Dancing Lines

I am teaching a unit called Media, Methods & Formats for an enthu bunch of Masters’ students this semester. Of the 15 most are not from an art or design background, I have engineers of all kinds, coders and all sorts… but mostly, and heart-warmingly; young people who have taken charge of their lives and learning. They have chosen to stray away from paths chosen earlier, seeking newer directions. This is a basic level unit that explores the idea of what makes an illustration. I have noticed that most students have a very uni-dimensional idea of what an illustration is and what it can do. The general idea is that illustrations are in books and are largely drawings or paintings of some kind.

This is the notion that I am hoping to dispel, while also exploring a rich range of media and tools. I want to bring in the idea that a narrative is so much more than just one dimension, that time and space are not flat, both literally and figuratively.

We started class with the making of a Mandala. I did this myself for the first time in the classes I attended and it brought about a quiet thoughtfulness in me. I value that. Beginnings are fraught with expectations and doubts… the act of stilling the mind by making a mark, releases you from the stresses that lives and living burden beginnings with. My students were given charcoal and a 1 large sheet of paper. Each began by making little Mandalas of their own… 15 little isolated whorls of universes. I saw complete absorption in their faces as worries gradually ebbed away, the rhythm of their bodies as they moved the charcoal, lulled each of them away into some quiet space of their own. I interrupted the little islands and asked them to now connect their Mandala to another one… And that is when a different energy seeped in. Hands opened up as strokes got bigger and swooping, the universes began speaking to one another without sound or words, just the gentle swish of charcoal on paper.

Charcoal Mandalas

The way each student began drawing was fascinating to watch, some made hazy tentative beginnings, some made bold swooping strokes, some began with symmetry, some made a mark that represented something else, others made abstract drawings… I could see the struggle for some, I could see ease in others. This was the perfect introduction to each of them, in a way, without a single word spoken.

The Mandala of charcoal lines sparked very interesting conversations. We spoke about the quality of a line and its weight. We spoke of symmetry and asymmetry; of a line that dances; a line that is in stasis; we spoke of working collaboratively; of authorship and ownership of a piece created collaboratively.

This also helped centre the students and was a great exercise to warm up with before drawing. From there we moved on to drawing objects by deconstructing them into lines and ellipses.

Objects are relatively easier to begin drawing with. They don’t move or change and can be broken down into geometric forms. This exercise lead to drawing perspectives of the object… views of the object that made it instantly recognisable and views that made it unrecognisable. This way of looking at an object opens up a new way of seeing. One learns to be more aware of little details that constitute the object. Changing the angle in which something is viewed lends such an interesting aspect to the drab mundane-ness of it.

Drawing objects

The next day we began by drawing human figures. Drawing human figures can be daunting and most students (including me) baulk at it. Which is why I wanted to begin this exercise in a way that would be least intimidating. We began by understanding line of action, looking at the substance of a pose, the distribution of body weight, stance and capturing proportions. I encourage students to make a mess, draw over and over… until the duration of the poses reduced from 5 minutes to 10 seconds. Poses became more daring, we switched from pencil to charcoal and from figure drawing to gesture drawing.

Quick Charcoal Sketches
From a student’s sketchbook

Its been tremendous learning for me as well, as always. Drawing is no rocket science, but traditional schooling and the damage done by art teachers can really cloud both imagination and shake a young person’s confidence. So much of drawing is really learning to see, that connection between the eye, the hand, the pencil, the paper and that which is being drawn. More updates in the coming posts. We have moved on to faces and characters. We have also drawn from nature. But that is for another post.

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