Automatic Drawing–What IS it?By
I realize that in my last post, Expressive Drawing, I forgot to explain what “automatic drawing” is.
Maybe it’s obvious, but in case it isn’t, here’s a bit more information and how to do it and why it’s a great way to let loose and free your creativity.
The Surrealists embraced automatic drawing as way to incorporate randomness and the subconscious into their drawings, and to free themselves from artistic conventions and everyday thinking.
This technique, they felt, was a way in to access meaning and information unavailable through tradition and the conscious mind.
Surrealist wackiness aside, it also lets you sink into the quality and experience of making marks and developing the relationships between them which in turn lifts you out of your logical brain’s desire to make something that’s “good” or “accurate.”
It lets you tap more easily into your intuition, emotions, and the physical experience of drawing and painting.
So if you judge your own drawing ability, this technique can be very liberating because it’s so physical, there’s no wrong way to do it, and it improves your drawing skills in the process.
Most importantly, it gets you out of your head.
How to Get Started
All you need is a few mark-making tools and big sheets of paper. In Expressive Drawing, Steven Aimone recommends working big and drawing with paint and a brush and I couldn’t agree more.
(If you think you don’t have room to work big, reconsider all the rooms in your house–how often do you really use the dining room or the guest room? Could you put a tarp down to protect the floor and clear off one wall? Think about it.)
The Power of Ritual
To facilitate the process of getting out of my logical brain, I first set an “intention” to let go of logical thinking and release into the creative process. This is immediately followed by 5-10 minutes of Shiva Nata and then I start in. I also usually play classical or Sacred Sound music while I’m making the drawings.
I find these additional steps help “set the stage” for lifting myself out of my everyday thinking, but you could do a variety of things to do that–a short meditation, breathing 10 conscious breaths, doing a round of sun salutations, or even taking a run or a vigorous walk beforehand.
Of course, it’s not necessary to do any of these things ahead of time, but I find that we’re all so busy and preoccupied with our hectic lives that it can be helpful to create a ritual or symbolic transition from your everyday busy-ness to the drawing exercise.
At the least, it signals to your body to shift gears. At most, it really helps maximize the intuitive experience.
Once you’re ready to go, just grab your brush (have water nearby) and start making some marks. (I like how Steven Aimone recommends standing a few feet away from your paper in a kind of fencing position so you have to reach forward to make your marks–it emphasizes the physical aspect of the experience.)
After you’ve made some marks, just step back, take a look, and make more marks. Keep your brain out of it and let your body respond, see what your hand wants to do and let it do it.
Just notice. (This is where it’s really like a meditation.)
When are you done? When you decide it’s finished. Keep it or throw it out. Then make another one. And then another.
Try using your opposite hand for a change–this is a really great way to shush your judging brain. I know for me, my non-dominant hand feels guided by something else entirely, and my brain just kind of watches it go–it’s neat.
What I love about automatic drawing is that it’s a WONDERFUL way to get yourself creating again. It’s the perfect antidote to feeling completely uninspired or if you feel like you have no ideas anymore.
You don’t need any ideas to do this, and it will help the idea generating part of your brain wake up again. What a combo.
Automatic drawing also feeds all your art-making activities and desires because it brings your intuition to the fore while at the same time absorbing you completely in the creative, aesthetic experience of making marks and responding to them.
It’s a great choice for the 20 minute timer technique, and a wonderful way to start or end your day. Ready to give it a try?
Do you ever do exercises like this? Would you like to free up your drawing? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.