Opinion - What does drawing mean to you?

If you’d like to add to the debate, please send your comments to s_turner@craftscouncil.org.uk.

Glenn Adamson

17 November 2010

“I’ve been keeping the blog ‘From Sketch to Product’ for almost two years now. It’s given me the opportunity to think about drawing as a preparatory practice, not as an end in itself but as a means to some other outcome.

One of the things that strikes you immediately about design drawings is that their medium makes a huge difference. When we see a toaster or a car or a hat, we don’t often know what its design source looks like, or how that rendering (or model) was made. In practice there might be a long series of preparatory stages, both 2D and 3D, leading up to the creation of a finished design, ready for reproduction. And each of these working stages must be rendered in a medium: pencil, ink, felt-tip pen, clay, paper, metal, you name it. Each of these materials will have some effect on the finished design.

So I would think of a computer as simply one of these media –a very complex one, to be sure, but as a design tool, and not necessarily any more flexible (or inherently exciting) than a pencil, or a lump of clay. One thing that struck me in the recent Crafts Council exhibition Lab Craft, curated by Max Fraser, was how imprisoned many of the forms were in a determinate language. There are some things a computer’s good at, like rotation, distortion, repetition, and layering. The objects in the show obviously were the products of their designers’ individual sensibilities, and some had quite a bit of handwork in them. But most of them also spoke a familiar language of digital-ese. This becomes all the more evident when rapid prototyping is involved in the production of the object. As Tavs Jorgensen says, it seems worth trying to ‘shorten the distance’ between the hand and the computer. Part of that is about ameliorating the predictability of the digital artifact.

Installation images of Lab Craft: Digital adventures in contemporary craft. Photo: Sophie Mutvelian
Installation images of Lab Craft: Digital adventures in contemporary craft. Photo: Sophie Mutvelian

I also recently saw the film Enter the Void, directed by Gaspar Noe, which includes long passages of abstract computer-made design alongside (and sometimes interwoven with) live action. What struck me about the film, which is explosively creative in visual terms, is that the live film parts were by far the most innovative. The digital passages, by contrast, reminded me of my own Macintosh’s screen saver. It just goes to show how hard it is to be really innovative in this medium – it seems to have a will of its own.

Of course, unlike the pencil and the lump of clay, digital rendering is relatively new. So I think we’re still very early in the stages of seeing what can be done with it. The point I’d like to make is that this supposedly ‘dematerialized’ medium is just as constrained by its physical capacities as any other design tool, and so therefore are the people who work with it.”

Craft theorist and historian Glenn Adamson is Head of Graduate Studies and Deputy Head of Research at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In his blog ‘From Sketch to product’, he examines the preparatory dimension of design, showing how drawings, models, and prototypes affect the qualities of finished products.


Nous Vous

What drawing means to NousVous
What drawing means to NousVous

Nous Vous is a collective of artists working on a range of projects. Based between Leeds and London, they are involved in illustration and design as well as contemporary art. They exhibit widely, appear in visual arts publications and frequently collaborate on projects with other designers and artists. Although each member has their own individual practice that covers drawing, printmaking and writing and playing music, as Nous Vous they collaborate very closely on exhibitions, image-making and design commissions. The process usually involves either working together on every part of a project, or jointly curating individual work.

Nous Vous are William Edmonds, Nicolas Burrows and Jay Cover.


Anne Howeson

When I was asked by the RCA to develop drawing as a core value within our department, I became intrigued by its complexity. Ancient and timeless, the practice of drawing cuts across all art disciplines and has a broad and crucial role to play. It exists outside the constraints of fashion and art history, making startling links between the past and the present and reminding us of the continuity in our common humanity. Drawings from the past can look surprisingly modern because, technically and conceptually, we recognize in them qualities that are respected in our own time: spontaneity and simplicity, directness, rawness and expressiveness.


Characteristics like abbreviation, intuition, self expression and lack of rules have come to be identified with our own times; nonetheless, naturalistic representation (arguably one of dominant functions of drawing in the West from the Renaissance to the 20th century,) is used by many artists today and probably always will be.

