Minimal Mark Drawing for Short Hand

Figure Trio
Graphite on Paper, each approximately 6×3.5″

Since I am teaching life drawing again, I have been devising new exercises for my repeat students. I was a student at the very college where I am now teaching. I took Art 243/253 four or five times. It was my way to have a model twice a week for 16 weeks. The cost was very low; something like $5 for a three hour session. The cost now is not that much more. That’s with instruction! What a deal!
I have a very dedicated group (all women). It is a joy to have such a group. They never miss a class and they work very hard. One of the concepts I wish to get across is the idea that each mark should count with no extraneous marks added. As near beginners, the tendency is to make one stroke after another and never add new information. This leads to an overworked piece. There is a simple elegance to a work that is distilled down to its essence. (Think Matisse.) A lot of information can be left out. People are such pattern seeking beings that our brains can fill in the information quickly and unquestioningly.
So the point of the little studies is to make the fewest marks possible and still communicate a figure. In order to illustrate the concept, I had to make some minimal mark drawings as examples. These are what I came up with. All this drawing ‘minimalism’ allows one to develop a kind of personal shorthand that makes for a quick and concise communication. It’s very handy for watercolors and the more viscous painting media like oil or acrylic. A tiny mark in the right place can set up a foreshortened spatial illusion or the identifying features of a likeness. No amount of additional mark making may be required if one has placed that tiny, little mark correctly. It also forces one to think carefully about each stroke. So I allow a little more time for thinking. These are ten minute studies.
The marks are always at key land marks: joints, creases, negative spaces (the space under her arms in these three sketches). The contours of some limbs can be entirely left out as long as the right cue is there. I am sure I could have left a lot more out of these. I haven’t done this kind of drawing since grad school. At the time, I was on a quest for the most economical drawings possible. This is a return to basics that will be as good for me as for my students.

September 20, 2012