Dancing Drawings

Dancing Drawings

By Carmel Dor

Artists pull from their surroundings to inspire creativity, whether it’s from what they see around themselves or their emotions. In fact, there are even artists who associate or see sounds or smells as shapes and colors! When the brain processes information as multiple senses, it’s called synesthesia. And the amazing thing is it doesn’t manifest in just one way; every synesthete has a unique experience of this neurological effect.

While we might not all have synesthesia, we can still experiment with using our various senses to inspire our artistic approaches. In this week’s activity, we will use the Manetti Shrem Museum's Songs of Summer Spotify playlist to guide our creative experience.

Phone, paper, crayons and headphones on wooden table.


Things you will need

  • A way to listen to music (I’m using my phone and earbuds)
  • Blank paper
  • Drawing materials


Make it!

1. To start your musically inspired drawings, you’ll first need to choose some music to work from! You can use the playlist created by the museum and channel the funky spirit of our first-generation artists, or you can use your own tunes. Maybe choose a couple of songs that you aren’t familiar with.
At this point you should also set up your drawing station with the tools you chose to work with. Drawing from music may feel strange at first, but try to think about approaching it abstractly to give yourself some creative freedom. Think about different gestures and shapes you can use as well as different types of mark-making such as shading, cross-hatching and scumbling, just to mention a few.

Demonstration marks on paper showing cross hatching, shading, blending and scumbling.

Iphone, crayons and paper on a wooden table.


2. There isn’t one correct way to make your musical drawings, only different ways you can approach the marks you’re making! Maybe you are focusing on the words in the song to inspire your drawing, but you can also make gestures inspired by the musical rhythm and different instruments you hear.

Zigzag line on a blank sheet of paper.


Maybe you’re also thinking about the mood the musician was in when writing this song, or what emotions they are trying to evoke with this song.

Zigzag line and abstract shapes filled in with cross hatches.


Or you can take a carefree approach and just let your drawing materials dance across the paper!

Zigzag line. abstract shapes filled in with cross hatches and a yellow colored in area on paper.


3. Before I call my drawing finished, I like to play through the song a couple of times until I can see the music reflected in my artwork, which can look different depending on the song. Here are three different drawings I made using three different songs:

Zigzag line. abstract shapes filled in with cross hatche with patches of yellow, orange and black on paper.Colored in patches of green and blue with a red tear drop shape and purple flowers on paper.Iphone and drawing pad with grey spiral and colored lines.

Questions to experiment with

  • Do you have certain drawing materials that go with certain music? Like a grainy crayon for rock music or watercolors for flowing soft tunes?
  • What types of shapes and textures do you notice yourself using for different genres?
  • Do this activity with a friend and see if you can guess each other’s musical inspiration.
Share your masterpiece with us by emailing it to manettishremmuseum@ucdavis.edu along with your name, age and a sentence about it to include in our Community Gallery.
You can also tag us at #manettishremmuseum.