Laura’s Jumper, Jo Blaker, 2010

Rememory, Jo Blaker, 2010

Reconstruction, Hannah Warren, 2007

Careful research reveals that the territory for drawing, its uses and methods across time and place, has always been broad. In our own time digital technology has emerged, and drawing has become even more central to the creative process: a way of recording, discovering, describing, mapping – each different function defined by context and intention.

From ‘The Mill’ – Xavier Poultney 2007

foamboard and pencil no.1, Jo Blaker, 2010

Fireplace surround; right: Our poster, Jo Blaker, 2010

Drawing as Research and different types of drawing at the RCA:

One of drawing’s important functions is to ‘discover’ thoughts and imaginings – as if pulling/drawing ideas up from a well. It is a conduit between thinking and making, sometimes having the immediacy of hand writing.

Luis Camnitzer (Drawing Centre New York) made a list of some of its functions:

  1. Doodles and notations, which lack meaning for anybody else.
  2. Instructions to oneself, sketches for the production of something else.
  3. Instructions for somebody else, like blueprints.
  4. Personal communications with the intent of establishing a dialogue.
  5. Communications that hold up to museum standards as collectibles.
  6. Notations made to expand the borders of knowledge, both limiting oneself and others.

Michael Craig-Martin said there is no single form of ‘good drawing’, and never has been. The difference between past and present attitudes is that: “In our own century, we have come to place the highest value on those characteristics which have previously been seen only as aspects of the early stages in the making of a work of art, stages exemplified by drawing.”

Wanting to celebrate the different ways drawing is used both in our department and across college, Catherine Anyango and I launched ‘DRAW’ (a dialogue between practitioners and students, to extend the uses of drawing and create crossovers between graphic design, moving image and illustration) We also organized the two part exhibition: ‘DRAW – Turning Thoughts into Lines’.

Posters: Leena Kangoski, Ana Minguez and Dan Carroll with Michael Lum and Luke Gould, 2010

In the section ‘Drawing as Thinking’, staff from all disciplines at the RCA lent their intuitive scribbles towards an ‘end product’, this was private research – never intended for exhibition, demonstrating the role of drawing in the creative process. Unsurprisingly, we discovered that drawing used as research in this way is current, prolific and crucial.

Installation shots from ‘DRAW - Turning Thoughts into Lines’
Installation shots from ‘DRAW – Turning Thoughts into Lines’

Josef Herman: ‘What never ceases to amaze me is that drawing always knows, better than I, what I want to say. If my drawing seems resolute and determined it is because the drawing knows how to follow its own single track and how to merge present with past experiences.’

Anne Howeson is an artist and tutor at the School of Communications, Royal College of Art. Howeson co-curated ‘DRAW, Turning thoughts into lines’ with Catherine Anyango, an exhibition celebrating crossovers between design, moving image, illustration and fine art..

www.annehoweson.com dams.rca.ac.uk/draw2010

Susie MacMurray

“Drawing has traditionally been a process intertwined with the practice of sculptors. Sculptor’s preparatory or related drawings have historically often been presented alongside their finished sculptural work. I am struck by the crossover of processes and materials that seems to continually arise between my own formal pen and ink drawings, and my materials-based installation and sculptural work. I am interested in the blurred boundaries between the two, and in questioning at what point does drawing become sculpture or vice versa? Or indeed if such delineations are useful or ultimately irrelevant.”

Gauze Bandage, Susie MacMurray, 2009
Gauze Bandage, Susie MacMurray, 2009.
Pen on paper, 125cm x 150cm. Photo: Susie MacMurray
Oracle, Susie Macmurray, 2008
Oracle, Susie Macmurray, 2008. UH Galleries.
Rubber dairy hose. Photo: Susie MacMurray
Wall Drawing, Susie MacMurray, 2008
Wall Drawing, Susie MacMurray, 2008, UH Galleries.
Sculptor’s modelling wax & horse hair. Photo: Susie MacMurray
Promenade, Susie MacMurray, 2010
Promenade, Susie MacMurray, 2010, Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.
105 miles fine gold embroidery thread. Photo: Julian Hughes

Susie MacMurray’s work encompasses drawing, sculpture and architectural installations. A former classical musician, she retrained as an artist, graduating with an MA in Fine Art in 2001. She now has an international exhibition profile and shows regularly in the USA and Europe as well as the UK. Drawing is an important part of MacMurray’s practice. In addition to her large scale pen & ink work she extends the possibilities of making drawings using unconventional materials including rubber tubing, hair and wax.


