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Introduction

This activity offers suggestions for a series of experimental drawing exercises that can be explored in the classroom or at home. 

The exercises will help students to loosen up in their approach to drawing, be less precious about neatness and detail and explore lines and mark-making as well as the possibilities of drawing materials.

Artists often use quick drawing exercises to warm up as they begin their work. As well as freeing themselves up from labouring over detail, the quick exercises help them to pick out essential shapes, lines and emotions. The aim is not for 'perfect' finished drawings, but alternative representations of an object or person.

Below are just a few examples of artists' drawings. Many more drawings can be found on Art UK.

Take-aways

At the end of a drawing session, think about (or encourage students to think about) the drawings they have made.

  • What does your drawing look like? (What words would you use to describe it?)
  • Is there anything unexpected about it?
  • Are there any bits of the drawing that you like?
  • What did you discover?
  • Is there anything that you have discovered that you can take to future drawings?

Materials

You will need:

  • a good supply of paper e.g. a sketchbook, printer paper or sugar paper, or a combination of these (try and have some big sheets of paper available too)
  • a range of drawing materials: biros or felt pens; pencils (softer 2B and 4B are best, but HB is OK); coloured pencils or crayons; charcoal
  • a sharpener
  • a stopwatch (mobile phones usually have one)

Drawing exercises

Choose a subject

Choose a person or object to draw (or if you are teaching, you could assign students a subject if easier).

Alternatively, you could choose a sculpture from the Art UK website to draw. (By clicking through to the sculpture you can see multiple photos of the sculpture, viewed from different angles.)

Continuous line drawing

  • Set a timer for four minutes. Draw your chosen subject without taking your pencil off the page – this might mean creating extra lines to get from one bit of the drawing to another. You'll find your drawing has some interesting qualities.
  • Then try making a continuous line drawing without looking at the page. Keep your eyes fixed on the person or object that you are drawing and try not to look at what is happening on your page (don't cheat!) What is the result?

Drawings without taking the pencil off the page

Drawings without taking the pencil off the page

Development idea: continuous line abstract doodle!

Now that you are used to making a continuous line drawing, let’s try something different.

Put your pen or pencil on your paper and take it for a walk – as if you are doodling. You could draw something from your imagination or just make an abstract pattern. But don't take your pen off the paper. You will see that your continuous line has created lots of shapes. Fill these in with different colours to make a colourful abstract artwork.

Two Figures

Two Figures

Kenneth Hall (1913–1946)

Manchester Art Gallery

Loose control!

  • Draw with a pencil or biro in your less dominant hand (your left hand if you are right-handed, for example). This can be a challenge at first but be brave and give it a go. Time yourself for four minutes. Your drawing may look quite strange, but you might discover some interesting lines – and might learn to love it!

Drawn using the hand they don't usually write with

Drawn using the hand they don't usually write with

  • Tape a piece of charcoal or a felt-tip pen to a long stick (such as a metre ruler, a garden cane or even a wonky stick from a garden or park). Set a timer for 3 minutes and draw your subject standing at a distance from the paper. The length of the stick will make it hard for you to control what you are doing and you'll see some lively marks! Increase the time to 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 15 minutes. How do the drawings change?

 Double trouble

  • Choose two coloured pencils and draw your subject with both hands at the same time. This can be quite a strange experience to start with but stick with it.

Drawing with both hands

Drawing with both hands

  • Now attach two coloured pencils together with tape and draw your subject. Then try drawing with 3 or more pencils strapped in a bundle!

In the Aftermath of World War Two (I)

In the Aftermath of World War Two (I) 1974

Arnold Daghani (1909–1985)

Ben Uri Collection

Abstracting your subject

  • Simplify your subject into the different shapes you can see. Rearrange these shapes in different ways to make an abstract version of your subject. Which arrangement works best?

