Daily drawing experiments in lockdown

Display of many daily pen drawings on square paper
Display of some of the daily pen drawings on square paper, drawn April to July 2020, Birmingham, England (Photograph by Wilson Yau, July 2020)

The first UK lockdown in 2020, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, meant my old habits, stimuli and timetable had gone. I had to built a new life, like everyone else, and I was determined to stay creative and include art to help me focus and stay calm. It usually worked. I took the change as a chance for me to experiment more daily and using different – more domestic – sources of inspiration; the daily commutes I had used as time to draw had disappeared and along with it the main long-standing subject of my art which was drawing life on the Tube.

Series 1-3 were create whilst I shielded in Birmingham for 150 days (five months) to be with family, in a suburban environment with only basic materials. With these drawings I avoided using digital media and real life subjects, afterall I am stuck mainly indoors during lockdown with just my imagination.

Series 4 was created in London during the second and third UK lockdowns (November 2020 to January 2021).

Series 01: Black pen

My first series of drawings was based on using black pen and a block of square note paper, paper which must have been in my teenage bedroom for over 20 years. Each day in pen I’d create a new random pattern, often it was one of the first things I’d do after I woke up. By the end I had 101 drawings, stopping only because I ran out of square paper. I’m quite glad to see none of them are alike.

Pen drawings on square paper
Pen drawings on square paper (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2020)
Pen drawing.
Pen drawing being created. (Photograph by Wilson Yau, April 2020)

Series 02: Oil Pastel

The next series of drawings used oil pastel, a medium I’ve had almost not experience with, so I thought it would be good to challenge myself to use it everyday. I used paper from my Dad’s old blank notebooks, found as I was clearing his stuff – there was much admin to sort out after his stroke. In these I drew a new abstract pattern on a page everyday, initially in one colour and changing it daily. The latter drawings experimented with using two colours. Between May and July 2020 I created 65 drawings, stopping when I used up all the pages in the notebooks.

Abstract Oil Pastel drawing in purple
Abstract oil pastel drawing (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2020)
Abstract oil pastel drawings
Abstract oil pastel drawings (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2020)

Series 03: Drawing with a twig

Using a twig I found in the garden, this is an idea I saw in an Instagram post from artist Adam Luke Hawker. With my day job keeping me busy, it took me a while to get round to trying it out myself, even though I had the twig near my desk for a few months so I wouldn’t forget. This project lasted July to August and produced 35 drawings using acrylic paint, predominately black. I started off with undiluted paint, but felt confident by the end to add water to create different effects. The acrylic paints, along with the oil pastels were an unwanted present from my parents, but they obviously knew better than me and the art set they gave me for Christmas was invaluable when I came to live with them during lockdown. The garish green paper was from a block of paper I never found frequent use for over the course of 20 years, until now. I stopped at 35 drawings as that was the number that could be comfortably diplayed on my cork board.

Drawing made using a twig and acrylic paint
Drawing made using a twig and acrylic paint (Photographer: Wilson Yau, 2020)
Drawings made using a twig
Drawings made using a twig (Photographer: Wilson Yau, 2020)

Series 04: Printing with objects

Between November 2020 and March 2021, during the second and third of the UK’s lockdowns, I embarked on a series of 100 drawings created through the prints created by pressing objects into the pages of a sketchbook. These are just ordinary household objects (cutlery, stationery) or rubbish (banana peels, egg shells) which are then covered in black watercolour paint, useful when movement outdoors is restricted. It’s interesting to see what actually touches the paper and the variable patterns created.

Printing experiment using a fork, by Wilson Yau, 2020


Give it a go!

I’d recommend anyone to give any of these a go or just to be more experimental even in small ways alongside other artwork or their jobs and duties. For the RIBA I wrote a series of creative guides and one of which, ‘Power up! New and quick ways to power up your creativity and approach to making art‘, has a range of different techniques to try. These aren’t to guide people to create ‘masterpieces’ but to challenge themselves to do something different with minimal equipment or prior knowledge.

Almost none of my above drawings took more than five minutes each, some considerably less. In the busy, stressful and chaotic time of the lockdowns, these small acts of creation helped me to reframe this time in a positive light and gave me an easy and regular way to take my mind off my troubles. Through these perhaps I don’t need to remember the lockdowns as a time of fear, but that there was creativity and hope.


Copyright: All works and photographs by Wilson Yau, 2020-1