Quarantine Art Course

When The University of Helsinki Art Room was closed because of the corona virus situation Drawing Master Vappu Rossi published a series of drawing exercises called quarantine art which can be done at home without any special equipment or tools

You can use any drawing tool you have in your house. The paper can be anything you have. A sheet of 80-gram printer paper and a pencil are fine. Try using different drawing tools for different exercises.

Share your work using the hashtags #piirustussali #karanteenitaide #quarantineart #universityofhelsinkiartroom #vappurossi. Or don’t! The point of this exercise is not to post things on social media, but to practise your observation skills, loosening up your drawing, learning a new skill or brushing up on an old one, and to find some overall purpose to our days.

Start with these exercises (to be done over 1–3 days): 

Self-portrait or portrait

Draw a self-portrait from the mirror, or sit with a friend or family member and draw each other simultaneously

  1. without looking at the paper (front view)
  2. with a continuous line (three-quarter profile, meaning not directly from the front, but with the face slightly turned to the side, the traditional portrait pose)
  3. with your non-dominant hand (any orientation you prefer)
  4. with a continuous line without looking at the paper
  5. with a continuous line using your non-dominant hand
  6. using your non-dominant hand without looking at the paper
  7. with a continuous line using your non-dominant hand without looking at the paper
  8. then draw a self-portrait / draw each other directly from the front using two hands and two drawing tools at the same time to draw
    a) single image (mono image, any style)
    b) two images that mirror each other (stereo image)
    c) two parallel images that face the same direction (stereo image).

Longer exercise:

Draw a more finished portrait of your face or the face of a friend or family member.


In the next exercise, we will be exploring space by drawing interiors in our home. You can choose a large and challenging space – like an entire room – or just draw a single detail in the corner. 
These exercises should keep you busy for about three days. Pick the ones you find most interesting!

Short warm-ups: 

Intro: Small sketch the size of your palm
Before you start to draw the space in detail, make a quick, small sketch where you go through the main parts of your composition: lines, directions, angles, arcs, general measurements. 

Intro: Details without looking at the paper
When you’re about to do a more extensive work of a particular interior, first draw two or three sketches of the details of the space without looking down at the paper. After that, you can start on the main work.

Intro: Draw lines in the air with your finger
When you’re about to start drawing the space in more detail, first take your time to look at everything in your view. Draw into the air with your finger and think about directions, measurements and composition.

Larger exercises:

Sketchy, exploratory lines
Interiors are often drawn with strict precision, but here we are going for a more relaxed feel. Draw with a light touch, making sketchy, searching lines, keeping your drawing tool in constant motion. Go through the space in front of you: what are all the things you can see? You can pick or exclude details as you wish. Keep your hand moving quickly, don’t think too much. Your hand should be in constant motion.

Next step: Sketchy, exploring lines + simple values
Once you have outlined the structure of the space, start adding shadows. Squint so you can see the difference between light and shadow more clearly. First sketch in the largest shadow areas and then darken the deepest shadows. Maintain a light touch when shading, keep your hand in motion.

Outline drawing with continuous contour
Line drawing, just the outlines. Draw through the space in front of you without lifting your pencil off the paper. 

Dramatic light
Choose a spot with a very intense or otherwise interesting difference between light and shadow. Focus on depicting the dramatic light. This resulting drawing can be quite abstract.

Precise lines, simple values
Draw a line drawing with accurate directions and measurements. Once the lines are in place, bring in a simplified value scale (three or four shades: lights, darks, midtones). Squinting your eyes can help you see the areas of light and shadow. 


The theme of this series of exercises is one of the most traditional genres in art: the still life. Arrangements of fruit and flowers have inspired artists for centuries, but a still life can have any objects you choose.

Warm-up: Negative space in the kitchen

Find some objects and tools in your kitchen that have openings or holes, such as a whisk, a potato masher and a teacup. Only draw the holes. Note that the shape of the hole changes dramatically as you rotate the object.

Miniature still life

From small to large. Collect small objects into a miniature still life. Draw your miniature arrangement 3–10 times larger than life. Even though the subject may be small, the art can still be great. Consider the framing, composition, angle and lighting.

