Design Play – Lesson 4 – Freeing Our Inner Artist

Have you recognized the reason for last couple of exercises?  We all have an artist gene in us. The problem is that, from an early age we’ve been told that we have no talent; and worse still, we believed it. We may not paint like Holbein (Elizabeth I portraits) but there’s a little Picasso or Mondrian in all of us. da Vinci kept sketch books, too.

Here I present a couple of exercises that will further loosen us up. They need not be done every time you sit down to create: they are to help you get into ‘the zone,’ that magic place where you find inspiration.

Did you do finger painting when you were a child? My first finger painting was at the age of 40!!

1 – Get some cheap finger paints – raid your tiny tot’s play cupboard or hit the crafts store, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s cheap.

2 – Get a brown paper bag – a big one. Cut along one long side and across the bottom and smooth it out flat.

3 – Put on an apron – tie it around your neck. This exercise is supposed to cost little or no money so wear your junky jeans and an apron. No apron in the house? Tuck a tea towel in the collar of your shirt.

4 – Remove your rings and bracelets and watches.  If you have an expensive manicure, put on rubber gloves. Turn on the CD player (is that old technology?). Put on some of your favourite music.

5 – Blop a plop of paint on the brown paper. Get dirty. Stick your hands into that plop of paint and move them around. Let the music determine which way your hands will move. Try moving your hands independently: move your left hand up and your right hand across. Let one hand squiggle and the other hand cirle. Use the backs of your hands. Just play.

6 – Fold over a dry corner into the wet paint. It looks like a Rorschach test, doesn’t it.

7 – Fold your wet painting so a wet bit gets folded onto another wet bit.

8 – Stand back. Remove all your protective layers, put on your jewellery. Let the music play. And let the paint dry.

9 – Tomorrow take another look at your finger painting. Can you see the shapes and forms you created?  Try translating that to your sketch book by holding your pencil loosely and looking only at the painted paper bag: don’t look down, just look at your finger painting piece. You should save this exercise but it needs to be kept flat – no folding it once it is dry. Put it in your portfolio case.

These exercises will help to loosen you up so that when you combine your notes and rough sketches when your “Muse is upon you,” you will make inspired works of art.

Did you ever just scribble? I mean, within living memory. Not the time when you scribbled all over the wall with crayons or annotated Daddy’s big books with your ‘art’ when you were 2 years old.

1 – Get another brown paper bag and open it up as before. Get a drawing pencil, not too sharp, or an HB pencil from your child’s pencil box.

2 – Hold the pencil loosely and start scribbling: your intention is just to move the pencil and it doesn’t matter if it’s up or across or squiggly or broad. Just move the pencil.

3 – If you are very tense, hold the pencil in a fist and press hard. If you are feeling lighthearted today, lucky you, hold the pencil as loosely as possible. If you are just feeling ‘blah’, try different surfaces of the lead: make wide lines using the side of the lead and skinny lines using the tip of the pencil. Make light lines and dark lines. Make as many different impressions as you can think of.

4 – Switch hands and hold the pencil in the non-dominant hand. Feels remarkably different, doesn’t it!

5 – Draw sweeping circles, then little circles. Draw angles and triangles and squares and so on. Make them big and make them small. Did you notice a shift in mood as you went from circles to angles? Rounded lines and shapes are calming while angled lines and shapes are aggressive and can make you tense up.

6 – Keep working that pencil until you feel all your aggression and upset is gone. If you started happy you should end still feeling happy.

7 – Make quick notes about how you achieved some of the effects, how you felt while you scribbled. Suggest what would do well when drawing trees or houses or stones or …

Work with all these exercises, including those from earlier lessons, and save your work. This exercise book is not intended to be anything but private notes and observations, exercises and sketches. These ‘scribblings’ can be the forerunner of the work to come but in and of itself is the grunt work behind the scenes. Your dedication to these exercises will determine your success: the more you do the better work you will produce.


Design Play – Lesson 3 – More Drawing

Good afternoon. Today I’d like you to take a picture from a book or pamphlet and turn it upside down. Now, with the top of the picture closest to you, draw what you see. Don’t waste your time and energy worrying about making a mistake. It is hoped you will make mistakes, many mistakes so you might as well start here.

Sketch what you see, not what your mind tells you it should be. And don’t get all caught up in the fine details. Right now you are doing a rough sketch so just the outline and maybe a couple of important lines in the centre. No cheating. Don’t turn the image right way up to check your progress.

Now, turn both your sketch and the original picture right way round. If you haven’t been checking as you sketched, you will see a similar rough picture that you drew.

Try this technique several times and whenever you get ‘artist’s block’: It loosens up your brain muscles and gets you into the right brain artsy frame of mind.

Design Play – Lesson 2 – Drawing 101


I know I promised in the last lesson that you wouldn’t be drawing but now you can draw.

‘But I don’t know how to draw.’  That belongs in kindergarden where you learned that nasty lesson.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, before the flood, in bible times, when I was a wee lass, my favourite uncle gave me a book: Going for a Walk with a Line and it was a young person’s introduction to the art of Piet Mondrian and modern art. Mondrian, a Dutchman, developed a style he called ‘neoplasticism’ but really boiled down, it was black lines making shapes and filling the shapes with the primary colours of yellow, red, and blue.

What you are about to do is make a drawing of modern art.

 Get out your local newspaper from the recycling pile, you want the ‘want ads’ or the personals. With your favourite pen or pencil start drawing. Move the pencil along the top of an ad in the first column, up or down to the top of another ad in the 2nd column, up or down to the bottom of another ad in column 3, and so on.

