What is Drawing?

To answer this question I have been studying the work of artists such as those discussed in my earlier articles on drawing:-



My tutor, Cari, recommended two books on drawing:-

Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing London: Phaidon, 2016 (reprint of 2005 edition)

Kovats, T The Drawing Book London: Black Dog Publishing, 2005

These huge and inspiring books are filled with a vast array of examples of different styles, media, grounds and approaches to drawing, as well as different reasons for making the drawings.

Some unusual examples of drawing include:-

Joseph Grigely is a deaf artist who collects and presents vast numbers of carefully arranged collections of the written notes that people trying to communicate with him give to him. His work deals with communication: what is said and how it is said.

Russell Crotty makes drawings on three-dimensional forms such as globes, which can be viewed from all directions and feature detailed depictions of the night sky and landscapes in silhouette. He also makes books of drawings.

Shannon Bool makes multi-media drawings incorporating paper collage, paints, ink, pencil etc. Different images, some inspired by the past, are layered and built upon to make the finished pieces, which blend past and present into a new image.

Hayley Tompkins makes minimalist marks on pages from notebooks, walls and paper. The drawings resemble alien symbols, or edges of some architectural feature, or textured silhouettes.

Ian Charlesworth has used a cigarette lighter to burn patterns into a ceiling. In one drawing, the patterns contain the letters UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), therefore holding a deeper, political message.

Charles Avery‘s art, featured in Maslen (2011), is drawing. His imaginary island of Onomatopoeia forms the subject for his work. I have seen some of these drawings in the Generation exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2014/15. Of the pieces I saw, they varied in size, up to approx 2.4 x 5 metres and were filled with fascinating detail that one could explore for hours.

Why Draw?

“Sometimes you would sit down with no idea at all, and at some point you’d see something in the doodling, scribbling… and from then on you could evolve the idea…” Henry Moore in Kovats (2005)

There seem to be many reasons for drawing, including:-

  • To remember a dream
  • To explore and better understand an object, person or scene
  • To convert the energy and movements of your body into marks
  • To express yourself
  • To make a finished artwork, a ‘handmade object’
  • To find solutions to problems
  • To communicate with others
  • To record or memorialise an event
  • To make a preparatory drawing for another piece of artwork
  • To keep a record of work, and interests, or a visual diary or journal
  • To make a political point
  • To bring into being an imaginary thought or idea
  • To explore and experiment with line, shape, colour, tone, texture, pattern and form
  • To analyse the work of other artists

The work may be purely for personal use, or for sharing with others. I believe that there is a cross over between drawing and making. As mentioned above, a drawing may be the finished artwork; or the drawing may be the genesis, or early ‘draft’ of what will become a finished piece.

How to Draw

The drawing does not have to be confined to a two-dimensional surface:  Diana Cooper‘s installation ‘Swarm’ 2003-2005 includes free-standing elements, mixed media, and hundreds of tiny chevron shapes attached to the walls of the gallery.

The ground can be of any size or texture: from miniature to (arguably) an infinitely large dimension; from all types of paper; card; natural and manmade surfaces. The surfaces may be flat or highly textured, decorated or plain; walls and even landscapes may be the background for mark making. Alison Carlier uses spoken descriptions of objects to make her audio drawings, so in that case, the listener’s brain/experience/imagination become the ‘ground’.

Marks can be made with anything: from traditional media/tools such as pencils, charcoal, pastels, inks, or paints; to improvised tools; found objects; the body; found or improvised media such as earth pigments; marks on the landscape (such as Richard Long‘s land art pieces); collage; photography; new media such as drawing apps on tablets; stitches over photographs; and any combination of these and other elements.

The marks made can be minimalist or hyper-real (and everything in between); representative or imaginary.


I think that Alison Carlier sums up the potential for drawing as a “..way of getting thoughts out.” in this quote from an interview she did with Cass Art in 2014 “It’s an escape-artist, less tied down by conventions and canons than neighbouring artistic mediums. This gives it huge potential to be wide and far-ranging; it’s that directness and closeness to thought that I love about it.”

The finished (or unfinished) drawing may be ephemeral, perhaps just used to crystallise a thought in the artist’s mind, before being discarded; or it may be an artwork to be displayed in a gallery and preserved for hundreds of years.

From ancient cave paintings; to the finger painting of a child; to graffiti; to marks made in the sand of a beach, it seems to be a natural human instinct to want to ‘make our mark’ in some way.

I have come to realise, through my research and experimentation, that drawing is the most flexible of art forms, allowing us to express ourselves in a limitless combination of media, surfaces and marks.

Thinking of my own practice: I have found drawing to be a useful research tool when studying an object closely, and for developing and refining ideas into finished artworks. My experimentation in Assignment 1 and Part 1 of the coursework has confirmed the importance it will continue to have in my work, and it has opened many new avenues of thought, possibility and options. As Jack Southern has said, drawing is the “…anchor point to creative process”, and a”descriptive visual language”.



Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing London: Phaidon, 2016 (reprint of 2005 edition)

Kovats, T The Drawing Book London: Black Dog Publishing, 2005

Maslen, M and Southern, J Drawing Projects: An Exploration of the Language of Drawing London: Black Dog Publishing, 2011


The Sound of Success: Interview With The Jerwood Prize Winner, (2014)

https://www.cassart.co.uk/blog/sound_jerwood_drawing_prize.htm, consulted 04/08/16

Drawing In The Expanded Field (Discussion Event), 2014

http://thedrawingattitude.tumblr.com, consulted 04/08/16

Please also see links to artists’ names in the text, which will link to examples of their work.

3 thoughts on “What is Drawing?”

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