Sketching is a Way of Thinking

cate prato

My sketch. Alas, my husband's rock
study has been lost.

A few years ago on a family vacation to Maine, my husband and I took our sketchbooks to a beach perched on a craggy cove on the edge of the island. It was a busy spot, with kids scrambling over rocks looking for crabs, rowboats swaying near the shore, and sailboats skimming the water farther out on the horizon. Young couples sunbathed and while older shell seekers scanned the sand on the fringe of the lacy surf.

We spent a couple of hours in artistic meditation there while our daughters played, and before we packed up to go, Nick and I compared drawings.

My sketch, done in colored pencil, filled the page. It took in the boats, the rocky coast, the trees and homes across the harbor, a child standing on the shoreline, and birds dancing above the scene.

Nick's drawing, in graphite, depicted a lone stone in nearly photographic detail. The entire drawing was about the size of a silver dollar.

We burst out laughing, because our drawings reflected our personalities perfectly. I'm all about commotion and the big picture. My husband values detail and precision.

drawing collage

'Fat Man and Little Boy' by Stacey Seiler, 2005. Cut paper collage; 6 x 9. From the Fall 2010 issue of Drawing.

I thought about this story the other day when I was reading an article by my colleague Michael Gormley where he states that, "In a sense, drawing is an artist's act of thinking."

In the article, to be published in the next issue of Drawing magazine, Michael writes, "Practiced frequently and without inhibition, drawing represents the graphic remains of a thought or idea-hence its evolution ultimately aims to record not just the gesture of the hand but the inspired movement of the mind.

"Drawing is thus a powerful tool for recording the stages and end products of our imaginative thought processes; it is associated with the highest levels of human consciousness. Drawing, in short, is thinking."

Michael's words resonated with me because while we all start off our artistic lives drawing (think of your pre-school scribbles and stick-figure family portraits), as we get older, many of us abandon drawing because we are not "good" at it.

But we all have our own ways of drawing, whether it's with a pencil, wire, thread, or pieces of paper. Whether it's a colorful landscape sketch or perfectly rendered detail. Knowing "how to draw" is not just about putting down an organized series of lines to create an image we recognize, it's a way to organize and express our thoughts.

drawing fundamentals shading
It's useful to know where light ends and shadow begins, by Jon deMartin. From Drawing, Fall 2011.

In fact, in his article in Drawing, Michael is writing about artist Romare Bearden's brightly colored collage studies. In that same issue, John A. Parks explores how innovative artist and sculptor Whitfield Lovell combines charcoal drawings with playing cards, found objects, and entire structures in order to reflect upon the lives of past generations.

In the issue's Drawing Fundamentals lesson, Jon deMartin shares some of the basics of rendering values and identifying where light ends and shadow begins. And veteran artist and teacher Andrew Conklin describes the five types of drawings he creates and explains how his methods and materials change depending on why he is drawing.

My husband and I approach sketching and drawing from very different perspectives, because we think differently. But no matter how you think, or what your primary medium is, Drawing magazine has something in it that will help you improve your art.

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