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Primary Key Stage 1 & 2 Art Skills Progression

Pupils develop their ability in art by building their knowledge & skills whilst simultaneously applying them creatively. This page looks at the skills element of progression in art and design. Other aspects are discussed in other pages in the menu. 

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Planning Effective Skills Progression

 You cannot build pupils’ artistic ability effectively by teaching knowledge and skills haphazardly. There has to be consistent

threads running through your curriculum, where essential knowledge builds and accumulates from EYFS to Year 6. Usually, you would teach Drawing & Painting in this way but you should provide experiential opportunities of other types of art that you may not have time to sequence fully, such as clay or textiles, or one-off activities. activities.


In a typical art and design curriculum, skills are often fragmented and the pupils do not have sufficient time to develop them confidently. Pupils might be successful in a particular aspect of art such as using charcoal for example, but then not get chance to develop that technique again because the teacher isn’t ‘doing’ charcoal until next year, or not at all. 

You cannot possibly cover all areas of art skills, so I think you should sequence some priority skills such as drawing and painting and provide experiences of less sequenced skills such as clay or printmaking. In my skills progression model, I outline how all of the main areas might be sequenced, but I wouldn’t expect all of them to be rigidly taught. 


NEW Drawing skills progression produced in conjunction with Hannah Davies St Mary’s & St Peters Primary School Teddington

As part of their planning, subject leads should pick out the sequential threads of learning they feel best suit their pupils' needs and focus on delivering & measuring those. Usually, but not always, this is drawing and painting and maybe one or two other areas such as sculpture and printmaking. Drawing and painting progress in sequential threads along these lines:

DRAWING SKILL & CONTROL - Developing fine motor skills when using line, shape and tone from the formal elements

DRAWING MEDIUM - gaining experience of working in a wide range of art materials

DRAWING PURPOSE - The purpose of a drawing changes its appearance and function

PAINTING SKILL & CONTROL - Developing fine motor skills when painting
PAINTING TECHNIQUES - learning the various ways paint can be applied
PAINTING FORMAL ELEMENTS - learning about colour, texture, pattern, line, shape, tone, form etc.


These are set out in more detail in my progression guide. Whatever other skills you select to sequence, you should provide clear, consistent, and regular learning objectives for teachers and pupils to work to. The skills should be revisited regularly so that you can ensure they have been properly learned.

It is common for primary schools to create a long-term topic overview of the topics they will teach throughout the year. This is fine, but you cannot meander through art domains, jumping from one art medium to the next if you want children to build their skills. They must have time to gradually increase the level of difficulty in selected areas, to properly embed and learn the skills they are learning.

By colour-coding each art medium in the plan below, I can see when and where we are covering drawing, painting, printing etc. I can see where the gaps are and where my coverage is strongest and weakest. I know for example, that I’m only teaching painting once in Years 2, 4, and 5 and it may be that I want to teach this further. 

However, we need to ensure we are sequencing threads through our planning so that skills build up properly. You would therefore need to identify the progression skills target you want to teach, allow time for the pupils to practice and repeat it over time, then teach the corresponding skill the following year in order to sequentially improve.  

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This does not mean that you simply teach pupils a dry, unimaginative skill and keep practicing it in the hope that one day they will do something nice with what they know. What it means is:


  • Acquire the identified knowledge  - School-led: by teacher instruction, by video tutorial, by peer demonstration, from books or study of others working for example. Pupil-led: pupil’s own interests and desires to make art lead to the acquisition of new knowledge. 

  • Practice executing and applying the knowledge in creative, imaginative ways

  • Review the learning

  • Repeat these cycles over and over, acquiring deeper knowledge from closer observation and further practice and reviews. 


You do not need to wait until a pupil has acquired a high level of skill before they can apply it imaginatively. Creative application is the vehicle by which people learn skills. Stimulating formats inspire us to keep making art, they drive us forward in the subject. Not many artists are ever fully satisfied with their level of skill or the standard of the outcome, but they keep doing it because they enjoy it. Motivation is crucial to success.

Learning how to draw and shade a cube takes guidance and practice. Most will give up out of frustration if they keep failing. But get them drawing and shading an X-Box, a skyscraper or the interior of their bedroom and they will be more motivated. They will usually fail at first but this is fine. We all do. Deal with the failure and keep them motivated to want to try again. Telling them they aren’t ready to draw and shade their X-Box until they’ve mastered the skills first is a recipe for disaster. 

This is how we learn skills:

motivation - instruction - practice - reflection

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Art skills
Teaching drawing is especially difficult because it is an enormously diverse field. Even the actual definition of drawing is difficult because there are so many different ways to draw. That said, there are some component skills that need to be mastered, whatever the drawing style you prefer. We all need to develop fine motor skills in order to realise our intentions; whether you're drawing in a traditional, realist style, or an abstract style, or a contemporary, expressive one. Head over to my ONLINE drawing page for some basic tutorials.

Primary Drawing 

By the age of seven most young children have very strong opinions about their art ability. They will define themselves as belonging to one of three ability groups; good, ok or useless. This definition is very powerful and long-lasting and is formulated by observation of peers and classroom, playground conversation. Quite paradoxically, most children still enjoy art immensely despite their anxieties. In a child's mind drawing IS art, they believe wrongly that if you can't draw you aren't good at art. And their definition of drawing is limited too. They usually aren't taught that there are a range of drawing styles; graphic, abstract, contemporary, sculptural, realistic, technical, architectural, digital, the list goes on. Nor do they receive comprehensive drawing tuition in these styles to find which one suits them and how to improve. Opportunities to draw are often restricted too and so my advice is simple:: provide time for pupils to draw for creative self-expression, teach them about different drawing styles and if you don't have the ability to teach drawing skills yourself then my drawing tutorials should help.