Making a Mark

Making a Mark

Keep the pencil moving. Don’t give your brain a chance to get in your way. You don’t want to think about your decisions; you want to do the Nike thing – ‘just do it.’ To across a column, up or down, then across the next column, up or down, etc. I used my old phone book to do the same sort of thing.

After you’ve done this several times and you’ve stirred up your designing juices you will notice that what you’ve just done is draw something. Usually it looks like a city’s skyline or a mountain range or the tops of trees in a forest or …

Transfer your lines onto a piece of blank paper. Join some of the lines to make square, rectangular or other angular shapes. Fill these shapes with colour – primary colour – red, blue and yellow. You’ve just created something people pay loads of money for: a piece of abstract, ‘neoplastic’ art.

And you thought you couldn’t draw !

Cut your newspaper to a manageable size and tuck into into your workbook.

Mondrian Drafted

Mondrian Drafted

When you transferred the drawing you might have been able to downsize it to the workbook page: easy to do when you understand what is expected of you.

Please excuse the upward slope of this quick jot. I wouldn’t know a straight line if it bit me.  But, you get the idea.

Turn your drawing around; you might like it better when it’s upside down. Take your drawing in pieces – perhaps 1 part is preferable to the rest of it. With a bit of fine tuning and smooshing your drawing around you will have a decent drawing. It’s true that we are hardest and expect the most from ourselves. If you tuck the drawing away for a few days, you’ll view it with a more accepting grace than you do now. Step back and wait awhile.

You’ve just designed your first thing. Now, take this drawing and apply it to something: maybe a piece of petitpoint, or a needlepoint cushion, or a piece of beaded loomwork. I will make only 1 observation: keep what you are designing small. It is an ‘instant gratification’ thing: if your piece is large it will take too much time to complete and you will become discouraged with the lessons.

Copyright © 2008 Helene Turnbull All rights reserved.  No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without written permission of the author.

Design Play – Lesson 1 – Look Around You

I am making an assumption that you are a rank rookie so the meaning of this lesson is to get you in touch with your 5 senses, your likes and dislikes. I know, it does sound a bit like pop-psychology or new age.

 Whatever you do, don’t write essays. That is way too formal for this workbook and you will soon lose interest in it. This book is meant to be the jottings of an explorer: use lists and points.

And whatever you do, don’t make any drawings. This is a design class, not an art class. You don’t need to know how to draw in this class.

People suppose they know their likes and dislikes but, when asked directly, they discover it isn’t all greens they abhor but rather lime green. Or you state categorically you hate all things green but, well yes, you do like that shade of green. Let’s find out what you really like and what you truly dislike.

Get a lesson book. It has no official size but must be big enough to add your notes and scribblings and colour tests. Make it small enough that carrying it with you won’t be a hardship. It needs some kind of binding to keep all your notes and tests together. I won’t tell you my lesson book size because I want you to do the work, not me.

Look out your window. What do you see? My window looks onto the courtyard at the front of our apartment building. I can tell you what I see: the courtyard of the apartment building where I live. But this is your exercise. What do you see?  Write it down.

Did you linger over parts of the vista more than over other parts? What colours did you observe? Be specific.

Now, what sounds do you hear? Are you under the flight path of an airport? Or does a major highway run past your place? Can you hear birds? Or barking dogs? Tomorrow you will hear school buses and the voices of kidlets going to and coming home from school. Can you hear them in the backyard right now? Write it down.

What can you smell? We had a neighbour who, just at about 3PM would start cooking dinner. The smells were glorious and make me hungry for a snack. That neighbour has moved and now what I smell is limited – it’s ragweed season.

All these notes need to be put into your lesson book.

Now, as your eyes passed over the scene outside your window, did you catch yourself mentally editing what you saw? That girl’s dress is a pretty blue. I hate marigolds! The geraniums are healthy this year and even the petunias kept their colours. It’s raining and it’s dark and grey – ooh, a streak of lightning! Note what your eyes rest on longest and note the colour you saw and the way it makes you feel. I knew I hated orange but agreed I like the colour of peaches. It’s just a tint of orange, after all.

Get out your pencil box and start putting colour into your notebook. As best as you can, make blotches and blobs of colours on the page illustrating your preferred colours and moods.  Did you catch yourself doodling on the page? Don’t get rid of it: draw a frame around it. But, never get rid of your doodlings.

Not having fun yet? Have I given you something you can’t do? No? Have you got young children or a partner or a friend to do this with? That will add to the fun. And you will be sharing more of yourself with your children, a partner or a friend and making that bond stronger.

Ooh, so many blessings!

That’s what I think.   … Helene …

Copyright © 2008 Helene Turnbull All rights reserved.  No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without written permission of the author.

Design Play – Introduction

Hiya, all. We are starting a new class. Today we begin playing with design. I am going to share some of the things I’ve observed, some things I’ve been taught myself, and some things I’ve learned all by myself.

We will be discussing colour and texture. And we will be discussing shapes and spaces. There will be exercises to help unblock ‘designer’s block’ – you know, the same as writer’s block only relating to design.

By the end of this class, made up of however many lessons are needed, you should be able to draw on your own imagination and apply some rules to it and be left with a reasonable piece, ready to be worked.

These lessons can be used no matter what your milieu. They are  equally useful to needlework and to beading, to fashion design and interior decoration, to anything at all.

Questions? Comments? Please add your observations to this set of lessons: it helps make the classes more interesting.

That’s it for now –    … Helene …