Teresa Whitfield

“My recent Lace Drawings are the outcome of an ambitious reconstruction of the traditional lace-making process; produced in a communal setting by groups of skilled drawers, the work enables the contemporary viewer to more accurately conceive of the awe-inspiring accuracy and skill that the labour intensiveness of that period of textile history engendered. In the drawings the lace is painstakingly recreated in black ink, an activity which embraces the imperfections inherent in the hand-made, and by deliberately negating technology, the drawings refer back to the traditional activity of making lace by hand, from which the garments originated. The drawings are so true-to-life and the technique utilised so close to that of using thread, that the tiny strands appear to intersect each other, recording the miniscule defects in the fabric and the exact way the threads interweave. The drawings occupy an unusual space between the visual recording of a historic object and the recreation of it in a different medium.”

Teresa Whitfield - Lace Drawings
‘Black Lace Shawl’ (close up), Teresa Whitfield, 2010. Photo: Teresa Whitfield.

Teresa Whitfield - Lace Drawings
‘Lace Doily’, Teresa Whitfield, 2009. Photo: Teresa Whitfield.

Teresa Whitfield studied at Wimbledon School of Art (1997-99), Norwich School of Art (1984-87) and Maidstone College of Art (1983-84). She was Artist in Residence at Fabrica, Brighton during the John Grade Elephant Bed exhibition (2009). Selected solo shows include: Drawing Lace, Worthing Museum & Art Gallery (2009) and Drawing Lace, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon (2008). Selected group exhibitions include: Jerwood Drawing Prize, Jerwood Space, London & UK tour (2009) and At Home, St Anne’s Galleries, Lewes, East Sussex (2009). She is a lecturer at Northbrook College, Sussex and lives and works in Brighton.

Gill Newton

11 February 2011

“For me drawing is a way of being, thinking and communicating. In 2008 a desire to develop and liberate my practice from small scale industrial craft production led me to withdraw my jewellery from exhibition. As I have always been motivated to make marks and draw, I immediately embarked on a reflective research project-’a jeweller in transition’-the focus of which is drawing. This exploration of the materials and processes of drawing enables me to push boundaries, keep up the momentum of ideas and rediscover my ‘flow’. I am now more intuitive and connected to the acts of drawing and making, wayfaring rather than piloting from A to B. Currently I am creating landscapes and transitory structures with wire and natural materials. Often I mark, scribe and draw onto the structures and the emphasis is now on the immediacy of line and form rather than fit to body. Using digital photography to track progress helps me see the thread flowing through work and magnifies the marks, textures and layers within it. This also helps identify aspects for further research. With drawing again central to my work I aspire to contribute to drawing practice in the 21 Century.”

Untitled (small landscape no. 8), mixed media on paper, Gill Newton, 2010. Photo: Gill Newton.

Untitled, detail (large landscape no. 4 section 32),mixed media on paper, Gill Newton, 2010. Photo: Gill Newton.

Untitled, detail (sketch re scaled), mixed media on paper, Gill Newton, 2010. Photo: Gill Newton.

Gill Newton has a portfolio career, combining practice as an artist and college lecturer with project based employment. She is a graduate in 3DD Metals from West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham and has the Further & Adult Education Teacher’s Certificate. She is a visiting tutor at the City Lit and London Jewellery School. To help develop her practice Gill took part in the AA2A Scheme at Portsmouth University 2008/2009 and is extending this development through research for a Fine Art Masters at Wimbledon College of Art. The focus of her research is drawing in two and three dimensions.


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