

Steven Harris, the assistant property master for House of Cards, led 3rd graders in a lesson on contour and elevation drawings, with bell peppers and tools donated by Chevy Chase Supermarket:

Bell pepper contour drawings

Motoko Hioki and Debbie Bartels of the National Postal Museum led students through the process for designing postage stamps: 

A lesson in postage stamp design.

Alice Tangerini of the National Museum of Natural History showed students how to use tracing and stippling to create botanical illustrations:

Lesson in botanical drawings during the Big Draw.

Fine artist Atousa Raissyan of Soulystic Studios taught 6th graders how to use eye droppers and acrylic paint to create beautiful abstract images:

Acrylic painting lesson

Vichai Malikul, an entomological artist from the National Museum of Natural History, taught the concept of symmetry by leading 5th graders in a butterfly and moth drawing lesson:

Butterfly and moth drawing lesson

 Additionally, the students had sessions in architectural drawing, typography, book making, self-portraiture, conceptual music, eco-art, Chinese brush painting, calligraphy and one-point perspective, figure and gesture drawing (string bean people drawing pictured below):

String bean people drawing lesson