Introduction to the Visual Arts

Drawing (Automatic)

Spring ’20 Coronavirus Edition

In the info below I will talk about 22×30″ paper and pastels. If you have those already, fantastic! If you don’t, I am not asking you to go out and buy them. Just use what you have at home. This will be true for the rest of the semester. For the 22×30″ paper, it will really help to have a bigger than 8-1/2 x 11″ piece of paper. If you still have your finger painting activity, you could use the back of that. Or maybe a piece of cardboard? Improvise.

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, 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

Automatic Drawing

You’ll need a partner for this. A boyfriend or girlfriend would be ideal. A sister, brother, friend, neighbor, or parent would also be 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.


  1. Drawing Paper – get a 22″x30″ sheet of “Rives BFK” from the CSULB Art Store in FA3. BFK is the most glorious sheet of paper I’ve ever used in my life! I hope you’ll love it! And after you do your drawing – save it! – you can flip the paper over and use it again later in the semester for your Finger Painting activity.
  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 CSULB 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.

Automatic Drawing samples

Your Blog Post

  • Photos of your drawings
  • Photo of you drawing
  • Discuss the experience
  • Discuss the results
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
automatic drawing
Glenn Zucman & Linda Erben


Once you’ve made a drawing and documented it in your blog post… 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 as 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

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