Being Experimental with Northwest Coast Formline

I’m posting both my January 26th and 27th sketches here today. They both represent an experimental style I fall back on when I let my fingers do the talking.

Merriam-Webster defines ‘experimental’ as “using a new way of doing or thinking about something.” For me, this is an appropriate description for these two sketches. They are more a new way of doing formline than thinking about how to design.

Similar to designing in the usual formline style for more traditional pieces, I begin by quickly establishing some basic lines with quick sweeping motions. Then I’ll either “see” what shapes or creatures might emerge from those basic lines, or I’ll just begin filling in with whatever happens. It’s an organic process.

When I took Norm Campbell’s Drawing class last year, he explained how he began his drawings from a corner of the page and just started working his way outward, not always sure of what would emerge. I imitated that process when I created my final project titled “SoulCatcher.”¬†It’s in the online¬†gallery of my work from 2015-2016 on my other website,

Here are the sketches from my Daily Tlingit Formline Sketchbook:

Experimental Formline by Robert Davis Hoffmann


Maybe you’ll see the very abstract killer whale in there, suggested by a dorsal fin and blowhole with spray.

Experimental Formline by Robert Davis Hoffmann

Creepy Crawlies

This one doesn’t represent any identifiable creature. It is what it is. I like to use humanoid figures as filler in the empty spaces. I try to connect the “formline” in ways that give the overall design more continuity.

In school, I used to doodle a lot. It helped me listen more carefully, but the teachers disagreed and put a stop to it. Nowadays I’ll doodle in meetings and I like how the ideas are piling up.

These two sketches are definitely going to be turned into large paintings. Oh! The days are too short!


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