The Art of Drawing - World Drawing Day

Art is literally as old as the hills… but drawing it seems is one of the earliest forms of humankind’s desire to express itself…

A small piece of rock covered with a symbol akin to what we know as a hashtag found during an archaeological dig in the South Africa’s famous Blombos Cave in 2015 revealed the 73,000-year-old drawing…

Made using a red-ochre crayon the symbol was applied to the rock’s face and then seemingly discarded… but it’s not the only one of its kind, similar symbols have been found at sites in France and Australia… though this predates earlier known drawings by some 30,000 years!

This form of drawing may be simple; merely the making of a mark but modern dictionary definitions refer to drawing as the formation of a line by drawing some tracing instrument from point to point on a surface arranging lines to determine a form. The modern interpretation has come to include the use of colour, shading, and other elements in addition to the simple act of arranging lines on a surface.

Early civilisations such as the Ancient Egyptians decorated the walls of their temples and tombs with flat linear drawings depicting daily life, and created texts written on papyrus illustrated with similar designs.

In the post Roman period from 400’s to the late 1300’s, art in all its forms glorified God and shared religious messages to the masses – drawing in particular emerged as the main form of decoration, as monks used drawings to adorn bibles and prayer books.

Drawing in western culture became a highly regarded independent artistic art form in the 1400’s, with modern drawing beginning in earnest in Italy. This period in time later known as the Renaissance, saw the rise of drawing as a true art form, a form that came to be considered the foundation for work in all the arts.

Art students first trained in drawing before going on to painting, sculpture, or even architecture. Drawing was used as a tool for the study of form, which was becoming increasingly important both in terms of nature and in terms of the portrayal of the human body. The need for preparatory drawings also grew during the Renaissance, as many large-scale paintings were produced to decorate the interiors of churches, palaces, and public buildings. Drawings were an important tool in helping to create the finished work.

William Heaton Copper Sketchbook Allen Bank Colour

Renaissance artists continued to use pen and ink for drawing. But they turned increasingly to softer materials, such as black and red chalks and charcoal, to make larger drawings and to achieve a greater variety of effects, shading was also introduced to suggest solids forms and textures. Among the most celebrated draftsmen of the period are notables such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Certainly, many creative people have over the centuries have stressed the importance of drawing as a fundamental underpinning of their work in other art forms. As Degas said; “Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality.” There is no question that the term drawing applies to works that vary greatly in technique, indeed over the years it has been understood in very different ways and as a result is in reality quite difficult to define.

For example, during the Renaissance the term ‘disegno’ from the Italian word for drawing or design, has a much more complex meaning in art, involving both the ability to make the drawing and the intellectual capacity as the creative idea made visible in the preliminary sketch. This ability to invent, or create, put artists on a footing with God, the ultimate creator, and was used as a means of raising the status of painting from craft to art.

John Ruskin commented in the Elements of Drawing: “All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.” Throughout history, drawing has been the foundation for artistic practice, commonly used as a tool for thought and investigation, acting as a study medium whilst artists were preparing for their final pieces of work. The Renaissance brought about a great sophistication in drawing techniques, enabling artists to represent things more realistically than before.

A sophistication seen across the varying styles of work produced by the artists from the Lake District’s Heaton Cooper family, who have all used the medium of drawing to great effect to capture and inform their artistic works.

The Scandinavian body of work created by Alfred Heaton Cooper, between 1890 to 1927, shows the artist’s process from sketchbook drawing done from life, up to the finished painting, precisely documenting all aspects of life and landscape in during that period to illustrate a series of guidebooks.


Alfred Heaton Cooper Norwegian Fjords Illustrated Book

William Heaton Cooper later, produced highly detailed drawings for the Fell and Rock-Climbing Club guides for over 50 years. These books became the bibles of the climbing fraternity, they depicted new routes as they were developed, often drawn on site working closely with the climbers who devised the routes at the very rock face.

And now William’s son, Julian Cooper, inspired by his local landscapes, uses drawing to focus on form and experiment with tonality, to depict planes and structure of a common enough element in almost every landscape, rock…. On a big scale they are mountains, on a small-scale they are the boulders or stones in a field… drawing captures their essence and informs his resulting works…

Alfred Heaton Cooper Ennerdale Sketchbook

The invention and popular rise of photography had a fundamental effect on artists’ drawing, the need for them to copy reality no longer existed… but instead this ushered in an age of experimentation, which saw the advent of Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Vorticism, Constructivism and so on… All of these artistic movements experimented with a range of drawing media, previously frowned up on, charcoal, inks, graphite all became the common currency for drawing.

As abstraction became increasingly popular in the early 20th century, the role of drawing changed yet again… becoming something of interest, rather than just an output leading to the creation of a work in another form… simply put “Drawing is the honesty of the art, there is no possibility of cheating, it is either good or bad…” (Salvador Dali).


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