Drawing Stick Monday has become a tradition that my previous students talk about, new students ask about, and other students watch with wonder. It’s all about expressive mark making and drawing from observation. There’s a small twist—students are given a dowel rod one meter in length. One end has a piece of black charcoal taped to it, and the other end has white chalk taped in the same way.
Guo Z., grade eight, proudly holds his finished artwork.Students create observational drawings of natural subjects.
Making marks is one of an artist’s fundamental purposes. When a small child creates marks on a sheet of paper for the first time, parents squeal with glee and an artist is born. But at some point during the artistic journey, the joy of mark making can get lost. Competitions, curriculum, and task completion can leave little time for the simple joy of expressive experimentation.
Drawing Stick Monday has become a tradition that my previous students talk about, new students ask about, and other students watch with wonder. It’s all about expressive mark making and drawing from observation. There’s a small twist—students are given a dowel rod one meter in length. One end has a piece of black charcoal taped to it, and the other end has white chalk taped in the same way. Students are also given an 18 x 24" (46 x 61 cm) sheet of brown paper and a small piece of masking tape.
The historical connection of this method of mark making can be easily documented as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso both used a long stick with charcoal at the end to create large expressive lines. This way of creating is different, freeing, exciting, and almost seems taboo—artists breaking rules and leaving their own marks.
The Art Problem
Students are given a problem to solve: Create an observational drawing using only the drawing stick. The drawing must include value, expressive lines, and a balanced composition that makes good use of the entire space. (For students who need an extra challenge, a crooked branch is fun to use.)
Most students choose to create expressive observational drawings of natural subjects. We put our large windows to good use and take some time to explore the small details. The room becomes quiet except for the strange sound of drawing, almost like seals barking, made from the charcoal being pressed repeatedly to the paper.
Drawing Stick Monday is always a challenge. Students who often draw in a very detailed and controlled way struggle at first, but they eventually begin to enjoy the process and make art. It’s in these moments that artists feel safe enough to experiment, and that’s when the magic happens.
Sherry White is an art teacher at League City Intermediate School in Clear Creek ISD in League City, Texas. SWhite@ccisd.net
Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
Art teachers offer studio lessons that utilize unexpected mark-making materials. Young students draw large-scale insects with sidewalk chalk, elementary students and adults collaborate in a virtual drawing activity to celebrate Black historical figures, middle-school students discover upcycled Haitian metal art and create ink-embellished designs on metal tooling, high-school students combine digital photography and illustration to render thought-provoking compositions, and more.