Fundamentals of Art, Lesson 1.0

Defining Style – Right Brain

I’ve been teaching art to young people for many years, and one of the first lesson themes is uniqueness.  Everyone, regardless of artistic skill, has a certain stylistic look to the marks they make.  You’ll notice that when you doodle aimlessly on a post-it, and your friend also doodles aimlessly on a post-it, that you will have two post-its that look very different.  This is exactly the kind of mark-making I’m referring to – the expression that streams directly from your subconscious to your hand movement.  No editing, no over-thinking, no erasing.

When I do this exercise in class, I have the student fill in a large square on a regular piece of drawing paper.  The instructions are: “Fill this square with doodling or mark-making of any kind.  Try to fill the entire space.  You have ten minutes.  Go!!!” They can use a pencil or a pen…as long as there is no erasing.  For a younger child a single crayon color would probably work, too.  Reassure them to feel free to let themselves go, any marks are fine, there are no wrong doodles!  Sometimes playing relaxing music can help “unfreeze” the fearful, mistake-averse student.  If they get stuck, just let them know the way to continue is to make marks – to push right though that stuck feeling.

Ten Minute Square

Ten Minute SquareThese two squares were done by members of the same family.

Experiencing it firsthand helps the results have meaning, and stick with you.  You can try it yourself in advance, first. Then, when your student finishes, compare your square to theirs.  If you save squares from other students, or are doing this in a group, you can hang all of them up to see and discuss.  All squares filled should be anonymous and unsigned, so without a sense of ownership or competition, talk with them about what they see.  Have them describe their own square, as well as others.

  1. Ask: What kinds of marks do you make? Use comparative adjectives like: Light/Heavy, Curved/Angular, Dense/Sparse, Thin/Thick, Repeating/Random, Connected/Broken.  Do you tend to make any shapes more often than others?  Do your marks resemble anything else? (bricks, webs, bubbles, clouds, flowers, leaves, letters?)
  2. Ask: What kinds of marks do other people make, and how do they differ from yours? Does any other square resemble yours?  Why or why not?Ten Minute Square
    Ten Minute Square

The value to this exercise is both immediate and longer term.  It not only shows the student that they have a style all their own, it also helps them begin seeing and describing their own style.  If they keep their square, they can come back to it later in the year or many years down the road to serve as a visual touchstone.

Next time I’ll take you through another related exercise:  Defining Style – Left Brain.

© 2017 Leah Jay | Leah Jay Artworks

Leah JLeah Jay (Jakusovszky) has been an artist and illustrator in San Jose for 25 years. She creates using a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, pastel, ink, and collage. Her illustrative work has been featured in many books, and highlights from her career include directing 2001’s WTC Memorial Art Project to facilitate artist’s responses to 9/11 and successfully crowdfunding her artbook “Amphibian Love” to benefit Save the Frogs in 2015.

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