DrawingwithMarkcoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
2014, 90 min., Color
Unrated (would be G)
Shelter Island/Big City
Aspect ratio: 16×9
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: C

If you have a small child who loves to draw and wants to get better at representational art, the Drawing with Mark DVDs might be just the ticket. While there are scores of learn-to-draw books out there, let’s face it: this up-and-coming generation is motivated by electronic and interactive learning situations, and nothing can take the place of actually seeing an artist draw so you can imitate the strokes. Maybe that’s why this series has earned the Seal of Approval from The National Parenting Center.

Mark Marderosian worked as an illustrator for Disney books and Golden Books during the ‘90s and in 2007 he created and marketed a collection of children’s stuffed animals called Angels from the Attic, with each character coming with a related storybook. In 2010 he and designer-animator Robert Palmer Jr. developed a TV show called Drawing with Mark, which was provided free of charge to public-access cable TV stations. That first year more than 105 channels came onboard, and in 2013 the Boston/New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences nominated the show for a Regional Emmy Award in the Children’s/Youth category.

It didn’t win, and I can see why. Though Mark’s heart is in the right place, the show combines “visits” to see the real thing plus drawing lessons, and the latter is definitely stronger than those field trips. Children are savvy and Mark comes across as not quite exuberant enough and the writing such that you wonder what ages are being targeted. Since his animated “angels” hover in many of the field-trip scenes, you have to think that he’s going for the seven-and-under crowd, but the drawing lessons themselves are such that the whole family can participate.

Pictionary is popular, and I can see families with children too young to play that game starting off with this. Pop in a DVD and have everyone draw, then compare and see how people did. Since family members will draw at different speeds, you’ll want to be able to pause the DVD frequently to give everyone a chance to catch up.

DrawingwithMarkscreenDrawing with Mark: Take Flight, As the Wheels Turn & Fire Station was released on December 2, and so was Let’s Go to the Zoo & Zoo Stories. At the risk of perpetuating gender stereotypes, it’s still been my experience that cars and planes and fire engines are of more interest to boys, but there’s an advantage to starting with this disc: there’s more angularity in vehicles, and they therefore seem easier to draw than the animals.

As the press release for this title notes, “In addition to its Parent’s Choice and Creative Child Magazine awards, Drawing with Mark is a Dr. Toy winner for “best vacation” product and was approved by Kids FIRST!, a voluntary collaboration consisting of more than 100,000 members whose mandate is to teach children critical viewing skills and to increase the visibility and availability of quality children’s media.”

And I will say this: My children can attest that I’m the worst drawer when it comes to a game like Pictionary, but I was able to draw the airplane and cars right along with Mark. The secret is in the steps, and while Mark won’t be there forever to follow, you have to believe that learning the logic of sequence in a number of examples will make enough of an impact so young would-be artists can begin to guess sequences on other objects as well.