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Over the years I have watched my now eighteen-year-old goddaughter draw. As she gets older, her skill increases. The familiar things around the house—an antique chair, an array of plants, the leather couch—are represented more and more accurately.

But what really impresses me when I watch her work is her immersion. She sits for hours, looking and drawing, looking and redrawing, sometimes working her pencil and eraser so thoroughly that the paper gives way.

Drawing—especially perceptual drawing where one is using the physical world as the model—is unlike so many of the typical hyper-activities in our modern lives. It is contemplative, deliberate and measured. John Berger, in Ways of Seeing, says that to look is an act of choice, and that what we see is brought within our reach. The act of drawing brings what we see even closer.

Drawing is a foundation. When a student is beginning a program in the visual arts, some sort of observational drawing is almost always on the list. In this way, drawing is often thought of as a means to an end. Many of you who are reading this magazine know intimately that drawing, in and of itself, is a powerful language. To consider it only as preparation and training for other disciplines is like studying Latin solely as a way of improving verbal test scores.

In my previous column, I wrote about the mobility of the digital photographic image. A photograph’s actual physicality is increasingly rare; it is often in transmission, or the “original” is residing on a flash card or hard drive as a string of ones and zeros. The actual making of a photograph takes place when the photographer is ready to work with the raw image, sometimes long after the camera is at the scene. This made me think about how different drawing is, both in process and in product. So I began asking people who have spent many years drawing, “Why do you draw?”

Monique Johannet, an artist who has been making works on paper for decades, described her practice of drawing from the landscape.

“When I was drawing 100% from landscape—out everyday for hours, looking at the landscape and drawing—I could physically experience space with my eyes. I remember the first time this happened: I was looking into the woods, and it was as though my eye had arms that could completely go around the tree, and feel the space in back of it and around it. This only happened if I was drawing every day for hours. If I stopped, that quality would go away. It was like acquiring another sense.”

Monique continued to speak about the physicality of the medium itself. Consider the paper: “Its shape, thickness, texture, the color of white with charcoal, its horizontality and verticality, the placement of the image, the intensity of line. How deep do you go in response to what you’re looking at and in response to the paper?

“It’s such a profoundly human activity. It’s primary. It’s a physical activity. A handmade medium requires touching things. It’s the link between eye and hand.”

The subject of physicality comes up repeatedly as I speak to people who are devoted to the practice of drawing. There is a physical connection and a deep satisfaction from feeling the direct contact with the medium. There is a bare minimum of a filter between looking and mark making.

Is this desire for a tactile experience a reaction to all the mediated forms of expression that surround us? Is it a way to bridge the distance that occurs when we use a computer or a camera—or even a cell phone—to make images? Perhaps. But certainly the eye-to-hand-to-paper experience is much deeper than a response to technology. After all, drawing came first.

Drawing requires a unique commitment of time and concentration. The more time you spend observing and considering, the more it becomes a sort of meditation. Even a ten-second sketch is usually made within a drawing session of at least an hour, and those ten seconds are part of a rhythm that you develop.

Many readers of this Illustration Annual are deeply knowledgeable about the act of drawing. You have logged innumerable hours putting pencil to paper, immersed in an experience that extends your senses. So this is the perfect opportunity for me to ask you to respond to this question: Why do you draw?

It would be a great pleasure for me to hear your thoughts, and to share them in a future column. (Don’t hold back: names will not be published.) Please send e-mail to wrichmond@aol.com. Or fax your comments to me via Communication Arts at (650) 326-1648. CA

© 2004 W. Richmond

Wendy Richmond (wendyrichmond.com) is a visual artist, writer and educator whose work explores public privacy, personal technology and creativity. Richmond has taught at Harvard University, the International Center of Photography and the Rhode Island School of Design, and she serves on the BRIC Artists Advisory Council and the MacDowell Fellows Executive Committee. Her latest book is Art Without Compromise*. Richmond’s column began in 1984.

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