Automatic Drawing

By R. Salzmann


We draw a portrait, trying to capture a vivid effect through the expression of the eyes.

DURATION: 2 teaching hours


Part 1: Graphite pencil (soft) and paper. Coloring Markers or pencils

Part 2:  It is important to choose media that allow expressive drawing. So no hard and thin pencils. Pastel crayons on colored backgrounds, in my case black, can give good results. The contrast and saturation of the crayons on black background may stimulate the flow we are looking for. Another good result has been obtained with watercolor and thick brushes.


The idea of this exercise is to sensitize the student about qualities that bring a drawing to life. For example, by putting emphasis on the expression of the gaze.

The other two important keys of this exercise are improvisation and playful spirit. That is why we draw fast and spontaneously to try to deactivate the analytical processes of the brain. We try to generate the typical flow of improvisation that allows our drawing to gain more expressiveness.

Improvisation, leaving aside rationalizations and self-criticism, is one of the keys to activate creative processes in our mind. It is to go back to how we started drawing as children, drawing to play, without feeling the pressure that we have to obtain some specific result.

It is about drawing without complexes, to let go of the hand and let it guide us. Also stop thinking or analyzing what we see, but rather draw quickly and intuitively.



15 min. To illustrate the above, we do an input where the students are shown various drawings of artists, which have life or express emotions effectively.

We ask the students what these images have in common? We look at the drawings together and discuss what they like or dislike about them, while I tell them why these images seem to me to have life.

In this case we show images by Piccaso and El Greco, where among other things, the expression of the eyes (gaze) transmits a lot of life and emotion.

After looking at the examples, we asked the students what other strategies, besides the gaze, could be used to achieve images full of life? We discuss some other examples coming from the Art Brut.

2. warm up with doodles

15 min. After having reviewed some of the images above, we proceed to warm up and loosen up our hand by making doodles.

We emphasize the importance of stop thinking or analyzing what we do. The idea is to play and try to let our hand draw automatically.

For those who have no idea what kind of doodles to do or feel blocked, I suggest that they draw curved lines all over the sheet, without stopping and quickly. Then fill certain spaces with color and leave others unpainted (alternately). I also invite them to try to discover shapes in the random lines they have drawn, i.e., if they find a face, they should accentuate it by marking it.

 3. drawing Portraits

50 min. They sit facing each other and alternate drawer and model.
Since the intention is to draw fast, first we do 2 quick studies. Inspired by the warm-up phase, we do these studies without taking our hand off the paper, without looking at the paper and following the contours and features of the model. Then we paint it quickly, choosing the colors intuitively, without thinking too much.

The third portrait takes more time. We tried to generate dynamics in our strokes. That is, fast movements, trying to capture a feature with pauses to observe and correct. They are also asked to put special attention to the glance of the model.

We remind the students that the important thing is to have fun and that there is no such thing as something false or something right. We are just trying to capture an expression.


15 min. During the feedback round we react to what the students have done. We have an open discussion about the emotions the images evoke. Also highlight technical qualities, such as quality of line, expression, creative thinking, use of color, determination, composition, etc. Below some examples made with 16-17 years old students:

Below more examples of portraits made by 14-15 years old kids: