Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Drawing - The Elements of Drawing - Methods of Drawing - Gallery Notes

Printing - Impression - State - Edition - Bon à Tirer

From: Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Works on Paper
Drawing Techniques

"Drawing can be defined as the making of marks--lines and shapes formed with pen, pencil, brush, or chalk on a flat surface, usually paper. Drawings are often seen as the most immediate and spontaneous expression of the workings of an artist's mind. When made in preparation for another work [a painting, a sculpture, a building], a drawing is generally closer than the finished project to the artist's initial observations and ideas and remains open to further experiment and revision. Even when a drawing is made as a complete and finished work in itself, it still has a quality of freshness and intimacy. . . . .

Drawings may be divided into those considered complete and sufficient in themselves and those that are preparatory steps in the creation of a work in another medium, such as fresco, tapestry, painting, prints, sculpture, and architecture. The terms for each type of drawing were established in the sixteenth century, in Renaissance Italy.

The sketch is a spontaneous and rough notation of a first idea, drawn from nature or from the imagination, usually executed with a few lines. It may broadly capture a pose or gesture, or suggest the proportions or arrangement of figures in a composition without including details.

The study is usually a more thoroughly worked out drawing, executed for the purpose of analyzing drapery or the anatomy of plant, animal, or human forms. It is often made from a posed model and might be a portrait, a study of hands and feet, or a drapery passage, drawn to clarify structure and the shape of forms in light and shadow.

The finished drawing brings the elements of the sketches and studies together in a final composition."

Metalpoint drawing is one with a stylus with a point made of gold, silver, copper or lead on a ground prepared by coating paper or parchment with a paste of crushed eggshell or bone. The artist presses the stylus into the coating to create an image somewhat similar in appearance to a light pencil drawing. If the point is of silver, tiny particles of silver are left in the indentations of the stylus and these naturally tarnish, turning the indentations in the paper into darker lines.

Metalpoint was used extensively by artists of the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. In the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, Flemish artists working in the court of Paris and that of the Duc de Berry at Bourges developed a style in which extremely fine, precise lines, drawn close together, formed delicate gradations of tones and modeling. In the fifteenth century, silver point was a favored medium for sketches and studies, used by Netherlandish artists such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, and Italians such as Filippino Lippi, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vince.

In Head of a Youth by Lorenzo di Credi, the artist pressed deeply into the coating on the paper to achieve the effect of eyes set deep beneath the brows. The very texture and substance of form is conveyed in the fine parallel lines that subtly model the youthful cheeks, in the white highlights, and in the lines that follow the direction of the neatly combed flowing hair.

During the sixteenth century, artists tended to abandon metalpoint for media allowing greater freedom and flexibility. however, knowledge of metalpoint was not completely lost, and the medium has even been used occasionally in the twentieth century.

Pen drawing has been the medium most frequently used by artists since the 1300s probably because of its great adaptability. There are three basic types of pen: quill pens, made from birds' feathers; reed pens, made from the stems of grasses; and metal pens.

The quill pen moves with great ease across the paper, without snagging or friction. This made it most suitable for calligraphers and the illustrators of early manuscripts and permitted the flourishes and quick cursive movements of the hand of later artists. The point may be cut to fine, medium, or broad, and the width of the line may also be varied by the degree of pressure on the pen. The quill pen produces a line that may be dark along both edges and light in the center as the ink runs out.

The reed pen with its blunt end and coarse structure produces a short, thick line. Though lacking in flexibility, it produces very powerful, stubby strokes. The pen leaves intense lines of ink when full, but a speckled linear trace when dry. In the nineteenth century, van Gogh used the reed pen, and artists such as Rembrandt have used both quill and reed in the same drawing to great advantage.

Metal pens were first mass-produced in the nineteenth century, making the quill almost obsolete. They are suitable for making sharp, clear lines, in jet black ink, strongly contrasting with the whiteness of the paper; the pens were often used by artists whose drawings were reproduced in magazines or as book illustrations.

Albrecht DÄrer [1471-1528] preferred pen and ink and worked in this medium throughout his life. The son of a goldsmith and himself perhaps the greatest engraver of all time, his early training in metal craft and his natural bent led to a precise linear rendering of his subjects. Many of his drawings were studies of animals and plants from nature, complete in themselves, but the most frequently used drawing as preparation for woodcuts, engravings, and paintings. As in his prints, it is both the depiction of his subject and the nature of the line itself that characterizes his drawings. He modeled the forms with great virtuosity with his quill pen, the flourishes of curled and hooked strokes following the contours both of supple limbs and of angular drapery, as can be seen in his drawing, The Holy Trinity ^ of 1515.

