delineation of form upon a surface, usually plane, by means of lines and tints or shading. In drawing, only the form and light and shade—modeling—are represented, whereas painting employs varied colors and textures to represent the original object. The forms delineated in a drawing may be visible objects, imagined forms presented as if actually seen, or purely arbitrary or abstract forms.
Because the delineation of form lies at the foundation of all the visual arts (including sculpture), drawing is one of the most important branches of study in schools of art and architecture, as well as in engineering schools. This article, however, is concerned with freehand drawing as opposed to DRAFTING, (q.v.) and mechanical drawing. The drawing of visible objects is essentially the graphic recording of impressions received through the eye. Because it is not possible, however, to present all the visible facts and aspects of an object in black and white on a plane surface, the art of drawing lies in suggestion, stimulating the imagination of the beholder to supply whatever is lacking in the representation. The choice of what to record and what to omit calls for a highly developed taste and can be mastered only by long experience. A sketch is a drawing that attempts to present in a summary way only partial and momentary aspects of the object represented. In an effective sketch, the immediacy of the artist’s visual impression is not sacrificed by an effort to achieve elaborate finish.
The different kinds and schools of drawing are distinguished by the ways in which the restrictions imposed by the medium of black and white on a plane surface are evaded or overcome. In outline drawings, and in some sketches, only the outlines and contours or salient edges and markings of an object or scene are shown. The power of pure line, even without color, to suggest the most varied modeling of surfaces and to express the minutest detail is admirably exemplified in Chinese and Japanese art. The Western schools, on the other hand, lay great stress upon values—the rendering of the varied gradations of light and dark. European artists have striven to achieve the desired effects by means of corresponding gradations in the black-and-white tones of the drawing. Even different colors may be suggested by, or interpreted from, black and white by a careful rendering of their apparent values; a dark red, for example, is indicated by darker shading than a light blue or a yellow. The great artists of the Renaissance stand midway between the Japanese exponents of pure line and the modern Western interpreters of values. The drawings of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo are remarkable for the purity, vigor, and delicacy of line, as well as for the skillful modeling of the form as expressed by shading.
The fundamental principles of the art are the same, whatever the medium employed. In drawing from any object or model, the first step is to observe and sketch in the dominant structural lines, contours, and masses. The more important details are next added and corrected, and the minor details are left to the last. In executing these various stages of the drawing, lightness of touch and sureness of line are important.
The actual techniques of drawing, however, vary greatly depending upon the medium employed. Over the centuries, drawings have been executed on many kinds of surfaces—cave walls, clay objects, plaster, papyrus, parchment, silk, wood panels, stone blocks and metal plates (see PRINTS AND PRINTMAKING,), and, most commonly, paper of various consistencies and tones. The chief drawing tools are pencil, pen or brush and ink, black or red CRAYON, (q.v.), and charcoal. Of these the pen is the most exacting, as it makes a definite mark, hard to alter once the ink has dried. Tints must be expressed by dots, closely serried lines, and cross-hatching. The masters of pen drawing must be masters of pure line. With charcoal, the artist must “paint” on paper, fine charcoal lines being nearly impossible to draw; this difficulty is also true of the brush. Pencil and crayon require the use of the line but also permit broad, soft strokes and stumped, or rubbed-in, shading. Very effective drawings are made by using a tinted paper, often either gray or pale blue, on which the highlights are indicated by use of chalk or the pigment called Chinese white; the darker shades and masses are indicated with the pencil, and the tone of the paper is left to represent the intermediate values. The great masters of the Renaissance, who lacked the familiar graphite (lead) pencil, which is a 16th-century development, sometimes used a lead- or silver-pointed tool on parchment or heavy paper, giving a pale gray line; more often, they used red chalk on a red pigment. In lieu of the modern steel pen they used quills.
Perspective drawing stands midway between freehand or pictorial drawing and instrumental or mechanical drawing. It aims to represent the actual three-dimensional aspect of an object from a given point of view and is a matter less of personal and artistic interpretation than of scientific determination. The object is shown with all the angular distortion and foreshortening that it exhibits to the eye at the given point of view; but the exact angles, dimensions, distortion, and foreshortening of each part are determined by mathematical processes and not by mere visual impressions. See PERSPECTIVE,.
A perspective drawing, thus scientifically laid out in outline, may be finished as to line, color, light and shade, and accessories in a pictorial manner, as in freehand drawing; it then moves from the category of scientific drawing into that of fine art. Indeed, no artist can master the correct portrayal of form, especially of scenery and buildings, without training in perspective; it is accordingly an important branch of study in all formal schools of art, such as the famous École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is absolutely indispensable to scene painters and forms the basis of the illusory effects of stage settings. In Japanese drawings the treatment of perspective is very different; the point of view is in almost all cases assumed at a high elevation, giving an effect called bird’s-eye perspective.
Drawing has existed since prehistoric times, either as an independent expression or ancillary to other art forms.
Stone Age, ancient, and medieval drawing.
During the Old Stone Age in Africa, Asia, and Europe, realistic animal drawings with magico-religious associations were incised in bone and painted on rock faces and cave interiors, as at Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France.
