Automatic drawing - yoga for artists
Gallery of automatic drawing
"Automatic Drawing" is a kind
of yoga for artists. That is, it's the key
to becoming centered, whole, and flexible. A
brief session of automatic drawing makes a
great start or end to the day.
Regular yoga practice loosens
the body and relaxes the mind and spirit.
Automatic drawing, or "free drawing" as I
like to call it, does the same for the
artist self. It's both relaxing and freeing.
Best of all, free drawing
or automatic drawing is a direct line to the
center of the self. It's a way to help
yourself make all your art from that center.
This means your development as an artist
proceeds in a natural way, true to your
How to do an automatic
How many automatic
drawings to do?
What if it's just
How to look at your
for automatic drawing
help with automatic drawing
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How to do
an automatic drawing
The key is to make a
conscious decision not to control the
drawing. Take a blank sheet of paper, pick
up the pencil, and just watch the marks your
hand and pencil make. You're the observer,
not the controller.
thoughts come to mind as you watch, notice
them but let them pass through. Don't dwell
on any of them. If necessary just repeat
something to yourself like "Whatever comes
out is fine."
drawing till you have a sense of completion.
Then set that drawing aside and pick up
another blank sheet of paper. Start again.
Let the pencil move freely.
many automatic drawings to do?
I usually do a minimum of six
in a row. Often this is enough to get some
sense of completion. Sometimes it takes
several drawings for me to let loose enough
to allow the drawing to get chaotic and
messy. When I allow this "lack of harmony"
then I can clear out the inner "mess" and go
The later drawings
in that session usually have a grace and
harmony that I enjoy. But they won't come
unless I allow the "chaotic mess" drawings
to emerge when they want to. I think of this
as a kind of natural "clearing out" process.
The wonderful thing is that
it's so natural and easy. There's no effort
or strain involved. You don't have to do
anything special. It's as if the self has a
natural self-cleaning, self-maintaining
process built in. The automatic drawing
"turns on" this process.
I've done as many as 30 or 40 drawings in a
row, too, if I felt like it. It can be
exhilarating to do a big stack like this.
It's very freeing.
if it's just scribbling?
Well, that's good. That's how
it needs to start. Just let go.
Often you'll look back at
some of your first automatic drawings and
think "how contrived!" You thought you were
really letting go and scribbling wildly,
when really you were controlling the pencil.
At first, the part of you that Tim Gallwey
calls "Self One" just won't believe that you
can even "scribble" without its firm
controlling guidance. (More on Self One
what? How to look at automatic drawings
After I'm finished drawing, I
prop up a sheet of gray foamboard and use
pushpins to tack up four to six drawings at
once. This makes it easy to see the
development of the drawings during the
(4 automatic drawings pinned to a
sheet of gray foamboard. Click on this photo
for a larger view.)
Sometimes I just notice which
ones I really like. I usually scan these
into the computer. Later I can correct any
smudges in Paint Shop Pro. I can also
"erase" the holes left by the pushpins. Then
I make archival giclee (inkjet) prints of
these drawings to sell.
If my purpose has been primarily for
personal growth, I might take time to free
write about each drawing. How do I feel as I
look at it? What does the drawing express
about my state of being?
If my purpose has been primarily to "clear
myself out" and get ready to do other
artwork, I might skip this step altogether
and just start right in painting or forging.
For maximum progress in
artistic development, put up each drawing
separately. A gray background is helpful,
but any background that lets you see the
drawing well is fine. Then relax and let the
drawing enter your awareness. Make it your
goal to accept the drawing exactly as it is.
You want to feel the world as the drawing
You may want
to make some notes about what you notice. Or
just make the empathic responses and let
them go. What's important about this is that
you're becoming one with the work, in a
completely nonjudgmental way. Oddly enough,
this gives you a sense of detachment.
(How I've set it up in my small "clean
studio" for doing empathic responses to 4
automatic drawings at a time. Click on photo
above for a larger view.)
I've written detailed
instructions for making empathic responses
a separate article.
drawing with empathic responses
It's this rhythm, or
alternation, between "free working" and
empathic responses that makes for optimum
artistic development. The automatic
drawing, or equivalent "free working" in any
medium, gives you a way to create straight
from the center of yourself. Then the
empathic responses give you a way to relate
to your creations.
