Skip to main content

Drawing from Memory

Lesson 5 from: Abstract Drawing: Getting Started with 7 Abstract Art Ideas

Amy Wynne

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

5. Drawing from Memory

Your eyes can be critical. Break through that barrier by drawing with your eyes closed! Experiment with drawing on translucent surfaces, working in sequences, and connecting mind and hand through kinesthetic connection.

Lesson Info

Drawing from Memory

Drawing from memory can be a really amazing way to work with abstraction. You know, the distance that you put between yourself and something that happened in the past already is kind of an abstracting idea because we don't remember maybe all the details. And without all the details, things can transform. So this is a practice that I do. It's a rather meditative practice of remembering maybe a place from the past, maybe in the near past, maybe in the distant past. And I used to think that I didn't remember much, let's say from places I lived during my childhood. But then I started this process of memory drawing, and actually through the kinesthetic connection of hand, and eye, and mind, the memories actually enliven, actually through the drawing practice as I journeyed in through, really through time. So I'm gonna show you my process with that. And we're gonna be working on translucent paper, tracing paper, vellum with a pretty dark, basically like a black-colored pencil that shows up. ...

These drawings I did from memory from a walk in the forest. So on their own, they are their own somewhat abstract drawings of trees from memory. I wasn't in the forest, I was working, remembering the forest. But the beauty of working on translucent paper is that you can start, after you have a few that you've done, you can start to layer them and create new compositions, new abstract compositions. You can even flip them and turn them, and really actually create quite a large situation out of a small situation. So I'm going to show you how I enter this practice, how I enter this process, and we'll see where it goes, because it's an adventure, you never really know until you start. One thing I wanna share with you before I move in is a quote by the abstract expressionist, painter, Joan Mitchell. She's talking about her experience of painting. She said, "My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me." From remembered landscapes that she carries with her. "And remembered feelings of them. Which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me." So I think that really says it all in terms of this particular practice. And I really love reading quotes and I love reading about other artists and their process. It can really make you have a deeper understanding of how different people approach their work and can be very inspiring. All right, so I have this dark-colored pencil and I have some sheets of vellum here in front of me, and I'm working flat, which is fine. And I'm going to start by just feeling the smoothness of this paper, you know, and that, again, this is sort of a tactile situation. I'm going to begin with a little bit of a centering, because in terms of tapping into memory, I think what's so important is just slowing down and just letting go of all the stuff, right? So that you can just come into a relaxed moment. So I'm gonna take a moment, and I'm just going to put my hands on the paper and close my eyes, and take three deep breaths, breathing in, I'm breathing out. (exhales softly) Let's try that again. Breathing in, (inhales softly) I'm breathing out. (exhales softly) And one last sort of grounding breath, breathing in, (inhales softly) and then breathing all the way out, (exhales sharply) coming in for landing. Taking a moment to look down at your surface, placing, I'm gonna place the drawing tool on the surface, and then I'm gonna close my eyes. This is gonna be done eyes closed. It's okay if you end up going off the page. I'm just gonna take a moment to allow a memory to arise. Just anything that happens to come up. It might be a neighborhood walk that you take, it might be a place where used to vacation as a child, it could be, um, oh, in this case, what came to mind is my childhood backyard, which I haven't visited since, um, quite a long time ago, probably 30 or 40 years ago. So I'm just remembering, starting to remember it a little bit. So as I'm remembering with my eyes closed, I'm gonna move my drawing tool. And I'm remembering these two really big oak trees that were in the backyard. We had a little tree house, a little tree fort in those trees. And as I'm moving my pencil, you know my eyes are closed so I'm not looking down, I can't judge, oh, that looks like a tree or that doesn't look like a tree. But I'm just allowing myself to relax enough and tap into remembering certain aspects. And you'll notice, as I'm moving my pencil across the page, I'm not lifting it up, I'm using that continuous contour technique again because it allows me to feel a sense of flow. And that sense of flow allows me to continue without stopping the journey of the mind. So couple trees, oh, I