Children and Digital Art


My mother works with children and yesterday, she came by to my place with two boys that are really interested in drawing. They were, I guess, around six years old or something, maybe younger.

Since I work part time at the university, in a computer lab, I get to demonstrate Wacom tablet and Photoshop and digital painting to a lot of different people. There always seems to be that problem with getting them to understand how the pen works – that it’s not like a mouse ( in other words, well, you don’t ‘scroll’ with it) and that you can’t keep your eyes on the tablet when you’re painting. The older they are, the more difficult it seems to get. There are issues trying to get to the menus, there are problems with putting the nib down on the exact spot they want (such as continuing on a line that you have previously drawn). I always tell them that you learn it, that after a week using the pen it’ll be all right.

The kids though
and I’ve experienced this before, because there have been kids at my job previously
they seem to pick it up intuitively. There is no need to explain. You point and say, you paint there and it shows up there. These two boys were painting with great glee after having watched me do the same for just a few minutes. It was quite amazing to see – the open mindedness. There were no complaints about how ‘stupid’ it is to paint in one place and have it show up in another, in fact, there seemed to be no problems at all with this for them.

So I’m thinking, why do we grow so old and boring, and why do the tools get more and more difficult to learn? I’m aware that children learn more quickly and pick up new tools more easily, but I’m starting to suspect that it is in no small part due to grownups simply being adverse to new things and wanting everything to work exactly like they’re used to (in other words, either precisely like a mouse, or precisely like a normal pen). It was amazing to see these kids paint so smoothly and so instinctually, even though they were young enough that they still held the pen in a clumsy, chubby hand. One of them painted a dinosaur, or was it a crocodile, and the picture was far better than what most of the adults I show the pen to would manage on their first try. I’ve heard artists complain about the stupidness of the tool, about how inconvenient the pen is, how impossible it is to hit the same dot a second time with the nib – so why do two kids, less than six years old, learn so quickly and easily this difficult tool?

And speaking of the tools – how many times haven’t I tried to instruct adults in the use of Photoshop, and ended up with endless amounts of, “it’s impossible”, “too complicated” and people claiming the program is too difficult, yet these boys had no issues, within minutes they could pick their own colours, erase their mistakes and even smudge the lines they were painting.

On another note, wow, it was wonderful to see their excitement over the tablet, over my pictures, over the pictures in Exposé and D’artiste that I showed them. I’m thinking they are two new little artists in making. Mom is going to try to get her work place to order a graphire for the kids to use.


Enayla, I have a wacom waiting for my son. :slight_smile: No kidding.
There are also a lot of paint-programs especially made for young kids.

Children these days are familiar with computers at a very young age. They grow up alongside the technological advancement so to speak. It starts with interactive toys, that little piano with that flashy light going on whenever the child presses that particular button. They are not afraid or feeling insecure when they come in contact with the computer. (I’ve seen my share of grownups trembling at the thought of working with the computer saying: “I’m afraid to push that button…”)

I also had a 9 year old playing with my Wacom. After 5 minutes she had no trouble at all working with it. I think she subconsiously understands the hand eye coordination needed for this operation. The interactivity between man and computer that was started at an early age.
Also children start playing computergames at a very early age. Again here they learn that what you see on screen can be manipulated by something not physically connected to the screen.

Kids are amazing.


I found the same thing when showing my little sister how to use my wacom to draw. Kids are still at that early learning stage where they’re just soaking up information and not questioning why or how something works, just appreciating that it does.
Adults on the other hand have gotten used to things working a certain way, as you said, and when things fail to work in the usual way (for example, a line being drawn in a different place from where the pen is) they get confused because it’s something they simply took for granted. Adults seem to slow down, if not stop, unconciously learning new things and start to rely on learned knowledge, so when something acts other than the way their brain remembers it should it can take them a bit of effort to process this new information to fit in with what they’ve long since known.
I’ve heard, and I believe it’s true, that children have a far greater capacity to learn new ideas than adults which is why it’s so very important to teach them as much as possible when they’re very young…not wait till they’re older because “oh, they wont understand, they’re not ready”. Apparently it sometimes is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.