Contemporary drawing

Contemporary Drawing

The Ebook features 12 modern drawing activities that stimulate creative and unique approaches to drawing and do not require realistic drawing skills.


Contemporary Drawing 

Drawing does not have to be for the gifted few who are naturally talented at realism. There are many different styles of drawing; graphic, pattern based, sculptural, architectural, abstract, digital, you can even draw with clay or wire. However, art projects are often so constrained in design that the only way a pupil can be successful is to followthe teachers narrow ideals. 

By planning more open projects that have diverse approaches you will encourage pupils to work in ways that suit their learning style. This is really evident when you look at contemporary art because this shows you clearly that you can make brilliant art without having traditional realist drawing skills. Try my contemporary drawing exercises to get you started.


Abstract drawing

Abstract Drawing

This lesson challenges students to invent a secret language then draw in an abstract way to communicate words and phrases in their own unique style. 

Free Drawing Lessons 

Here are some free drawing lessons for you to download.

Drawing from memory should help to build basic memory retention which in turn develops learning ability. Object in a bag and Doodle Bugs are aimed at developing imagination whilst Mark Making focusses on expressing emotions and creative intelligence.

Drawing lesson plans ideas

Memory Drawing

This staple drawing exercise was used by Henry Moore during the war to draw in the air raid shelters. It is an essential!

Free to Download

Drawing with letters lesson plan

Drawing Letters

The relationship between writing and drawing is powerful and often children who are struggling to draw a shape will find confidence

Free to Download

Drawing lesson plans ideas

Doodle Bugs

This is a lovely starter exercise enjoyed by pupils of all ages (even adults!)

Free to Download

Drawing lesson plans ideas

Mark Making

I love this lesson. It's so simple, fun and expressive. Students love it too. I've seen it done Early Years through to GCSE

Blind hand drawing lesson

Blind Hand Drawing

All ages

Another lovely starter activity that focusses students' attention on something very familiar to them.

Free to download

back to back drawing lesson

Describing Drawing 

All ages

This exercise can be a great literacy activity and is excellent fun too! I use this a lot in class.

Free to download

rubber drawing

Rubber Drawing

All ages

Alovely drawing activity that deals in drawing in reverse. You take away marks instead of adding them. Great fun for all.

Free to download

Blind contour drawing lesson

Blind Contour Drawing

All ages

Making 'blinds' to go over the drawing hand is a great way of teaching young artists to study hard.​

Free to download

Primary K-6 Painting

Painting in the Primary school is of huge importance to art and design education in later years. If children are taught colour mixing and properties, control, dexterity and skills they will make the transition to Secondary High School art with ease and may just develop a lifelong love. Get it wrong and it's all too familiar to hear the cries of; "I hate painting!"

Of course you will already have some fabulous painting practice going on in your school and I'm sure your pupils get some great experiences. But teaching painting is not easy. You need a lot of technical know how and even then you need to be able to translate that into simple terms the children understand.

Things like handling the brush, painting straight lines, mixing tones, blending from light to dark, watercolour washes, acrylic paint are all important. This is before you teach colour expression, mood, technique and depth of field etc. Painting is a specialist area but don't panic. You don't need to be an expert yourself, just provide opportunities to paint and follow some of these simple exercises that are free to download.

Painting tips

Painting Tips

All ages

A powerpoint that outlines basic principles and housekeeping of painting. Great to print out andf post near the sink!

Free download

Colour theory

Colour Theory

Age 7-14

Some teachers prefer to embed colour theory into projects but this stand alone worksheet & powerpoint is great to have.

Free download

Tints & Shades

Tints & Shades

Age 7-14 

Improve your student's painting techniques by completing this range of worksheets for tints and shades.


Free download



Age 7-14

A lovely project that teaches colour mixing by practical application. The students study famous paintings by the Impressionists. 

Free download

Pop Art

Pop Art 

Age 7-14

A traditional Pop Art project that works well and gets great results. Save yourself loads of time and get it here!

Free download

Imagination drawing


Age 7-14

Sometimes the simple things work best! Working from imagination is often under used in the art room due to its unpredictable outcomes.

Free download

Jungle art project

Jungle Project

Age 7-14

Improve your student's painting techniques by learning depth of field, size and proportion. This can be adapted for collage

Free download.

Kandinsky music art project

Music Kandinsky

Age 7-14

Many art rooms use this type of project where students study Kandinsky and listen to music to create abstract art.

Free download.

Charcoal drawing skills


In this project students will learn about tones when working with charcoal


Free to Download

Wax resist art skills

Wax Resist 

Uses oil pastels and powdered ink. The technique in this lesson are great for sketchbooks.


Free to Download

Ink drawing skills

Indian Ink 

Shows you the basics of using Indian Ink. It can be done by students at any level, & usually goes down well


Free to Download

texture art skills


I put this together as an introduction to using cut out shapes and textures. Good sketchbook activity.


Free to Download



Paul Carney Paul is a nationally recognised art & design consultant having delivered specialist art CPD in schools, colleges, galleries, and Universities across the UK and for the UK’s leading training providers. He is a former Council member for the NSEAD, which means he is involved in national art education policy issues.Paul is a published author of two books: Drawing for Science, Invention and Discovery and his latest book Drawing to learn anything. He is also a practicing professional artist and designer. Paul runs his highly successful art website: that provides high quality teaching resources and advice to teachers around the world. He has over twenty years teaching experience at Primary, Secondary and post-16 levels of education, is an Advanced Skills Teacher, ex-Subject Leader for Art and was a member of the DfE Expert Advisory Group for Art and Design. In addition to this he was a member of the NSEAD Curriculum Writing Group that wrote the 'Framework for Progression, Planning for Learning, Assessment, Recording and Reporting 2014.’ 

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