Criticizing your own creations usually leads
to a more tense, rigid, and artificial way
of working. In contrast, empathic responses
lead you into a natural, relaxed, free way
of making art. The "corrections" tend to
make themselves, without special effort on
In turn, this
makes it easier to do automatic drawing and
any other kind of spontaneous work. Oddly
enough, "letting go" and working
spontaneously is one of the most difficult
things to do in art. Some people believe
that it can only come after years of
education and practice. I believe this is
only because the initial education and
practice usually create a problem. Basically
"the problem" is a tendency to criticize
work. Then the "rules" and self-censorship
have to be unlearned, in order for the work
to flow spontaneously.
Ideal art education - or a
cure for "critical" art education
If you can avoid this by
starting your art education with automatic
drawing plus empathic responses, you'll save
a few years. If it's too late for that, then
the same "cure" applies. Do the automatic
drawing every day. You can do this anywhere
because it's so portable and takes only a
minute or less per drawing.
Then practice empathic
responses. If you can't bear to look at your
own artwork empathically, start with other
objects to which you have less attachment.
Do empathic responses to a dish or cup. Try
empathic responses to a plant. Move on to
someone else's artwork. Keep practicing till
it's easy and natural.
Automatic drawing - recommended materials
Soft drawing pencil
Any pencil or pen and blank
paper will do. If possible, though, use a
very soft pencil. I like the
Ebony drawing pencils, as well as the
Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencil in
8B. Any soft drawing pencil will be better
than a standard #2 office pencil. I used 4B
pencils for years, before going with the
Ebony, which is more like a 6B. Now I
alternate between the Ebony and the
Inexpensive paper with a
I've used the
Wassau Exact vellum bristol paper for
many years. It's 8 1/2 x 11" size, so if I
use a 3-hole punch on it, I can keep the
drawings in a binder. This is also handy for
making my own sketchbook, using any 1/2"
binder. One pack has 250 sheets.
This isn't an ideal drawing
paper. I'd prefer one with a bit more tooth.
But it works. If you decide to use a 9x12
paper, you have a wide choice. A good,
inexpensive choice would be
Dick Blick white sulfite drawing paper.
It comes in 500-sheet reams.
Newsprint is tempting,
because it costs even less. And you can
choose a newsprint pad with a nice rough
surface for extra tooth. However, the
drawings will turn yellow so fast, that the
cost savings probably isn't worth it. If
newsprint is the only paper you're willing
to "waste" with automatic drawings, however,
go ahead and start with this.
Here's the key to choosing
It's very important that the
paper be so inexpensive that you can make as
many drawings as you want without any
thought of cost.
Use free paper if you must -
If you tense up at the
thought of buying any paper at all for
automatic drawings, then use the back of
paper that would otherwise be thrown away.
There was a time when I'd go by my local
hospital once a week to collect paper they
were recycling from their photocopy center.
I did all my writing and free drawing on
this free paper.
For years I sprayed Krylon or
fixative on each drawing. Finally I got
lazy and stopped doing this. It's messy, and
should be done outdoors or with a
respirator. It made the automatic drawing
too much like a chore.
Without a fixative, the soft pencil drawings
do smudge a bit. But handled with reasonable
care, it's not a real problem. Now I scan
the drawings into the computer, where I can
easily "erase" such smudges before making
prints of the drawing.
Variations in materials
The pencil drawings are
basic. Start with those. Then you'll
probably want to branch out into other
materials. You can use crayons, soft colored
oil pastels, and markers.
Brush markers are especially suitable.
Sumi brush with India ink
This is my favorite
variation. The size sumi brush to use
depends on the size of your paper. I have
quite a few, for I use them with 24x36"
paper as well as 8.5x11" paper and sizes in
are usually quite inexpensive. The standard
bamboo handle is fine. If the brush has a
little loop for hanging, so much the better.
If possible, select your sumi brushes
in person at a "hands on" art supply store.
They vary quite a bit in softness and
spring. Some brushes are almost too soft for
do need gentle care. Keep them wet, not
letting any ink dry on them. Wash them with
an extra gentle touch. The hairs can pull
"Black Cat" india ink is especially good
for automatic painting. It's very
inexpensive. A pint costs less than $6 and
will last a long time.
keep a separate
brush rinsing tub just to use with ink.
That way I have no worries about the black
getting on a brush I'm using with clear
varnish or a pale paint. Similar tubs are
available at art supply stores everywhere.
The sumi brush ink paintings
are especially useful for
drawings. I've written about doing
analog drawings for dream interpretation.
