Drawing has often not been considered to have the prestige of other types of European fine art such as oil paintings or watercolours, but this changing. Unlike paintings or sculptures, drawings were often not expected to be finished articles in their own right, especially in southern European traditions, but in recent years this has in fact added to the appeal of drawings as windows into the processes of art.
Drawing for Practice
Pencil drawings on paper were and are often the first stages of producing figurative artwork for artists from the medieval period to the present day. Studies could be taken in the field or drawn up in a studio or at the site of a commission with minimal equipment. As the first stage of producing any work, drawing was also a means of teaching and learning artistic techniques; for renaissance and Old Master painters, for example, learning to paint often began with learning to draw. Although not many survive because of their nature as early works, drawings such as Albrecht Durer’s self-portrait at 13 are highly valuable in understanding how an artist’s style developed. Similarly, a study for particularly large or ambitious pieces such as mural gives an insight into the process of creating such a spectacular work of art.
Sketching a Scene
Sketching outside the walls of a studio became easier after the mid-16th century discovery of graphite in Cumbria, England (misidentified as lead). Previously, drawings had been done in ‘silverpoint’ – a technique involving a silver wire rather than graphite for which prepared paper or panels coated with a primer were required. The use of pencil and paper paved the way for the sketchbook to be taken out into the streets and into the countryside by many, if not most artists that followed from da Vinci to Rembrandt to Cézanne. These sketchbooks are valuable both as extensive collections of artworks by known and unknown artists, but also as a guide to how and why artists chose their subjects and in cases of the most prolific sketchers, what their everyday experiences were.
Technical Drawing and Draughting
Not all drawing, of course, is a masterpiece in the making or part of a young genius’ schoolbook. Many technical drawings, maps, plans, designs, concept art, illustrations and other practical applications of drawings find their way into private sales and collections. Although precise, and often with a language of symbols, technical drawing can nevertheless be considered art in its own right in some cases, exhibiting the style of the draughtsman. Plans and maps, particularly antique examples, have seen a resurgence as objects of decorative art, offering a different aesthetic appeal from other representational art. These types of drawing often appear on the market in large volumes where they do survive as any building, boat or other project will have required a great amount of design-work. In this way, both artists sketches and technical drawings can give an insight into processes of production that would otherwise be hidden in the final product, be it a fresco or a building.