Organic form drawings (a surreal pencil art series)
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Organic form drawings: a surreal art collection

This collection of organic form drawings is an ever-growing colorful series of tiny detailed art pieces made using automatism.

I call these drawings “organic” because of the shapes and forms that show up in them. In art terms, organic drawings are the opposite of geometric drawings. Geometric drawings use rigid, angular shapes. Sometimes this means they look sort of like stained glass; sometimes it means they look almost mechanical.

On the other hand, organic drawings are much more fluid and lifelike.

In chemistry terms, “organic” refers to matter with a carbon base. For something to have a carbon base, it typically means that thing is living, or is made from something that was once alive. Plant matter, bacteria, fungi, mammals … all of these are organic.

Here’s a quick video where I explain the series.


You can explore the whole gallery of organic form drawings here, featuring over 60 small pencil drawings.

See the organic form drawings

I originally got the idea for Organic Form Drawings by seeing the work of Dr. Immy Smith, a UK-based neuroscientist-turned-artist. She had been creating what she called “semi-automatic” drawings with pencils of various color. She took scrap paper or pieces of carding and drew detailed, abstract, biologic-looking shapes while letting her mind wander.

Through her I learned about the discipline of automatic drawingAutomatic drawing (also known as automatism) is a technique used to create a specific type of surreal art. With this technique, your goal is to make art that comes from your subconscious thoughts, not your conscious ones. 

That means you don’t get to plan your drawing out beforehand. You don’t get to aim for a certain end result. You can’t even let yourself be conscious of what you’re making.

I’m not going to pretend to understand all the complexities of the human mind that go into this process. But I will tell you that automatic drawing can be done, and it’s a very fascinating discipline.

You can get better at it by practicing, which is why this series is ongoing. I’ve been adding to it for almost ten years, and I might not ever stop.

About organic drawings

“Organic drawing” is a broad term used to describe a drawing that depicts an irregular, asymmetrical, or naturally-occurring shape. These drawings contrast from others that are geometric, structured, or mechanical.

Organic drawings are characterized by an absence of patterns and structure. A lot of times this style of drawing yields fluid-looking forms that have a lot of biological-seeming components.

I like to think of organic drawings as sitting right in between abstract art and surrealism.

About the organic form drawing series

Whether you’re a creatively-driven person or not, you probably know that very few creatives get paid to make art. And if you’re a creative person who makes art, chances are it’s a thing you do in your spare time (if you have it) with your spare money (if you have it). Creative people often find themselves balancing two struggles: making enough money to get by, and finding enough time to do what they feel best at. Often, these two things are in conflict.

This series started as an attempt for me to balance those two things in my own life. It began during a time when I was dealing with both a tight budget and a demanding job with a busy schedule. Despite my limited resources, I wanted to keep making art. And while I enjoy coming up with ideas for surreal art, sometimes I want to make art that lets me unwind a little bit more and disengage from thinking too hard.

I started by deciding on an inexpensive and highly portable art medium.

Those of you who have been participating in my series of art ideas to help overcome creative blocks know that I often set limitations to inspire the creative process. One way I encourage people to set limitations is by narrowing down a medium. I limited the medium for myself when I started this surreal drawing series.  In this case, I bought a tiny two-dollar sketchbook with pages the size of an index card and a few cheap colored pencils. With the medium limitation in place, I was ready to start a series.

I brought my little sketchbook and a colored pencil or two with me everywhere—to work meetings, to church, to get-togethers. I used the automatic drawing technique I’d learned about: instead of coming up with ideas for the final images, I just began drawing without having a clue what I was going to draw. Nothing was planned in advance. In fact, it was almost like glorified doodling.

With how my automatic drawings tend to go, the drawings all end up with one shape, or “form” in the center. These odd forms began to emerge, some looking like viruses, others looking like plants … all of them looking more or less biological.

So far, I’ve made 67 of these little drawings, and I may never stop adding to the series. Drawing these organic forms is a meditative process, and one that can be practiced over time. The paper is so small and the implement so simple that I am able to totally zone out. It’s always fascinating to see what comes out at the end, too, because I’m usually not conscious of my brain forming a concept. I’m just drawing.

These drawings are mentally about amorphous or unformed concepts, physically about details and discipline.

With some of my first organic form drawings, I experimented with multiple colors, but I ended up making a single color per drawing the standard approach for the sake of simplicity.

It’s been a very freeing and relaxing series to work on.

If you’re an artist and find yourself in a time of life when you can’t think of art ideas, you have hardly any time to sit down and create, or you don’t have the resources for nice art supplies, you’re welcome to use this series idea to start a series of your own.

Learn more about automatic drawing

I’ve written a whole post on the technique of automatism. If you’re curious to understand more about it or even try it out for yourself, then take a look here.

Learn more
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