Honouring the small actions

On this April morning I am sitting in my living room watching the swallows make their nest under the eaves of the house across the road. They fly back and forth with bits of this and that to construct their home. So many journeys and so many pieces of debris are brought together to create something new. I am reminded of all the small things we do on a daily basis that we so easily dismiss or belittle by thinking that they are not important, that they don’t really matter, that they are not big enough. Yet it is all these small things that are the fabric of our lives. They are the gestures that create our “nest”. These are the actions that matter, that keep us going and that support us when the big things happen, both positive and negative. They create our foundation stones.

Urban birds nest

So with that in mind I would like to introduce an exercise to honour all the small acts we do each day, from brushing our teeth, to walking the dog, making a cup of tea, chatting to your neighbour, etc. We are going to make small repetitive marks, for example, circles, squares, squiggles, dots etc and build up a composition using these marks only. Many artists use this technique of small gestures to create their artworks such as Van Gogh who used small brushstrokes to interpret scenes from nature.

Starry Night, Van Gogh Vincent, 1889

Another example of this is contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama who is famous for her use of polka dots(among other things) to create artworks.

Untitled, Kusama Yayoi, 1967

Materials Required
Small pieces or card or paper approximately 4 inches square
Markers/pens/colour pencils/paints and paint brush
Larger sheets of paper A4 or bigger if you have it.

1. Take your small pieces of card and choose something to make your mark.
2. Select a single mark that you are going to use, e.g. a circle or triangle.
3. Spend a few minutes making marks on your card. Don’t think too much about it. Let the mark making lead you. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Try to get into a flow and contemplate the small acts you do every day.

4. When you are happy with this move onto the next card and choose a new mark and change drawing implement if you like.

5. Create 5 or 6 cards thus over a period of approximately 20 minutes.
6. Next move onto the bigger sheet of paper and select your favourite mark or marks from your cards. This is where things start to get interesting.
7. For this part of the exercise please feel free to use different colours, vary the size of your marks, overlap the marks, combine a number of marks in one piece of work.

Let your imagination take flight.

Give attention to every mark you make.

7. When you feel happy with what you have created, take time to look at and admire it. Notice how each little mark is important to the overall composition of your artwork.
8. Repeat this exercise as often as you like using any materials that come to hand e.g. a ballpoint pen and the back of an envelope or in a notebook or sketchbook.


Martina Carroll is an artist.  She has just completed the Arts in Group Facilitation Certificate at CIT Crawford.