Drawing: At the Heart
With every mark we make with brush or a palette knife, each shape that we cut out with a mat knife or clay that we shape with fingers or tools…every object that we create with our hands that did not before exist in the physical plane, we are drawing. When our eyes follow the shapes of things around us, even when our bodies bend to a pose in yoga…we are drawing.
I asked some friends to comment on the importance of drawing, all stellar artists, most who also teach. I left the question wide open—importance how? as painters? as visual human beings?—and so received wise answers to these slightly different questions.
“Drawing, as Michelangelo said, is the foundation of all the arts. It is the means by which an artist can make what he or she does convincing. Drawing, in my opinion, is not to be understood as the rendering of forms (which alone leads to eidetic illusionism), but as the construction of pictorial space within which form can palpably exist. Drawing is not a visual equation (these marks equal this object) that is left to illustrators who always and only render. Drawing is an abstraction which evokes and reifies the phenomenon of human visual experience of the world. It puts both artist and viewer at the center of experience.”
“If we are talking about the importance of drawing relative to painting, I think it is as important as the artist needs it to be. Having said that, I see little difference between drawing and observation. Observation leads to understanding, whether the subject is material or intangible doesn’t matter. Once one has observed and understood, then one may communicate. The visual artists chosen mode of expression, be it representation, abstraction, non-objective, or otherwise, is irrelevant. How effective the communication is, is of paramount importance. Overall I would say that the more acute the powers of observation then the more powerful the expression. In the end, to quote Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.”
“There seems to be an ease with drawing that i don’t find in any other medium, yet I find a finished drawing to be just has important as any painting .”
Drawing is where we start our creative lives and it continues to be where we take our exploratory steps into a new painting or sculpture or into almost any other medium. The immediacy of scratching lines on a piece of paper is perfect for experimenting with concepts or compositions for other works or for creating a pure, stark, honest work of art in and of itself.
I’ve always been so taken with the act of putting lines on paper, that I seem to gravitate toward drawing-based mediums like etching and drypoint. Again, it’s the immediacy.
Learning to draw well is essential for an artist. He or she can bring it to incredible levels of realism or break it down to pure abstraction…but it must first be mastered.
Drawing by definition is process intensive. The experience of drawing is also universal because everybody has at least made marks with a pencil; handwriting, a doodle or two. This is not true of painting, sculpture or filmography. There is no hiding with drawing, and also no drama. It is a simple task to just pick up a pencil and make a mark. Getting in the stream right where you are and navigating from there a pictorial impression. It will be a drawing no matter what.
Margarete de Soleil
“Drawing is the primary vehicle of visual intention and commitment. When a person gains drawing proficiency, they stand and take their first steps as an artist. Prior to that, their mark-making is like a baby that scoots around the floor on their butt- they eventually get where they want to go, but inelegantly, slowly and sloppily. Making a strong, intentional mark takes a great amount of courage- it might fail. And that fear of failure- easily remedied by making another mark, and another, and another, until confidence- gained through experience and persistence- produces the shape we see in our minds, stops too many people. And that is a shame. What is at stake here? A few pennies worth of materials, at best; some time; some self-criticism. The myth that artists tap into some deep well of innate talent and produce beautiful drawings ab ovo is just that- a myth. Most of us, our chubby child’s hands firmly grasping a crayon, made our first marks long, long ago. The main difference- we didn’t give up, we never stopped making bold marks, we learned to coordinate eye and hand, we learned to draw.”
From David Smith’s questions for students found among his papers after his death in 1965:
“21. Why do you hesitate–why can you not draw objects as freely as you can write their names and speak words about them?
22. What has caused this mental block? If you can name, dream, recall vision and auras why can’t you draw them? In the conscious set of drawing, who is acting in our unconscious as censor?
In particular, to the painter—
Is there as much art in a drawing as in a watercolor–or as in an oil painting?
Do you think drawing is a complete and valid approach to art vision, or a preliminary only toward a more noble product?”
I read these questions and loved them back when I was a student decades ago, and recommend them for any artist (link below).
I remembered #21 incorrectly in the intervening years, and so I will end with what I thought was his question, but turns out to be one of my own.
“Why, when we learn in school how to write the word chair, do we also not learn how to draw it?”
I am wondering about drawing as part of painting-drawing with a brush. I don’t often focus when using a pencil or other graphic medium. But give me a brush and color and everything else disappears around me as I merge with the paint and canvas. Clearly there is drawing happening in that process too.
February 5, 2013 at 4:33 pm
So true! We are drawing all of the time, within other ways of creating…
February 5, 2013 at 9:16 pm
As a change-up from dry drawing media ( for instance pencil or chalk pastel) I like Staedtler ink brushes. It’s a brush loaded with ink…not the same as a brush with paint, yet the fluidity is more akin to painting. Water soluble, so the effects can get interesting with water.
February 6, 2013 at 3:07 am
Thanks for the tip, Margarete!
February 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm
It’s great to think about the essence of drawing…when not drawing. Otherwise it can be like a centipede thinking about which leg goes where when scurrying across a floor.
February 6, 2013 at 5:09 am
Yes, indeed! So many artists are resistant to any analysis of the process, but I think that it is an enriching thing to do…OUTSIDE the studio.
February 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm
I really enjoyed the variety and scope of the art works — each was awe inspiring in it’s own way…
February 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm