In a way, the sketch is one of the purest elements to art – the first inklings of the idea to something great, and at times the most raw and intense aspect. Painters, sculptors and even contemporary multi-media artists will often lay down their visions on a simple pen and paper production. As a powerful and beloved medium, drawings are the skeleton to an artwork and have influenced and changed artists’ lives.
Most artists will sketch an idea out, often multiple times to get everything right. Unless you’re Bob Ross, and then you just go for it because there are no mistakes in your world. But these sketches, quick or detailed, show the thought process of the artist, their practice, and their strengths and weaknesses. It’s also interesting to think that these were usually not meant for the public; many drawings are thoughts or studies for a finished piece that on some occasions became (or will become) world-famous artworks, admired for centuries. But drawing is neutral; it is where every artist starts out, and because of that, the drawing is like a secret window into the artist’s personality and practice.
Renoir used to draw on his walls with charcoal as a young boy, sure it meant his family could never have nice wallpaper, but it is what initiated his father to push him into the arts as a porcelain painter. And it was the finessed study of a head that impressed teachers and moved Vallotton from his small town to the wonders of Paris.
Although usually a tool to create a more grandiose work of art, drawing has at times held such power that is has shaken the confidence of other artists. Aubrey Beardsly, the art editor of The Yellow Book, created delightfully raunchy illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s texts, most famously for Salomé. The drawings not only complemented the salacious book, but they were seen to eclipse it by many including the author. In effect, drawing broke up a friendship. Even masters of colour and Abstract art hold a firm grasp on a pen or pencil. Klee utilised drawing as part of his paintings to create the “ghostly” images that are so apparent in his works.
The Art Institute of Chicago obviously understands the power of the pencil, and at their exhibition, Master Drawings Unveiled, we find a grand collection of some of the great masters’ doodles. In a way though, viewing the drawings and sketches of master painters feels a little bit like getting to fondle the butt of a woman who has the world’s greatest boobs. That being said, you’re getting to fondle a butt, so it’s pretty great.
If you have an itching to get that inside peak into a certain artists sketches, 1000 Drawings of Genius provides eight centuries of drawings from famous artists around the globe.
By Alice Bauer
Frida Kahlo. Untitled (Drawing with Subject inspired by Eastern Philosophy), 1946. Sepia ink on paper. Private Collection
- Pierre-August Renoir. Portrait of Séverine, 1885-1887. Charcoal and unfixed pastel on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- Félix Vallotton. Self-Portrait, c. 1890. Pencil on paper. Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne.
- (Left)Aubrey Beardsly. The Stomach Dance. Illustration for Salomé by Oscar Wilde, 1894. Pen and ink on paper. British Museum, London. (Right) Aubrey Beardsly. Illustration for Salomé by Oscar Wilde, 1894. Pen and ink on paper. British Museum, London.