Be the Artist: Pablo Picasso

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Pablo Picasso could take a few simple lines, or even one continuous line, and create a recognizable image. Pictured are Picasso-style line drawings of “monsters” Cousin Itt and a one-line Mike Wazowski. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was an interesting man from the day he was born in 1881 in Spain, as his full name is 23 words long: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

Picasso worked in many styles in from sculpture to painting, but he is best known for helping to found the Cubism movement. Images: Wikicommons Public Domain and (right),, OASC.
Picasso worked in many styles, from sculpture to painting, but he is best known for helping to create the Cubism movement. Images: Wikicommons Public Domain (left and center) and, OASC (right).

It was evident early on he would be an artist or writer, judging by his first word, “piz,” short for “lapiz,” the Spanish word for pencil. He also had the advantage of having an artist as a father, and began formal training at age 7. He had surpassed his own father’s talent by age 13.

Art critics often separate Picasso’s different phases into “periods,” his most famous being his Blue Period in 1901 to 1904, a time characterized for his somber paintings often rendered in shades of blue, blue-green, or grey. This was followed by a Rose Period from 1904 to 1906, with more of a French influence with brighter colors and more pleasant themes.

He worked in several styles including etchings, linoleum cuts, pochoir stencil, sculpture, and collage, but he is most remembered as one of the founders of the Cubism movement. In this avant-garde style of abstract art, objects are broken down, so that the viewer may look at them from all angles at once, rather than just one.

The site Picasso Head allows artists to try their hand at Cubism with different types of faces, facial features, and abstract designs to use.

"Eating Cheese With Kites," created by Molly Kay at age 5 on the Picasso Head site.
“Eating Cheese With Kites,” created by Molly Kay at age 5 on the Picasso Head site. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

As Picasso grew older, his work became more daring, as he used more color and expression. He also enjoyed mixing several styles.

Picasso lived a long life, and continued to entertain friends until the end. He and his wife were hosting friends for dinner in France when he died in 1973. He was 91.

As dark and solemn as some of Picasso’s most famous works are, his lighter, joyous side is recognizable even to young art lovers, and Picasso was always an advocate for art being something everyone can… and should… enjoy. He said as much in an interview in Time magazine in the mid-1970s:

“All children are artists,” he said. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

The Project: One-line Mythical Creatures

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Once you’ve drawn your mythical beasts in either one or just a couple of lines, you can add some color or leave it simple. On the hippogriff and Cornish Pixie, for example, the main animal was drawn with just one line. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Picasso may have mastered some pretty complex-looking methods, but his simple form of line drawing demonstrated how a form can take shape, even with just one continuous line. Many of his images, like his familiar Animals series, were done with just one line, and other works are just a few simple lines and strokes of color.

Picasso's drawing of the Warsaw Mermaid was done with just a few lines. Many of his line drawings were done with just one continuous line. Image: Public Domain.
Picasso’s drawing of the Warsaw Mermaid was done with just a few lines. Many of his line drawings were done with just one continuous line. Image: Public Domain.

We’re going to try what Picasso made look the easiest, the “one line” drawings. I say “made look” easy, because creating an image with just one continuous, simple stroke may take little physical effort, but much thinking through beforehand. The lesson here is knowing what you want to draw in your head before your hand puts it onto paper.

First, and most importantly, think of what creature you want to create. Make sure it’s simple, like a basilisk or leviathan. Don’t try to do any mutli-headed hydras your first time out (although by all means, feel free to get more complicated as you gain more confidence). Use a toy, photo, or book illustration as a guide if you need, but don’t try to copy it perfectly. Instead, take a marker, crayon, or paintbrush and try to recreate this creature without lifting the drawing implement off the paper.

Don’t use a pencil or source you can erase. Challenge yourself. If it doesn’t work out, draw another. Keep the older drawings and look at your progress when you are done.

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Erin tries her hand a drawing a “magic flamingo” with just a couple of lines. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Once you’ve mastered a simple creature, branch out and try one-line or two-line dragons, orcs, gargoyles, minotaurs, or whatever strikes your fancy. Branch out beyond the Greek and Roman to more “contemporary myths” like Pokemon critters to Monsters, Inc. scare floor employees.

You don’t have to just use black lines. Try different colors or add an extra line or two of color when you are finished. Not too much, though. Remember, the beauty is in the simplicity.

Picasso demonstrated the importance of keeping good ideas in your head in a famous 1949 image by Gjon Mili for Life magazine, in which he was photographed drawing a one-line centaur in the air with a small light source. This “instant Picasso” was thought up, created, and gone in a few seconds.

If he was able to do this without even seeing what the finished product would come out like until the photograph was printed, just think about what can be created when you can see the work in progress.

Picasso was never one to shrink from a challenge.

“Others have seen what is and asked why,” he said in Pablo Picasso: Metamorphoses of the Human Form: Graphic Works, 1895-1972. “I have seen what could be and asked why not. “

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site and maintains her own blogsite at She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.