Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Drawing Exercises I Have Known 1

Confession: drawing isn't something I do enough of.  However, I'm not sure I could ever feel that I draw enough.  I think, though, that it's fair to say I could do more of it than I do.  This fact got me thinking about all the weird exercises I've been exposed to.  I thought it might be interesting to share a few of these with you all.  Most will be familiar with you, some may not be.  Either way, they're fun to talk about.

The first one I am going to speak of is not necessarily one I'd recommend to anyone, oddly.  It involves the following items:

1 cup of bleach
several cotton swabs (commonly known as Q-Tips)
black railroad board

Simply put, you have a cup of bleach, dip the swabs into said bleach, then use the swabs to draw on the railroad board, creating white orange lines.  The concept is not much different from using white charcoal on black paper in an attempt to capture the light rather than the dark, except that the swab is not as precise a weapon, you don't get varied values from the bleach, and you can't smudge or erase bleached paper.

This exercise was introduced to me during my freshman year at Pratt, by my Drawing 101 instructor, Prof. Sanfilippo.  It was a total non-sequitur from the usual charcoal on newsprint exercises we'd grown accustomed to and really shook things up.  We were instructed to bring in the materials as listed above (with several sheets of the board necessary), and sat through a quick demo that lasted all of two minutes.  We had a model in the class and started out with relatively quick poses (probably a minute or so a piece), followed by some 5 minute poses and then a few 20 minute poses.

What made this exercise so interesting was that it really called into question one's decision making.  One had to be sure that the mark they were about to make was where it needed to be.  Lacking any form of undo button caused a strain on one's ability to see.  Each decision became all the more important, and one misstep could spell doom for your efforts.  A casual flick could see bleach spots all over your drawing.  An adjustment in posture could spill your cup and coat the board.  It was an exercise in carefulness.  But it also was the exact opposite.

Just as we were being forced to really consider our marks, we were also being forced to let go.  If we spattered, so be it; if we absentmindedly touched the board someplace we did not intend, such was life.  There grew, over time, an adjustment to things not quite going according to plan.  A tool as useless as a Q-Tip will can do that.  It's blunt inexactness laughed in the face of our carefulness.  The bleach that eventually got on our fingertips marred the pristineness of our efforts.  Before long we had little choice to just draw.

Now, the big problem with doing this exercise is pretty obvious: it requires the use of bleach.  Imagine, if you will, 25 cups of bleach open in a single studio.  It was fairly late in the semester so it was cool outside, and the windows were cracked open in an attempt to balance personal comfort with the ventilation of the fumes.  I'm fairly certain that OSHA would have had something to say about the matter, but they weren't there.  I, on the other hand, was there.  And I'm not exactly sure I walked away entirely unscathed.  For this reason, I don't really recommend this exercise.  At least not in the manor I was taught.  Perhaps instead of bleach, you might use white ink or white paint.  I don't see why the railroad board need be replaced, and I certainly would recommend keeping the cotton swabs.

The point is that the exercise was an interesting change-up to the type of drawing we'd become accustomed to.  And change-ups are usually good things.  Unless they involve lots of bleach in a poorly ventilated, enclosed space.  Then it's just interesting to ponder doing the exercise, and leave the doing of it to far crazier people.


  1. One thing I really love about the drawing classes at Pratt is how great the professors are at challenging the students with use of "odd" materials and alternative ways of drawing. I just finished my foundation year there and it was a fantastic experience.

    By the way, I believe you may know my boyfriend Alexander Leonard? I recall him mentioning you before I even came across your name in the illustration industry. I think you went to Pratt together?

  2. Kiri,

    I absolutely know Alex! Okay, well, I knew him. It's been a long time — too long, in fact. But, yeah, I spent some quality time with Alex and he's a really good guy.

    The foundation experience is absolutely one of the best reasons for going to art school. Provided, as you pointed out, that you have good professors. I think that first year was certainly where I grew the most (art-wise, not height-wise)... which is not to say that I didn't grow in the years after that, it just wasn't as intense.


  3. He just said to give you his best.
    I unbiasedly agree that he is a good guy, haha.

    Are you going to IlluxCon this year? I'm intending to try to drag Alex there.

    I had Professor Doug Wirls at Pratt, I'm not sure if he was around when you guys were studying but he was a fantastic teacher. We did the off hand drawing as well.

    We didn't get to bleach paper though, we did chalk on black paper instead and then a whole lot of ink wash drawing.

    I feel like I have learned a lot more during this year too, far more than during my previous experiences at various other art school in Denmark, where I am from.

  4. Kiri,

    Doug Wirls doesn't ring a bell. I suspect that a great number of professors that I had are now gone. I know several have passed away and many more likely retired.

    I'm not surprised that you didn't get to bleach paper. The experience likely took away som of my mental facilities permanently. Bleach fumes aren't the type of thing anyone should be sitting around voluntarily. It's good to hear that your professors were slightly more sane than my own.



I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.