I spent some time yesterday musing on the importance of drawing and drawing practice. And I would imagine hundreds of artists worldwide were reflecting on the same thing, because it is one of those topics that most artists reflect on regularly. I wasn’t surprised to see at New Year just how many artists announced a resolution to draw more/draw everyday/follow a series of drawing exercises, and I have commented before on the extraordinary number of online discussion sites available for people to post all manner of daily drawings.
Yesterday’s thoughts though were prompted by a blog post I happened upon about Constable’s drawings. It suggested that the importance of Constable’s formal drawings on which his big studio works were based had not been sufficiently appreciated over the years. This was because there is a modern tendency to instead rate more highly free, expressive, spontaneous styles of drawing. I think that’s almost certainly right, but then my personal preference is for a much freer way of working. I certainly respond emotionally much more to Constable’s plein air small landscapes than I do to the big set pieces.
Constable is not the only artist of whom this is true. The first time I saw Rembrandt’s sketches and studies when I was quite young, I can remember how amazed I was at how ‘modern’ they seemed, and this for me is the key to why contemporary viewers respond more positively to Constable’s sketches. It’s the feeling of recognition and connection they prompt: an identification with something that may have been made years ago but still speaks to you today, without the need for explanation or contextual study or an academic analysis.
As a means of expression, of analysis, of communication, of learning and study, drawing for me is without equal. And I have to admit that alongside my love of watching other people paint, and my delight at having the chance to nose into other people’s studios, I seize on any opportunity to look through anyone’s sketchbook. Last year I read a brilliant book, Drawing from Life: the Journal as Art by Jennifer New, which provided a feast of journals for the curious and avidly hungry. It was both inspiring and a visual delight.
After all this, I was thrilled last night when my youngest daughter came home and enthusiastically showed me some of the drawings she had been doing at school. Thrilled, because she is being taught to see shape, and consider line, and the importance of marks and will be all set to develop her own visual vocabulary in due course. And I naturally consider that to be a very important part of education!