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1: Introduction

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    What is Drawing?

    Drawing is a form of visual communication. It is also a cornerstone of both studio and applied visual art fields and is often the first step in visualizing and exploring an art concept. A drawing can be a work unto itself, or a preliminary step in the execution of a work in a different medium. For example, a drawing may be transferred or directly drawn on a stretched canvas for a painting, or sketched out to help visualize a sculptural work, a cartoon, an illustrated book, a mural, and so on. It is a quick and efficient way for artists, engineers, animators, and creative individuals to ideate. Drawing is universal and a quite natural human means of expression. Even toddlers have a tendency to begin drawing at around the same 12-month age that they begin forming words.

    Although drawing tools have evolved and expanded during the past 40 years to include digital pens, tablets and software, the fundamentals of drawing are still the same. The art elements are the visual tools used to create drawings and are generally recognized as Line, Value, Color, Form, Shape, Space and Texture. The Principles of Design are more numerous and are used to strategically organize the art elements to create works of art. These design principles include, but are not limited to, Composition, Perspective, Balance, Proportion, Size and Scale, Pattern and Repetition, Unity, Variety, Hierarchy of Forms, Design Systems, The Color Wheel, Positive and Negative Space, Emphasis, and Subordination. The best drawings are formed with skill utilizing the physical tools and their accompanying drawing techniques which when brought together are referred to as the drawing medium. An example would be: charcoal, charcoal paper, and a kneaded eraser which when combined equals a drawing medium (charcoal medium).

    Drawing may create the illusion of our three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional plane of paper or other support. A true drawing master, through knowledge of drawing techniques, use of art elements and principles of design, can become an illusionist creating convincingly rendered three-dimensional spaces with depth and realism. But not all drawing is meant to just please the eye through beautifully rendered forms. Drawing is more than that. It can represent emotions, thoughts, ideas, points of view, didactic purposes, symbols, icons and abstract forms.

    Drawing is both a Process and a Product

    Drawing is an act of creating an image usually on a two-dimensional surface and thus is a process. So the word drawing is a word of action; a verb. However, a drawing is also the result of that action, something you can view. Drawing therefore is also a thing; a noun.

    Drawing as a Cognitive Learning Tool

    Alan Walker (23 August 1938 – 20 November 2017), in an anatomy lecture to the medical school students at John’s Hopkins University, stated when you can draw your subject with accuracy from memory, then you demonstrate that you fully comprehend your subject matter. It was enlightening and encouraging to hear those words from this world-renowned anthropologist and chair of the Hopkins anatomy department. His observation was clearly linking drawing with learning about, and comprehension of, subject matter. In his world, it was a merging of scientific inquiry, the art of close observation, and the visual recording both mentally and physically of anatomic subjects. Thus, we see a link between the cerebral imprint made when we are seeing with intent and the physical two-dimensional visual recording of the subject. Drawing, when applied in this manner, falls into the category of academia and is a true merging of art and science.

    Drawing, Math and Science

    Looking back over 500 years from Dr. Walker’s lecture, another brilliant mind was combining mathematical formulas with keen visual insight and documenting these new concepts through a revolutionary form of drawing. The results were documented by Filippo Brunelleschi and are now recognized as mathematical linear perspective. Applying the principles of perspective to drawing and painting revolutionized how artists represented the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional plane. Convincing representations of drawings and paintings were now possible. Moreover, the connections between mathematical theory and drawing brought visual art into the realm of European academic centers established just prior to and during the Italian Renaissance.

    Both Italian and German Renaissance artists used drawing to document and study the function and structure of forms found in nature such as the flora and fauna and, more specifically, human anatomy. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti studied human anatomy through the dissection and subsequent written and visual documentation of these dissections using drawing. Leonardo’s greatest achievement is arguably his over 10,000 pages of writing and drawings concerning nature, anatomy, and his ingenious inventions including prototypes for flying machines, automatic transmissions, and military machinery. Albrecht Dürer, having traveled from Germany to Italy and experiencing the Italian Renaissance first hand, took drawing, engraving, and wood block printing to new heights through his mastery of drawing techniques as well as his focused observations of natural subjects. Nature was given a level of respect and dignity through careful study and visual representations by these and other 15th and 16th Century art masters.

    Drawing and the Written Language

    Drawing in the form of cave paintings and rock carvings provide insight into prehistoric people, but without written documents to augment these prehistoric drawings we are left to speculate the meaning of this incredible body of art. At the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, mass human migration occurred leading to the formation of villages, towns and eventually cities along the great rivers of the Middle and Near East. The Tigris, Euphrates, and the Nile Rivers became essential sources of water and fertile lands for the growing human population of the region. This development of civilization also coincided with the advent and evolution of writing from rudimentary pictures, symbols, and marks representing words. These pictographs formed the basis for our modern-day alphabets and, with the ensuing written language, came documented history. Clear links in the evolution of written language demonstrate the importance of drawing pictures in the development and evolution of human communication, documented history, and civilization.


    Drawing is a versatile means of visual communication. It seems fundamental to our existence as humans. We see that drawing had a special place in the tribal ceremonies taking place in prehistoric caves, and on cliffs and mountains beginning around 30,000 years ago and continuing with the few surviving Neolithic societies found in remote global locations. Additionally, drawing contributes to communicating ideas of power, conflict, the afterlife, and societal customs in the ancient world through Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sumerian images on registers, and the earliest writings in cuneiform. The evolution of writing in the west began with pictographs which evolved into letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and longer documents such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Code of Hammurabi and other ancient written stories, accounting legers and other historical documents. Drawing has a link to academics through science and mathematics.

    1: Introduction is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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