Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Language of Drawing

The page at top is a scan of some recent sketches I did from photos of some White-throated Sparrows. Though we rarely get them in our backyard they have arrived in Philadelphia in the last week and, as of a couple of days ago, in our backyard as well.

I did a couple field sketches. But they flushed easily and I didn't get far with the field sketches. So I decided to do this work from photos just to familiarize myself again with the structure of them and other sparrows. After all they will be THE birds of the next 4-5 months!

Drawing them, the recent field sketches I've done, a recent conversation with a birder who watched me sketch at a local hawk watch and then asked about field sketching, and finally the reproduction of a tremendous Goya drawing in a recent New York Times article on a show of Spanish drawings all led me to this post.

About 25 years ago I ran across a book that talked about drawing as a part of a general education in the US over 100 years ago. It was just considered a basic and necessary skill. A far cry from today. I never read the book and may be slightly misremembering it. But I think my memory is basically correct. Drawing at one time was just much more important than it is now.

And yet.... I love drawing. Even when I was an abstract painter I loved drawing. But it is an odd thing. It changes the 3-dimensional world into two dimensions. It also seized the world in a way. Seizes it and puts it down. In that sense I think it may be almost an atavistic human impulse.

I think what got me thinking about this more than anything else was: 1, the Goya drawing. It's the best that drawing can be. And 2, the conversation with the hawk watcher who was interested in my field sketches at the feeder below the hawkwatching platform. He mentioned Urban Sketchers, a site I've looked at a few times, as well as a site devoted to sketches in Moleskine sketchbooks, a type of sketchbook I often use. That reminded me of the Sketching in Nature blog that I often notice in the Art section of the Nature Blog Network. And then there is this very odd New York Times blog on learning to draw. The odd thing is not the blog, but it's location at the New York Times. Still it's one more example of a seeming increase in interest in drawing.

Basically what I saw was the very highest type of art, as in the Goya, as well as the broad appeal of drawing as in all of the various web sites. It looks like there is almost a Renaissance of drawing, especially of sketching from life, whether it be people, cityscapes, nature, birds or whatever.

I could never prove this. And since I'm not part of any of the blogs and websites I mentioned I don't really have a good feel for it. I do spend a lot of time at the Wildlife Art section of as I've mentioned many times. There is a great appreciation of birds drawn from life there. But all in all I'm just not part of any such movement and so all I can do is speak from an outsider's viewpoint.

But it's hard not to notice this seeming widespread desire to draw and particularly to draw from life. That strikes me as very good and very welcome. I think it's the foundation of good art. And that Goya reminds me of just how exceptionally good drawing can be.

Like music it's a sign of the best in human culture. The more of it the better.


Ellen Snyder said...

I recently saw the movie Creation, about Charles Darwin's struggle to write the Origin of Species. In that movie, which I enjoyed, Darwin has various specimens on his which he is studying AND drawing. Clearly drawing was an essential part of his life in the 1880s. Your note that drawing was more central to life 100 years or more ago rings true.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Ellen,

Never heard of that movie but I just did a quick search and now it will be one I'll keep my eye out for. I remember mentioning something similar on Debbie Kaspari's blog, Drawing the Motmot, a few years ago and she said that scientists still do a lot of drawing.

So maybe those in the sciences have been keeping drawing alive while the rest of the world didn't even know it?! I do remember that I also quoted a 19th century scientist, Louis Agassiz, who stressed the importance of drawing in one of my earlier posts here, 'A Pencil is One of the Best of Eyes.'

That may explain why many of the good bird artists I know come from a naturalist/scientific background rather than an art background.

Good to hear from you again.

Ellen Snyder said...

Oh, I see I made a typo -- I meant to write the 1800s as the Origin of Species was published in 1859. The film, Creation, was produced by BBC. Some critics did not like it, but I rather enjoyed seeing the personal story behind the naturalist/scientist.

Kelly said...

...I think you're right about the Renaissance of drawing. So many people are journaling now with calligraphic text and field sketches and paintings--so much more than 10 or 20 years ago. It almost seems a new art that the blog world is spreading. I love that!

Ken Januski said...

Hi Kelly, it sure does make you think that there is a real desire to produce something by hand doesn't it? I'm sure that often occurs but what's so unusual right now is that everyone can also publish it, and get feedback, at least occasionally.

I'm sure that most people who live through huge cultural changes don't really know it when it's happening. But I sort of wonder if that might not be happening now.

P.S. Good to hear from you. I have been keeping up with your painting challenge and birding photos, but just haven't been commenting.