Expressive Lines

Mark making with intention and precision is a fundamental component to achieving high scores in the AP assessment.  As with all artistic choices that accompany your process, being precise with line direction, distance, shape, pressure, overlap, etc… can be the difference between good art and exceptional art.  Line creates texture, line creates value; line also creates expression and contributes to the visual voice.   For this exploration, start by finding a portrait of someone famous, someone the average person would recognize. OR do a self-portrait. You will draw this portrait in 3 different ways, changing the voice of the overall composition and expression in each piece through specific applications of marks and lines.   The overall feeling the viewer experiences should be vastly different when engaging with each of the 3 final portraits.  How can you use line to change the overall expression of a portrait? Your choice of medium and size is also elemental to the overall expression. Be sure LINE and MARK MAKING is what changes the voice expression in each.  

Compositional Concepts: Portraiture, Balance

Technique: Intentional mark making and expressive line quality 

Speaking of mark-making,Ed Fairburn blends portraiture with maps!!

Read about these contemporary artists who are redefining portraiture in a modern era!

Compare the swirling organic lines Nikos Gyftakis uses in his portraits to the geometric patterns Sašo Krajnc creates using one interwoven line of sewing thread.  Both artists use continuous unbroken lines!

Sfumato! [Thats fun to say]

​Sfumato is a technique where artists seamlessly blur the transitions between edges rather than applying sharp contours.  This can be soft transitions of value range in shadows on a portrait or the atmospheric perspective as subjects recede in a landscape.  The word Sfumato derives from the Latin word sfumare, meaning evaporate. Leonardo DaVinci is known to have used the word Sfumato in describing the soft edges between the portrait of the Mona Lisa and the surrounding background.  DaVinci himself was quoted referring to the sfumato technique as “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the picture plane.”

Using a gradation of tone to create subtly in transitions between color, light, shadow and value range, your task here is to create a lifelike and realistic composition. The best way to achieve this effect is through a natural palette of analogous color gradients or monochromatic value range. This is not to say you must stick to the "at first glance" colors that our left brain assigns to subjects.  No no no.  The key is to layer colors and values, giving particular attention to the edges and transitions between shapes.  DaVinci was known to have used his finger to smudge edges and to as many as 40 layers of paint or more to achieve this effect. 

Compositional Concepts: Color Theory, Space

Technique: Sfumato, gradation and value range

Click Here to read about DaVinci's use sfumato and get some tips to achieve the effect. 

Perspective Drawing

Linear perspective is the illusion of parallel lines merging as they recede into space.  Translating this illusion onto a 2 dimensional plane in painting, drawing or printmaking was discovered in the renaissance era and drastically changed artistic approaches in capturing realism.  Perspective can also be used as a design tool, creating movement, emphasis and depth of field in a composition.  For this project, your task is to intentionally apply the elements and principles of design to compose a non-representational linear perspective collage and then draw it emphasizing the illusion of space and depth.  Value and line will play a large role in the composition as well as movement and unity as it relates to the overall organization.  Also note: just because a non-representational design has no intentional subject matter, the voice expression should be very deliberate with artistic choices made accordingly. 

Compositional Concepts: Linear perspective, orthogonal lines, non-representational art

Techniques: Line/color/value variation to create the illusion of space, Gradation

Check out artist Ilan Laks and his cosmic Non-representational art. 

What to draw and what to leave out? 

One big compositional choice we must make in art is what to emphasize in a composition, what to simplify and what to entirely leave out. For this exercise we will explore landscape composition. You may use a photograph you took, exploring more realism or you can make a whimsical landscape collage.  Decide where your area of emphasis will be. Where do you want your viewer to be most engaged in the compositional expression?  How will design elements be applied to create emphasis there? Now, plan the leading lines and movement that will move the views eye around the composition, toward the area of emphasis and then continue on throughout the piece. What areas are most conducive to the story, the emotion and the significant details to get the idea across? Now think about parts of the image that can be simplified, the details that are not identifiable features of the subjects. The key here is implied line, texture and shape without sacrificing contrast or form.  And then finally, what details can be left out completely?  Can we shorten the depth of field, creating a blurred background or atmospheric perspective where the colors and values are muted as they recede? 

Compositional Concepts: Depth of field, implied line/texture/form. Emphasis, Movement, Contrast

Techniques: Line variation to imply texture, value range/gradation to imply depth and form.  Muted color/value vs bold contrasts. 


Pareidolia \ is a type of illusion or misperception when an object is being perceived as something different but clear and distinct, like seeing shapes in the clouds!For this assignment you will explore this concept by drawing something that is normally really small onto a large picture plane.  Magnify the details along with the subject but find new meaning and interpretation through distortion of enlargement. Notice surface details, varying textures, small imperfections, dirt, cracks, lumps, holes, etc. Take a realistic approach, although the extreme size variation will create a natural abstraction; emphasize value range and textural aspects. Metaphors and symbolic references within the compositional arrangement should engage the viewers beyond literal interpretation.   Fill the entire picture plane, cropping the original subject matter. 

Compositional Concepts: Cropping/Filling the picture plane, expression through macro abstraction, 

Techniques: Value rendering, texture contrast, intentional and distinct mark making


Make Space for Ideas:

Creating a sense of space in the world in which our drawings live is an essential consideration for not only compositional aspects but also helping viewers arrive at their interpretation of the work beyond the surface details. This project explores the background structure of composition focusing on space within and around subject. How do we fill the space behind our subjects? 


To begin, look through pictures, magazines and other works of art or walk around you’re your camera.  Collect interesting compositions that depict space: one architectural, one from 2D artwork and another example that is unlike the other two.  Focus on depth in space and find samples that have value range and other aspects of the elements of space (linear perspective, overlapping, size variation, etc).  Do a few thumbnail sketches of various pieces and interesting parts of each of these samples.

The next step is to begin to “lift” or in other words, borrow the basic structures from each sample image using them in arrangements with the other images.  Assembling more than one concept of space together makes for interesting and dynamic compositions. The sources do not have to be, nor should they be, copied directly.  Instead, investigate the concept of space as an element.  How can elements of each of these compositions be combined?  How might they interact in a visually appealing way? What components might help to unify the composition?  What elements can be applied for areas of contrast?   A variety of perspectives, depth, value range and angles will all contribute to the design as you bring in your own ideas to the final composition.  Typically this composition will end up being non-representational but may suggest hits from the original sources. 

Compositional Concepts: Space and compositional organization (basically all the principles of design)

Techniques: Gradation, value, space and placement

 AP Studio Art: Preliminary Exploration

​Expanding Skill & Developing Composition 

These assignments focus on sharpening the technical skills that are directly aligned with the AP scoring guidelines. Mark making, use of space and compositional choices must be intentionally made and aligned with artistic voice throughout the AP sustained investigation. In completing these assignments, challenge yourself to articulate expression through the artistic choices and technical approach of each assignment. Each Project should be completed  with precision, to your highest technical skill level. 

The structure of each lesson 

Aubrey Garcia

Arts Specialist