Drawing (Automatic)


photo of Makoto Sasaki making many thousands of tiny red marks on huge sheets of paper
Heartbeat Drawing Since 1995, Makoto Sasaki, 1999

What is Drawing?

When I say “Drawing,” you might think of taking a pencil and depicting something like a house, a tree, or a person on a piece of paper. A lot of drawing is like this! Some of it might be highly representational. Some might be more abstract or stylized. Either way, a lot of drawing does think about representing things in the physical world. People have done this for centuries. No doubt people will continue to make and enjoy representational drawings for many centuries to come.

But this isn’t the only thing drawing can do. Drawing’s domain is wider. Drawing can be any sort of mark making with a pencil, or pen, or brush. In the image above Makoto Sasaki is doing a different kind of drawing. In fact his drawing is “representational,” but not in the traditional sense of depicting a house, or tree, or person. In this drawing Sasaki is making a tiny red hash mark for every time his heart beats. The huge sheet of paper you see represents many thousands or perhaps even millions of heartbeats. This type of drawing may be less common, but it is still “drawing”. It is still making a mark.

Elizabeth Moledo and her boyfriend Aaron making an Automatic Drawing by facing each other, holding their hands on a pencil over a sheet of drawing paper between them, and letting the pencil go where it will
Elizabeth Moledo

Automatic Drawing

This week we’re going to try a pretty different kind of drawing, Automatic Drawing.

You’ll need a partner for this. A boyfriend or girlfriend would be ideal. A sister, brother, friend, neighbor, or parent would also be great. It’s better if the room is dark. Candlelight would be great. If you’re over 21 you might like to have a glass of wine.

  1. Get a sheet of paper. A big, white, unlined sheet of drawing paper would be great. A sheet of 22×30″ paper from the art store would be great. At least make it bigger than 8-1/2×11″.
  2. Tape your paper to some sort of board. Heavy cardboard might work, but Masonite or plywood or a game board or the top of a TV Tray would be better.
  3. Sit on the floor facing your drawing partner. Legs crossed, knees touching would be ideal.
  4. Put your drawing paper & board between you. Resting it on top of your legs is probably best. Or it could go on the floor between you.
  5. Place your pencil in the middle of the paper and hold it with all 4 of your hands. Your thumb, index & middle finger, then your partners, then your other hand – something like that.
  6. Close your eyes and relax.
  7. Be patient! You might feel silly and want to laugh. It’s ok to laugh. But the more you laugh, probably the less you’ll draw. Let the laughs go, and then just relax and try to be patient. Sort of like meditation.
  8. Don’t push the pencil. Sooner or later it will just start to move “by itself”. Let the pencil do it’s thing for a while.
Tiffany Van Gilder holding the results of her Automatic Drawing art experience
Tiffany Van Gilder
Ashley Batres with the results of her Automatic Drawing activity
Ashley Batres

Your Blog Post

  • Photo of your drawing
  • Photo of you drawing
  • Discuss the experience
  • Discuss the results
Katherine Shinno with her older sister Melanie making an Automatic Drawing. They sit on the floor facing each other with a sheet of paper between them. In their hands they jointly hold a pencil. They try to relax and let the pencil wander where it will.
Katherine Shinno
automatic drawing
Glenn Zucman & Linda Erben


Once you’ve made a drawing and documented it in your blog post… you’re done!

However, sometimes students want to go further with their drawing. It is your drawing, so of course you can do anything you like with it! Take a picture of it when you finish the Automatic Drawing and then enhance it as you like. Here’s a couple of cool examples.

Hannah Mandias used her automatic drawing as the starting point for a much larger drawing. The original drawing is in there, but she’s really taken it to a different place!

Helen Lee stayed more with the actual automatic drawing. But what she did was to take the chaos of the original and give it structure by highlighting and focusing on areas. It’s interesting to see how the subconscious minds of Helen and her drawing partner created a drawing that had an exciting rhythm, but was also somewhat amorphous, and then how her conscious mind came back in to make it feel more structured and add a sense of intentionality.

Hannah and Helen both made really successful drawings. You don’t have to do any of this. But if you want to, you might try what Hannah did, or what Helen did, or you might just explore and discover your own way of making something that flows out of your original drawing.

Helen Lee, original
Helen Lee, original
Helen Lee, enhanced
Helen Lee, enhanced

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