Dr. Richard Jolley visits the University of Thessaly to present research on children’s expressive drawings

Dr Richard Jolley

In the second of two blogs, Dr Richard Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Psychology and member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) blogs about a research visit to Greece:

On May 23rd I set off to Volos, Greece on an invited trip to the University of Thessaly. I had been asked to give a talk on the development of children’s expressive drawings, and to provide assistance with the Greek translation of my book, ‘Children and Pictures: Drawing and Understanding’.

I set out with some trepidation for the navigation from Athens airport to Volos using a connection of Greek buses and taxis felt like a considerable challenge.  However, the excellent instructions I’ve been given by Dr Fotini Botini, the scientific editor of the Greek translation of my book and the organiser of my talk to her students, made travelling across Greece seem very straightforward. Nevertheless, door-to-door the trip did take a full day and half the night, and I arrived shortly after midnight the next day. None of that seem consequential when I looked at the view from my hotel window the following morning!


My talk presented later that day was received by a group of very motivated and interested postgraduate students who certainly kept me on my toes! The talk was an overview of how children express mood in pictures, and the techniques they use (more details of these can be found in my blog about my research trip to the University of  Lausanne).

I also presented data on the pattern in which children’s expressive drawing develops. An influential and long-standing position is that children’s expressive and aesthetic drawings develop in a U-shape. That is, young children’s drawings are thought to be particularly expressive and creative, but then dip during the school years due to a focus on making realistic representations, only then for expressiveness to re-emerge for some adolescents. However, this position has been argued to depend upon measuring the drawings from a ‘modernist’ perspective which places more emphasis on how children have used abstract formal properties (colour, line, composition, etc.) for expressive and aesthetic purposes. I presented my own research conducted with colleagues from both the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University (Dr Claire Barlow) and other institutions (Prof Ken Rotenberg, Keele University; Dr Maureen Cox, University of York). Our findings showed that expressive drawing develops in an age-incremental pattern from pre-schoolers to adult artists, but if the scores are adjusted to limit the impact of the participants’ ability to draw visually realistically then the developmental pattern does indeed tend towards a U-shape.

Immediately following the talk, I had a fascinating discussion with the students who very ably picked up some of the methodological issues in my research which we were then able to apply to their own research studies. Here are a couple of quotes:

“A while ago I was participating to a seminar in “Children Drawings Research Methodology” that Mr. R. Jolley was the main speaker.

It was revealing the way that he was explaining to the audience (us) all the details of children’s drawing that we should pay attention to in research, using several examples during his presentation that made absolutely clear what he was talking about!  He also thoroughly answered all our questions that made obvious his knowledge, interest and love that he has for his research field that transmitted clearly to us!

By the end of the seminar, I was already thinking about abstract expression, color, lines, composition, overall quality and stories that children drawings may be telling us!

Thank you for the exceptional presentation, Dr. Jolley!!”

Olga Michailidou, Grammar School teacher


“Professor Jolley’s lecture was well structured. He provided a review of his previous work and the learning goals for the lecture being delivered. He demonstrated enthusiasm in his presentation and he asked questions to ensure our engagement with the topic. To conclude I believe that Dr. Jolley communicated his energy and enthusiasm for his research work, he was inspirational for the students and the new researchers.”

Aspasia Mantziou, PhD Student


Expressive drawing is just one part of my wider interest in children’s making and understanding of pictures, and in 2010 Wiley-Blackwell published my book in this area. It has been particularly pleasing for me that the book is currently being translated both in Chinese and in Greek. Dr Bonoti is editing the Greek translation to be published by Topos Books, in which I will be writing a preface. The following day of my trip presented an opportunity for me to clarify the meaning of some sentences of the original text. Our discussion reminded me of how much metaphor and symbolism we use in language, but when translated literally into another language this can lead to confusion!

The topic of children and pictures is not just a research interests of mine, but also a subject in which students at Staffordshire University learn about.  For nearly 20 years it has been a final year option for students studying for a degree across our psychology programmes, and has always been popular and well received by the students.


Jolley, R.P., Barlow, C.M., Rotenberg, K.J., & Cox, M.V. (2016). Linear and U-shape trends in the development of expressive drawing from pre-schoolers to adult artists. Psychology of Creativity, Aesthetics and the Arts, 10, 309-324.

Jolley, R.P. (2010). Children and Pictures: drawing and understanding. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire Centre. The Centre is home to a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines. The Centre has two overarching research streams: Health and Behaviour Change and Applied Perception and Cognition.

The Centre provides training for PhD students, Research Masters degrees, as well as Professional Doctorates in Clinical and Health Psychology (click here for more details). The Centre also provides bespoke training to private and public organisations, as well as expertise for consultancy research opportunities. For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

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  1. Pingback: Dr. Richard Jolley visits the University of Lausanne to discuss children’s expressive drawings | InPsych @ Staffordshire University

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