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The Square-Dance Call

Grab your brush and do-si-do your way to a masterpiece

For our final session in this semester, let's do something I often have artists do in live workshops, usually at the end of a long, vigorous day in the studio. It's fun, there's no pressure, and it's easy to dive into. Participants find this to be both liberating and illuminating. When we're in the studio, it goes like this:

One at a time, I call out a series of things to do to start a drawing, acting like a square-dance caller. Everyone does the same set of things. The instructions make sure the drawing includes a wide range of drawing elements and events — different textures, paint quality, shapes and colors. They also ensure that things are placed in a way that the entire space is engaged.

See also: Try our interactive art game

After these initial steps are completed, the artists look around the room. Usually to their astonishment, they see that the drawings are very, very different. Then we discuss how this can be the case. The question is: if the elements and placements are roughly the same, what accounts for the different expressive quality of the drawings?

Finally, participants are given time to develop their drawings further on their own. And we compare notes about these developed drawings as well.

So let's do the equivalent of this exercise here in our online workshop as well.


(I'll suggest working with acrylics; those working in other media or with computer drawing programs may work with appropriate substitutes)

  1.  Acrylic paints as follows: black, white, red, green and one wild-card color (any one additional color you like.)
  2. A surface to serve as a palette.
  3. One or more brushes, an inch or two in width.
  4. A container of clean water.
  5. Paper towels.
  6. A drawing/painting surface of your choosing.
  7. Drop cloth (optional)

Next: What you'll do >>>

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