What is Drawing?
Fragment From a Copy of St Gregory's Manuscript 'Moralia in Job', Unknown, 12th century. Museum no. 8984a
Fragment From a Copy of St Gregory's Manuscript 'Moralia in Job'
Ink and water-colour on parchment
Width 16 cm x height 14.2 cm
Museum no. 8984a
This decorated letter provides an opportunity to consider the relationship between writing and drawing. Its decorations are drawn in outline. The emphasis on the linear in definitions of drawing may be influenced by the nature of drawing being largely linear in its use before the Renaissance.
Sheet of Studies Including a Virgin and Child, the Heads of Two Angels, a Youth and a Draped Female, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, early 17th century. Museum no. E.3976-1919
Sheet of Studies Including a Virgin and Child, the Heads of Two Angels, a Youth and a Draped Female
Giulio Cesare Procaccini (1574-1625)
Early 17th century
Brush with coloured ink washes on laid paper
Width 28.6 cm x height 22.2 cm
Museum no. E.3976-1919
The amount of colour in this image and the fact that it is applied with a brush might preclude it from being categorised as a drawing. On the other hand, the images are represented wholly by a network of lines, one definition of drawing.
Virgin and Child with the Cat and the Snake, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1654. Museum no. CAI646
Virgin and Child with the Cat and the Snake
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Etching on laid paper
Width 14.5 cm x height 9.5 cm
Museum no. CAI646
Etching is a ‘print’ process whereby the artist ‘draws’ with a needle through a wax ground baring lines on a metal plate. These lines are then etched by acid to make grooves to hold ink from which multiple copies of the linear image can be printed. Such prints are not usually considered drawings although they have been created by an act of drawing and look remarkably similar to line drawings.
Portrait of an Artist Drawing, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), about 1610-1660. Museum no. D.988-1900
Portrait of an Artist Drawing
Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666)
Ink on laid paper
Width 18 cm x height 22.2 cm
Museum no. D.988-1900
The drawing is executed totally in line. Note how the chiaroscuro representing the depth of the eye sockets is drawn with short parallel diagonal strokes.
Studies of a Man in Oriental Costume, Antoine Watteau, 1720. Museum no. CAI 258
Studies of a Man in Oriental Costume
Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Red chalk on laid paper
Size of sheet width21.5 cm x height 26.6 cm
Museum no. CAI 258
To what extent is the restriction of a work to one colour an aspect of it being a drawing? Does it matter what that colour is?
Trompe L’oeil Composition, Unknown, mid 18th century. Museum no. E.3307-1948
Trompe L’oeil Composition
Mid 18th century
Ink, wash and red chalk on laid paper
Width 29.6 cm x height 21.3 cm
Museum no. E.3307-1948
Here drawing of different kinds is used with such virtuosity that it imitates the look and texture of a variety of different sheets of paper and some coins. You have the impression of actually being in the presence of the sheets rather than of looking at a drawing of them.
View of Hawes Water, Westmoreland, Christopher Machell, 1779. Museum no. E.350-1951
View of Hawes Water, Westmoreland
Christopher Machell (1747-1827)
Ink and water-colour on laid paper
Width 57.5 cm x height 39.2 cm
Museum no. E.350-1951
This landscape provides an example of the close link between drawing and painting in water-colours. The foreground is drawn with a pen in ink. The middle ground is also drawn in pen and ink but broad washes of water-colour are applied within the inked guidelines. The sky is rendered in pure water-colour.
'Blot' drawing, Alexander Cozens, about 1788. Museum no. E.4276-1920
Alexander Cozens (1717-1786)
Ink on laid paper
Size of sheet width 23.6 cm x height 18 cm
Museum no. E.4276-1920
'Blotting' was a technique of image making developed by Cozens and published under the title of 'A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape' in 1788. Does the fact that the ink was applied with a brush impact on the work’s classification as a drawing?
Elm Trees, John Constable, about 1820. Museum no. 351-1888
John Constable (1776-1837)
Pencil on wove paper
Width 16 cm x height 23.4 cm
Museum no. 351-1888
Pencil is used to create areas of tone rather than to outline form.