In a sense, learning to work with computers is like learning a new language. And just as new languages become more difficult to learn the older you get, so does working with a computer.
I can’t imagine trying to teach my parents how to use a wacom. I spent an hour trying to explain the concept of “folders” on a computer to my mom (even going as far as to use real folders and file cabinets to put it in terms she could understand), and it ended in complete failure.
I’d also say that kids are probably more willing and enthusiastic towards experimenting with new things. But that really ties into the first explanation a lot.


Well, I really got surprised when I sat my 3’5 y.o. daughter in front of my old PC and she tried the mouse. In just 5 minutes she knew how it worked!!! I remember myself struggling with that evil thingie for days until I discovered I could just pick it up and put it down again to start at a new point, once I had arrived at the end of the table with it.

Then I told her: “Do you see that small icon with an eye in it? (Adobe’s ). Just click on it, click here to start a new ‘paper’ (she cannot read yet), here to change colours, here to do this…”. She played for some minutes with it, and she left. Next day she remembered exactly how everything works!!! Isn’t she the most intelligent girl in the world? :love: No, seriously, little kids have some things that make them learn so quickly about computers:

  • It is just another game. They don’t ought to learn it, they learn it because they want.
  • They have time to spend on it.
  • It has been there since they were born. Just like the refrigerator, the DVD and the radio…
  • And something I find rather funny: they learn so quickly because they don’t have an icon culture formed yet. I mean, when I look for the brushes, I search an icon with a brush on it. My sons don’t care about that. They know by heart that an scpecific icon means “brushes” and the symbol on it doesn’t mean so much but only identifies that button. I cannot explain myself well in English, but I think we have grown into a so highly “iconografic” culture, that we have lost a bit of flexibility…

I only hope in the future we have something like “Minority Report” where we can change things with our hands, even paint with our fingers digitally.


Children by design have an intense natural curiosity of everything. I think as we grow older and experience more we become disinterested in the world around us. We become comfortable and confident in our abilities and place in life and for many adults, stepping out of that comfort zone is scary stuff. It’s often easier to voice an opinion that something is “too difficult” or “not worth my time” to learn than to face the fear of being put in a situation where you feel incompetent.

One of the things that most true “geniuses” throughout history have had in common is that they never lost that childhood curiousity. They were always willing to explore new territory even if it meant failure. Their desire to learn and solve problems was more powerful than any fear they may have had of feeling stupid. I think there’s a little genius in every child even if it isn’t classified by superior intelect. If we as adults can humble ourselves for a minute or so and watch them explore their world, we can learn much from them.

FWIW, my four year old routinely uses my Wacom tablet to draw and paint and he also picked it up very fast (about 2 mins. vs the 2 days it took me to get used to it):slight_smile:


I remeber showing my mom my old wacom back when she was around 40 years old. She immediatly whanted to try it out :). She was of course a bit clumsy to start whit, but learned really fast how to use it. She was also wery exited about it. Same whit my 18 year old brother, but he learned it a bit faster tho’. He’s the only one that can even use the wacom at his job, even tho’ it’s placed on the right-hand side of the computer and he’s more left-handed.

Kids are usually more exited about things in general, while some older, or more grown up, people are more affraid to show theire exitements. Affraid to seem childish, I think. You do learn quicker when you’re really eager to learn.
I also think that most grown-ups gives up easyer. Maby they think that they are too old for it, or that they wont get time for it - thus no use for learning it, when they fail a couple of times.

I remember that a teatcher told me I was to old for drawing when I was 16, and 3 other teatchers thought I had too mutch fantasy for my age in my essay. I was 14 when the first one said that, and 16 when the last one said so. It totally killed my mental fantasy as I diden't like to write short stories and the likes, stupid me :sad:, I'm trying to regain it now.
 I remember showing photoshop to an old friend of mine, before I got the wacom. She diden't understand anything, and she seemed to even refuse to understand. After only 5 minutes she said angryly "Oh you're so damn boring, cant we do anything else? I don't need to know this geeky crap!"

