Drawing from Memory

Drawing from Memory

Time is something that is on all of our minds, so it seems only right that we use time as a medium in our creative experiments this week. To bring part of the past to the present, we are going to use a sensory memory exercise to kick-start us.

It might help to keep in mind the work of the Surrealist artists of the early 20th century. These artists were interested in unleashing the creative potential of the subconscious mind by combining strange images together in their work. They made art about memories, fantasies and thoughts we don’t even know we are having!

In this week’s activity, we are challenging you to get creative with memories as a powerful creative tool!

Box of crayons, blank paper and pencil on wooden table.

Things you will need

  • Blank paper
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Coloring tools
  • A peaceful space to do the sensory memory exercise

Make it!

1. Let’s get set up first. Spread out your creative workstation with your drawing materials and some paper to work on.

2. Now let’s reach back in time and search our memories for inspiration. Start by settling into your quiet space and sitting comfortably – whatever that means to you.

You can either play the voice recording or follow along by reading the prompts below:

  • Think back to when you last spent a long stretch of time outdoors or away from the house. The precise date doesn’t matter so much as what you remember from this time. I want you to focus on one specific memory, imagining yourself in the space.
    • Where are you located in the space? What is the weather like? What time of day is it?
    • What do you hear? Soft sounds, loud sounds, background noise, talking … It is ambient or recognizable?
    • What can you smell or taste? Where are the smells or tastes coming from?
    • What are you thinking? Do any images or symbols come to mind? What is your mood?
  • Open your eyes and note in your mind the most potent sensory details that stand out in your memory.

3. Now bring that memory to life! Start by drawing out three of the strongest details you remembered during the exercise. This can be done abstractly, as a landscape, or any way that makes sense to you. Don’t worry too much about getting the nitty-gritty details. We are drawing from memory, so it's OK to start with basic shapes. Use pencil first so that you can easily adjust as you go.

Box of crayons, pencil and paper with pencil sketch of triangles, ring and clothing.


4. Next, add more details to help bring your image to life! If you want to, you can search the Internet to find references of what you’re drawing so you can help ground your recollections.

Box of crayons, pencil and paper with sketches of pizza slices and puffy jacket.


5. Get funky with it! Try to think of unexpected ways you can add more details from your memory into the drawing. Maybe through using color or adding more features. Perhaps your memory includes the sound of dicing vegetables and so you choose to make the background of your drawing a salad.

Box of crayons, pencil and paper with drawing featuring orange puffy jacket, pizza slices and blue background.


Questions to experiment with

  • How can using color help tell your memory story?
  • Do you want to make your drawing more like a scene out of a movie or an imaginary space?
  • Are you choosing to include yourself in the scene or are you observing it? Why?
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.