remember we had like, just remembering it now, this little sandbox set up by the bushes that we used to hang out in. I have a brother and two sisters so we had a lot of time playing back there. And then there was a hill that you could go down and some trees at the base of the hill. Yeah, and then there were some big fields in the distance that we used to run out on, I remember. So I'm gonna open my eyes for a moment and take a look at this first one. All right, pretty abstract. But you know, again, this was a product of me remembering. So I'm just gonna put this aside, and I'm gonna start again. Same memory, I'm just gonna continue and see what emerges, so I'm going to put my pencil down. And I was back down at the base of the hill, and there was this old gnarly tree down there I'm remembering now, yeah. And we had a hammock that hung in that tree, and we used to go down at night and we'd hang out in that hammock and tell ghost stories under the stars, I remember that. I haven't remembered that in a very long time. So this idea of, as the pencil moves in as you're remembering, there is the possibility of evoking things that you might feel like you had forgotten. I'm gonna look down again. All right, there's the hammock between the trees. Let's try another one. So I'm gonna close my eyes again and I'm gonna move to the side yard here. There was a hedge that separated our house from the neighbor's house. And at the, oh yeah, at the base of that hedge, I remember there was a little gravestone actually of the person's dog that lived there before we did. And we never, you know, I just remember that all of a sudden. (pencil screeching) And then I remember, like, going down into the fields in the summertime and running out. I thought I was running, like, you know, to a different state, but of course, you know, it was just across the fields with our dog. But I remember there was a baseball field across the way, some other houses over here. All right, let's try just a couple more. And then coming back into the yard, we had a little garden with some tall corn, like a little patch of tall corn. Huh, and I remember my mother was so proud of that corn, and then we had like a hurricane and it all fell down, but I'm just remembering that now. But we'll dry it tall and healthy. When there was sort of an area to sit in the back as well. And then one more drawing from the garden. Coming to the front of the house, there was this semicircular driveway where the town bus would stop out front. I remember I was friends with the bus driver. And that's where I learned to ride a bike. And we had this incredible crab apple tree out front, and it had the most beautiful blossoms in the spring. And my mom would put, you know, when each baby arrive, she put the baby out in the carriage under that crab apple tree. All right, whew, that was a journey down memory lane. So here's the thing. Each of these drawings is, you know, the product of an aspect of a memory, of a place that I have not visited in a really long time. But through this process of this flow of drawing in this sort of meditative state, and just allowing it to kind of unfurl, I've created five drawings. Each in and of themselves is abstract. That's true. Like you could say, "Oh, that's abstract drawing." But what I really love about this process of working on the translucent vellum is that you can put them in different sequences, as we saw with the forest drawings, different sequences. And you can also play with arranging them in different ways. Because you can see through the vellum, you could actually create different sorts of situations based on those memories. And you could even, you know, flip things and overlap them, or put them right on top of each other in different configurations, in different ways. Kind of like memory itself. How it comes back in different forms, sometimes the memories are turned around, sometimes they're fading out. And this idea of layered translucent paper, I feel like it feels like memory. Like the vivid memory is upfront and really clear, and as things fade into the back, it becomes more vague, like more of a distant memory. So working on translucent vellum, working in this meditative way of just sort of trusting the hand in the eye, and working in a layered fashion can really be a beautiful form of abstract drawing. And I really invite you to try it and just make sure that before you move in that you center and slow down, and that you breathe, and then enter this experimental process and see what happens.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Joan Mitchell Quote
Abstract Drawing Materials
Abstract Drawing Surfaces

Ratings and Reviews


I recently became interested in abstract drawing and painting. This is a great course for beginners. I filled my art journal with several new creative and thought provoking techniques. The “drawing to music” with eyes closed was just the first of several cool ideas. The course will jumpstart your own creativity! Thank you for your experience and knowledge, Amy.

Rachel Franklin

Yes- relaxes your creative efforts! Love her

Student Work