Everyone else I knew were, so to say, grown up whit Photoshop and similar programs, for me it seems basic. I can’t really immagine that being hard :/, but I can understand why someone find the stylus hard to understand as most of the grown ups are used to the regular pen and mouse

(sorry for my terrible english)


Hmmm…well, while this is incredibly true, I think it also has something to do with how ready one is to learn the tool. When I first got my tablet, I had absolutely no experience with Photoshop or digital anything. I doodled around a little, but nothing really good came out of it (interestingly, I never had the problem of looking at the tablet instead of the screen when drawing…). But that was because I didn’t know Photoshop. So I searched around on the internet for a tutorials. Found a few really bad ones, but I colored my first picture digitally with it. Then I found some better ones, and learned some more. When I finally learned about layers I was hooked on it (I’d say that was about nine months after I got my tablet, but it took about 6 months before I colored my first drawing digitally).

Then one day, while browsing around DeviantArt, I discovered digital painting. So I decided to give it a try. I did draw my linework first, and just deleted the lines after I was done, but it still came out alright:

After that I got even braver and painted without linework, just from scratch. This was after I’d done only three digital paintings ever. I was painting two pictures simultaniously, one with a references and one without. And they both came out pretty good, especially the one with the reference (it was for my grandmother’s 90th birthday). And I’ve been painting ever since. I think I’ve only been painting for half a year or so.

Anyways, my point is I think it also has to do with enthusiam and willingness to learn, not just age.


Children learn more becouse adults are discouraged to keep it on, beocuse they expect that other people are waiting insainly great result’s in a minute, if they do not have it that fast, they are not intresting at all. So if we all learned to lought at every effort we made and failed, and if we learned to apriciate every effort everybody else did, we would be learning and teaching everything at once.

And when children try to learn something, they “play” with it with full enthusiam, becouse some people will like it nomather what it looks like, and they got no target on how good they want to be. While adult artist’s normally think “I need to get as good as Leonardo Da Vinci or else I’m waisting time!” and that way of thinking is verry damagin to your motivation.


Well said! :thumbsup:
For kids, it’s like their O/S isn’t totally formed so you can still introduce new ways for them to process information, whether it’s graphic (drawing or crafts), verbal (foreign language), math (every 5 years or so theres a “new” math method) or something else. I think it’s the same quirk that allows kids to believe there are monsters in the closet or that they can fly if they practice hard enough.

I think of myself as open minded, but hear myself using the phrase “that doesn’t make sense” more and more often. My wife will me about a news report – a new diet craze or congress signing a new bill – and out pops the phrase. As adults we can’t believe everything we hear. We pick the beliefs that fit together the best and they become our governing philosophy. If something doesn’t fit with our belief system it’s either illogical or we have to change our whole belief system. That stinks. I have a hard enough time keeping my closet organized. :rolleyes:


it’s just whatever u’re used to…older people new to photoshop and digital painting are just not used to it…so it will take more time to change and adapt but for kids it’s just something new and fresh.
like when i play video games (Tekken baby…lol) i’m used to certain buttom conf. my mind knows where the buttoms are at and i just do it withought thinking. change the buttom conf. for me and i’ll have hard time getting used to it and i won’t like it even though they will have the same functions.

on a side note…why teach the kids to use wacom when they’re still so young…give them real colors and papers, it’s so much fun to miss out…i’m not trying to argue about digital vs traditional…i just think traditional media can be more fun specially for kids and probably more rewarding in the long run…if they start with digital stuff it will be so hard for them to change to traditional later if they wanted to. they will proabably have harder time than those who are trying to change from traditional to digital.


Quoted from Tayete:
* It is just another game. They don’t ought to learn it, they learn it because they want.

I definately think this is true. I remember when I was little and I was just learning how to play around on the computer. (My parents were and are complete nerds.) I used to call it “play the computer” even when I was sitting in Word Perfect typing up a story. It wasn’t until 6th or 7th grade that I started to say “use the computer”.

I also agree that when you grow up with computers around you and have good coordination between screen and hands, then it is much, much easier to learn. You could draw a line between typing and using a tablet, too. I see a lot of people at my high school who type with one finger or two fingers because they didn’t grow up typing a lot. When they get put in the “Computer Tech” classes, forced to type the right way, they get frustrated because it uses up more brain energy.