Water glass still life

This exercise is fantastically challenging and versatile! Set up an arrangement of transparent water dishes, light and water. You will need water glasses, wine glasses or champagne glasses, glass vases, bottles, pitchers, etc. You don’t need that many objects: the charm of this still life is not in the multitude of objects, but in the water, light, gloss and shadow. Just a single glass of water is a fascinating subject. Construct an interesting group out of full and half-full (yes, half-full!) dishes of water. Light the group with flashlights or spotlights. There should be little overall light so you can see the shadows of the glasses and water. Try different lights and backgrounds. The background should be white – a large white sheet of paper would be best – so you can see all the different shadows and highlights. If you don’t have a large piece of paper, any smooth, light-coloured surface will do.

Quarantine still life

You can take this exercise symbolically or literally. Make a still life with objects and things that relate to the current situation either directly or symbolically. Think about the lighting (spotlights, flashlights, natural light?) and the background as well as the angle, framing, composition and scale.

This time our quarantine exercises focus on free flow drawing which can enhance memory, listening, concentration and creative thinking.

Have you ever doodled while talking on the phone? Or filled in the centres of the a’s and o’s during a meeting? This seemingly useless doodling can have surprisingly beneficial effects. Let’s put this to practice.

Warm-up: Doodle creature or abstract beauty

Close your eyes and move your pencil around the paper. Make round and/or sharp movements. Open your eyes. You can continue the resulting jumble of lines in different ways: by colouring it or adding to it. The image can be abstract, or you can turn it into an animal or a face. Please note: the end result doesn’t have to make any sense. The focus of these exercises is the process, not the product. “The journey is more important than the destination.” 

Warm-up: Drawing musical terms

What kinds of marks might you make if you followed musical notation? Think about it and try it out. Largo, allegro, staccato, legato, dolce, sostenuto, accelerando, forte fortissimo, con fuoco? 

Journey into the world of doodling

Listen to an audiobook, podcast, talk radio, radio essay, radio play, television debate, etc. Research has shown that doodling enhances concentration, hearing comprehension and memory. A classic of meeting doodles is colouring in the centres of a’s and o’s, but you can make up your own themes that you can then continue and colour in. Some ideas:

  • angular or circling lines
  • spirals, circles, ovals 
  • flowers, leaves, berries, fruit
  • leaves, vines or similar organic growth
  • cloud formations
  • sound waves or EKG graphs – series of back-and-forth lines
  • lightning, droplets
  • angular shapes, lines
  • strange animals or faces
  • the line jumbles from the warm-up exercise, the resulting creatures and series of abstract images
  • framing your notes with drawings

Advanced exercise for the fearless doodler: drawing while taking notes in a meeting or lecture

Listen to an online lecture. You can also try doodling during a video conference. If the conversation is about planning a new project, or you need creative thinking for another reason, or you have to stay focused on long statements, doodling has been found to be helpful. 
You can also jot down words and make notes as usual, either on the same or a separate piece of paper. Research has shown that you can further enhance learning and creative thinking by doodling drawings that relate to the topic of the lecture or conversation, but at least at first, only draw small images that support your notes, so that drawing doesn’t steal too much of your focus. 
NB: The doodling is supposed to help, not distract: if doodling does not improve your ability to focus, or if you start to think about the drawing and its result too much so that you forget to listen to the lecture or meeting, move onto the next exercise and try these while listening to a radio programme, for example.

Musical drawing

This time we will be trying meditative drawing, imitating the mood of the music with our pencils and letting our hand move freely, inspired by the music. 

Select different pieces and musical genres for the exercises. Don’t think too much about what you’re drawing.

A month ago, I drew at a multimedia concert, where the musical performance was Hildegard von Bingen’s Ave Generosa and O Frondens Virga. These pieces made it easy for my pencil to find a meditative flow. To go to another extreme of the musical spectrum, another excellent choice might be Sandstorm by Darude, a techno track so popular it has been proposed as an unofficial Finnish national anthem. 

  1. Imagine that your pencil is a radar that reacts to sound.
  2. Hold on to the end of your pencil so that it hangs loosely from your hand. Trace your hand around the paper along to the music.
  3. Imagine that your pencil is the conductor’s baton.
  4. The marks of the pencil and the motion of the hand imitate the music: is it intense, sensitive, fast or slow – you can think about drawing in general through musical terms, just like in the warm-up.

