We’re starting 2018 with an issue of Cloth Paper Scissors that asks you to challenge yourself. Now, I know that’s not always easy—that’s why it’s called a challenge. But I think if you try some of these projects, you’ll see aspects of your mixed-media art practice change for the better. One of the projects features incredibly fun drawing exercises, and there’s a reason I wanted to include this article in the issue.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I started learning how to draw a couple of years ago, and it’s been a revelation. And while you certainly don’t have to know how to draw in order to be an artist, incorporating drawing exercises into your practice can benefit you in tons of ways: They can sharpen your observational skills, make you less afraid of drawing if you’re fearful of it, and help you hone your unique style. But don’t just take my word for it—check out Carla Sonheim’s article “Let Go and Draw” in the January/February issue. I decided to take my own advice and try her three exercises, and I’m so glad I did.
I created a small, simple still life, composed on a vintage plate. Nothing fancy, but I included a few interesting shapes. I worked on inexpensive 90-lb. hot-press watercolor paper and used a black fine-point permanent pen.
The first exercise focuses on drawing with your non-dominant hand, looking at the subject more than at the paper. I knew this would be challenging, but it felt as if I was trying to guide someone else’s hand. I started laughing because my hand wanted to do its own thing, and my brain wanted it to rein it in. I’m not sure who won this round!
This is the result. You can see that the lines are shaky and unsure, but as I drew the still life I had to really focus on getting my hand to do what I wanted it to, and that taught me to slow down, really concentrate on what it was I wanted to accomplish, and coordinate what I was seeing with my hand movements. I do love the energy of the drawing, and the fact that the pitcher looks like it’s melting.
For the second of the three drawing exercises, I did a blind contour drawing. This time I drew with my dominant hand, but I looked at the subject the whole time, and not the paper. This was even more challenging in a way than using my left hand, since I’m so used to looking at the paper when I draw. I tend to be self-critical, and if I create something I don’t like it just puts me in a funk. Going into this I knew it wasn’t going to look anything like I wanted it to, so I abandoned myself to the process and instead concentrated on what I was drawing. When you get lost in the process you immediately loosen up and let go of expectations. This exercise was incredibly freeing, and the anticipation of seeing what you drew at the end was absolutely worth it. Here is the result.
For the third drawing exercise, I did a contour drawing, again using my right hand, and looking at the subject about 60% of the time and my paper about 40% of the time. I didn’t want to cheat, so I was aware of spending more time looking at the still life. This drawing is still pretty raw, but there’s definitely some improvement in the rendering of the elements. Still missed the boat on perspective and composition, but like the blind contour drawing, I focused on slowing down and coordinating my hand with my eye. Once I started doing this it was difficult to stop—I was having so much fun making these drawings and being smack in the middle of the zone.
But wait, the fun’s not over yet! Don’t toss these drawings when you’re done—Carla suggests using the drawings as a starting point for a mixed-media piece. With that in mind, I added watercolor to the contour drawing, painting loosely and adding a little bit of shading.
I wanted to give the piece a little more zing, so I added collage, first gluing book pages to the top and going over them with white gesso. I used some printed paper cut-outs to add depth and visual texture to the elements and the background, adhering everything with glue stick. For a border, I drew along the edges with a black Stabilo All pencil and went over the lines with a wet paintbrush.
Whenever I feel the need to loosen up, focus, and have fun, I’m going straight for these drawing exercises. One of my goals for the year is do these at least once a week, and use them for a drawing warm-up. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did, and that you begin to see a difference in your artwork. Remember to enjoy the process, breathe, and keep going!
Learn the keys to keeping an inspiration sketchbook in this terrific post from Annie O’Brien Gonzales.
As Carla says, let go and draw! Let these resources help you create a regular drawing practice that will enhance your mixed-media artwork.