Experimental Drawing Techniques For Inspiring Students

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring aspects of my art education was my introduction to experimental drawing. This immediately expanded my understanding of what drawing is and what it can be used for.

So what is experimental drawing? Experimental drawing, as opposed to traditional drawing, can be defined as the study of purely making marks on a surface. It is both a sensory and physical activity, which has recently been widened to include artwork created in various media. Often an artist will make a deliberate decision not to draw with a pencil, using various materials.

How Do You Create Experimental Drawings?

Mark making and making a mark. Any focus on experimental drawing should and can start with mark-making activities.

Create an experimental drawing book. A good idea is to create a small sketchbook filled with various marks, built in the broadest possible range of materials—focusing on the quality of line and mark-making when completing this task.

What is Experimental Drawing
What is Experimental Drawing

Experimental Drawing Examples

Employing a wide variety of experimental materials is essential here. Emphasis can be placed on how a mark is created, say speed drawing, blind mark making using a nontraditional medium to draw with.

Try to overcome misconceptions about experimental drawing techniques, as many of these drawings will have a unique childlike quality. At art school, this traditional idea of ‘good’ illustration does not exist. Look at the following techniques:

Blind Drawing

What is a blind drawing? This method aims to stare at the subject as you draw it continuously. Keep your eyes on the subject matter. The quality of a continuous line drawing will display the freedom that a regular hand drawing will lack. Place the media on the page and focus on observing the object as you draw. Don’t be tempted to look down at your picture until after you have completed it. This method is best attempted under timed conditions.

Negative space drawing

If you are drawing a still life or figure, select a medium that is different from what you usually draw with. For example, concentrate on the spaces between the objects or arms and illustrate the areas. Created between the objects and not the objects themselves. This technique can create some visually exciting compositions and is well worth a try if you are looking to expand your repertoire of drawing methods.

Opposite hand drawing

The opposite hand drawing method is a technique practiced in many art schools and is similar to the continuous line in that its purpose is to introduce the student to a new way of drawing. Again, select a drawing medium that you are not used to working with. Begin drawing with your opposite hand, and focus back on the act of observing and drawing what you see. Again, the quality of these drawings will display freedom and loosening of the line that a more controlled traditional pencil drawing does not present.

Drawing from the elbow and shoulder

The focus of this technique is on how you control the pencil. Instead of drawing on a small piece of A4 or A3, think the large-scale expression. Focus on creating large sweeping expressive marks either from the elbow or the shoulder. This will result in an entirely different type of quality being introduced into your work. As an art student, I remember a student who used his whole body while drawing, twisting, and turning as he created large expressive marks for music.

Drawing with your arm extended or with a long stick

Again, this drawing technique can be practiced on the floor or on a larger sheet of paper attached to a wall. The added benefit of drawing on the floor is that it allows the drawer to move around and engaged directly with the work from many different directions, similar to how Jackson Pollock produced his action paintings. Different drawing mediums can be masked to the end of a stick and used as a device to draw.

This technique explores how different drawing methods can produce different marks in response to observing a figure or a still life, for example.

Imaginative drawing

Ask your students to respond visually and interpret a word. Ask them to return to it in a purely imaginative way. You could extend this task by choosing five words from the dictionary, and students will then be free to interpret a response in the form of a preliminary drawing. They are free to write the word and allow their pictures to develop as they want to.

Touch or contour drawing

This drawing method encourages students to explore and develop new ideas. Place a random object in an enclosed sealed bag. As the students initially focus on the touch or feel of the object inside the container. The objective here is not to guess what is inside and then produce a representation of what they think it is.

Students should be encouraged to respond to their senses intuitively and produce an experimental drawing based on their tactile sense of touch.

Drawing to music

This can be a very successful lesson for motivating and encouraging students and developing drawing skills. As a timed activity, it allows the students to visually interpret what they are listening to. Stick to classical and ambient tunes music as this allows the students to work in a calm and relaxed environment under timed conditions.

Experimental media drawing

As I mentioned earlier, a pencil is not the medium of choice when attempting any of these drawing methods. In fact, the more experimental and unusual your choice is the best. One of the themes I have explored as an artist is the link between the artist's drawing and natural materials.

I was particularly interested in the on-site installations by the British sculptor Richard Long who would make pictures deliberately from the materials he could gather on-site. Inspired by the shear impact of Long's work, I decided to create some on-site drawings on location on the coastline. To do this, I utilized found pieces of driftwood to create drawings in the sand and driftwood sculptures.

Another useful technique I have experimented with is drawing with twigs and charcoal. These drawings, similar to Richard Long’s wall installations, resulted uniquely and effectively in producing highly experimental pictures.

Make a conscious decision not to use a pencil. Charcoal and graphite

Another excellent technique for experimental drawing is to cover the whole page with graphite or charcoal, ensuring the entire sheet. You can then use an eraser to draw into the image and create marks. This drawing method is excellent if you want to create new marks and expand your knowledge of drawing techniques.

What is Experimental Mark Making?

The primary reason behind and wanting to understand the process by which marks can be created for their own sake and how the artist can extend their understanding of drawing techniques.

What is mark-making in Art and Design?

What is mark-making in art and design? The phrase mark making in art and design refers to how artists create patterns, lines, and textures with marks when drawing and painting. This can be expanded to include marks that are produced in any material, be it a line in the sand or an ink brush on paper.

Why is mark-making important?

Why is mark-making important? It allows people to develop practical skills in drawing. This is especially important in young children, where art can be developed intensely as a useful skill in conjunction with an expressive and imaginative outlet.

Holding and controlling a pencil when drawing.

Developing a full repertoire of drawing skills is essential if you want to become accomplished at drawing. Consider the varying levels of mark-making, and control that can be achieved when drawing, say from the wrist instead of the shoulder. The complete artists who wish to respond to the world around them through drawing will be able to work and control their drawings and sketches with a full range of techniques.

Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

General Drawing Courses. I like Udemy if you want to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques. Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounts for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

Art Easels. One of my favorite ways to draw is by using a drawing easel, which develops the skill of drawing on a vertical surface. The H frame easel is an excellent vertical way to add variety to the style and type of marks you create when using a drawing board.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of improvedrawing.com and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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