Lesson #9: Let Loose!
Ok. Not just 3, but FOUR different approaches to drawing. I know I had said there would be just 3 in these lessons, but I can’t resist! I must, must, MUST add this 4th one!! For our purposes, I’m going to call this very different approach…Improvisational Drawing. If you can get in your mind what’s happening when actors perform improvisational theater, when writers do stream-of-consciousness writing, or when musicians riff…then you’ll be farther along in understanding what I’m presenting to you today.
This approach to drawing is one I’ve played around with for many years in my sketchbooks, but really had no clear ideas about it, no firm teaching on it. I am a self-taught artist and much of what I’ve learned about drawing and painting has been through art BOOKS on technique, through VIEWING great artist’s works, through OBSERVATION, and through my own EXPLORATION. Through it all, I’ve discovered much about myself and my artistic preferences. The overarching thing I’ve come to know about myself is that I absolutely adore making marks on paper! Making marks of any kind on paper is, for me, IN AND OF ITSELF, a wonder-ous endeavor. Just moving a pen around on the page, watching the trail it leaves behind, is thrilling…whether that trail is “correct” or not.
Too much emphasis is placed on “accurate” drawing. If you watch young children draw, they have very few inhibitions (if any at all) about dashing off a drawing, regardless of its realistic accuracy. As the child gets older, however, outside forces begin to bare down on the child making him/her feel that drawing IS ONLY what happens when the drawing is a “correct” one. By “correct”, most folks typically mean, how well the drawing accurately describes the actual object, person, or place being drawn. It is a total shame that this emphasis and definition of drawing has become the preeminent and default definition most people subscribe to. I’d like to UNDO, EXPAND, and perhaps REDEFINE ways you have typically defined drawing that may be far too limiting and restricting.
It is a lovely thing, when you have held for years, certain gut feelings and opinions you did not know others shared. And then to find, along the way, that others have held these same opinions, and have even formulated and articulated them long before you have. Such is my delight in a book I’ve recently reacquainted myself with. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. Expressive Drawing by Steven Aimone is just such a book! I won’t take you through his book here, other than to quote him a few times, as I have Kimon Nicolaides book, The Natural Way to Draw, in the other lessons. You’ll have to buy, beg, borrow this book for all the rich information and exercises Aimone outlines. It is truly wonderful…here’s how he talks about this approach to drawing:
“Drawing is a powerful and wonderful language, capable of expressing things not easily conveyed any other way. As you know, drawings can be descriptive, by which I mean they can document the people, objects, or landscapes you encounter in the visible world. Perhaps this is the kind of drawing you’re best acquainted with but also most intimidated by!
Drawings can also be expressive: They can communicate things that are intangible or invisible–your memories, ideas, musings, emotions, even your spiritual world. And the good news is that everyone can draw like this, regardless of age, culture, education, or temperament.” (pg. 7)
What I’ve discovered through the years, is that many of my favorite artists, Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Richard Diebenkorn, Van Gogh, Milton Avery and Alberto Giacometti (among many, many others), have long-since paved the way for DRAWING to be defined in much broader terms other than rendering realistically. The history behind this approach to drawing is rich and exciting. Here’s how Steven Aimone defines DRAWING (and he uses many examples from the above list of artists to illustrate his definition):
“Drawing is the arrangement of line and mark in space, designed to serve a variety of expressive purposes… You, the artist, are a unique filter through which life’s experiences are processed. As a result, responses and expressions emerge that are completely your own. Your drawings reveal things that are not easily spoken of or experienced in any other way. No matter your style, temperament, or approach, drawings can function on three levels: representational, symbolic, and nonobjective…” (pg. 11)
In order to keep this a “Mini” Lesson, I won’t go into all three of these levels and their defining characteristics. Try to get your hands on the book if you’re interested in delving further. For our purposes today, I want you to set aside the three previous posts on CONTOUR, GESTURE, & MODELLED drawing. For today’s approach, you need to step outside of the desire to RECORD your life, and jump into EXPRESSING your life. To be sure, ALL drawings whether they be done in a contour, gesture, or a modelled approach can be expressive!! But for now, put aside attempts to record things, people, events per se, and try your hand at freely expressing your life through marks made on paper.
In classes I’ve taught on drawing, I have asked students to draw lines that, to them, express particular emotions. I was delighted to see that this exercise has been used by others, like Mr. Aimone in his book, to get people to see how just a simple mark on a page can exhibit qualities of anger, agitation, calm, joy, contentment, etc. You can try it too…here’s a grid you can use to make marks in the boxes that seem to fit the emotion. You could even designate ONE PAGE of your sketchbook to expressing in line and marks, a particular thought or feeling. Use any and all drawing/painting/collage elements to express it visually. And here’s the most important part, and I’m quoting Steven Aimone here:
“Without thinking, planning, worrying, or analyzing, generate a linear movement or movements that feel _______ [angry, serene, worried, joyful, etc.]–Let’er rip!” (pg. 67)
And also… “Remember, don’t worry about making a perfect or correct drawing here. Simply trust your instincts until you arrive at an arrangement that is satisfying–or, at the very least, intriguing!” (pg. 69)
Mr. Aimone repeats this mantra many times throughout the different exercises he offers in his book. Though each exercise contains a few “try this” specifications, they are nonetheless to be carried out with complete freedom of expression, staying away from a representational form. I love how he emphasizes that you are not after an “accurate” drawing, but rather one that is “satisfying” to you, or “intriguing”.
