I’m journeying through Challenge A with my second child, and we’re back to drawing maps together. Learning to draw the world is one of my favorite aspects of the Challenge A program not only because I really enjoyed it myself, but because I’ve seen the value of having a general map in your head when studying history. It has really given me a deeper perspective on my reading as I picture the places I read about in books.
Don’t misunderstand me. I did not successfully draw the entire world from memory with 7,000 countries, capitals, and features labeled at the end of my Challenge A year. I was a tutor, and I tried to keep up, but this old brain is sluggish. Even though I didn’t come out with a frame-able product, I did gain a great amount of understanding through the work I did complete, and that was valuable to me. That’s what attempting to draw the world is about. It’s about getting to know this crazy place we live on. It’s about realizing that political boundaries are often drawn because of physical features. It’s observing, memorizing, and persevering.
I didn’t make it all the way through, but I’m at it again, and I hope to get further this year. I want to offer seven tips that have helped me in learning to draw the world.
#1: Pace Yourself
Just as the Challenge guide is a framework for your studies, the geography lists of countries, capitals, and features are a suggestion for great things to memorize. If this is your first time in CC, or your first attempt to draw any continent, don’t expect to be able to draw and label the entire United States with all 41 rivers listed. That is a whole lot of new information. Scale it back a bit. Learning to draw the world is more of a marathon than a sprint.
Instead, try to find a reasonable amount of features to expect from yourself or your student. If spelling is an issue, give them a word bank for their test in class to copy from. The goal is to get familiar with the world. Drawing just requires a higher level of observation than labeling a pre-drawn map. Don’t give up on the drawing, just don’t expect a masterpiece either!
#2: Draw the General Shapes
I’ve seen kids get so lost in trying to draw every zig and zag of a coast line. They get so consumed with their maps looking like the atlas, that they lose sight of the bigger picture. If it takes you four hours to draw one map, it’s going to be hard to lock that into your memory, or even want to draw it a second time.
If your child struggles with this, take a black sharpie and smooth out the coast lines in your atlas. Yes. I recommend writing in your book. What is more valuable: a $15 book, or your sanity? Draw over the zig-zag coastlines and help them see simpler shapes.
#3: Use Big Paper
It is really hard when you’re first getting started to get all of a single continent to fit on a small piece of paper. The more you become comfortable drawing that continent, the smaller space you need. In the beginning though, I recommend using a bigger piece of paper because you won’t stress about running out of space. Try some of these options:
#4: Dry Erase in the Beginning
Dry erase happens to be very forgiving. When you’re first starting to draw a continent, you’ll get really frustrated fast if you have to erase every other second, and your paper ends up all smudgy because of all of your edits. Dry erase markers give the student freedom to try the same line over and over without the consequences of a messed up page. If you want to save the work in the end, snap a picture of it with your phone and then erase.
#5: Learn From a Guide
I love how the books like Draw Europe simplify the shapes of the countries. While I own all of the series, I don’t think you have to get them all. Just learning how she breaks down each continent into familiar shapes gives you a great idea of how to repeat the same idea with other continents. Here are some of my favorite geography drawing guides:
- Draw Canada and Greenland
- Draw USA
- Draw Mexico, Central America, and South America
- Draw Europe
- Draw Asia Volume I
- Draw Asia Volume II
- Draw Africa
- Mapping the World by Art
- The Little Man in the Map
My top three favs from the draw series are the USA, Europe, and Africa.
It’s also great to have an additional atlas or a globe nearby to get a different perspective on the area you’re trying to draw. I really like the National Geographic Student World Atlas because it shows the entire area all on one page.
#6: Draw Quickly
Once you’ve got the idea of the area, time yourself. See how much you can draw in five or ten minutes. You’d be surprised at how much you recall. The three keys to memorizing are repetition, intensity, and duration. You’ll get more repetitions of a map drawn quickly than you will of a map that’s a beautiful masterpiece. After repeating the drawing over the course of time, you will find that you’ve stored more than you ever thought you could into your brain.
This also gives you opportunities for playing games with your map. Challenge yourself. How many items can you draw in five minutes? Count your items, flip the page over and see if you can beat your score. It’s not about perfection, but memorization.
#7: Use Grid Lines on the Map for Reference
One of my most memorable childhood art projects was using a grid to enlarge a comic strip. Thankfully the globe has lines of latitude and longitude built in that create a natural grid to use to do the same thing with your map.
Check this idea out:
You can use the Mercator map grid to draw a flattened out version of the world. This can be really helpful for taking the map drawing one bite at a time.
A Bonus Tip as You Draw the World
Make your drawing time enjoyable. Any time there is added stress in a challenging subject, it’s just going to make everything more difficult. Try some of these ideas for joy in drawing:
- Friends always make things better. Maybe your student wants a study partner.
- Eat a snack while drawing…fuel up!
- Find great videos on YouTube for exploring life in the regions you’re drawing
- Turn on some good music or a great story on Audible
What are your tips for drawing the world?