Another interesting thing between tablets and real paper is that there’s a ratio involved. A tablet’s surface relates to the whole screen no matter how big it is, and I think kids, since they’re versitle and learn quickly, pick up on that faster.


I really have to admit that it’s thelack of an adventurous nature imo. The first day that I got my wacom I caught on like that. I was actually more comfortable with it than normal pen and paper.

If they lack a thirst for new things they won’t see them. I like learning new things, I explore things and places and look for the unexpected. Keeps the mind sharp and agile so to speak. I also think it’s a mentality that people build in themselves, it’s like feeling good enough about yourself to not change or finding things to difficult and giving up really quickly, things like that.

But I’m weird like that, I used to play football(if I did), with both legs. I occassionally find myself smoking with the other hand too.

The true wisdom is knowing that you’re ignorant, only then can you learn. I think most people find themselves rather up to some scale and stop learning and grow dull. But it must also be that normal day to day jobs become so repetitive that there’s no insentive to change. :shrug:There are probably many reasons for it. I find it amazing thjat people aren’t amazed everyday friggin day, because I am. The only days that I’m not amazed is when I close off to the world.


oh man reading this thread reminded me how much I want to get married and be a father…


Yeh, let’s rephrase the question. Why do two adults, more than x years old, learn so slowly with difficulty this easy tool?

They sound like the same question…right? not exactly! As a general phenomenon, adults see boundaries to what they can achieve and learn, as they become more aware of the reality within themselves as well as the outside one. That conception by itself brings down the threashold of learning capacity to a lower level than that is within a child that is uninhibited by learning capacities, at least consciously.

Adults who see that inhibiting conception and fight it, become creative and open to learning until the day they expire. Convictions, beliefs, faiths, etc… are all great things to organize the ordinary within self. Doubts, skepticism, and risks are great things to disorganize the ordinary and let the extraordinary prevails. Not really off topic if you think about it,

. blink . blink .
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. George Bernard.Shaw


Another thought that people have brought up, children are mostly of the mentality that “I can do anything”…rather like the idea that they can fly if they just flap their arms hard enough. They enter into things with this enthusiasm and belief that they can do it, and so they can. A lot (not all) of adults will try new things with the idea “this is going to be really hard” and “I wont be able to do this very well when I first start”…and so that attitude restricts them. A quote I rather like is “argue for your limitations, and they’re yours”


yea adults are often stuck in their own made up framework of patterns. All their ideas, knowledge and opinions are related in that way of thinking. We all do that automatically to understand things and filter irrelevant information. But the older you get the more firmly you stick to your ways of thinking. Children are far more intuitive. They discover the world with a ‘clean’ sheet without having prejudges about something. Im not quite sure but i thought it was Zen-buddhism where you can train yourself to detach of everything you have learned or had opinions about. Of course, you cannot return to childhood but its at least a way to approach things with a ‘fresh’ mind. Im sorry if im talking rubbish.


IMO - Kids have wonderful flexible suptle minds, and absolutley no fear of new experiences - they thrive on the new. My daughter is quite young, and is as enthusiastic about photoshop, as most kids are about computer games. Actually, I think she approaches PS as if it were a video game. She is exploring so many features of this program, and finding her way around it so adeptly, that I am constantly amazed. If my daughter asks me to look at something she is working on I drop whatever I am doing, and spend time with her, sharing in her latest adventure. I think natural curiousity and parental approval are both very important forces. For me it is very important to be encouraging, but not judgemental (no stage parenting!).

I think the shift comes when the individual encountering the new experience, begins to place a premium on the new experience, in terms of return value - you know the “OK and just what am I going to get out of this?” routine.

During university (way back when) one of my professors - also a prominent Canadian artist - coined (or at least exposed us students), to a wonderful phrase to describe the things done for no other purpose than our enrichment: “totally useless mind expanding things”.

