The matchstick – composition of shapes and structure

Again and again, when we’re drawing, we might have the feeling that the picture is not exciting enough. How can we change that? We can do it through proportions.

They’re a good way to make a drawing exciting. To do this, we need to exaggerate the proportions – way larger and way smaller – to achieve this tension. What does that do in the picture? It creates a three-dimensionality. A very large element and a tiny element enter a relationship with each other and create a space in our imagination. That’s important to understand, and that’s why in this impulse I want to go deeper into the question of proportions.

I would like to do so with a thing that we no longer encounter on a daily basis, but that everyone knows: the matchstick. A matchstick has the shape of a stick and is a bit rounded at the front. And it has a proportion: with the head you strike to ignite it, which is very small in relation to the rest of this little stick. When you look at a matchstick, it’s a wonderful three-dimensional form element that can inspire us to draw.

Put some matches in front of you and play with them. For example, you can create many different figures. But I don’t necessarily want you to deal with figures right away. I want you to put them in different structures first. Alternating, like the chairs in the cinema or theater, so that the one in the back is between the two in front, and so on. See what happens. Through these little matches, you also have a lot of dots and strokes. If you put just one match on a white sheet of paper, you’ll notice that there’s a very fine shadow next to it. So you can start by drawing a match realistically, with a reddish brown dot and a delicate shadow. That’s task number one.

Then you move on and play with several matches. Put them on your desk, see if it’s a good composition and draw them. You can increase their number by laying them row by row and then drawing these matches on a sheet of paper, for example on a pre-drawn rectangle. If they become too many, take only a few, for example four, and try to develop different combinations with them. By turning them, by inverting them, by overlapping them, you can create a vast number of new shapes and figures. And each of these shapes you can draw. Lay down the matches and use them to make a template for your picture.

The main thing is that by arranging these matches, you’re having an experience. An experience of how these things feel and how they look. What’s the effect of one little matchstick? What do they do in dialogue with each other? That is a deep experience. A pictorial experience that is important in developing an awareness of the elements in relation to each other. The exercise about this abstract composition of forms with the matches also improves your thinking. At the same time, you’re developing new means of representation. With this simple method, by playing around, you will learn new ideas of how to represent something. This exercise produces beautiful results, and I am sure it will do the same for you.

Further down the line, this exercise in proportion and composition of shapes can also be a structural composition. If you place the matches in a row or out of phase, a structure will form on your sheet. You can study this carefully. In addition, this proportional relationship of big and small results in yet another proportion within the matchstick, namely of light and dark.

The proportion of light and dark is created by the matchsticks, which are only drawn linearly, and their tip, which is drawn dark. You can emphasize this quite dark in your drawing with many small dot and stroke elements. If you want, possibly in red or red brown.

You can’t practice these compositions and proportions enough, because they so immensely increase your sense of space in the picture. So, if you’re working with just one match, it’s a very delicate matter, where that match is placed on your drawing sheet.

Try it out beforehand on a separate sheet of paper. And of course, you can try all the shapes that you’ll invent through this method with shadows. It depends on how much time you have, how much delight and how much curiosity. There’s a lot to discover with only one thing, the matchstick.

I wish you a lot of leisure and joy and desire to deal with a seemingly every day object like the match, which can give you so much inspiration. Sit down well to your drawing place, prepare well, go out into nature and above all, stay nice and simple!

Simplicity is the order of the day. Good luck!