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Drawing to the Beat

Find your inner rhythm through art

Horizontal Rhythm 2008

Sharon Reed, Horizontal Rhythm 2008

Everything that's alive throbs with rhythm. Our hearts beat. We breathe in and out. We swing our legs back and forth.

In this exercise, you'll discover the rhythm that's inside of you. We'll build on what you learned about repetition in the last session and explore a specific kind of rhythmic repetition, one that is patterned or sequenced.

In sound, rhythm can be understood as the alternation between a beat and a space. Think of yourself beating a drum in the following sequence:

Beat … space … beat … space

Beat … beat … beat … space

Beat … space … beat … beat

Here's the visual equivalent:

Oval … space … oval … space

Oval … oval … oval … space

Oval … space … oval … oval

So many variations are possible.

For example, listen to how the words in all caps seem "louder" than the others: BEAT … space … beat … space. Now here's the visual version: LARGE OVAL … space … small oval … space.

What you'll need

  • Six sheets of drawing paper that are at least twice as long as they are wide. Or one large drawing surface, lightly marked off with a pencil into long rows.
  • One or more dry drawing implements (charcoal, graphite or Conté crayon). Limit the palette to black and white in the beginning.
  • A kneaded eraser or other eraser or white acrylic paint and brush.

What you'll do

  1. In the first drawing space, create a sequence of vertical lines of equal height and thickness, aligned at bottom and top and moving from left to right across the surface. At this point you should have a perfectly even rhythm, with no variation at all.
  2. Now, begin to create interest, tension and vibration by doing nothing more than changing the width and weight of the bars by making some fatter. Then try making a bar darker than the others without making it wider. You can use an eraser or white paint at any time to lighten a line or erase it altogether.
  3. Continue working and reworking your linear rhythm until it feels satisfying to you. 
  4. Stop and move to the next drawing surface and repeat the exercise, creating a new variation on the theme:

Tilt some of the bars diagonally.
Make some of the bars taller and others shorter.
Vary the width of the spaces (intervals) between the bars.

Now take it up a notch and do the same kinds of rhythmic drawings using a different visual element as your motif. For example, use a shape such as an oval, a numeral such as a seven, a circular area of sand-papery texture — the sky's the limit!

Draw until you feel you've completed your work. When you're done, don't forget to upload your drawing into our community. As always, for each drawing you upload leave a constructive comment about someone else's work.

For those of you working directly with computer tools, this exercise should translate without much trouble. But if you have questions, please share them in the community.

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