Excellent pieces for beginners in this exercise might be In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg or the Flight of the Bumble-Bee by Rimsky-Korsakoff. I’ve also used both of these in my classes.

If you have time, you can choose a longer piece of music. Beethoven’s 9th symphony could be an uplifting choice. Sibelius’ The Trees is frequently used as background to musical painting. As it’s Easter time, you might want to draw through Mozart’s Requiem, a piece commonly performed around Easter. 

Please note that the music does not have to be classical. Testing different musical genres and periods will help deepen your experience with these exercises. You can also use soundscapes or whale song to draw with.

In the fifth chapter of the Quarantine Art Course, we focus on spring awakening and the logic of organic growth.

Warm-up: Outlines of crossing and overlapping plants

For this exercise, choose a view or a detail where parts of plants overlap or intersect: something is in front, something in the back, and perhaps there’s something in between. For example, you can draw a houseplant or a spruce branch. This task is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle: which lines should you draw first?

In the fruit and vegetable department

You can explore the fruit and vegetable department from a new perspective on your next shopping trip. It is a place where you can find inspiring drawing models!

Broccoli is like a small tree. 

Ginger looks almost like a coral if the branches have not been cut off. Organic ginger has often more and thinner branches – better for this purpose!

Savoy cabbage is a lovely, wrinkled model, but Chinese cabbage or kale are equally suitable. If you manage to find some romanesco cauliflower, your purchase is worth it: its fractal-like inflorescences are amazing.

A celery root is also an excellent model. You might find a whole celery with parts of roots in some larger stores.
This task is also a great reason to try new recipes: you can combine drawing and cooking. Draw first, then eat.

Split surfaces

Buy fruit, vegetables or root. Split it with a knife. Draw (or paint) a picture of the split surface.

This theme offers a tremendous amount of variations! Citrus fruits and onions are an excellent choice. The split surface of chioggia, ”candy striped” beet, is magnificent. Cabbage, celery root or red cabbage give you a challenge. (You can also paint a quarantine aquarelle of red cabbage or chioggia; test beetroot juice and smashed blueberries for colors. Use turmeric and coffee for an onion-themed aquarelle.)

The logic of organic growth 1: outline-based structure drawing

Draw an outline drawing of a tree – or part of a tree – that you can see from your window. You can also pick blueberry branches and use them as a model. Focus on the structure: how does the trunk split into smaller and smaller branches, how do the leaves attach to the stem?

The logic of organic growth 2: small miracles

 On the forest path or in the yard, you can find small but inspiring models, which, in closer inspection, follow the same logic of organic growth as larger objects.

Turn a pine cone in your hand. Draw the cone directly from below. The arrangement of the cone scales admirably follows the Fibonacci sequence! Draw the cone directly from above, try to capture the light and shadows. 

Lichens often represent trees in architectural scale models. Look at a single branch of a reindeer lichen: it’s, indeed, like a small tree. Like lichens, mosses branch into smaller and smaller similar particles. The same repetitive structure can also be found in the leaf midribs and veins. Remember that you need  permission from the landowner to collect moss and lichen.

Drawing series: The miracle of growth

Plant fast-growing seeds such as sage, rosemary or basil. Also, blueberry or birch branches in a glass of water work well as a model (however, do not tear the branch from a living tree). Draw a small sketch of your plant every morning (e.g. 5 min is enough) and follow the miracle of growth in your series of drawings! Continue the task for 10 days (or even the whole spring).

The exercises in the sixth part of the Quarantine Art Course are time-based.

NB! This time the picture of our art course is especially closely connected with our theme. The time signal bag made sure that Helsinki and whole Finland stayed in right time before the Finnish Broadcasting Company started daily time signals in the 1920s. Every day the bag was hoisted up to the pole of the Observatory’s middle tower and dropped to the ground exactly at noon. 

Changing views

For this exercise, choose a view, a scenery, or an object where changes take place. The model can be indoors or outdoors; the framing can be wide, or you can focus on a small detail.

A clothesline or drying rack is a great choice for this task. You can draw (and paint) laundry according to your own laundry cycle. You can draw overlapping outlines and mix different time layers, or you can draw your work as a temporal sequel, for example from left to right or from bottom to top. The clothesline is a theme reflecting everyday life, and it has a hidden content of sorts: it can be interesting to see in retrospective what kind of clothes were drying at your house during the quarantine period.