Breaking the subject down into simple shapes

Breaking the subject down into simple shapes

Twelve Pins, Cumbria

Twelve Pins, Cumbria 1955

Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887–1976)

The Lowry Collection, Salford

You might be familiar with artist L.S. Lowry's paintings of industrial streets (with tiny matchstick-like figures), but did you know he also produced simple drawings of empty landscapes? Many of these are devoid of details and have an abstract quality. Explore his drawings on Art UK for inspiration.

Different views...

  • Have a go at drawing your subject from different angles or viewpoints, making the drawings on top of each other. This will create an interesting abstract drawing that provides different views of the same subject.

Transitional Object

Transitional Object

Ray Smith (1949–2018)

Southampton City Art Gallery

...and moving models

  • Ask a friend, classmate or family member to strike a different pose every 10 seconds for a minute. Draw the poses. Focus on the main lines made by their body and limbs to create a sense of movement. You could place the drawings on top of each other for extra movement effect! Then have a go at longer poses (for 30 seconds, then a minute and five minutes). How do the drawings change? What did the super-quick poses and drawings teach you?
  • Now have a go at drawing a moving model. Ask a friend or family member to walk up and down the room in front of you (or to dance!) Use quick lines and marks to capture their movement. Don't worry if your drawing is messy and it doesn't look much like a figure – capturing the movement is the key point of this exercise!

Collaborative drawing for two people

  • Work in pairs. One of the pair should choose an object (or a simple sculpture from Art UK's website if you prefer) without revealing what this is. They should then describe the object to their partner. They can describe its shape, texture and any either qualities, but try not to give away what it is! 

Two Heads (Mother and Child)

Two Heads (Mother and Child) c.1932

Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975)

The Pier Arts Centre

  • Now try the same exercise again using a different subject. This time the drawer should wear a blindfold so not only can they not see the object they are drawing, but they also cannot see what the drawing they are creating on the paper looks like!
  • Compare the drawings to the original objects. Are there any similarities? How are they different?

Collaborative group drawing

  • This fun drawing activity works best with four or more people. Tape a piece of paper to the back of each drawer and give each of the drawers a wax crayon or soft pencil.
  • Stand in a circle with each person facing the back of the person in front. 
  • One person in the circle is the designated drawer and chooses a subject to draw (or they may decide to create an abstract drawing of shapes, marks and lines). 
  • The drawer should draw their drawing onto the paper on the back of the person in front. This person then draws what they feel on their back onto the back of the person in front of them and so on.
  • Compare the drawings at the end of the exercise. How have the drawings changed down the line?

Sensory drawing: sound

  • Make an abstract drawing in response to music. Have a selection of drawing tools available such as pencils, charcoal, crayons and ink and brushes and some large sheets of paper. Select some music (this could be for example classical music, hip hop or jazz). 
  • Start by listening to the music for two or three minutes with your eyes closed. Try thinking about it in relation to marks, lines and physical movements.
  • Now have a go at translating the sounds you hear and how the music makes you feel into marks on your paper.
  • Try playing a very different piece of music to draw to. How does your drawing change?

Drawing No. 21

Drawing No. 21 c.1962

Sandra Blow (1925–2006)

Ben Uri Collection

If you are interested in how music can be used in art, have a look at the paintings of artist Denzil Forrester. He was inspired by the music he heard as a youth in nightclubs in the East End of London. He drew and sketched in the clubs and used his sketches to create paintings full of music and the movement of dancers.

Witchdoctor

Witchdoctor 1983

Denzil Forrester (b.1956)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

Sensory drawing: touch

  • Make a drawing inspired by your sense of touch.
  • The teacher (or someone not taking part in the activity) should place some objects in tote bags and secure the bags so that the objects cannot be seen. Try and include a range of objects with different shapes and textures.
  • Drawers should then feel the objects through the fabric of the bags. What forms and surfaces can you feel? Try translating these into lines, shapes and marks. (Even if you recognise the objects, try not to draw what you think they look like, focus on the forms and surfaces as this will make for a more interesting drawing!)

Untitled 2*

Untitled 2*

Will Alsop (1947–2018)

The Nightingale Project


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