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High Art or Low?

Get different effects when you draw in the top or the bottom of your canvas

woman creates expressive drawing

Steve Aimone

A student paints a picture with content primarily on the bottom of the working space. Does that drive your reaction?

During our study we've discovered that shapes, lines, marks and textures are alive, that they have character, personality and an ability to elicit responses from a viewer. Now it is time to consider that the space you draw in can also be used to achieve certain effects.

See also: Drawing with a grid.

The most basic way to do this is by thinking about where you place the various elements of your artwork on your drawing surface. Those near the top obviously become more prominent and, thus, feel more energetic. This is partially because of an imagined sense of gravity: something near the top of your canvas is more likely to feel as if it may spin into motion or fall.

Likewise, elements placed at or near the bottom of a drawing feel grounded and supported, less likely to go into motion, and therefore less dynamic.

So if you want to create a drawing that is full of dynamism, power and a sense of motion, one way to do so is to place the majority of strong contrasts and elements high up in the space. Conversely, if you wish to create a drawing that feels grounded, stable, settled, peaceful and relatively at rest, you might consider placing major elements and forces low in the space.

Next: Explore this dynamic of the rectangular space firsthand. >>

What You'll Need:

Several rectangular drawing surfaces, all the same size and orientation, size and material of your choosing.

Drawing tools of your choosing.

What You'll Do:

Execute two (or more) drawings simultaneously, as follows:

1)    Begin each drawing by introducing linear movements or shapes in both the top and bottom areas of the space. You can do this fairly automatically; any lines or shapes will do (they will simply serve as a starting place for the drawing).

2)    Step back and take in your work for a moment. Feel it. Sense the energies in each of the elements. Notice relationships that are forming between the elements. Pay special attention to the relationships between the energies present near the top of the drawing and those near the bottom of the drawing. Notice how they "speak" to one another.

3)    As soon as you have an urge to respond in some way — do it. It doesn't matter so much what you do, as long as you respond from the gut. You might add something new, change something by making it darker or richer in color, de-emphasize something by partially erasing or veiling with paint, or take something out completely.

4)    Using your intuitive intelligence, sense when one of the drawings might be developed so that its tensions are dominantly up high in the space, and take it that way until a satisfying resolution is arrived at.

5)    Take another one of the drawings and develop it so that most of the visual forces are concentrated near the bottom of the drawing. Develop that one to a satisfying resolution as well.

6)    Compare the two drawings, and note what your emotional response is to each.

7)    As always, share your drawings in the community, and comment on a fellow artist's work each time you add one of your own. Let us know if this is your first upload — we love to welcome new members into the group!