The String Drawing

Below is a drawing assignment I’m giving some of my students this month.  I’ve been using it for years and love the way it pushes us to look closely.  Anyone can do it!

This is an excellent exercise for learning to see the reality of a line. This drawing requires one to look very closely, which leads to a better understanding of the thing being looked at. It’s a fundamental exercise that will affect all of one’s work. It begs the question: what is the exact nature of that thing I’m looking at? Exactly which direction does the line take? Is the curve slightly convex or concave, where does it lift highest? We take lines, and edges, for granted all the time, without really looking. But if we can spend the time to look closely we will see our objects, and worlds, better.

This drawing is also great for helping us to see shapes and spaces, and to understand that an object can be found by looking at its surroundings.  In order to see the string above we must consider the spaces around it.  Both the space and the string are the things we need to draw.

To do this exercise you will need two pieces of paper roughly 5 x 8”. You can do this larger as well. The papers need to be the same size.  You’ll need a string (a piece of dental floss, a thread; anything that’s not very thick), a pencil, and a plastic eraser.

Place the string on one piece of paper any way you like that involves curves. Try to have it lay as flat as possible on the paper.

Place the second paper aside your string sheet or below it. Once you’ve placed the string be careful not to move it – no sneezing or coughing or wiping eraser leftovers across the string paper. If the string moves the drawing is over and you need to start again.

Make a line drawing of the string. Don’t worry about drawing the exact width of the string, or the three dimensionality of it. Don’t draw the shadow. Just draw the line itself where it lays on the paper.

After making the first pass at the drawing review your work. Erase what’s wrong and try again. Keep working until you feel you have the best likeness of the string that you can make. This drawing should take about a half hour. (I’ve had groups of students work on this for up to an hour!) It takes perseverance, but the longer one spends with it, the more the true nature of the line and the spaces will become.

Take a picture of the drawing and the string like I’ve done above. It will be your complete record of this drawing. And definitely save the drawing!

Melissa Weiss