In Italy, the art of drawing developed very quickly during the sixteenth century, when it became a favorite technique for studying and understanding the natural world. As a result, various graphic media became popular, including chalk. Mined from the earth in its natural state, chalk had three colors: red, black, and white. Since the sixteenth century, these as well as other colors have been made artificially; however, the additional colors are more accurately referred to as pastels. Chalk is a relatively soft, dry medium and can be rubbed to achieve shadows and subtle transitions.

All three colors of chalk were used singly for preparatory studies. The three colors were often used in combination to create more fully detailed drawings with a wider range of values and colors. Antoine Watteau exploited this latter technique brilliantly, in drawings such as Four Studies of a Woman, whose beauty lies not only in the over-all image, but also in the individual strokes of chalk. Occasional intense accents are added by dampening the red chalk.

Wash drawings are made with a brush and inks diluted with water. Frequently combined with pen drawing, the areas of wash lightly model the forms and create transparent shadows, reflections, and contrasts of foreground with distant forms. Different inks produce warm or cool grays and browns which artists select for contrast and variety of effect.

Most artists worked in various media and used different techniques in the same drawing. Rembrandt van Rijn [1606-1669] combined quill and reed pens, varying the character and thickness of each line most expressively, as well as using washes of different kinds of ink. The washes of ink that envelop the dog in the artist's Watchdog Sleeping in His Kennel, now faded to a warm brown, were originally blue-black in color and somewhat darker. With wide black strokes of ink vertically and horizontally defining the kennel, the drawing would have conveyed an even greater sense of repose and containment. Touches of a white pigment on the muzzle heighten the sense of light falling on the form. The motion of Rembrandt's hand is evident in the superb flourishes of quill across the top of the kennel and in the surrounding atmosphere; just a few slender brushstrokes around its back suggest the curve of the dog's body asleep.

Graphite [or, popularly, pencil] has somewhat the same appearance as metalpoint and produces a similar line, but has a richer, more lustrous texture because of its softer substance which crumbles subtly with pressure. Graphite can be soft or hard, and can produce varying degrees of blackness and grayness. Very soft graphite can be rubbed with a "stump" [usually a cylinder of rolled paper] for shading large areas; and hard graphite, sharpened to very fine point, can produce extremely precise lines.

Graphite was first widely adopted in the seventeenth century, by Dutch artists. It lent itself to different styles of drawing; Gainsborough, Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, van Gogh, and Matisse, among many others, exploited its qualities, and range. In Ingres's drawing The Guillon-Lethiére Family , the clear, fine lines of graphite variously convey the textures of heavy cloth coat, smooth hair, loose curls, and soft flesh gently modeled from light to dark tones. At the same time, the viewer enjoys the play of line, and the control and precision in the handling of the pencil.

Crayon is a term that has been confused with chalk and other media. "Crayon" should be used only to refer to a stick composed of powdered pigments held together with a waxy or greasy binder. Such crayons became popular in the nineteenth century. Crayon's advantages are the richness of its intense black, its uniform quality, and the fact that it does not smudge. However, it does not lend itself to fine transitions or great subtleties of tone.

Conté Crayon
Conté crayon was named after Nicolas Jacques Conté, who invented this crayon, a mixture of compressed pigments and a slightly greasy binder, in 1790. It is available in black [soft, medium, and hard] white, sepia, and sanguine [a red close to burnt sienna]. Related to chalk and hard pastels, it produces a sharper line and a slightly glossier effect than these, but blends or shades more softly than a wax or grease crayon.

In the crayon drawing Faggot Gatherers Returning from the Forest, 1854, by Jean François Millet, the artist achieves a powerful effect by a deliberate use of the simplest possible means, drawing the burdened anonymous women and the bare winter tree trunks with the same vertical repeated strokes, so that they are barely distinguishable, one from the other.

Charcoal is charred wood, usually willow. Depending on the wood, charcoal varies from hard to soft and may be smudged with the finger or stump to create areas of shading. It can be black or dull gray. It is a cheap, widely used and old medium; true charcoal drawings appear at the end of the fifteenth century, with the development of fixatives, which are solutions sprayed on the finished drawing to keep it from smudging. Charcoal lends itself to large-scale works because it is soft and easily manipulated and can be readily erased.

