The Dock in Carrick on Shannon are running a great series of workshops at the moment and I went to one last week – a drawing masterclass with Dublin based artist, Julie Merriman.

We spent the day doing a variety of drawing exercises. Julie’s practise is interested in (amongst other things!) the memory of a drawing – drawing and erasing but seeing the traces of what’s left. So part of our drawing was erasing starting with a full page and taking away elements to make the picture.

She gave us a great insight into how she works – she showed us exercises she does herself to get warmed up, or to kick start ideas. She also said lovely things in between times, like “I love the sound of drawing”, which I enjoyed…


Our first excercise was to draw a big mess  with a pencil then rub out some of it. This is the ultimate warm up and it’s good for reminding you to forget about judging your work all the time, just start moving and see what happens. We taped our masterpieces to the wall and then used them again later on in the day as the starting point for a new drawing. One of the things Julie recommended was to put up your work on the wall and see how you feel about it from a distance, and to watch what happens when you go away and come back – sometimes you might get a glimpse of another possibility when you arrive with fresh eyes the next day. I like the idea of a dialogue – and how your imagination can work in the background without you realising. Even when you are drawing seemingly random squiggles there might be something in it, and yours might be telling you something, suggesting a drawing that wants to be born.


There were three other ongoing exercises during the day if you finished one early or just needed a little change. The first one was to draw a self portrait with closed eyes, only going by the feel of your touch – so you draw your nose as you touch your nose. Everyone took turns drawing over the same page and we used two colouring pencils taped together. Part of this was to shake you out of your normal way of doing things and see what surprises might come out of it.

julie_merriman_workshop8The second ongoing one was to tape a sheet of perspex to the window, then draw on perspex with a sharpie coloured pencil, drawing/tracing the view outside.


The final ongoing exercise was to draw on a huge blackboard that was in the room, everyone took turns but we lightly rubbed out the previous one so that as the day went on there was a lot of traces of lines, mixed with the current drawing.


We had some gold foil paper (salvaged from Cadbury’s chocolate factory who no longer foil wrap their chocolate!) and scrunched it up and drew the tones. We had to fill in boxes from one to ten showing the tone of the pencil from very light to very dark, then try to incorporate the full spectrum into your drawing.



We had strips of black paper and a sheet of paper with a frame drawn on it and first dropped the paper on the page, then arranged it. We had to think about composition here. Julie was talking about how the brain always tries to make up a narrative and fill in the gaps to make sense of the scene even though it’s completely abstract. We talked about the role of the frame and how some compositions feel so locked in and claustrophobic whilst others feel so free and expansive.


Tissue paper, scissor and glue were produced for the next step – we could make one cut in each piece of paper, then glue it and add more layers with the tissue paper.


Back to drawing again for another tonal exercise, this time using a piece of wire to draw, first the shadows only, then the wire and the tones.


This was my favourite picture of the day – we twisted the wire, put it under the paper, then made a rubbing with a crayon.


For our final exercise we used charcoal. First we made a drawing of our reshaped foil, then we blacked out a page and used a putty rubber to erase out the image.

So we fitted a lot in! Julie was a wonderful teacher and we all left inspired and happy. Would love to do more workshops in the Dock, keep an eye on their website if you are in the Leitrim area.


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