Barry Stebbing, himself a professional artist, believes God has given everyone a measure of artistic ability. How Great Thou Art is his valiant effort to help homeschool students uncover their own, and develop it to God's glory. His books are intended primarily for preschool, elementary and middle school students, but can be used by any independent art learner who wants a grasp of the fundamentals and a chance to achieve a measure of success putting them to use. They cover primarily sketching, drawing and painting.
How Do These Work?
There are three basic age groups each course falls under—ages 3-10, 8 and up, and 12 and up. Assignments and content become increasingly more challenging, and as students get older they'll encounter ethical questions all Christian artists must face, like the place of nudity in art, how to deal with religious themes, etc. Stebbing wastes no time even in the books for young kids teaching things like perspective, the color wheel and color theory, using pencils and brushes, shading, composition and much more.
The most basic book in the series is Baby Lamb's Book of Art, which introduces very young children to the basics of drawing, printing and coloring. This is very foundational stuff, and probably not appropriate for kids over five years old. For younger ones, however, Baby Lamb's Book of Art is an excellent way to get them interested in art, and to begin honing the fine motor skills necessary to draw and paint.
Little Annie's ART Book of Etiquette & Good Manners takes a more eclectic approach, encompassing more craft-oriented things like cut and paste while teaching kids good manners and social protocol. Assignments are typically more basic than in Baby Lamb's Book of Art, even though it's intended for a slightly older audience, though the emphasis is more on etiquette than art.
For this level, the most comprehensive art instruction text is I Can Do All Things for ages 6 and up, which pretty thoroughly covers the basics of drawing and coloring before introducing painting more briefly. Students are carefully guided through simple assignments like drawing long straight lines before moving on to the use of detail and color, which then segue into painting and a bit of art history.
Less of an instructional text, Art and the Bible for Children is a book of popular Bible stories for kids retold by teenaged homeschool student Joshua Olds and Barry Stebbing, and illustrated by young artists across the country. At the end of each lesson there are discussion questions relating to the story, and art/craft assignments. This is not an independent art instruction course, however, and should be used alongside or after I Can Do All Things.
Similarly, the Children's Art Journal isn't intended to replace or act as an instructional course, but to supplement more thorough study and offer a fun, personalized opportunity for practice. This is probably best for students who really like "doing art." It allows them to describe their feelings about drawing and painting, gauge their progress, and put concepts and methods learned in I Can Do All Things to practical use.
Ages 8 & Up
At this stage Stebbing takes students away from simply honing their own skills, to more thoroughly exploring those of past masters and prominent Christian artists. Everything is still oriented toward enhancing young artists' abilities, but at the same time they gain a better knowledge of art history and begin to understand more just how a Christian can glorify God through his or her artwork.
The Lamb's Book of Art I and II follow a similar approach to the Baby Lamb's Book of Art, with more advanced concepts and techniques, and more difficult lessons. These are exclusively drawing/coloring texts; students learn printing, more color theory, perspective, etc. while completing mazes, making their own comic strips, drawing from nature, and more. A teacher's manual covering both books offers objectives for evaluating student artwork, suggestions for lesson presentation, and supplemental information concerning techniques.
For this middle level Feed My Sheep is the central text. It's largely a more advanced version of I Can Do All Things, with over 200 hundred daily lessons integrating everything from dimensions and focal points to opacity to anatomy and still lifes. Children study and practice penmanship, drawing, painting, art appreciation, and portraits, all from a Christian perspective.
God and the History of Art and God & Christian Artists are complementary volumes that should be used after Feed My Sheep. The first continues to teach drawing and painting technique while focusing on art history, while the second explores specific Christian artists and the ethical and moral questions every Christian artist must face and answer.
While the title suggests otherwise, The Wonderful Art of Drawing Horses isn't just for horse lovers. While students only practice drawing horses at an intermediate level (use this only after completing Feed My Sheep or one of the How Great Thou Art books), the principles of drawing living creatures in action are applicable in a variety of contexts and for a number of purposes.
Ages 12 & Up
The shift in difficulty may be a bit of a jolt for some students at this stage. How Great Thou Art I and II focus primarily on drawing, and Stebbing abandons the somewhat primitive examples provided in the previous texts for more mature examples of detailed three-dimensional art. Pencils and pen and ink are the primary tools for these texts, as students learn to draw realistic portraits, figures, still lifes and landscapes. A teacher's guide is helpful for parents not sure how to provide appropriate guidance and useful hints.
As useful and appealing to many adults as much as students, The Student's Guide to Keeping an Art Journal provides prompts, places to write and draw, recommendations for art tools, and a number of more advanced technical tips and pointers. This isn't an instructional text, and should only be used after completing How Great Thou Art or The Book of Many Colors (preferably both). It's also not an art journal, but a guide to keeping one.
In many ways the capstone to all the books offered by Stebbing, The Book of Many Colors focuses on one of the primary elements any capable artist must master—color. Stebbing covers both colored pencils and painting, and teaches principles of color theory, realism, blending, pastels, etc. This is the longest book in the series, and with its focused subject matter in many ways the most useful. However, without a background in the basics of drawing and painting covered in Stebbing's other volumes, students probably won't have much success with the concepts or assignments.
Each book at each level (with the exception of the two art journal books) comes with "marker" or "paint" cards, on which students complete many of the assignments, mostly those having to do with coloring. How Great Thou Art (Stebbing's publishing company) also provides high-quality art supplies and tools for students; Stebbing stresses over and over the need for good equipment, as poorer quality stuff will yield poorer quality results.
Depending on how much your child likes (or loves, or detests) art instruction, you can limit or expand lesson time accordingly. Stebbing suggests (for each book in each level) one hour per week if the child doesn't like art much, three if they're reasonably interested, and five if they're absolute fanatics. Of course, you can do more than that if you want, though it's important not to let kids burn out from over-exposure.
Our Honest Opinion:
There aren't a lot of art programs available for home school families, especially from a distinctly Christian worldview. Stebbing's books are full of Scriptural references, admonitions to faithfulness, Bible verses and stories, and other character building content—they are also noticeably free of inappropriate content, including nudes, etc. There isn't a lot of teacher support (unless you want to buy the instructional DVDs), but there doesn't need to be as assignments and lessons are clearly presented.
In the early books, students are guided in fairly unrealistic compositions, drawing and painting cartoonish (and in some ways rather clumsy) figures, objects and scenes. As the books progress, however, Stebbing integrates more elements of realism, until by the end students can create fairly convincing works on their own.
There's quite a bit of overlap from book to book. The overall arc is very gradual, so you probably don't want to use every text at each level. The recommended progression for the painting books is I Can Do All Things, Feed My Sheep, God & the History of Art and The Book of Many Colors. Many of the other titles can be used as supplements, but aren't necessary for the course's overall flow and progression.
This isn't the greatest thing since acrylic paints, but it's head and shoulders above almost anything else available. Stebbing's commitment to Christ is refreshing, and the purity of content throughout the series will be appreciated by most parents. Kids will genuinely learn a lot about art, both from an appreciator's standpoint and from an artist's. For a well-rounded education, kids need to study art; this is a great place to start.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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