I think as long as we can make room in our lives to do “totally useless mind expanding things” without feeling guilty about wasting time, we can thrive creatively, perhaps part of childrens success in this regard, is that they have not yet been conditioned to continually look over ones shoulder at the clock - they can live in the moment.



I’ve been reading through all of the previous messages, and I think we have missed part of the reason.

The [b]first[/b] part, as several people have said, is that children have very little to compare to, so they are willing to try every option, but they stop when they should have continued to the differences an adult.

It is my belief that children learn faster than adults because they have fewer to experiences to compare.  It is difficult to give a child's example of this, but I can give an adult example.  I use to do telephone technical support for end user software.  If anyone remembers PhotoFinish, that was the product that I supported.  Well I would occasionally get the grandmother or grandfather who just purchased their first computer and really had not idea how to operate the system.  When I told one nice, old lady to click the mouse on the program icon.  I heard a few clinks in the background, and then she told me nothing happened.  After a little brief conversation I found out that she had picked up the mouse as was tapping the screen with it.   

Now several of you are laughing right now, but if you stop and think, you'll realize that she did exactly what I told her to do.  She picked up that thing that was marked as a mouse, moved it over to the picture, and tried to make a clicking sound by tapping it on the screen.  She knew how to move the mouse, and she knew what a click was, unfortunately everything she knew did not apply to the computer.

I was able to help her, but I had to train her over the phone.  The easiest method was to take her to something she did know, and show her how it was the same.  For example, I got her to move the mouse be having her move it like an iron, and then have her look at the screen.  She was very quick to catch on, and she wrote the nicest letter to my boss at that time.

My point is that as you get older, you have more things to compare.  You know these things work because they have worked for you before, therefore they should work for you here, but they don't.  How quickly you can go through that list, and reach the I don't know stage is how fast you learn.

The [b]second[/b] part of the equation is how aware you are of time.  When you are young you have all the time in the world, quite literally.  Prior to school, you can work as long as you like on any specific task you choose.  You watch the ants build a hill, you swim in the pool, you kick the ball into the side of the house until you get bored, or decide there is something else that you want to do instead.  I was told that I could be kept quiet for hours be simply handing me a pencil and a stack of paper.   

Then came school, and my glimmer of a deadline.  Things had to be done at a certain time.  Assignments had to be completed.  I had to learn to manage my time, and one of the first things that had to be learned was what to give up.  Did I need to watch the ants build the hill?  Was there something else that I could be doing besides kicking the ball?  Okay, swimming was still important, but I am sure that all of you understand.  What person out there was has not said, “Why am I doing _____, when I could painting?”  This is the same thing that the friend said when someone tried to show them all of this geek stuff.  It wasn't important enough for them to use their time on it.

To sum up I'm going to use the metaphor of a painting.  When we are born, our minds are like blank pieces of paper with the bare hint of lines that will be our final image.  As we grow, more lines appear in almost a random pattern that eventually begins to hint at what we are to become.  We test, we play, and we learn.  Then we practice what we learn, and some of the lines become darker, and true shapes take form.  We grow older, and begin to learn to manage our time and learn what is important to us.  Our mind begins to form details around the important focus of the picture.  Background information is hinted at because it is less important.  When something new comes along, your mind does one of a three different things.  If it adds to the painting, it is quickly learned and remembered.  If it changes the focus of the painting, it is left without detail so it does not detract.  If it destroys the painting, it is rejected entirely.  As we get older, the painting gets nearer to completion.  For some, it is completed early on, and they find themselves stuck in their ways.  For others, they start over every few years.  Personally I don't think that anyone ever stops learning, but what we are willing to learn is based on how willing we are to repaint ourselves.

(Okay, I’m done with the soap box. Who wants it next?)


This is what I was going to say, albeit in a highly compressed form, but I did literally have a deadline to meet so I put it off :slight_smile:

Two things that make adults sometimes reluctant learners are the weight of learned experience and prejudices and an ever growing awareness of their own mortality whereas kids are uncritical and immortal. That’s what I was going to say.

I do think though that the brain is like any other part of the body and if you don’t exercise it, it will get flabby.

And don’t forget, it was ADULTS who invented the Wacom.