Drawing is the oldest non-performative art form. Made by marking lines on a surface, drawing has traditionally been the educational foundation for all of the arts—from painting and sculpture to architecture. Artists sketched models and copied works by other artists to train both their eye and their hand in using line and value (lightness and darkness) to represent visual forms. Before photography, drawing was the primary medium for capturing and making sense of the visible world.
How do you look at a drawing?
- What did the artist draw with? What did s/he draw on?
- What visual effects do these materials have?
- How did the artist use the medium? What technique did s/he use?
- What visual effects does the technique contribute?
- Why do you think the artist used these materials and technique?
- How would you describe the lines? Are they thick or thin? Bold or delicate? Deliberate or sketchy? Continuous or broken?
- How do lines, tone, and shading define form?
- Did the artist use color? How does color, or lack thereof, contribute to the composition?
- Why do you think the artist made the drawing? What makes you think this?
- Who do you think s/he made the drawing for? Why do you think this?
- Do you think the artist made the drawing to be exhibited in an art museum? If not, how does the art museum context affect how you experience, react to, and interpret the drawing, if at all? Why do you think this?
- Do you think the artist intended for the drawing to be preserved for a long time, or was it supposed to be ephemeral and disposable? Why do you think this, or how do you know? How does this affect how you experience, react to, and interpret the work, if at all?
- Is the drawing a preliminary or preparatory sketch for a subsequent work? If so, what medium did the artist use for the later finished work? Does knowing that the drawing is a sketch change how you experience, react to, and interpret the drawing? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
- Is the drawing a copy of a work created in another medium? If so, in what medium was the other work done? How did the artist translate that medium and composition into a drawing? Does knowing that the drawing was made after a work in another medium alter how you experience, react to, and interpret the drawing? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
- Consider relevant questions on the “How Do You Look at Paintings?” guide.
Common drawing media and tools
The earliest drawings were made on cave walls; today they can be made on computers. Historically, the most popular supports (surfaces on which drawings are made) were papyrus (made from a plant and used by the ancient Egyptians), parchment (made from animal skins), cloth, and paper. These supports were particularly popular because of their portability. Common drawing media include graphite and pencil; ink, applied either with a brush or pen; charcoal, chalk, and pastels, all of which must be sprayed with a fixative so they do not rub off; metalpoint, which involves a tool with metal point and a colored ground.
Works in the Nasher’s Collection
Ashwin, Clive. Encyclopaedia of Drawing: Materials, Technique, and Style. London: B. T. Batsford, 1982.
Clayton, Martin. “Drawing.” In The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e767.
Duff, Leo, and Jo Davies, eds. Drawing – The Process. Bristol: Intellect Books, 2005.
Gillham, Carol C., and Carolyn H. Wood, eds. European Drawings from the Collection of the Ackland Art Museum. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2001.
Jacoby, Beverley Schreiber, and Marjorie Shelley. “Drawing.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T023557.
Meder, Joseph. The Mastery of Drawing. Translated by W. Ames. New York: Abaris Books, 1978.
Petherbridge, Deanna. The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
Rosand, David. Drawing Acts: Studies in Graphic Expression and Representation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
The Drawing Center. www.drawingcenter.org. (the only fine arts institution in the U.S. to focus solely on exhibiting drawings)
 Martin Clayton, “Drawing,” in The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke, Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e767 (accessed July 31, 2012).
 Jacoby, Beverly Schreiber, “Drawing,” in Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T023557 (accessed July 31, 2012).