Experimenting with expressive lines and marks 

Project 1 Feeling and expression

Exercise 1: Experimenting with expressive lines and marks

Feeling and expression looks at drawing as a way of expressing inner feelings.This first exercise is focused around understanding how to make marks express a feeling. The exercise involved using a range of materials and four sheets of A1 paper folded into quarters, and writing the following words on each of them: calm, anger, joy, and for the other one I chose anxiety.

The materials I chose to use were:

  • black ink (top left quarter)
  • willow charcoal (top right quarter)
  • 2B graphite pencil (bottom left quarter)
  • oil pastel (bottom right quarter)


The first word I tried to express in marks was ‘calm’. The first thing I did was to try to inhabit the emotion, and focus on the paper and the materials in hand, one at a time.

To help me get into the calmer state, I also put some calming classical music on in the background to listen to, as I find music can be very mood altering.

After I felt I’d completed the sheet, I reflected on the finished work and noted the following:

  • My drawing consisted of lines that are smooth and flow across the page
  • Smooth and continuous
  • Medium paced, neither fast no slow when drawing
  • As I was drawing, I had a feeling of not wanting to lift my pen/pencil off the paper, there was a sense of peacefulness and was almost methodical
  • The flowing lines reminded me of waves in water or of plants and leaves – all very natural, and not forced
  • There were points where I wasn’t as calm as I would have liked to be, as I felt worried that there was too much space left on the page, or that I had made an error!


This was a lot easier to represent on paper for me than ‘calm’ was.

I used the same materials as before, and had music on again to try to inhabit an angry feeling.

Afterwards, I reflected once again on my finished work and made some notes:

  • I held the pencil differently to how I held it when drawing calm, instead of holding it like I would normally hold a pencil, I held it in a fist, like I was stabbing the paper…
  • The medium was almost like a weapon.
  • The finished marks and lines were a lot straighter and more angular – they were more definite and permanent looking than the marks made while calm.
  • The process of ‘letting go’ was a lot easier, as the feeling of being frustrated at not being able to draw something right or accidentally spilling and ruining a drawing is a familiar feeling: the scribbled marks are reminiscent of a temper tantrum when you know a work has been totally messed up!
  • The ink was the most fun – I ended up splattering the ink as the pen on its own when drawing angrily wasn’t making enough of a mark for me on the paper… This was also why I used a brush. The splatters also remind me of blood, and has a quote violent feel to it.

After I’d finished I asked my friend to look and comment on what he thought, as I was interested as to how it looked to him, having not seen me drawing it. His thoughts were:

  • Top left the anger is condensed but spilling out in the splashes.
  • Top right the central dark area is angry but the crossing lines are seeking to contain it.
  • Both bottom sections are circulating anger or seem to be internal.


Once again, I used the same materials, and spent some time inhabiting the emotion.


After finishing drawing, I made some notes again:

  • The shapes I made were light and happy.
  • Swirls and loops evolved into recognisable happy shapes like suns and musical notes.
  • I felt a sense of fun, and like I was playing on the paper while experimenting with each of the mediums.
  • The charcoal was perhaps the most fun, especially smudging the circles with my fingers – there was an almost childlike joy to it!
  • While doodling, I didn’t allow myself to think too much about what I was doing, or visualising a specific idea to express onto paper.


For my final one, I chose to express anxiety, as it’s an emotion I feel quite often, both at work and when starting something new. It is a feeling that emerges when confronted with a large blank sheet of paper, or when attempting something I am not particularly confident in.


As with the others, I used the same mediums (ink, charcoal, oil pastel and a 2B pencil), took some time to stare at the paper and inhabit the feeling of anxiety, and after I’d finished I made some notes:

  • I was more hesitant in this instance than I was when I was feeling ‘joy’, which I think shows – the lines don’t seem to flow as easily as they did in ‘calm’ either.
  • The lines I drew throughout this working were very slow, methodical and nervous – there wasn’t such a fun feeling…in fact I felt quite stressed out and nervy in parts!
  • Although I once again had the feeling of not really knowing what I was drawing, I didn’t feel as comfortable with that feeling this time around.
  • I was a lot more conscious of the white space of the paper in this exercise, and I actually found myself feeling relieved when I felt I’d finished each section.

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