Friday 22 September 2023

A guide to your Drawing DNA


Above: Van Gogh’s work used as reference for the Drawing DNA method exercises. 

A Guide to Your Drawing DNA 

Creativity is within us all and we have so many different ways in which we can make use of it. Drawing is one method of switching on that creative engine to our ideas and a potential key to opening pathways in many forms of expression.

I recently devised a term called ‘Your Drawing DNA’ from which I developed over a period of time with the local art classes that I run. In short it is a creative process that helps to awaken what we already possess by making varying marks on paper primarily with pencil, that helps to strip back everything leaving just the bare marks made in their rawest elements. 

With mark making, I try to point out that it forms the basis of a visual drawing language that is as unique as your own thumbprint. For some people there is a level of connection with their mark-making and for others possibly a disconnection and a misunderstanding of how they are used.

When we look further into discussing the term ‘drawing’ or ‘painting’ as labels, this can sometimes be both beneficial or restrictive. I feel that there are no differences between the two labels as this gets confused with simply adapting between the choices of application such as paint, pastel, crayon or the huge array of colours used. This can be overwhelming and challenging from beginners to the experienced improver. For some people the process can cause anxiety and a reduced sense of confidence for various reasons, producing a void or a difficulty in the transitioning of one creative material to another.

One thing I do need to make clear is that once there is a self understanding of your own mark making and how it could be applied in all mediums, that there still needs to be separate levels of learning for things like colour theory, light and dark, proportions, composition etc. But again there is not one true method for this and it is up to the individual to decide which direction they are heading for that compliments that.

Conditioning and expectation

From our beginnings at school, college and beyond, we may of heard or experienced the familiar words and phrases of, ‘I can’t draw’, I’m not as good as that person in class, ‘I am not up to the standard expected of me.’ and so on.

Some people have a preconception that art is only for the select few who can create or exhibit it and that there are certain ways in which a piece of art should look. In fact, who defines that benchmark and decides what is right or wrong, good or bad art?

It is here that I want to try and help begin the creative journey in all of us with an open mind. The outcome is not the destination but the journey itself. A continual expression of individual communication creating viewpoints that the viewer can enjoy and process.

This can be achieved at any pace that you feel works for you and any method you think works for you that helps to build your own confidence, as we are all diverse and inclusive in everything that is creative. 

‘We all do the same things but differently!’

The Drawing DNA Method

I am a working artist and facilitator, I don’t proclaim to be an expert, but through my experience and knowledge I feel that I can guide and show people a way in which they too can discover and nurture a method of creativity that works for them.

You don’t have to just create art to become a professional or famous artist. Think of it as a way of life. Try not to think of it as ambition, but more as a habitual practice. Think of this as one of the tool kits to your life. Enhancing your wellbeing, confidence, outlook and a growing sense of observation and awareness that will help fulfil your life in a very positive way.

The following methods I am going to show you, is a tried and tested format that could help start or enhance your creative journey. I feel that this applies also to creative professionals as well as complete beginners. We are always learning and sometimes it is good to observe, state and adapt to the obvious, but more importantly have fun and enjoy the flow of your findings.

Note: the following pictures are all examples of the Drawing DNA method produced by members of the art classes that I run. 

Step 1: The train of thought

Using a soft pencil (4B - 9B) draw a faint rectangle in the centre of a A4 or A3 landscape piece of paper.

Starting in one corner, shade back and forth down the line. As you work your way down the rectangular guideline, vary the pressure of the pencil making lighter and darker shading while controlling the flow of the movement. 

As you move around the rectangle change the marks to a squiggle, zig zags, spirals, flicks of the pencil (eyelash or grass shaped) criss cross style dashes but repeat the process of controlling the pressure from light to dark in any random way. You could also experiment and add different pencil strokes that work for you.

Step 2: Understanding the marks you have made

Have a good look at the rectangular pencil marks you have made. When people at the art classes have done this together, I have asked them to look at each others versions. It is fascinating that we follow the same method, yet everyone creates varying marks totally unique to themselves. We reveal our own way of mark making and visual identity.

Think of the different marks you have made like you would for a palette of colours to choose from or a different set of brushes like in a Photoshop or Procreate app as an example. 

But this time they are personal to you and it is a case of how you are going to use them to understand things more creatively.  

Step 3: Mark-making exercises

Exercise 1

Inside the rectangle you have completed, draw two cylinders and divide each one into columns as shown below. For the first one, fill in the middle column with a dark pencil shade like you did when you started the rectangular exercise. Next fill the others with slightly lighter shades leaving one blank for highlights. Carefully blend the shaded strips together to emulate the feel of the 3D cylinder.

Repeat the same process on the other cylinder but this time with scribbles. Hopefully you will of created a similar result but with completely different marks.

This process demonstrates that no matter how you make the marks, it’s more about knowing where you place them to achieve the desired result.

Exercise 2

The next exercise involves referencing work from a famous artist. In this case I used one of Vincents Van Gogh’s self portraits and his landscape painting called Wheat field with Cypresses. The reason for choosing the two paintings was simply to present a clear example of his distinctive marks and try to reveal the ease of transition between drawing and painting.

On a piece of paper I asked everyone to split it into quarters with the pencil. The aim was to only use the supplied photo as a reference and guide using it to draw their own versions and develop their own method of mark-making that they produced from the rectangle while at the same time getting to know themselves creatively.

The first two segments of the paper is to experiment with different mark-making approaches in pencil and see how their new found marks could translate to the drawing.

The 3rd and 4th segments is to play with colour in a way that they could use pastels or crayons and not focus too much on matching the colour but to simply not over think it and make marks with it as instinctively as possible,

The findings

Overall this method was a huge success and for many reasons. I tried this out with 3 of the art classes, all with similar results.

Firstly the beginners all seemed to enjoy the freedom of making marks without the worry of making a mistake or being told that there was only one way to approach something. This gave them the freedom to explore drawing through their mark-making and not worry too much with proportion or likeness but more on their own expression. 

Other people with more experience of varying levels were more in touch with their drawing language but they discovered other ways in which their marks could be used.

For everybody there was the recognition of their marks being more visible through different mediums helping to eliminate the stress of trying out new things.

Other points made was the freedom to experiment and the sheer fun in creating with reduced stigma or how much we tend to over think and not trust enough on our own instincts.

Confidence building from marks made creates a vehicle in which they should explore more and not feel a sense of fear or doubt.

Like all methods and practices in creative work I don’t proclaim this as a one true method in the holy grail of drawing and painting. But what I do hope to make is the awareness of pure freedom in self expression and the confidence to channel what ever it is the person wants to achieve in their creativity without criticism, stigma or judgment.

This method is purely a way of revealing your marks in their primal forms and it is up to the individual what they do to take it forward. Those marks could be refined or distorted and recognised in the way of many genres such as abstract, realism, digital or printmaking etc. The list goes on, but the main emphasis is everyone to recognise what they have and nurture it in a way that makes things easier for their creative journey.

I feel that everyone has the opportunity and the right to create in a way that works and reflects their personality, helps with confidence, wellbeing, awareness and observation.

The freedom to create is the freedom to grow in a way that benefits us all.

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