Designs for Champagne Glasses for James Powell and Sons, Whitefriars, Philip Webb, about 1861. Museum no. E.336-1944
Designs for Champagne Glasses for James Powell and Sons, Whitefriars
Philip Webb (1831-1915)
Pencil and wash on laid paper
Each approximately width 19 cm x height 25.5 cm
Museum no. E.336-1944
These designs show two extremes of drawing. The bases of the glasses, shown in plan, are described by simple double lines but the bodies of the glasses are delineated by wash applied to the space around them. Thus, their outlines are represented by negative silhouettes.
Anchors 'Study for The Channel at Gravelines, Evening', Georges Pierre Seurat, 1890. Museum no. P.4-1982
Anchors 'Study for The Channel at Gravelines, Evening'
Georges Pierre Seurat (1859-1891)
Chalk on laid paper
Width 31.5 cm x height 23.7 cm
Museum no. P.4-1982
This drawing is made up entirely of shading. It has scarcely a line as such in it. Yet, surely, it is without doubt a drawing?
Self-portrait, Charles Ginner, about 1920. Museum no. E.3308 -1980
Charles Ginner (1878 - 1952)
Indian ink on laid paper
Width 10.2 x height 10.2 cm
Museum no. E.3308 -1980
The face is delineated with dots, the hair with lines and the outline of the head by opaque black applied to the negative space. Are these different ways of applying the ink all ways of drawing?
Torso of a Woman, Eric Gill, 1927. Museum no. Circ. 49-1928
Torso of a Woman
Eric Gill (1882-1940)
Pencil on wove paper
Width 24.6 cm x height 30 cm
Museum no. Circ. 49-1928
This is an outstanding example of the power of a few simple lines to describe three-dimensional form. Note especially the use of crosses to indicate the volume.
2003, Harold Cohen, 2003. Museum no. E.263-2005
Harold Cohen (born 1928)
Computer generated ink drawing
Width 90 cm x height 127 cm
Museum no. E.263-2005
Digital print by AARON, a program written by Harold Cohen
Cohen developed a computer programme called Aaron with which he sought to codify the act of drawing. Does the fact that the image is generated by a computer rather than by the hand of an individual affect its status as a drawing?
Source of the Scaur, Andy Goldsworthy, 1991-2. Museum no. E.705 - 1993
Source of the Scaur
Andy Goldsworthy (born 1956)
Water-colour on wove paper
Width 121 cm x height 235 cm
Museum no. E.705 - 1993
This large work was created by a ball of frozen snow being left to melt and find its path on the sheet. The result is a broad wash line in a subdued palette. Is it a drawing or not? If it is not a drawing what is it?
My Heroes, Grayson Perry, 1994. Museum no. C.10-2009
Grayson Perry (born 1960)
Earthenware with incised and applied decoration
Width 31 cm x height 30.4 cm
Museum no. C.10-2009
This vase is decorated with portraits rendered in line. Are they drawings or does the fact that they are not drawn on paper but on a vase, prevent them from being perceived as drawings?
100 Drawings, Chris Kenny, 2001. Museum no. E. 1091-2002
Chris Kenny (born 1959)
Mixed media construction with twigs
Width 85 cm X height 85 cm x depth 8.3 cm
Museum no. E. 1091-2002
This work is made entirely by bending and sticking together twigs, which are by their nature linear. The sticks are supported on steel pins so that they 'float' in front of the backboard creating shadows. That the artist considered each of the images a drawing is made clear by the title. To what extent is a work of art what its creator says it is? Are there any reasons why this work should not be classified as a series of drawings?
London, Jason Wallis-Johnson, 2004. Museum no. E.530-2005
Lightbox with perspex and pierced carbon paper
Width 75 cm x height 64.8 cm
Museum no. E.530-2005
Purchased through the Julie and Robert Breckman Print Fund
In this composition the pin pricks through which light shines denote the population numbers on the route. Is this an example of an artist drawing with light?