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The Great Cover-up

Creating a sense of aliveness by undoing your work

Here's another way to express yourself through drawing: Create some lines and marks on your drawing surface — and then veil some of them, cover them up or even erase them.

In my workshops, I refer to this as "asserting and obliterating." Nothing you do is etched in stone. There are no mistakes, no correct or incorrect things to do — only things you put in and take out. And the great thing is, the more you do this, the richer your drawing can become.

Metaphorically speaking

As I see it, the cycle of putting in and taking out is akin to the cycle of life. If you've ever walked through the woods and observed closely, you've likely been moved by the cyclical nature of things. A tree is newly fallen; others that fell earlier are beginning to decompose.

Some of this decomposed material that's been there for a while begins to take on qualities of soil. And out of this broken-down material emerge seedlings (new trees forming). And so the cycle — birth, growth, dissipation, death, rebirth — continues, with no clear beginning and no clear end.

Drawings can be alive in the same way: Visual elements can come and go; some are completely intact while others feel as if they are remnants of things that once were; still others seem as if they are about to emerge. And as you continue to put in and take out, the drawing becomes a recording of your touch, your movements, your decision-making process. What a wonderful, liberating and expressive way to work! Let's give it a try.

What you'll need

  • A large canvas, sheet of paper or other drawing surface.
  • One utility or artist's brush, about 1-inch wide.
  • White (or very light, opaque color) acrylic paint.
  • Drawing implements of your choosing. (Please note: for your first stab at this, use such material as charcoal, graphite, pastels, crayons, pencils and Conté crayon. Later on, you may combine dry media with wet media, such as watercolor pencils, watercolor crayons or acrylic paint.)

What you'll do

When I teach this exercise in a live setting, I get artists going by acting as a "square dance caller" of sorts. Perhaps you can have someone do this for you, or you can use a device such as an egg timer.

  • I call out "Draw" and participants pick up a drawing tool and begin to make a series of lines and marks to introduce some initial "energy" into the drawing space.
  • After a minute or two, I call out "obliterate" or "veil." The artists put down their drawing tool, pick up a brush and load it with white paint. After looking closely at what they've drawn, they begin to cover up parts of the drawing with the paint.
  • Before the artists completely cover everything, I call out "Draw" again, or "Switch," at which time the artists put their brushes down, pick up a drawing tool and start making lines and marks once again, in blank areas or right into areas of wet paint.
  • Try these steps and then repeat. Alternate between short periods of time where you're drawing and short periods of time where you're covering up. Keep areas or passages that intrigue you and get rid of (or de-emphasize) areas that aren't as satisfying (or don't seem to contribute to the whole). When in doubt, make bigger changes rather than small ones.
  • Keep this process going until you can't think of anything else to do, or really love what you see. The only criterion is that your finished drawing evokes a sense of flux — that it feels alive!

Finally, don't forget to upload your image into our community so others can comment on your work. Also, take the opportunity to comment on the work of your fellow artists. The community we are creating includes you and your fellow students and depends on folks providing feedback and support to one another.

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