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The Big Squeeze: Clay as Muse

Lesson 4 from: Abstract Drawing: Getting Started with 7 Abstract Art Ideas

Amy Wynne

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Lesson Info

4. The Big Squeeze: Clay as Muse

Drawing with your non-dominant hand? Learn why it’s an important practice, as well as how to create your own muse, build line sensitivity, and more!
Next Lesson: Drawing from Memory

Lesson Info

The Big Squeeze: Clay as Muse

So I call this lesson The Big Squeeze because we're gonna be working with a type of clay that is very malleable and we're gonna work with this clay because as we shape it, every time we shape it, it's gonna offer us an abstract shape. It's gonna offer us something unfamiliar to look at. It's gonna offer us the opportunity to work with something that's sort of morphing and transforming. And to draw from that, as opposed to something you're familiar with like a coffee cup or a flower. This will activate abstraction from the get-go. So it's a way to loosen up. It's a way to connect with new forms, unpredictable forms, and it actually feels good in your hands too. So what we're gonna use is this clay. We're also gonna use a type of paper that's white, it's a little bit larger. It's charcoal paper. If you don't have charcoal paper, it's no big deal but we are gonna be using this big stick of vine charcoal. And we're also gonna be using the Shammy cloth to do some wiping away. And we're gonn...

a work in layers. We're gonna work in a series of drawings. We're gonna work in multiples. And we're actually not gonna just make a drawing. And then we have a new page. We're actually gonna have them all occupy the same surface. And one thing that we're also gonna do as a wild card is I'm gonna work with my non-dominant hand. So I'm right-handed. I'm gonna actually draw with my left hand so that it activates a different part of the brain but it also means that I'm a little bit out of control. Like, I'm a little bit, I have to sort of surrender to what I can't do. And something about the edge or the grit of drawing with your nondominant hand can actually, in my opinion, produce really awesome outcomes because you aren't able to refine so much. You're not able to really control it so much. So I absolutely recommend in really any kind of drawing that you might do, try drawing with the hand that you're not familiar with, just as a fun possibility. All right, so I have the clay in my dominant hand, which is good 'cause it's a stronger hand and I'm gonna squeeze it in a moment. So right now this is in a ball shape and I'm gonna take the clay and I'm just going to give it a good squeeze like that. It's very satisfying feeling. And then I'm gonna just place it down on my paper. And this is my subject now. Now, you might be thinking not in a million years could I ever draw that. That's such a weird shape. Like, how am I supposed to enter this process? But with your nondominant hand and with a continuous contour line, I'm going to go ahead and start moving my drawing tool. I'm gonna be observing the object but I'm not gonna lift my drawing tool off the page. I'm just gonna kind of have this continuous line. So at the end of making the drawing, whenever I sort of feel like that feels somewhat resolved, it would be as if that line on the paper was a piece of black yarn, you could lift the entire thing up off the paper. So it's very continuous, it's very fluid. This continuous contour line. So we're gonna do that. Then we're gonna take this and squeeze it again. Do another one, squeeze it again. Do another one, and have this rhythm of squeezing and drawing and layering. And let's just see what the outcome is. I do this with clay. Sometimes I'll do it with organic items like a crab and just turn the crab in space and do it in multiple views. So if you don't have clay you can certainly do this with other items. I like organic items often for this 'cause they've just feel a little more fluid and round shaped but you could really try it in a lot of different ways. Okay, guess have the sand from that crab on the paper. Okay, so I'm gonna go ahead and I'm gonna get started. I have my muse currently on the paper and you could just put it right on the paper, alongside the drawing. That's a perfectly good place to have it. All right, here I go. So I'm looking at the top of this and I'm gonna put my charcoal down. And as my eye is moving around the shape of this clay, I'm simultaneously moving my drawing tool just to sort of mimic the outer edge, mimic the rhythm of my eye. And I'm feeling like part of me feels like, oh I wish I was using my right hand 'cause I could probably do better. But then I have to say, you know what? It's not really about doing better. It's not really about the outcome. It's about the experience of looking, it's about the experience of feeling this new shape this new dimension. I'm finding like little moments where my fingerprints kind of made little rivets in the clay and you can see that it's not a highly realistic drawing, we're after abstraction here. So this continuous contour just flowing over, maybe even redoing some lines is a way to liberate your ambition and really come in and try something a little bit more abstract. So that's my first one. Interesting, I'm gonna drop any opinion I have of it because we're just playing here, right? So I'm gonna take the clay now and I'm gonna squeeze it again and I'm gonna make a totally new shape. I'm gonna put it down on my paper and you can also just turn it in space a little bit. If you have like a sense of, oh that's kind of an interesting view and I'm gonna start again with my nondominant hand, I'm gonna go ahead in and I'm going to start to let my eye move across the form. And I'm going to, oh, the drawings happen to be overlapping, big deal, right? Like doesn't really matter if they overlap. And I actually think sometimes that actually creates a more sort of beautiful, layered effect. And again, I'm just moving my eye slowly across this you know, I've made my own muse here. Right, I've made my own muse and I'm just tracing around the shape. All right, there's the second one. Let's try it again. All right, here's another, I'm gonna put it over here this time to make some space to do another one here. This one I'm gonna try something a little larger, again remembering to draw with your it's really easy to shift the drawing tool over to your preferred hand. So really like having the discipline to say, okay I'm gonna do it with my non-dominant hand because really in the end, like the kind of jaggedy little bit like, awkwardness of these drawings I think is enhanced by the fact that I'm working with something unfamiliar, do it again. And every time you shift it and change the shape I'm gonna actually stand this baby up. That's kind of neat. Notice how that piece was a little larger. I'm gonna do a little larger still here. So I'm starting, I am choosing a little bit where I wanna place these drawings on the page because as they occupy the page, I'm not thinking too much about it but as they occupy the page the composition starts to roll out in an interesting way. You know, the composition being, how the shapes position themself on the page and how they interact with each other. And you notice this is really not a very intellectual process. It's actually like a very tactile process. And that tactile, that sense of touch. That sense of actually, I even feel a sense of sound as the charcoals moving across the page. And I also feel myself loosening up, like as I do one after the other, I'm feeling myself sort of letting go a little bit more and really starting to occupy a sense of a flow. Let's do two more. I sort of feel like there's some big gaps over here. That's a very abstract shape, let's try that. So my eye is moving across the surface of the clay. Every time I squeeze it, every time I squeeze it I'm making a new configuration to work from. I'm making a new abstract shape. And guess what? If you're interested in abstraction, working from an abstract shape is a really good starting point because you're already there and you can use this possibility of layering and multiples to create a whole series of drawings on one page, let's do one more. I want this one to live down here. Let's see, yeah. I could do this many, many times. And sometimes I do this, mm, working on the wall, even larger. Sometimes I do this even like working on the floor. So you can play with scale change. You can play with a change in media. You can play with a lot of different things for this way of working. And in the end, if you want, you can also play a little bit with a Shammy cloth by working in and creating a little bit of smudging here and there, we'll do more of this later, but sort of allowing some of these shapes to fill in with a little bit of a gray attitude. That's something you can also try, which can be kind of nice to add in with that. We'll do more of something like that in a little while though so this possibility of the big squeeze, the possibility of using something malleable to work with and to change it and put it down and change it and put it down and working with your nondominant hand can be a really exciting entry way into abstraction and create what I consider sort of a beautiful organic series of marks that really can satisfy, a way to work abstractly without much inhibition. So, I really recommend giving it a try, being playful with it and having fun.

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