Nina's Textile Trail

My OCA Textile Tales

Improving Observational drawing


Following the recommendation to try to find some tutorials online or local classes to help develop my observational drawing, I have been attending a local drawing class.  Prior to this I did purchase and undertake parts of two online classes but I have found the experience of attending a class much more useful.

At the first class we warmed up by putting our hand into a bag to feel an item and draw the texture without looking.

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Then we chose to draw an aspect of a still life which included a mirror, top hat and tail coat.  I was very tentative, struggling to make my mark on an A1 piece of paper with a pencil or charcoal and the teacher recommended I try working with a piece of card, some white acrylic paint and some quink.  I felt more comfortable and freer with this approach and whilst I didn’t achieve much, I made some progress.  I neglected to take a picture of the still life set-up.


The following week, we warmed up by choosing an item for inspiration and creating texture with acrylic paint, quink and a piece of card.  I looked at a feather and some spherical wicker string lights.


The still life was an urn and some spherical wicker string lights.  The lights cast a shadow on the wall behind.  Although still tentative, I was comfortable working with the card and less inhibited.


Later, I can see the importance of grounding your subject, one area that could be improved upon.

Inspired by Rebecca Fairley’s book review of 27th April, 2015, I purchased Drawing Projects an explanation of the language of drawing and discussed the possibility of working through some of the exercises with my art teacher, Ruth.  In the following week’s class on 7th May, we warmed up by drawing with the pencil secured to the end of a stick.  The still life was set up as follows and I concentrated on the left hand sculpture.  The exercise was “essentially about making marks with varying amounts of control over your drawing implement.  The further away you hold your pencil from the point, the less control you will have.”


Initially, it was difficult to control the pencil but after a while I began to enjoy the process and then moved on to draw the bust again with graphite and charcoal.

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Ruth is a very, positive and relaxed teacher who helpfully points out areas to work on to give the piece better balance.  I left this class feeling pleased with the results and more confident for my third week’s attendance.

The last week before half term we started with two pencils joined together, another exercise from the newly purchased book which indicates “by using two pencils bound together, you will produce a range of dense and sometimes, unpredictable marks that will provide you with a surface to adjust, restructure, and work, both with, and against.  This drawing provides you with an opportunity to start by making marks inside the form and there-by breaking the habit of using line to draw the outer contour edge first”.

This was interesting, first we worked with the two pencils one HB and one softer and then worked into the picture with a putty rubber and a single pencil.  Later I reverted to the two pencils as I enjoyed the slightly ‘Giacometti’ effect.

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Our next project was based on the following exercise but adjusted to suit the class.  “The aim of the next exercise is to create a direct route of communication between your two hands.  … touch and feel an object with one hand and respond with pencil touch marks made by the other.  What is important is that the hand that makes the mark with the pencil, moves simultaneously, is in sync with, and responds to, the hand that is exploring your chosen object.  Tactile information is being transferred and made visible.  You will begin to make and recognise interesting marks that are made in response to haptic sensation”   (haptic = Relating to the sense of touch in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.)    In our case we were handed a plastic carrier bag containing half a cut pepper.  The photo on the left is drawn with the left hand in sync with the right hand which was feeling the pepper.  The right hand drawing was done with the right hand whilst looking at the pepper.  I could draw whilst simultaneously ‘feeling’ the pepper but found it hard to think of making a variety of marks at the same time.  The pepper is approximately 12 x 10cm in these drawings


The above was a warm-up exercise after which we could draw from a still life or continue with the pepper.  The following is approximately 35 x 25cm and drawn with card and indian ink, acrylic paint, graphite, pencil and oil paint stick.


I think this was rather overworked by the time I finished and the left hand side needed more work to darken some areas after I obliterated some marks with an oil paint stick.  I was pleased to have tried different media and worked quite confidently (for me).  I explored a range of marks and like those for the flesh on the right hand side (and below) but feel a bit frustrated by the some of the added acrylic and oil stick on the left.


However, it was a very interesting exercise and one that I shall repeat.

My art teacher is interested to try some of the exercises too and we spend a couple of hours together this week trying ‘A Tactile Self Portrait’.  The aim of this exercise is to create a direct route of communication between the two hands as above. With the drawing paper attached to a board and pencils accessible, we taped an area approx 40 x 50 cm and placed our drawing hand and pencil on the place on the paper where our mouth might be.  We closed our eyes and began feeling our mouth, trying to describe in marks, the range of sensations that the touching hand was feeling and continued to explore and draw our face.  It was quite a strange experience, a bit intense and we started talking to each other and talked thoughout the drawing.  Then tried again without talking.   I found I could work in sync and definitely thought about the texture as I was making marks. I couldn’t think to change pencils or media as I was working and stuck with a soft piece of graphite.  The first attempt is on the left.  It is not meant to look like a face but be a collection of marks.  Ruth, who is a trained sculptor, found it hard to concentrate on the texture and not try to draw her features. Her picture (not shown) showed a greater variety of marks than mine.

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Not talking to each other produced a greater variety of marks but we couldn’t make it to 10 minutes, stopping just after 8.  It was interesting, quite freeing, not to be worrying about what it looked like but just be concentrating on making marks.  I will definitely be trying this again, at least with a pepper, if not my face.

In one of the conversations in the book Jack Southern comments that “the process in the early projects is one in which you are able to ‘unlearn’ and feel less self conscious of how your drawing should look.  Freeing yourself from the bounds of representation can be very liberating, and lead to more interesting descriptive drawings.  We are pulling everything apart, in order to make all these new discoveries about mark-making.”  In the book the students undertake the exercises during an intensive two week workshop and draw more than one drawing in each project.   He continues the conversation saying “in a week’s time you could make a well-observed drawing, with all these new aspects of drawing language to refer to.  It is simply like you are constructing an alphabet; a vocabulary of marks from which to draw on”

Although I have only touched on the exercises, I am definitely expanding my mark making vocabulary and confidence.

Maslen, Mick & Southern, Jack (2014) Drawing Projects an exploration of the language of drawing (Black Dog Publishing)


2 thoughts on “Improving Observational drawing

  1. Fabulous! Such development in such a short space of time.

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