In ancient Egypt, ink drawings on papyrus and potsherds incised with sketched figures and designs served as models for painting and sculpture, as did incised drawings on clay tablets in Mesopotamia. Marked at first by strict frontality and exaggeration of forms, such drawings in time gave way to naturalistic impulses—as in the art of the reigns of Ikhnaton in Egypt and Ashurbanipal in Assyria.
A few Greek or Roman preparatory drawings—on wood panels, parchment, metal, stone, or ivory—remain. Finished drawings, as seen on Greek vases, indicate the development from stylized archaicism to classical idealization of nature, and eventually to naturalistic treatment of human form. Roman drawing, although continuing to show Greek influences, was generally realistic.
In the monasteries of medieval Europe, religious texts were inscribed on parchment, then embellished with initial letters, decorative borders, and miniature scenes. In Romanesque Europe, drawings served as models to be copied for such manuscript illumination and also as cartoons (see CARTOON,), or studies, for frescoes, sculpture, and other arts. Subjects were usually treated as stylized symbols of religious truths. This viewpoint was countered in the Gothic period; the change was reflected in the silverpoint and pen drawings of the Flemish artists Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, who sought veracity in their study of nature.
Renaissance, baroque, and 18th-century drawings.
During the Renaissance the humanist rediscovery of Greco-Roman classicism, the invention of printing, and the availability of paper and a wider range of tools encouraged artists to draw. Whether meant to serve as preparatory studies for paintings or sculptures or—for the first time in the West—intended as independent works of art in their own right, the master drawings of these artists reveal an understanding of natural forms and their idealization. Outstanding Italian drawings in chalk, silverpoint, and pen include the anatomical and scientific drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and the figure drawings of Michelangelo and Raphael. The drawings of Tintoretto and of the Mannerists Jacopo da Pontormo and El Greco are more personally expressive. Those of the Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch are surrealistic. Perceptive realism characterizes the line drawings of the Fleming Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the Germans Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Younger, and the chiaroscuro (strongly contrasted light and dark) figures of the Italian Caravaggio.
In the 17th century the calligraphic brush, pen, and wash drawings of Rembrandt and the chalk and crayon portrait figures of the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens have a baroque drama and energy. In contrast is the calm architectural order of the pen-and-wash studies of the French artist Nicolas Poussin and the naturalistic drawing of the Spaniard Diego Velázquez.
In 18th-century France, Antoine Watteau’s and Jean Honoré Fragonard’s brush and wash drawings were typical of the more lighthearted rococo style, while the neoclassical approach is typified in Pierre Paul Prud’hon’s strong chalk and charcoal figure studies. Further stylistic contrast is found in a comparison of the quiet realism of J. B. S. Chardin’s drawings of genre subjects and the line and wash drawings satirizing war and injustice by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya.
19th- and 20th-century drawing.
The increased tempo of political and economic change in the modern period is reflected in a variety of art styles primarily emanating from Paris. Resurgent neoclassicism, as seen in the taut, linear figure and portrait drawings of J. A. D. Ingres, vied with the romantic tonal drama in drawings of Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault. Gustave Courbet’s hatched tones assert his aggressive realism. Honoré Daumier’s drawings are often satiric caricatures. Realism also pervades drawings by such Americans as Gilbert Stuart, George Catlin, John James Audubon, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins, as well as those by the Canadian artists Paul Kane (1810–71) and Cornelius Krieghoff (1815–72).
Presaged by atmospheric tone drawings by the English landscapists John Constable and J. M. W. Turner, the French impressionist Claude Monet originated a drawing style characterized by loosely meshed line texture to define objects as blurred masses. Using parallel strokes, the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh achieved a more open pattern than the flat masses of his erstwhile colleague, the French painter Paul Gauguin. Paul Cézanne employed a broken line to establish structural planes. Georges Seurat’s charcoal drawings take full advantage of the paper’s texture to achieve a misty ambiance.
In the 20th century, the analytical cubist still-life and portrait drawings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque led eventually to more abstract constructivist, purist, op, and minimalist drawing. French surrealism and American abstract expressionism inspired more spontaneous, open drawings. There were also explorations in texture, grids, and collage. At the same time, interest in traditional contour drawings continued. The realist point of view is exemplified in the drawings of George Bellows and Edward Hopper in the U.S., and of the social realists Käthe Kollwitz in Germany and Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros in Mexico. Drawing in the late 20th century had enormous variety and was inventively combined with printing techniques.
In China, Japan, and Korea, drawing, painting, and writing are fundamentally one (see CALLIGRAPHY,). Each ideograph (see WRITING,) is both symbol and design abstracted from nature. Although early drawing, usually of religious figures, shows uniform lines, later landscape and other secular drawing often has calligraphic strokes that allow more modulation of form. Color is considered only a decorative accessory. Monochrome “ink-splash” painting was an intuitive technique developed by Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist monks such as the 13th-century Chinese artist Mu-ch’i Fa-ch’ang.
Early Islamic artists, influenced by Arabic calligraphy and prohibited from the use of representational forms, achieved consistent and intricate floral and geometric abstractions. Later drawing, especially in Persian book illumination, was influenced by Chinese styles and European realism and depicted figural scenes. These in turn inspired 16th- and 17th-century Turkish and Indian drawing.
See also survey articles on major periods in art history. For additional information on individual artists, see biographies of those whose names are not followed by dates.