Celebrating the drawn line

My drawing of St Margaret and the Dragon (Uniball Micro Deluxe pen with Faber-Castell coloured pencils in an A5 sketchbook 2019). Based on a C15th French oak sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Last week’s Observer Review devoted six pages and its cover to drawing.

Published to coincide with the Draw Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery in May – yes, the home of sharks in formaldehyde is staging a drawing show! – the Observer’s art critic, Laura Cumming, took us through a short history of the drawn line and illustrated it with examples by Hokusai, Leonardo, Paul Klee, Frank Auerbach, and many others.

Drawing is a wonderful gift – anyone can do it – and the drawn line is a thing of true beauty. Make a mark in charcoal on a piece of textured paper, load a dip pen with ink and pull it across a blank white sheet, take an old piece of soft pastel and draw a rough circle – those simple marks are beautiful in themselves before they’re combined to make a still life or a portrait of your mother. I have one of those old printer’s glasses that you lay on the paper and look through a powerful magnifying glass to see things in staggering detail. Using that to look at a line drawn by hand – with the edges disintegrating, the solid black actually many shades of dark grey – is to appreciate the wonder of small things.

Laura Cumming reminds us that drawing is a thing in and of itself, not just the prelude to a painting. Conceptual art tried to do away with the need for drawing and life classes were phased out of many art schools. As conceptual art was revealed for the naked emperor that it was – no-one would ever be moved by a light going on and off but a drawing can break your heart – drawing came back to claim its rightful place as the most democratic of artforms.

The life drawing class that I’ve been attending for the past two and a half years came to an end last week – our teacher discovered that her own work was suffering and needed some time to re-calibrate – and it’s as if I’ve lost a friend. It was a journey of discovery, truly, from my initial wonder at how liberating it was to draw on a large scale, through months of overly pretty but rather lifeless drawings, to the revelation in the second half of last year that drawing with a piece of charcoal on the end of a 30 cm stick was the way to loosen up, to a series of drawings over the past couple of months that I finally liked – it was a thrilling experience. Looking back down the years I attended Annabel Mednick’s classes, drawing the same skilled model week after week, I can see the way stations of learning and development stretching back to that first thrill of charcoal marks on a really big piece of wallpaper backing paper!

Thomas Fluharty, in his essential book, The Joy of Drawing, writes: “Drawing is the coolest thing I do as an artist…I am amazed how I can forget my problems and be transported to a place of joy just by drawing…It is the one thing that grabs me and keeps me excited as an artist.”

So let’s celebrate drawing. Let’s celebrate the beauty of the drawn line – a person, you, me, making a mark, on a surface, with a thing! – and remember Picasso’s famous remark that it took him only four years to draw like Raphael but a lifetime to draw like a child. That’s not a bad life in my view.

[If you’ve got out of the practice of drawing there’s a fun way to get back into it going on at the moment: Karen Abend’s free online course, Sketchbook Revival 2019. A number of different artists demonstrate something and you can join in if you wish and post the results to Facebook.]

15 thoughts on “Celebrating the drawn line

  1. I read this with a lot of interest. I’m lurching slowly toward doing drawings that I pay attention and take more seriously, and the things you’ve said about your work over the months and years have been valuable to me. Thank you. And I wonder if you plan to find a new group?

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  2. Oh, Michael, thank you so much for the link to the Sketchbook Revival course that you included in your delightful post. This is perfect timing for me because the woman that was leading the drawing classes I had been going to for a couple of months is ill and had to discontinue the class. So hopefully this will be a great substitute until I find another f2f class. I am sorry that your life drawing class has stopped, too. I hope you find a new group of artists to hang out with. I loved your description of drawing like a child. I noticed some of the Sketchbook Revival sessions seem playful and child-like. I will begin right after National/Global Poetry Writing Month which is about to wear me out – but I have been soooooo inspired. Glad you are back, Michael. I have missed your posts. Hope you are well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, LuAnne, I’m pleased you found the post interesting and the link useful. I’ve watched a couple of the videos and they do look like fun.

      I seem to have less to say these days which is why I post infrequently, but I will try to do more. I always love your posts, LuAnne – you have such an ear and eye!


  3. Pingback: Celebrating the drawn line | scribblah

  4. Thank you Michael. I enjoy your posts so much. Sorry Annabel’s classes with Blue have finished but pleased for her that she wants to get on more with her own painting. There never seem to be enough hours in a day and life is so interesting. Please keep posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Oh when the saints… – A Certain Line

  6. Well, this is amazing and inspiring post about the drawing a line. It refreshed my vision of what drawing and even painting is all about – making that mark on the paper or canvas. And even made me realized that I still have an open session (of drawing from a live model) to be thankful about. Thanks!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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