Drawing is something most people do without really thinking about it. We draw maps, diagrams, plans, doodles, instructions and faces in the sand. We use drawing as a communication tool, as a means of gaining understanding or as an outlet for expressing personal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we draw purely for what the sensual engagement in the act brings us. I think it is worthwhile looking at the meaning and many uses of the word ‘draw’ as it gives an insight into the nature of drawing and why it is such a valuable tool, and an end in itself. I am not writing this as a hard and fast definition; what I would like to do here is use this examination of the word’s meaning as a starting point for going in to the subject in greater depth. It is such an interesting, fundamental and important process, and one I have returned to throughout my life. It is one of the first things we learn to do. It is a pity that the benefits of drawing are not appreciated in the later stages of education where the vast majority of people learn to believe that they ‘cannot draw’; that is a discussion for another day. Drawing was an integral part of my art training and when I came to teach drawing I found looking at the broader definition of the word unexpectedly enlightening.
Most if not all uses of the word draw or to draw, including its use in art, come from the act, or concept of pulling, or to pull. Pull out, pull in, pull up, pull towards, across, through and so on. To draw has to do with extracting as with, to draw water from a well, or attraction, the way a moth is drawn to a light. You can draw a gun or a lottery ticket, draw blood or draw someone to you. You can pull up like a draw bridge, or out like a chest of ‘draws’. From what I could gather, one reason the word was used early on when someone draws a picture is because a pointed nib or pencil tip is pulled rather than pushed across the surface being drawn on. This was, and still is in many ways, for ease of movement and to avoid breaking the tip of what is being drawn with, or damaging what is being drawn on. So when you are drawing you are pulling out a line, drawing out the ink or laying down a line of graphite as you pull your pencil, charcoal or whatever you choose to leave you mark over where you choose to leave it. Interestingly we also use the word draw when we are taking in something from our surroundings. You can both draw a representation of your world and the objects in it using what you see, as well as draw inspiration and meaning from them. You can draw abstract qualities such as oppressiveness, openness, power, or dare I say it, beauty. Drawing a drawing, the sort you do with a pencil, is an ideal means of doing just that, drawing from what is around us and from ourselves. We can also draw conclusions of course. We are constantly and intuitively pulling out understandings from any and everything with the potential of analyzing and making use of what we perceive. This is often the starting point for making a drawing; it is a means of making sense of something, how it fits together, its shape and character. So when engaged in the act of making a drawing we can draw from our surroundings but we are also drawing from our internal world of experiences and perceptions. The result is a drawing.
The process of making a drawing can be used as a way of accessing and teasing out from ourselves things that go unrecognized by other means of looking; things that are not picked up on our day to day radars. When you draw water from a well you can take a look in the bucket and test it; a drawing can be like a core sample. Drawings embody the thoughts, feelings and actions that bring them and are readable on different levels. I will be looking in to this further in a future blog.
So you can use drawing as a process to draw from what is without and from what is within and the two can meet up in the drawing that results.
Some of the finest drawings I have seen have been ones that embody the process of working something out. Put simply, the drawing is the action and the result. It all ends up on the page and can be examined, learnt from and enjoyed. It is also interesting to note that the term ‘a draw’ is used to describe a competition that ends up at a point of balance after any amount of pushing and pulling. Draw your own conclusions on a piece of paper and iewer read the lines and between them.
One final note on the origins of the word to draw; one of my drawing tutors noticed I was cramped up when standing and drawing at an easel. He suggested I should step back and free up my arm. He said that I should be free to move like a fencer. This was an interesting proposition as its thought that word draw probably comes from an Old English and even older German word ‘dragan’ which meant to drag and referred in particular to the drawing out of a sword.
Words and Image
by Jasper Morley