In the Renaissance it was used primarily for sketches; artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael made many studies in this medium. By the nineteenth century, artists used it for both sketches and finished drawings. Edgar Degas, for example, was a master at suggesting in bold charcoal strokes the energy of a gesture or the personality of a pose, as in The Violinist..

Watercolor Today, watercolors are generally grouped with drawings, since both are works on paper. Watercolor is formed from a mixture of pigments and binder, soluble in water. It is most fresh and sparkling when applied in transparent washes on white watercolor paper, its brilliance due to the whiteness of the paper shining through the paint. When a wash of watercolor dries, it leaves a crisp, distinct edge; before it dries, the edge may be watered down so that the color gently fades into the surrounding areas. Winslow Homer sometimes superimposed several washes, wet on wet, wet on dry, so that the dried edges would show through from beneath, giving extra depth to sky or lake water. The several layers of greens and blues make for a richness of color, and the texture that the granules of the pigment leave, as well as the obvious stroke of the brush, make us very aware of the material substance of the medium. All these effects can be seen in The Adirondack Guide. Thick watercolor mixed with gum is known as "gouache"; it is opaque and sometimes has a lustrous, silky surface when dry.

In the twentieth century, artists have continued to use drawing in both traditional and experimental ways, as preparation for works in other media, as studies, and as finished works.

Pablo Picasso's Head and Figure Studies in conté crayon is one of several studies for an oil painting, Two Nudes. These studies, made in the year before his famous early cubist painting Desmoiselles d'Avinon [Museum of Modern Art, New York], show the direction that Picasso was taking towards a revolutionary new way of seeing and drawing. Picasso , with Georges Braque, developed a way of representing three-dimensional objects on the two-dimensional surface of the paper by the analytical fragmentation of an object, or figure, into simple, geometric planes. In the MFA's drawing, the massive, rigid, simplified shapes of torsos, feet, and hair and the angular facial planes show the influence of ancient Iberian sculpture in the development of Picasso's cubist style.

In Willem de Kooning's biomorphic black enamel drawing, drawn for a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, the artist has abandoned the idea of a central organizing form. Black calligraphic shapes whip across the surface of the paper. There is a sense of gesture, an essential feature of Abstract Expressionism.

Even with greater freedom in the use of materials and unconventional ways of mixing techniques in a single work, contemporary abstract drawing still often harks back to traditional functions and media. Joel Shapiro's Untitled charcoal drawing, is a sculptor's drawing and in many ways resembles a traditional study, such as a floor plan for a building. [His compact, geometric sculptures often look like small buildings.] The clear, strong black bars form a bold pattern, but the artist has also made expressive use of erasure: "ghosts" of previous contours, smudges, and smears create subtle passages within the drawing and evoke the process of its construction.

NOTE: The collections in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs are shown in exhibitions that change regularly. For reasons of preservation, works of art on paper cannot be exposed to light for long periods of time. In addition, the size of the collections makes it possible to exhibit only a small portion at any one time. These selected exhibitions may focus on a particular period or artist, examine a certain technique, or follow a chosen theme.

Due to the nature of the changing exhibitions, this series of Gallery Notes does not discuss specific works of art on view. Instead, each one explains a certain technique and gives a brief history of its development, illustrated with major works form the Museum of Fine Arts collections. The Introductory Notes give an overview of basic printmaking techniques. We hope this information will help you understand and enjoy the current exhibition.

Ivins, William M., Jr. How Prints Look. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958.

Peterdi, Gabor. Printmaking. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

Saff, Donald and Deli Sacilotto. Printmaking: History and Process. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1978.

Hind, Arthur M. A History of Engraving and Etching from the Fifteenth Century to the Year 1914. New York: Dover, 1923.

Ivins, William M ., Jr. Prints and Visual Communication. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969.

Mayor, A. Hyatt. Prints and People. Princeton University Press, 1980.

Exhibition catalogues of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This is one in a series of gallery notes on the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The entire series, including an introduction, four gallery notes for adults, and one for young people, is for sale in the Museum Shop. This gallery note was prepared by Margaret Robinson.

[Drawing Techniques, Gallery Notes P5 - Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. © 1984, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].