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Coloring Outside — and Inside — the Lines

Use a grid to give shape and cohesion to your drawing

Expressive Drawing- Grids

Steve Aimone

A student at Steve Aimone's art workshop in North Carolina uses the grid technique to unify his painting.

In previous sessions we've explored how different kinds of visual structures can be used to unify drawings. We've seen how rhythm, repetition and color serve this purpose. Now, we'll explore how a series of underlying shapes can give a drawing the foundational structure it needs to hold together in a richly satisfying manner.

Foundational structure occurs when a series of shapes ties the drawing space together in rock-solid fashion. These shapes form a kind of interlocking jigsaw puzzle that anchors the rest of the drawing. You might think of it as a drawing beneath the drawing!

The most common form of an underlying shape structure is the grid. You all know what a grid is: a division of the drawing space into an orderly series of compartments.

Most commonly, this division is created through an evenly spaced series of vertical lines countered by an evenly spaced series of horizontal lines. These verticals and horizontals crisscross one another to form rows of rectangular or square compartments. Once this is done, the entire drawing surface is organized; compositional coherency is given, right from the start.

Then, within that framework, you're free do all kinds of things: use the compartments as containers, make connections between the compartments, join compartments together to make larger compartments, veil or cover up parts of the grid. These limitless possibilities make the grid a truly liberating experience. And if, at some point, you alter the grid so much that it begins to lose its ability to organize the drawing, you can restore as much of the grid as you need!

So let's get some experience working with this principle firsthand! Our challenge comes in two parts. In the first, you'll start off with a grid and work out of it. In the second you'll start with automatic drawing and develop the grid as you go along.

Next: Starting a grid. >>

What You'll Need:

  • A number of drawing surfaces, size and material of your choosing
  • Drawing tools of your choosing

What You'll Do:

Part One: Starting With a Grid

1. In light lines, draw a grid of equally spaced, straight horizontals and equally spaced, straight verticals. You may use a pencil and a ruler to do this, but a reasonably careful freehand version will suffice.

2. Begin to develop a drawing in and out of this structure. You can do this in an almost infinite variety of ways. For example, you might fill the compartments with different kinds of lines, textures, colors and sense how the different energies begin to speak with one another (and continue to respond until you reach a satisfying resolution).

Or, you might do some automatic drawing right over the grid lines and find places where the automatic drawing and the grid lines "line up." (For those new to this course or those in need of a refresher, refer to Session 3: Let's Doodle! There we defined automatic drawing as "to draw without thinking, planning, worrying or conscious control; to make lines and marks in seemingly random fashion."

Your job is to emphasize these alignments so that there’s enough of a grid to hold the drawing togther. In either case, you may want to cover up parts of the grid, re-establish others — emphasizing and de-emphasizing until your drawing speaks to you in satisfying ways.

Next: Developing, discovering and working into a grid. >>

Part Two: Developing, Discovering and Working Into a Grid

1. Begin this second version by doing some automatic drawing. Activate your drawing surface with lots of lines and marks, lots of energy without thinking, worrying or planning.

2. Take some time to contemplate the drawing you've produced. Sense it, feel it. Look for places and movements that suggest horizontals and/or verticals. Lightly, with your drawing medium, mark some indications of a few of these.

3. Continue sensing and responding to these newly forming connections. And remember: you have the option of erasing or covering some of the automatic drawing to establish the grid more forcefully.

4. Continue the process of alternately establishing the grid and taking some away, sensing and intuitively assessing the drawing as you go. Keep things moving until you reach a satisfying conclusion with the grid acting as the organizing structure.

Please upload and share your drawings in the community, and, as always, comment on a classmate's drawing whenever you upload one of your own