Tlingit Art January 4 Daily Sketch: Breaking the Rules

One of the reasons I like “sketching” as opposed to “drawing” is that all I’m doing is creating rough drafts for something that could possibly become improved upon, more finessed. Working in Tlingit art requires both. If you’re new to the Northwest Coast formline style, take a look at this teaching unit Sealaska Heritage Institute put together, “Northwest Coast Formline Design: Definitions and Student Activities

I have begun a catalog of rough drafts of Tlingit art, that I can pull out from time to time when it seems like I’m in a creative dry spell. I think you all can relate to those periods.

Sometimes I wake up with ideas that simply have to gush out onto paper. Other times, like when I have an assignment or commission, I feel stumped. The equivalent of a writer experiencing writer’s block.

Another reason I like sketching is that I am free to sketch designs that don’t have to follow rigid rules, they don’t need to make any sense. They have a sense of their own, separate from expectation. That’s what today’s sketch is all about.

Jan 4 Tlingit Art Daily Sketch

Jan 4 Tlingit Art Daily Sketch

Can you see some of the places I’ve broken a few formline rules? I placed unexpected shapes incongruously to the kinds of filler shapes you would ordinarily see.

For example, in our Tlingit formline style you would ordinarily see and ovoid shape filling an outer ovoid (such as an eye inside an ovoid.) You would expect ‘U’ shape filler designs inside the outer ‘U’ shape (such as a split ‘u’ inside a ‘u’ shaped ear.)

What I have done is put eyes inside ‘u’ shapes, ‘u’ shapes inside ovoids, vertical lines across places where the design flow might insist they should be horizontal, and so on.

Sometimes it’s best to let my sketches organically create themselves. I’ll just find any starting point and design from there. This is contrary to starting with a profile, or with a preconceived design. It’s good practice for me to break out of the mold. There are times when I’m working within our Tlingit formline style that I need to adhere to the basics. I like to go back and forth. Keeps me elastic in my approach to design.


  1. Alisa Nielsen January 4, 2017
    • Tlingit Me January 5, 2017

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
Comodo SSL