pastel drawing in yellow, green & black

Drawing (Automatic)

photo of Makoto Sasaki making many thousands of tiny red marks on huge sheets of paper
Heartbeat Drawing Since 1995, Makoto Sasaki, 1999

Cognitive Maps & Automatic Drawing

We have 2 drawings to make this week. The first is a “Cognitive Map” of the LBSU Campus. The second is an “Automatic Drawing” with a partner. Your Cognitive Map can be on 8-1/2 x 11″ paper. Try to use a 22×30″ piece of paper for your Automatic Drawing. More on both in a moment…

What is Drawing?

When I say “Drawing,” you might think of taking a pencil and depicting something like a house, a tree, or a person on a piece of paper. A lot of drawing is like this! Some of it might be highly representational. Some might be more abstract or stylized. Either way, a lot of drawing does think about representing things in the physical world. People have done this for centuries. No doubt people will continue to make and enjoy representational drawings for many centuries to come.

But this isn’t the only thing drawing can do. Drawing’s domain is wider. Drawing can be any sort of mark-making with a pencil, or pen, or brush. In the image above Makoto Sasaki is doing a different kind of drawing. In fact, his drawing is “representational,” but not in the traditional sense of depicting a house, or tree, or person. In this drawing Sasaki is making a tiny red hash mark for every time his heart beats. The huge sheet of paper you see represents many thousands or perhaps even millions of heartbeats. This type of drawing may be less common, but it is still “drawing”. It is still making a mark.

Cognitive Maps

For the first part of this activity, draw a map of the Long Beach State University Campus. Please don’t look at a map of the campus! We already have copies of that! I just want you to draw whatever you remember of the campus. There’s no right or wrong. No better or worse. Just draw the campus on an 8-1/2 x 11″ piece of paper.

the box cover of a Spirograph toy showing a young boy holding some of his Spirograph drawings

Human Spirograph?

Did you ever play with a Spirograph as a kid? It’s a bunch of plastic gears with different numbers of teeth that let you draw all kinds of geometric patterns.

It turns out you don’t even need a Spirograph! You can be the Spirograph! You won’t get perfect geometry like with a Spirograph, but you’ll get much more vibrant and alive drawings. Plus those old Spirograph pens were pretty crummy. With a really nice Prismacolor Nupastel stick, or a Daiso Oil Crayon, drawn on a sheet of glorious, toothy Rives BFK paper (available in the LBSU Art Store and other Art Stores everywhere), you’ll get some deliciously textured and alive lines.

Elizabeth Moledo and her boyfriend Aaron making an Automatic Drawing by facing each other, holding their hands on a pencil over a sheet of drawing paper between them, and letting the pencil go where it will
Elizabeth Moledo
Maritess & Brian blending pastel lines on an abstract drawing on Rives BFK paper
Maritess Anne Inieto & Brian Sath with the automatic drawing they made. Apparently automatic drawing takes a lot of Starbucks. And a little Twix, of course.

Automatic Drawing

You’ll need a partner for this. A boyfriend or girlfriend is good. A sister, brother, friend, neighbor, or parent is also great. It’s better if the room is dark. Candlelight would be great. If you’re over 21 you might like to have a glass of wine.

pastel drawing by Selena Lara and her sister
Selena Lara


  1. Drawing Paper – get a 22″x30″ sheet of “Rives BFK” from an Art Store. BFK is the most glorious sheet of paper I’ve ever used in my life! I hope you’ll love it! Or another type of paper. But big paper! Please not 8-1/2 x 11!
  2. Drawing Board – You’ll need some kind of firm surface to tape your sheet of paper down on. A piece of plywood or masonite or even drywall would be ideal. Or a game board, TV tray top, or whatever you can find around.
  3. Drawing Tools – Pencils, markers and all sorts of tools are possible. But something that can respond to the “tooth” of your BFK paper will give you the nicest drawing quality. My 2 favorites are either Prismacolor Nupastel from the LBSU Art Store in FA3, or Daiso Oil Crayons. The sets of Prismacolor Nupastel are a little expensive, but the Art Store has 3 or 4 colors that you can buy individually. They really make a glorious line! And, of course, there is no better deal than 24 Daiso Oil Crayons for $1.50! Daiso has other types of “crayons” but they’re all pretty crummy. Their Oil Crayons are surprisingly nice!
Image of a Prismacolor Nupastel stick and a sample line
Prismacolor Nupastel
a box of 24 oil crayons from Japanese super-discount store Daiso!
Daiso Oil Crayons


  1. Daiso Oil Crayons only have a bit of crayon sticking out from the paper, and you might draw a lot. So I like to take a knife and carefully cut the paper and take it off. I just use the raw crayon. Crayons and Pastels are fragile and might break while you’re drawing. Usually, you can just keep going anyway – don’t stop – just draw. The broken crayon will probably work just fine as long as your hands are holding it together.
  2. Tape your 22×30″ sheet of Rives BFK paper down on some sort of board.
  3. Sit on the floor facing your drawing partner. Legs crossed, knees touching would be ideal.
  4. Put your drawing paper & board between you. Resting it on top of your legs is probably best. Or it could go on the floor between you.
  5. Place your pastel in the middle of the paper and hold it with all 4 of your hands. Your thumb & index finger, then your partners, then your other hand, then theirs.
  6. Close your eyes and relax.
  7. Be patient! You might feel silly and want to laugh. It’s ok to laugh. But the more you laugh, probably the less you’ll draw. Let the laughs go, and then just relax and try to be patient. Sort of like meditation.
  8. Don’t push the pastel. Sooner or later it will just start to move “by itself”. Let the pastel do its thing for a while.
  9. You can let it go for however long feels right. It’s a little bit of a dance. It should feel like it is the end when it’s time. You can stop.That could be the end, or you could add another color and do another pass.
pastel covered hands resting on top of a pastel drawing
Selena Lara

Automatic Drawing samples


Cognitive Maps & Automatic Drawing are not typical business tools! But you could have people draw their physical office layout, or their online workflow to better understand how to organize physical or virtual tasks and layouts for greater efficiency.

