Project 1 Exercise 1: Expressive lines and marks

Aim of Exercise

To inhabit an emotional space and create non-objective images using four different materials.

The Process

My materials

The materials I used for this exercise were charcoal, oil pastel, 7B pencil and ink and a feather. In all four drawings the order I used these materials are as follows: charcoal (top left), oil pastel (top right), 7B pencil (bottom left) and ink and a feather (bottom right) .

I chose to depict CALM first as I thought it would be the easiest state of mind to get into. However I discovered that I had a sever attack of the butterflies whilst setting up my paper and materials so I am not sure I achieved it at the beginning. I did however relax into the exercise, the act of making calm lines had a calming effect on me! My calm marks were lots of smooth curves with no angles or points. the lines were very free-flowing and rounded. Some tailed off into space in a serene way. Repeating patterns were calming in their familiarity.

Calm marks
Calm marks

Making calm marks were definitely easier with charcoal, oil pastel and pencil. In these cases the materials glided smoothly over the paper. The feather however dragged over the surface, catching the paper (which was quite smooth). This scratchiness went against the feeling of calm. The feather quill however was particularly good at tailing off a line into nothing – as it ran out of ink. With hindsight I should have turned the feather around and use the vane end for mark making.

To get myself into a joyful space I sang the coral movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to myself! This is a loud, uplifting piece of music that radiates out happiness and JOY and always makes me smile. My marks reflected this upward feeling, with lots of peaks heading upwards and firework type explosions. I tried to convey the sense of an upwelling of joy that you can get inside of you until you feel as if you will burst!

Joyful marks

I particularly liked the ink and feather quill for this (bottom right). The marks shooting upwards with various splatters created by ‘conducting’ with the feather quill, looking like firework sparks. It reminded me of rockets going off. Although I was singing in my head my pencil marks (bottom left) started to look like a mouth with an equaliser line and musical notes emanating from it.

Angry marks

I left a little while before attempting the third emotion, ANGER. I tackled the positive motions first as I felt it was easier to follow them with the negative emotions than vice versa. In inhabiting an angry space my marks became wild, uncontrollable, jagged, heavy-handed and raw. I found it to be quite a multi-faceted emotion however in the sense that it could be random, harsh and dangerous as depicted by the charcoal marks (top left, during the making of which the charcoal disintegrated) but also the feeling could be channelled into some direction and order such as with the oil pastel (top right). Anger can also run its course and ‘burn out’ such as with the pencil marks (bottom left) in which the marks were made rapidly, randomly and heavy handedly until the pencil tip wore down and no more marks could be made with the graphite. For the final quadrant I poured some ink onto the paper (bottom right) then dragged the feather quill back and forth through it quickly to convey the sense of  an explosion of anger.

Altered anger in ink
Altered anger in ink

Anger can also make you act in haste – I moved the picture before the ink had dried and it ran, altering the final image (although unchanging the expression I think)

The fourth emotion that I chose was DEPRESSION having unfortunately experienced bouts of this during my life. I felt that I needed a second negative emotion to balance the two positive ones.

Depression marks
Depressive marks

My charcoal drawing depicts the blackness, the never-ending hopelessness depression brings on. The oil pastel (top right) encompasses the loneliness and feeling of isolation depression can bring, removing you from normal interaction with the world by placing you behind a seemingly impenetrable glass wall.

For my ink and feather picture (bottom right), I started making the same marks as I did for joy (fireworks) and then splashed big droplets of ink from the bottle over the whole image. I used the vane end of the feather to smear the ink around, representing the dark cloud that descends in depression smothering any feeling of joy. The pencil drawing represents the turmoil and hollowness that you can feel during depression – the gaping mouth of a scream with no sound coming out and the vortex that sucks you down, down taking you off the edge of the paper into the abyss!


Oddly (and possibly worryingly) depression was the most exhilarating of the four feelings for me to draw with! I think this is because I was remembering what it felt like to be clinically depressed but wasn’t actually experiencing it at this time. This act of remembering whilst drawing opened up something inside me and lots of emotions came out: fear, sadness, loneliness, morbidity, darkness and anxiety. i suspect this is the basis for much art therapy. Whilst the other emotions could be broken down into further descriptors of feeling, for instance calm could also encompass emotions such as sereneness, clear mindedness, well-being and clarity, the depressive emotions are possible more complex in their nature. I certainly felt that this allowed for more varied expression that the other emotions. Certain materials were better at the task for certain emotions that others. I think this is to do with how your hand / arm is moving over the surface. Using the quill end of a feather dipped in ink is hard to control if you are making angry hurried, rash marks, however charcoal will move over paper very easily in these circumstances. To immerse myself fully in this exercise I really did have to inhabit the appropriate emotional space.

What I learnt

1. I find negative emotions easier to engage with that positive ones!

2. To evoke a sense of mood in a drawing, it is possible that you have to experience (or inhabit the emotional space) of that emotion. This idea is similar to smiling when talking on the telephone, your voice sounds more positive and uplifting.

3. Different materials convey some emotions better than others. I suspect the material chosen on which to do a drawing will also affect this.

Project 1 Exercise 1: Expressive lines and marks

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