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Session Seven

Let's Start With Repetition

In this lesson, create your painting with varied incarnations of one shape

A woman creates repetitive shapes on a piece of paper.

Welcome back to our Expressive Drawing and Creativity class. This semester, I'll be posting monthly hands-on challenges that will be designed to help you grow as a visual artist.

For those who've been involved in our course all along, these new exercises will be a natural extension of your study. For those just joining in, this will be a great place to start. No experience is necessary and, before long, you'll be doing some satisfying expressive drawing of your own! (Feel free to go back and attempt any previous exercises, but my feedback and guidance will be concentrated on these new lessons in 2011.)

Our first exercise addresses a simple principle that will help you create and organize expressive drawings: repetition of motif.

When I introduce this idea in workshops, I often ask the group to tell me what the essence of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is. One or two people invariably have the courage to hum out, "Da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum." And I tell them, "Now that's a repetition of motif." 

In essence, Beethoven went on and on about "da-da-da-dum" for more than 30 minutes, changing its character, creating variations in numerous ways, weaving things in and out. Imagine that — one of classical music's greatest pieces is all about "da-da-da-dum."

In drawing, you can work with visual motifs in the same way. The challenge is straightforward: Fill your drawing surface with numerous and varied incarnations of one element, let's say a shape. When you do this, your drawing will hold together automatically.

Next, the trick is to make your drawing as richly satisfying as possible. You'll do this by creating variations in the motif. For example, consider a drawing based on the repetition of an oval. To create variety, you can make the ovals bigger and smaller, fatter and thinner, whole or fragmentary.

You can draw them with lines that vary in thickness, or make them sold shapes that are lighter and darker. You can orient some ovals horizontally, some vertically and some on a diagonal. You can have some ovals touch one another, overlap or stand alone in isolation. The possibilities are limitless!

Now it's your turn to give it a try and see for yourself how this works.

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