Everything drawn on a page is line…..

Are you obsessed with line? Or are you are more painterly mark maker? There is some meaty substance on the subject in the paper by Tara Gear, extract and link to the full article below.

‘In the drawings of very experienced artists—Rembrandt, Raphael, Giacometti, Basquiat, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Seurat, Van Dyck, Parmigianino, Ingres, Degas, Durer, Schiele, Hokusai, Kuo Hsi, Sun Long, Wu Chen, Li T’ang, etc.—the edges are not the only nor the most important lines.

Degas Seated Woman Adjusting Her Hair, c.1884 (chalk and pastel on paper)
To describe seen changes, line per se, is not the overwhelming strategy. Of course most everything drawn on a page is line, but experienced drawers’ lines tangle up, drift off, become textures, shadows, blobs, shapes, and patterns.
Hokusai, coloured woodblock
Their lines do not stick to edges nor bind linguistically defined “things” —there is no necessary contour around head and shoulders, no neat oval of mouth—where the edges of a lip would be a shadow creeps down into a beard. Lines are uneven, twist, modulate, flake into divets and dots, and scratches and fields. The drawn lines are very sensitive to minuscule changes, rather than describing broadly. Experienced drawers also use the emptiness of the page—look at Rembrandt’s nose and neck.
Rembrandt self portrait 1630
They organize the whole space of the page: using inter-locking shapes, negative spaces, overall composition, design, the balance or relationships of texture, color, light and shadow. You can also see emotion, atmosphere, and point of view.’

Extract from a paper by Tara Gear (2011) ‘What We Illustrate When We Draw: Normative Visual Processing in Beginner Drawings, and the Capacity to Observe Detail’. The full paper can be found here.


  1. Peter Haveland 19 June 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Whilst not disagreeing with the general trend of this extract (I haven’t had time to read the whole paper) it seems to me that it is a mistake to restrict the idea of drawing so much to line; “most everything drawn on a page is line” may have the ring of truth but I would suggest that there is a great deal more to drawing than line on page. Further I would totally disagree that “the edges are not the only nor the most important lines.” Edges and lines are not the same thing, except perhaps on line drawing (and even then…? and I would suggest that the essence of drawing as opposed to, say, painting is the edge, the junction, that which delineates one area from the adjoining one. One also needs to think about drawing in three as well as two dimensions (think of Pevsner or Andy Goldsworthy ), drawing in (over or through) time as well as in sound (try Pres que rien by Luc Ferrari , line looses its importance but edges and junctions take on a vital role.

    1. Nick Hawksworth 19 June 2012 at 11:43 pm

      Peter – I think you are right that edges and lines are different, but there in terms of the psychophysics of vision, it depends on the arrangements and formats of the lines as to how our visual pathways perceive edges, whether that be the edge of an area of lines, or the edges of a single line – all in turn dependant upon visual resolution and cortical/subcortical processing.

      As someone from a vaguely vision science-related background who’s trying to study art, I think this is an exciting resource and look forward to getting to grips with it some more.

  2. Noah Waby 19 June 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Although this extract has something important to say about how lines should not be restricted to contours and edges and such like, it is a little annoying that this leads the author to so many strange statements like Peter has just quoted above. It’s actually pretty confusing to read and understand.

  3. Jennifer Wallace 20 June 2012 at 5:27 am

    This looks an interesting academic paper, but as it’s one of many from a symposium on drawing and cognition, maybe something that warrants more careful reading than this snippet might be letting us have?
    The introduction to the collection of papers says it’s a bringing together of contemporary drawing practice, theoretical analysis and education, and current scientific research. So, some weighty stuff that’s going to take some time to really understand, but probably worth the effort – so thanks for posting this for us.

  4. Olivia Irvine 21 June 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I glanced through her article with fascination- a bit too long to read it all on a computer screen. She is refering to observational drawing, not more conceptual ways of drawing.
    I see it all the time, even with fairly experienced drawers- this linguistically bounded way of interpreting. (Sometimes artists do this on purpose if they want a particular quality that is quite graphic or cartoon- like and this can work.) When someone is drawing what they see and trying to really observe and still get hooked on portions being separate named shapes(hard to describe)then the drawing can look stiff, disjointed and generally not particularly interesting. I taught life drawing for years and repeatedly saw the same lack of seeing affecting the outcome. One way round this was to get students to start somewhere in the middle (I often suggested the bit between the collar bone if they could see it from their stance)and work out and in as well as up and down, taking in whatever details, forms and spaces they encountered. So instead of drawing a whole torso, then a whole arm, then the other arm and so on, they might have a bit of chest leading to a bit of arm leading to a space then a bit of hair- all adjacent. I used to say it was a bit like doing a jigsaw. Many students found this quite a strange idea to get used to as it went against what they thought they knew about the body, but the point is that every single one of them improved doing this method.
    It was useful with tonal as well as linear work. Often the students would draw a stiff outline and afterwards fill it in with a smudgy mess for shadows, resulting in figures that looked a bit like robots, but relating light and dark shapes across the field of vision without bounding lines led to a much more satisfactory result.
    I have great students now I am teaching with OCA. However, there is one thing I often have to say to drawing students, especially when they are working tonally and that is to relate the spaces, shadows, cast shadows, background and objects and not see them as separate. How they relate them is up to the considered interpretation of the individual.

  5. Robyn 25 June 2012 at 2:12 am

    As a totally novice drawer, I found Tara’s paper fascinating. Thank you Jane!

  6. Jennifer Wallace 25 June 2012 at 10:15 am

    I’ve now gone on and downloaded all the papers from the symposium, and printed off those which I was most interested in – and there’s some very interesting material in it. If you’re interested in this sort of thing! I’m only on my first Level 4 OCA course, but in the past have done other studies both in education and psychology so a lot of what’s covered in these papers is bringing all these threads together in ways which are really thought-provoking for me.
    Olivia – There’s one paper all about how beginner level people draw that ties in with some of what you’re saying.

    1. Olivia Irvine 26 June 2012 at 10:23 pm

      Yes, Jennifer. I found it very interesting. It echoed what I had already experienced and added more. Well done for downloading the rest. I had only a brief glance, but will go back to it.

  7. patricia farrar 25 June 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Really enjoying these articles…it is taking drawing into another dimension for me. Thanks, Jane….


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