Drawing on Fantasy

Jan 19, 2023
Artworks on a desk. Drawings and paintings of unicorn, mermaid, dragon, witch, fairy, wizard hat, genie in a lamp, superhero, troll under bridge

From an early age we create imaginary creatures and friends. What we see in our mind’s eye is enhanced by the stories we hear and see as young children. This visual artistry plays a big part in how we deal with reality. As parents and educators, whether in the classroom or homeschooling, we can help children develop an understanding of what’s real and what isn’t. We can also help them use fantasy to build wonderfully diverse worlds into which they can venture in their minds. With age and experience, our ability to differentiate between fact and fiction grows. 

Star of our own show

Drawing on our imagination allows us to create new possibilities - some realistic, some fantastical fun. Our sleeping dreams are like this: sometimes weirdly wonderful, other times noxious and nightmarish. Our conscious dreams, day dreams, help us plan our lives, create a picture of what we’d like to have, try, do, achieve… This visualisation can help us in times of stress, to move us from a physically or emotionally unpleasant situation, often out of our control, to one that we draw in our minds for ourselves where we are in control. We are the producer as well as the star of the show. 

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When I think about some of the early stories, myths, legends and fables told to children I cringe! Things of nightmares: fire-breathing dragons, wicked witches, greedy goblins, terrifying trolls, one-eyed monsters, ogres (Shrek was a friendly character - I liked him!), mischievous leprechauns, centaurs (half man, half horse), werewolves (human by day, wolf by night), the griffin (a lion with wings) and zombies (corpses come to life)! 

I feel reality has enough demons for children without creating imaginary ones to scare the living daylights out of them. However, by reading stories and previewing movies before sharing with children there are ways to use bad, nasty, mean images and characters. Talking about monsters and villains may be a way to help them develop a healthy appreciation of how to deal with difficult and uncomfortable situations and characters they may encounter in their lives. Without adult guidance through experience with ‘monsters’, children can build up unnecessary fears and phobias. With careful selection of old folktales, the fictional characters can be used to discuss relationships, attitudes and changes over time. Older students can investigate the origins of these mythical creatures. Does the place and time help explain why they were created?

I can fly!

Let’s turn to the lighter side of life, with fairies, mermaids and unicorns. Let’s imagine what our fairy godmother can do with her magic wand. What magical underwater worlds might we discover as a mermaid? Why might a unicorn be seen as a good friend to have? Sometimes we see pictures of unicorns with wings but that is a mixture of a Pegasus (a horse with wings) and a unicorn (a horse with a single horn). These winged unicorns have been referred to as alicorns, unicus and pegacorns! I think pegacorn sounds good. Where could this wonderfully loyal creature take us? The ability to fly in our fantasies provides an enchanting sense of release and freedom. Flight can help us, but we can also use it for the benefit of others - superhero me! In this make-believe, our fantasies have magical powers. Simulating and imagining how we want to perform, can help with healing and building self-confidence. 

The Tooth Fairy

Then there are the characters we parents introduce to young children. How and when do we talk about the Tooth Fairy, Santa, the Easter Bunny…? How can we help children keep the magic alive without being disillusioned? The mischievous Elf on the Shelf can be so much fun for kids but daunting for mums and dads! We also need to keep an eye (and ear) out for stereotyping and bias - challenging. What are the characteristics of a storybook princess, fairies in a fable, and even Santa? 

Revealing fantasies

As parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, teachers and other significant adults we have different cultural and spiritual backgrounds, and upbringings, which influence how we approach the fantasy world of children. Art, with drawing and painting, has always been a medium for sharing our creative ideas, for putting on paper the weird and wonderful creatures in our imagination. Through drawing what we see in our minds, we are also revealing things about ourselves - how we are feeling, what we are experiencing, who are the key players… Engaging children in artworks that allow them the freedom to express their innermost thoughts can help release emotions - pleasure, joy, fear, shame… Windows into their world. This can be a powerful tool, as an educator and carer, to better understand the students in our class, our children. 

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Art Activities

Wondering how to draw these wonderful creatures? To encourage creativity with fanciful characters, there are many Artventure lessons to engage the imagination. Try searching for these as a starting point:

  • Bridge Troll
  • Dragon
  • Aliens
  • Fairy
  • Genie
  • Witch
  • Wizard
  • Magic - wand, horse
  • Mermaid
  • Prince, Princess
  • Superhero
  • Thumbelina
  • Unicorn 

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Foster fantasies

I enjoy reading fantasy stories to children, using opportunities to increase their wonder, to encourage their curiosity and to foster their imagination. We study the illustrations and try creating our own pictures of amazing creatures. There is a delicate balancing act going on as we walk the tightrope, that fine line that is truth. I believe children need that rich other world of fantasy to add a dimension of magic.  But without bursting their bubble, at some stage reality trickles in. It takes empathy and a knowledge of our children, our students, to know when and how is best to bring them gently into the real world and then help them appreciate the joy and freedom that can come with keeping their imaginings and fantasies alive. Expressing these through art can bring great pleasure and release. Invariably artworks have an element of creativity, of fantasy even, that comes just from the mind’s eye of that artist. Use visual art to foster their fantasies and share in their make-believe worlds.

Teacher and Artventure Blogger
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