Drawing refers both to the concept and practice of the intentional inscription of graphic marks (lines, dots and stains) on a surface, usually bidimensional. Drawings are the objects this way produced and denote, as they rend visible, bodies and spaces immagined and directly observed, as well as ideas, concepts and emotions.
The word ‘Desenho’, the Portuguese term for Drawing, has its roots in the Italian ‘disegno’ and comprehends a concept and practice characteristics of Modernity. Disegno was introduced by the Florentin artist Cennino Cennini in his Libro dell’ Arte (c. 1400) to name both graphic objects and mental images. The definition of this Disegno would occupy the artists of Italian Renaissance and Maneirism along the two subsequent centuries in order to acquire consistence and authority as a branch of Fine Arts with the creation of the Florence Academia del Disegno, in the mid 16th century, which associated the theoretical speculation about art to the teaching of the fundamental techniques of the three arts, considered as daughters of Drawing: Painting, Sculpture and Arquitecture and supplied the inspiration for the spreading of art academies in Western countries. The Italian definition of the Drawing concept such as that of Francisco de Hollanda, who introduced the concept in Portugal, surpassed the strict sense of a graphic register to include the present day meaning of Design, later isolated in its English language form in a simple projectual acception, an development of form speculated by drawing.
Drawing encompasses a number of images that exist with specific functions in science, from projectual activities to art and, of course, in every day life. To the concept of drawing is associated to that of linearity and economy on fulfilling a surface. The principal operative difference that allows us to distinguish drawings from paintings, although not always evident, comes from this economy of resources, concerning not only the methods and techniques of inscription and register but also the materials in use.
Although reaching their limits of tridimensionality, on the accidental and merely conceptual, we consider drawings a special category of pictures built with the help of instruments which are able to trace signs, lines, dots and occasionally stains on bidimensional surfaces, mostly on paper and its by-products. Within this group of objects which we call drawings, some of them have a mimetic character, that is, are understood as depictions of other objects.
Drawing, as a practical activity, includes a series of techniques, variations and applications that depend mainly on its contingent purpose. Formally, drawing has a huge and varied field of appliction, as bodies, spaces, depth, substance, material, texture and even movement can be made visible through drawing.
To these capacities drawing adds and demonstrates, spontaneously and directly, its author’s personality, through his/hers calligraphic mark (Fig. 1).
Drawing as artistic and formal creation can be defined primarily as the linear representation of the visible world objects, as well as of concepts, ideas, attitudes, emotions and fancies to which it gives a visible form. Thus, drawing is different from the graphic processes of printing and digital means for it results from a direct and immediate relationship between production and its outcome. In spite the fact that a drawing can be used as a basis for reproduction and/or copy on other means and materials, it is, nevertheless, unique in its intrinsical nature. Although, not every work of art has its origin in a drawing or a preliminary sketch, drawing is the foundation and the source for all visual arts, which may often hide, absorb or destroy the original drawing or graphic scheme in the course of its execution.
Drawing constitutes the material basis for many wall paintings, engravings, technical representations, maps, illustrations and also photographic and filmic records. The preliminary or underlying sketches to these forms may be nothing but simple outlines or else predetermine its final visible aspect to its smallest detail. The discovery of preliminary drawings underlying the painting of frescos – the sinopia – has shown that these were not only a technical support but that they aimed at expressing formally, by means of probatory drawings, an artistic purpose. The same effort seems to be present in the paleolithic engravings which, inspite of its process of inscription on a rocky surface, can be described as drawings by their unique character and the direct relationship between the producer and the visible outcome.
The conscious and determined act of drawing represents a relevant cognitive realization as well, for the ability to reduce the spatial objects that surround us to inscriptions on a plane surface presupposes a developed capacity of abstraction. The visual interpretation of a graphic mark as representing a determined object results from the projective association of certain configurations and features of its lines and dots, and is revealing of the high skill or visual literacy of the observer. A numberless variety of comprehensible images can be obtained from a limited variety of linear phenomena. The simple outline – the first drawing or painting, according to a Roman legend, may have had its origin on a cast shadow – is perhaps the simplest and most disseminated means of graphic figuration (Fig. 2).
CENNINI, Cennino. The Craftsman's Handbook - El Libro dell'Arte. (D. J. Thompson, Trans.) Eng: Dover Publications, 1960.
CÔRTE-REAL, Eduardo. O Triunfo da Virtude, As Origens do Desenho Arquitectónico, Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 2001.
DAMISH, Hubert. Traité du Trait. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux,1995.
HOLANDA, Francisco de. (1571) Da Ciência do Desenho.... Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 1985.
HOLANDA, Francisco de. (1548) Da Pintura Antiga. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 1984.
Fig.1 - Basquiat, Mona Lisa (acrílico e pastel s/tela) 1983, Cortesia José Nesa, Genebra
Fig.2 - Cecília Costa, S/título (carvão s/papel) 2007, Fundação PLMJ, Lisboa