But the same idea works well for preliminary
studies for any artwork.
Surfaces for drawing
For years I used a clipboard
for automatic drawing. Then I moved up to
the kind of
clipboard that has a built-in storage
area. This is convenient because the
pencils, sharpener, and stack of paper are
always at hand.
also outfit a binder with punched paper and
a binder pencil envelope. I haven't found
this to be quite as convenient as the
clipboard arrangement. But a half-inch
binder or a larger zippered binder can make
a nice portable sketchbook.
More recently I've been using
a standard lightweight
sketch board in the studio.
Large vertical surfaces for
sumi ink painting
For messier, drippy sumi ink
painting, I use pushpins to tack large
drawing paper to a sheet of foil covered
insulation board. The board comes foil
covered from a local building supply store.
It stays sturdier if the edges are covered
with duck tape. I keep a sheet of plastic on
it so the ink doesn't build up on the board
I just prop the
board up against a wall and go at it. I have
extra foil-covered boards that I can prop up
around the studio to use as display boards.
That way, I can look at a large number of
analog paintings at once and pick out the
ones I like best. I can also pin up a white
or gray background and photograph a
Of course, a
regular easel would work fine. You could
just tape or pin the paper to a drawing
board on the easel. Folded, a portable easel
would take up less space too.
Examples of automatic drawing
You can see examples of my
own automatic drawings from a few years ago
I've scanned in the original pencil
drawings, then cropped so the prints will
fit a standard mat and frame. Often the
adjustments I make in Paint Shop Pro make
the print-ready drawing even better than the
I make the
archival giclee prints on my Epson printer
Durabrite inks and Epson matte
heavyweight paper. This combination of ink
and paper has been tested well and should
remain lightfast for at least 80 years.
The prints should be
framed under glass or plexiglass. As with
all artwork, direct sunlight and excessive
heat should be avoided.
Here are a few thumbnail photos of available
When framed, these can get
quite a WOW! look:
This one is called "Personal Power."
Resources on automatic drawing
I've written about using a
drawing for dream interpretation here on
The book links
below take you to Amazon.com, where you can
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It will take you to the book department.
This is the classic book on
automatic drawing or "free drawing."
Although my instructions should be enough
for you to do this, you may find the book
inspiring. It certainly motivated me to
begin this process. I read it in 1983 and
have been free drawing ever since.
Joanna Fields was the pen
name of a British psychoanalyst, Marion
Milner. Working fulltime as an analyst, she
was a Sunday painter. But she was
frustrated. She would start a painting with
the intention of making something beautiful.
(Does this sound familiar?) But despite her
best efforts, her artwork wouldn't turn out
It was only
after she stopped trying to direct and
control her artwork, that anything fruitful
happened. By letting go and free drawing,
she entered a natural process of artistic
development. This led eventually to
beautiful artwork - but only after she'd
Writing Without Teachers, by
is the best guide to both "free working" and
empathic responses. This is the book that
got me started with
empathic responses, though my
training in therapeutic responses had
given me some groundwork.
The book also gives detailed
guidelines on how to start a writer's group
that really helps each member develop as a
writer. I helped start such a group around
1976, that was a tremendous experience for
all of us. Later I started a group for
artists based on the same principles and
methods. It ran for two years and proved
essential to my making my first
writing is also a useful skill overall. It
frees up any journal work you do. And it
tends to free up artmaking as well.
If You Want to Write: A Book
About Art, Independence, & Spirit - by Brenda
This is one of the most
encouraging books ever written. The author
talks quite a bit about free writing. You
can apply what she says to free drawing -
automatic drawing. And if you ever have
problems with writer's block or artist's
block, this is a good book to keep at hand.
The Inner Game of Tennis, by
This is the classic book on
how to learn to do anything better by
getting Self One out of the way. Self One is
the part that thinks it has to control
everything, criticize, give conscious
instructions. While the book seems to be
about playing tennis, the same principles
apply to learning anything. They also apply
to any kind of natural development -
including artistic development.
named one of the Chi Energy™ Bags "The Inner
Game." Here's a photo link to more about
The Inner Game of Music, by
Barry Green & Tim Gallwey
This book has even more ways
to apply the Inner Game methods to creative
endeavors. The focus is on skill
development. So if you're learning a craft,
or mastering techniques, then the book will
you can apply these techniques to developing
your whole creative output as well.
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