Objects such as your home office, the dining table, and even the kitchen countertop with the sink provide similar subject matter: there are enough repetitive features but still constant changes.

Want to draw something simpler? Get a banana, as green as possible, place it on a plate, and draw the banana once in a while over the next few days. You can depict the changes in the banana in a series of images, or by continuing the first image. Finally, you can eat your model. A black-ended banana is still perfect for making smoothies, for example.

Buy some flowers in their bud and follow their life cycle.

An even simpler model? The potato sprouts quickly, if kept in warm. Remember that according to the recommendations of the Finnish Food Authority, potatoes with sprouts longer than 5 mm. are not eligible for sale. Don’t eat your model if it’s green or softened.

If you live in a place where it’s possible to follow the awakening of nature, you can choose an ascending crocus, an opening tulip, a maple flower, or a wider image of the forest edge for this task.

Drawing your own herb plantation was one of the exercises in the 5th chapter of our course, ”The logic of organic growth”. Fruit seeds need a couple of weeks to sprout but the wait is rewarded with pretty cotyledons.

Clouds are a good and stress-free model and looking at the sky brightens the mind. The strip of the sky visible from your window can be drawn and painted as a serial work, like a weather diary.

Objects such as a construction site, a sandbox with toys, a parking lot, a bike rack, a coffee table or even a game of chess are also suitable for the exercise of changing views. The time perspective can be short or long according to your wish and the chosen model, from a few days to several months.

10 x 10

Draw for ten minutes, for ten days. The size of the drawing: 10cm x 10cm. This is a free flow drawing exercise, don’t think too much of what you draw. The image may be completely abstract, but if some figurative elements appear, it’s ok. Create a format or a pattern for the drawings to get you started: a circle, a sloping line, ten blind-drawn dots on the paper etc. If you need inspiration, read the instructions for free flow drawing in the fourth chapter of the course (Journey into the world of doodling).

It doesn’t matter if the days aren’t consecutive.

30 mornings (feasible, naturally, any time of the day)

As soon as you wake up in the morning, draw for 3 minutes. (Or, draw for 3 minutes any other time of the day.)

Don't think about what you're drawing.

In this exercise, too, you can create a starting pattern from which to set off each day: a circle, a sloping line, ten dots blindly pecked on the paper, etc. However, if your mind & pen start to wander in other directions, forget the format. Again, if you need inspiration, read the instructions for free flow drawing in the fourth chapter of the course (Journey into the world of doodling).

If you want, you can include a diary-like element and draw an abstract interpretation of each day’s mood. You can give the drawing a name that reflects your thoughts, but the date and time are also enough.

This challenge will last for a month.

Try to draw every day, but notice: if you miss some days, it does not matter. You will continue when you have time. This exercise is not meant to put more strain on your days.

Time limits

These are perceptual drawing exercises.

Draw from the model

a) for 10 minutes (use a timer). For some people, this time is really short, for some it feels very long. For both groups, this is a useful exercise!

b) for 3 min (use a timer).

c) Draw for about a minute by counting to 60 (don’t use a timer or a clock, count to 60 quietly in your mind). If this is too difficult, count aloud.

Do this exercise at least 6 times using a different model every time.

NB! The purpose of this task is to cause a positive, small overload in your brain. When you focus simultaneously on drawing and calculating, you are able to make observations and draw them on paper, but perhaps you will not be able to think about the end result. Your attention is partly shifted elsewhere, and this can relieve the pressure from drawing, if there is any.

You may forget which number you were counting, get stuck, or repeat the same numbers back and forth. This is completely normal.

If counting is too easy, try counting backwards.

What could serve as a good model for these exercises? A self-portrait drawn from the mirror works well. A houseplant or a sleeping pet is a good choice. For your 10-minute study you can draw a close-up of the petals of a flower (the structure of a rose is pretty fascinating). You can also ask a family member to stay still for a minute.

People seem to share the photos of their lunch plates on social media: could this be an alternative implementation?

Take a walk in nature. It reduces stress, and stop to draw whenever you find something worth drawing along your path.

+ Additional task: Repeated image

Draw a new, quick image of the same model you have already drawn in the exercise a) or b).