Going in Circles

Earlier this year, as part of Sketchbook Revival, I spent a morning making “holes” — which are, essentially, circles.

This exercise, presented by Amy Maricle, was meant to be a meditative experience, an example of slow-drawing, and at the time, it was exactly what I needed. Following that introduction to the art of slow-drawing, I visited Amy’s website several more times to take part in her weekly slow-drawing sessions. It was fun at first, but it didn’t take long for me to get … well, a little bored, a little frustrated, a little annoyed with repetitive mark-making. Slow-drawing, I realized, just wasn’t for me.

Now, many months later, I’m coming back around to some appreciation for slow-drawing, at least, that is, when it involves circles.

Circles. Yes, circles. A circle is a simple shape, yet circles can have a lot of symbolic meanings. We find circles everywhere. I have only to look around — quite a “circular” term, don’t you think? — to find a dozen different circles: circles on the side of my old-fashioned pencil sharpener, the concentric circles of a cat toy beside my desk, the circular shapes of the ceiling lights my husband installed in the studio. Circles are everywhere!

I’ve chosen to work with circles as an art theme – for a while, at least. In doing so, I seem to have come around full circle to the colorful holes I painted last spring.

For my first exploration of the theme, I didn’t really think about meaning or purpose. I didn’t try to attach any symbolic interpretations here. I just took a stencil, grabbed my sketchbook, and picked up a variety of markers. For this first “Exploration of Circles” I used:

  • 6 Tombow Dual-Tipped Markers
  • 4 Copic Dual-Tipped Markers
  • 1 Kuretake “Dot” Marker

I didn’t concern myself much with colors. I just took what I had and used them. Neither did I think too much about design. I just used my stencil and markers and created lots of circles, placing them on the page in ways that felt right.

I decided that whatever it was… well, “It is what it is”. And whatever it is, in the end I liked this image.


The reason I like this is because there was no thought behind it.  The colors have no meaning beyond the fact that they were available to me. There’s no order or pattern to the dots, no rhyme or reason for the circles themselves. I just had fun picking up markers, placing my stencil on the page, and drawing circles.

Once I’d completed this page in my sketchbook, my mind was whirling — truly spinning in circles. I wanted to do more, use different colors — or no colors at all! I wanted to grab my gansai, maybe even paint circles in oil. I wanted to cut circles from collage papers or maybe even grab pieces of fabric. I even wanted to try making “free-hand” circles, not using my stencil at all.

This little project — I call it Going in Circles — is similar to many of the art journal projects or mixed media projects I’ve done in the past. Although it’s very simple (especially when I use a stencil), I’ve found that it’s also very creative. Circles may be simple shapes, but we can do so much with them!

Here is “Black Holes in Space”, my second circle-inspired “work of art”.

This isn’t going to be a favorite, but I did have fun making it. I used a 1.0 Micron pen for the entire drawing. I deliberately placed the stencil so that it would “run off” the page in places. Somehow I liked the idea of having unfinished circles, and maybe that’s why I also colored in different areas. Yes, of course, I was thinking about the moon, the planets, orbits and the deepness of space. Circles can be thought-provoking!

Another “circle drawing” was this, done once again using a stencil and a variety of markers. This time, I drew the circles on an abstract watercolor background I’d made.

Then, going back to black and white, I made a small ink drawing of circles all touching one another. Here  my “circles” hardly look like “circles” at all. They’re reminiscent of plant or animal cells.


Another “free-hand” version was this one, done with gansai and two brushes.

I first used a large flat brush to wet the paper, and then I used it to draw eight very loose circles, each with a different color ranging from deep red to a yellow orange. Next I used a small angled brush to go over the circles again with slightly different colors. Finally, with the angled brush, I “filled in” the centers and used a blue-green to create a background.

I purposely kept this very loose, the colors very “watery” and the overall effect, I hope, very vague. I’ve named this one “Uncertain Circles”. Later I might use it as a background for a bit of ink “doodling”. Or maybe I’ll cut it up into bookmarks, or use it as part of another mixed media project.

It was only later, when I did “Circles in Blue”, that I had a sudden realization. “I’ve done this before,” I thought to myself, recalling that Sketchbook Revival workshop demonstration and my subsequent participation in various slow-drawing sessions.

As with my previous experience with the slow-drawing process, I felt a little bit of Zen, but then it went away. Slow-drawing is not my thing. Repetitive shapes can be fun, they can be interesting, and they have a place in art. I just don’t care for too much of it.

This theme has also given me another opportunity to think about spontaneity and deliberation, about being “loose” in mark-making as opposed to being “in control.” With my circles, I definitely prefer the “controlled” marks, the ones made with a stencil.

And while I definitely didn’t enjoy the “Circles in Blue” all that much, that repetitive drawing did bring me around — there’s that circular concept again — to come “full-circle” with my earlier experience. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m becoming much more aware of the lines — and circles — I make, how I make them, and why I make them the way I do.

These drawings and paintings are only the first of many I will be making. Later today I’m going to purchase a brand new mixed media sketchbook. Yep. Call me crazy if you want, but I’m going to fill up an entire sketchbook using the theme “Going in Circles”. I have ideas. I want to explore circles. I especially want to create circles with other media. Even though a circle is a simple, basic shape, I think this theme has a lot to offer. I’m looking forward to “going around in circles”.

Have you ever completed a sketchbook using a single theme? I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m eager to see how many different things I really can do with circles!




    1. Thanks! They have been fun to do. Earlier today I played with a few more watercolor circles. They were very loose. I really like the stenciled ones so much better. If I’m going to make circles, I want “real” circles, I guess LOL.


  1. oo..i really like that one in the middle here- with the circles and watercolor- reminds me of something i would do…but also, and alas- i grow impatient with repetitive forms- which is strange because i like repetitive “lines” ( as in fur patterns) ..lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Repetitive patterns are fun — and relaxing — if not taken to extremes LOL. That’s my take on it, at least. I really like playing with circles, but the “blue circles” were too much. I did get tired of doing the same thing there. I have my new “Circles” sketchbook, and I’m having fun playing with different media and different “circle” ideas. I’m finding that I like the “controlled” circles, but “spontaneous” design.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m looking again at my “Enso” circles — even though I knew nothing about “Enso”, I had a lot of thoughts about “finished” and “unfinished” circles, watching how my circles came together or didn’t, playing with 2 brush strokes. It was very thought-provoking. Then when you told me about “Enso”… wow! It fit together in my brain so nicely. I wasn’t using sumi-e ink or sumi brushes, but I was using Japanese gansai when I made the circles.


  2. I like the idea of slow drawing and love some of the patterns that Amy Maricle creates, but I definitely don’t have the patience to watch someone else drawing them. Instead, I have a little notebook on my desk and, when a design occurs to me, I fill a page with it.
    I love the idea of a sketchbook dedicated to circles… have you come across the enso circle? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensō

    Liked by 1 person

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