Knowing that if we don’t use our free will to program ourselves to be moderate in our responses to people, we might be needlessly set off by someone who’s style just has a way of jerking our chain is a powerful insight for both life and career.

Performing a routine you’ve mastered and don’t have to consciously step through, is also known as being in the zone, or flow. Great athletes often describe this experience. In a small way, if you can get into the zone of the automatic drawing you can be amazed how dramatically and synchronized your and your partner’s arms can move to create something. Perhaps you can find ways to create this kind of flow in your career activities. If you can, you’ll be a happier person, a more productive employee, and an awesome team member.

Post on Canvas

  1. Post photos or a video of your Campus Map & Automatic Drawing.
  2. Now that you’ve finished your campus map without looking at a real map, go ahead and pull up a “real” map of the campus. How do the 2 maps differ? In your map, your “mistakes” can tell you and us about your experience of the LBSU Campus. An Engineering student might have great detail of the Engineering buildings, but skip the Art buildings completely. An Art student might detail where every sink in the ceramics lab is, but skip half the campus. Someone involved in Student Government might label every desk in the USU and who sits there. What do you learn by comparing your campus map to the official campus map? What did you focus on? What did you forget about? Does this tell you anything about yourself? About your experience of the campus?
  3. How was your experience of Automatic Drawing? Was it too weird? Were you surprised by the power of it? Was your drawing interesting? Cool? Lame?
  4. This week, like the unspoken language of dance, you moved with a partner to create a drawing that you did not discuss or plan, but simply experienced. Do you see anything of your mood, or your experience with whoever your partner was, in the drawing?
  5. Did you have an experience of Flow? Or of being In The Zone? Describe it.
  6. This week’s drawings were not traditional fine art drawings. What is the space of drawing? Where & how & what is drawing?
Katherine Shinno with her older sister Melanie making an Automatic Drawing. They sit on the floor facing each other with a sheet of paper between them. In their hands they jointly hold a pencil. They try to relax and let the pencil wander where it will.
Katherine Shinno


This week I thought I would use this art activity to reconnect with my younger sibling Leslie, who recently simply was not having it with me. Even though I could’ve done it with anyone else I chose to do it with her because I was tired of the tension between us. My mother practically forced her to do it with me. It was the only way I thought the tension between us would be released.

I think it was the first time in two weeks that I’ve seen her smile at me again. It was also the first time in two weeks that she giggled endlessly because of how awkward a silly automatic drawing was for both us. At first, it wasn’t getting either of us anywhere so we decided to play some music to help us. I played a couple of our favorite songs including, Paranoia by A Day to Remember, Cynical by Blink 182, and Not Good Enough for Truth in Cliche’ by Escape the Fate. Our hands started moving towards the beat of the music! Finally we were getting somewhere!

Through the activity itself and the songs we realized how much better things are when we are both laughing and having fun with each other. I honestly felt that this activity was gift from whatever force there is out in the world! In the piece itself I think you can really see all the feelings between us. In the black you can see the release of my sister’s frustration at practically being forced to do the activity. In the green you can see the beats of the music playing in the background. In the yellow you can see our laughter and at last the reconciliation between the two of us. Overall an activity, that brought peace between two siblings.

Selena Lara
automatic drawing
Glenn Zucman & Linda Erben


Once you’ve made a drawing and documented it on Canvas… you’re done!

However, sometimes students want to go further with their drawing. It is your drawing, so of course, you can do anything you like with it! Take a picture of it when you finish the Automatic Drawing and then enhance it if you like. Here’s a couple of cool examples.

Hannah Mandias used her automatic drawing as the starting point for a much larger drawing. The original drawing is in there, but she’s really taken it to a different place!

Helen Lee stayed more with the actual automatic drawing. But what she did was to take the chaos of the original and give it structure by highlighting and focusing on areas. It’s interesting to see how the subconscious minds of Helen and her drawing partner created a drawing that had an exciting rhythm, but was also somewhat amorphous, and then how her conscious mind came back in to make it feel more structured and add a sense of intentionality.

Hannah and Helen both made really successful drawings. You don’t have to do any of this. But if you want to, you might try what Hannah did, or what Helen did, or you might just explore and discover your own way of making something that flows out of your original drawing.

Hannah Mandias, Speed Drawing a Dragon
Helen Lee, original
Helen Lee, enhanced
Patricia Arienne Avendano with a pastel on paper drawing
Patricia Arienne Avendano


One response to “Drawing (Automatic)”

  1. […] Sum ’23 Wk 6 – Cognitive Maps + Partner Drawing […]

Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.