I hope this gives you an overall underpinning to this approach to drawing your life. Now here are some of my own suggestions, ways I have enjoyed drawing in this manner:
*Draw with a Brush! You may find, as I do many times, that paint can feel more expressive than a pen or pencil in this approach. If so, by all means use it! Watercolor on paper, either transparent or opaquely applied has inestimable expressive qualities. Acrylics and oils on paper can also be used. Many, many times I sit at my drawing table and just move paint around on the page, responding quickly to each stroke without hesitation. They end up feeling like little prayers or haiku poems expressing so much and yet perhaps nothing at all.
*Feel free to combine media. I love to use as many different things as I can on a nonobjective page. A little charcoal smeared around, then with some watercolor crayons and wax colored pencils with watercolor swooshed on top and then oil pastel drawn into that and some chinese white brushed into and over all of it except for bits here and there… Well, you get the picture. Really let yourself go with all the wonderful materials you have.
*Work quickly! This will shut down the “thinking” and “analyzing” side of your brain, and will allow your creative side to have free reign. The key then, once you’re “finished” is to keep yourself from judging the result!!!!! Your analytical brain may attempt to destroy what your creative brain has just expressed!
*Try the Assert/Obliterate method. This is totally fun, and Mr. Aimone describes this process more thoroughly. Basically what you’re to do is to make some marks, then erase/scrape/paint over/draw over/smear part of whatever you’ve drawn, then go at it again. Make assertions in line and marks. Then obliterate some of them in any way you choose. Repeat. Fun! The very first drawing in this post is an example of an Assert/Obliterate page.
*Think “Flux”. This is a cool term used to describe a drawing that has a sense of energy and movement in and through the marks on the page. It’s as if what’s happening in the drawing is actually occurring ON the page IN PROCESS, and not at it’s end result. The drawing is “in flux”. I like that. Very much.
*Try your best to stay away from any preconceived or pre-determined outcomes! Maybe you just want to make a page to express an emotion or a memory. But begin the page without determining what it will end up like. Just go for it. Just start. Put down a mark, a color, a swoosh of something and then react and respond to that! I think Mr. Aimone’s term for this is Automatic Drawing.
*Think Texture. Make marks on your paper that nod to textural marks from nature. Perhaps consider sitting outside NOT to draw what you see before you, but rather to make marks that mimic the textures all around you.
*Create a Day Page. Dedicate a page to describing the day you had, the feel of it, perhaps, or just stream-of-consciousness-mark-making as you think about your day. The very first drawing in this post started with a written account of a day. I wrote about what happened and my feelings about it. Then, through the process of Assert/Obliterate, I went about adding marks and colors that seemed to express the day.
*Draw/Paint Music! Play music of any kind and make marks on a page to express how you hear that music, what you feel, what it sounds like. Many famous artists, like Kandinsky, worked in this manner. Write the title of the music on the back of the page you create. Do this again, listening to the same music on another day! You’ll be surprised how different your mark-making is depending on when you listen to the music.
*Create an expressive “portrait” page…lines, marks, strokes, and colors, all while thinking of someone you know OR a self-portrait. Just let it flow freely and DO NOT JUDGE!!
*”Draw” with papers… I like to pull out papers and collage in a semi-random manner. Many times I’ll just start with a piece of “found” paper. This is a quirky piece that is perhaps leftover from a previous collage session where I cut something out. It’s an already cut/torn piece and I’ll just use it as a starting point to create shapes and colors around it. Sometimes I’ll just use ALL “found” papers without any tearing or cutting at all. Placing them in positions on the page that are pleasing to me.
*Create a page that has absolutely NO RHYME OR REASON to it at all!! Just marks on a page. Lines, colors, splotches, swooshes…make marks for marks’ sake. Any marks…painted, splattered, dark, light, long, thin, thick, dotted, sporadic, squiggly, strong, etc. Let go! Let’r rip! Let loose!
***Working with Improvisational Drawing pages will actually help your contour, gesture, and modelled drawings to be more expressive!!
(Note my little hand scrawl at the bottom of these pages. Click to enlarge image if you need to.)
A Blessing: May this week find you letting loose in the midst of your very structured, highly organized and planned life. May you find freedom in your sketchbook pages in such a way as to spill over into the rest of your life a sense of play and expression.
***Perhaps the allusions to our Life are evident here. But it really, really helps me to remember these things:
Life is like
a box of chocolates a page of Improvisational Drawing:
–Life is always in Flux.
–Life is sometimes asserting new things, sometimes retracting old ones.
–Life is setting our pens to the paper (be purposeful to show up) and then going with the flow (allowing Life to lead us wherever it takes us).
–Life can feel very random at times, with no rhyme or reason to it. Perhaps more than we’d like.
–Life is best lived WITHOUT preconceived or predetermined outcomes.
–Life is more enjoyable WITHOUT trying to overanalyze every detail!
–Life is filled with color, textures, marks and lines…a plethora of beautiful things that may at first appear to be a mish-mosh, but in the end create a lovely whole.
***Access all Mini Lessons for Drawing Your Life at the top of the home page on my blog! (OR just click the highlighted words in blue!)