Teaching Visual Skills

New to the Course?

If you are lucky most of your students will have a solid background in skills and techniques gained in pre IB years, but there will also be those who have had no previous artistic experience. It is vital that instruction occurs and that students are not simply left to their own devices, especially in the first year of the course.

Although the structure of the IB Art curriculum is open enough to allow teachers and students to create their own content, teachers still need to provide some formal teaching of visual skills. Examiners have noticed that there are some students who have very little understanding of fine arts skills. Although sometimes these students are simply very weak, it is also likely that they have received little direction or guidance, especially in developing these fundamental visual skills.

For an interesting discussion on how visual skills are taught ( or not taught) in art schools these days, join the conversation on this site blog post Skillful-Less 


An important skill that can definitely be integrated into your course is drawing. You might want to include formal drawing classes in the first semester or a weekly life drawing session.

Drawing is a visual artist‘s thinking tool: Drawing helps in understanding the physical world in terms of form, space, and line and is an entry way into visual thinking. A few basic drawing skills can go a long way in helping a student to feel capable of recording her ideas in the journal and can be an exciting form of artistic expression on its own. I have seen students really improve their drawing skills if it's practiced regularly.

For some drawing exercises go to Drawing section of this site and try out Blind Drawing , Contour Drawing , Invisible Drawing  , iPad Drawing,  Making Marks , Objects for Drawing

From Life

Provide plenty of opportunities for direct, first hand observation, where students can look and record what they see. You could set up a still life in the corner of the studio and those students who need drawing practice can refer to it when they need a subject. It is a good idea to include regular drawing sessions in the first semester to develop good habits and skills that will serve as the students develop their work more independently. You might want to try:

Drawing from Nature , Figure and Animal Drawing 

Workshops to introduce media and techniques

You can introduce techniques though Workshop Style Sessions in the first semester. By workshop style I mean a hands on guided experience with the materials and techniques in order to gain skills and confidence. For example, a workshop could be an introduction to printmaking over the course of a month, or a week in the editing suite learning to use final cut pro. All new media should be introduced and taught rather than assumed as being familiar. Providing experiences in working with a variety of media does not imply that the student must master all of these by any means! Students can use the initial experience of working in a range of media to gain knowledge and familiarity with techniques in order to make appropriate and informed choices as to which media is best suited to their own way of working.

Inviting Visiting Artists is also an excellent way of introducing new techniques and learning from exposure to different artistic styles and genres.

Exposure and Experimentation

For the Process Portfolio students need to work in several different making forms from the Art Making Forms Table Encourage students to initially explore a wide range of strategies using a range of media and processes in making art. This doesn't need to be expensive or high tech, it could simply be exposing them to a range of graphic media and some 3D and lens based approaches.

Having knowledge of a range of media and techniques allows students to develop ideas in more than one way, or to translate ideas across media. Often after experimenting with a range of media early on in the course, a student will discover a preferred area of focus and develop work within this medium in the latter part of the course. The final exhibition may include works in different media or it may be focused on one medium only.

Encourage Risk Taking

Encourage experimentation and risk-taking, not every piece needs to have a successful outcome! Part of making art is making mistakes and learning from these. If we are too attached to the outcome being a success then there will be no risk taking and no exciting discoveries. The PP documents these experimental approaches, including unresolved works, with reflection and self awareness.

Conceptual and Formal Understanding

The course should be planned carefully to integrate lessons and discussions that help students to develop formal and conceptual understanding. Generally the best way to do this is through guided looking, reflecting, and responding to art works. Use the Visual Journal for Journal Reflections and prompts.

Guided Looking activities

Intuitive Response

Painting Visual Analysis

Compare and Contrast


Students without prior art and design experience and very little art history background should be given time to familiarize themselves with the language of art and with Building Art Vocabulary

Investigation and Research skills

Conceptual Understanding

 Try some of the pages in this website dedicated to introducing students to conceptual understanding. The ToK section of the site has lots of thought provoking activities and questions

Finding the balance

There needs to be a balance between directed learning and teacher led assignments.Teachers give invaluable practical advice and technical instruction, they suggest artists for the students to study, and provide models for reflecting and responding to art, but teachers also recognize the students ability to pose questions and work towards and work towards solving their own problems.It is a delicate but highly effective collaboration between student and teacher. More on this in Structure and Freedom

Course Planning

If you are new to IB and you would like to refer to some schemes of work, go to Course Planning New Curriculum

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.


To post comments you need to log in. If it is your first time you will need to subscribe.