• Justin Cooke

Drawing: Part one. Figurative Drawing.

Figurative Art: It's not to do with figures

Figurative art is a term we use for painting, drawing, and sculpture that is clearly derived from the real world. You could call it Representational Art. It is often used as a term in contrast to Abstract Art.

So a figurative drawing is a drawing of a thing.

… can that thing be a figure? … well yes it can. But it also be a tree, a box of eggs or a landscape.

If you are concerned with ideas and devices such as; use of pattern, the surface texture of your drawing, or optical effects of colour: then you are using abstract elements.

Figurative : Abstract

You will know from your own work, that as artists we rarely fit into neat boxes: you will often find yourself in various places between the two.

Drawing Techniques

Below is a drawing demonstration I made during a lesson on drawing . It shows some of the different drawing techniques used by artists when producing figurative drawings.

Beneath it, I will briefly explains each method and gives some recommendations where to see examples by artists throughout history.

Clockwise from top left.


Contour Hatching

Measured Drawing

"Taking a line for a walk"

Gestural Drawing

The Fluid Line


With this drawing method, areas are hatched with an even tone. Darker areas can be achieved by using firmer fatter lines, by placing lines closer together or as in this case by overlapping hatch marks. This called cross hatching.

No outlines are drawn. The edges are merely described by changes in tone.

This is a quick way of sketching out doors using pencil.

You can see great examples by looking at some by David Hockney from the 1970's . The Tate gallery website has some great examples .

Contour Hatching.

Contour hatching is similar but the lines curve to show the form of the subject; everything else still applies, including cross hatching which in this case can add to the feeling of volume and shape.

We are in the realm of some of the greatest artists here including Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo. But some of my favourite drawings are by Rubens and Watteau. If I could have my own at no expense art collection... it would include a Watteau drawing.

The example I have chosen however is by Rubens of his child Nicolaas. It is a truely stunning piece of drawing.

Peter Paul Rubens. Bildnis seins Sohnes Nikolas, by Peter Pail Rubens - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Measured Drawing.

Here is a very quick drawing of a head drawn to classic proportions. This is basically drawn using a formula of proportions and lines that have been learned by artists for centuries. A measured drawing can be made in a similar way. The process consists of finding lines and measurements that relate to each other and using them to plot out the basic elements of a drawing; this can be applied to any subject be it a figure or even a landscape. A subject observed and transcribed in this way can lead to a very accurate drawing. It can also be used to discretely mark out very quickly the basics of a drawing which could have a very loose, confident and bold drawing on top.

The Artist William Coldstream was a great advocate of this method when he principle and professor at the Slade School of Art, London 1945 - 1975. The Tate Gallery has some fine examples of his work.

Taking a line for a walk.

I've taken a quote from from the artist Paul Klee here, but my drawing is much more of a scribble than his. For this method, keep the pen or pencil in contact with the paper as much as possible and draw lots of overlapping and intertwining lines. You need to kind of feel your way as you go. The more ink or graphite you lay down the more it should feel like you're modelling clay or shaping a ball of scrunched up wire; working a bit like a sculptor.

Gestural Drawing.

It is no suprise then that one of the best who drew this way was an artist called Alberto Giacometti; and yes... he was a sculptor.

My own term for this method is gestural drawing. For this, all those marks a pencil or charcoal can make become a vital part of the drawing, in much the same way as an artist uses a brush. This allows us to give the impression of mood and movement, even the weather. This type of drawing also allows us to free up and convey our feelings directly on the paper. When it works well it seems to be completely instinctive as we naturally include all sorts of marks and squiggles into our drawing

There are many artists who work this way. But I would like to let you in on a little secret. Little, because it is a very small thing. In the Victoria and Albert Museum London they have John Constable's 1814 pocket sketchbook. They have reproduced it on their website so you can have a virtual thumb through. These are'nt drawings for exhibition, they are for his own use. They are quick, llively and full of gesture. If you have not seen them before, have a look, you are in for a treat!

The is a link to see them here.

The Fluid Line.

Think Picasso, or the un-inhibited spontaneous drawing of a child. It is a huge challenge to draw this way, you have to just go for it! Try not to hesitate; and draw quickly with confidence. This example is drawn with graphite and is based upon Picasso's dove. In the class we use ink and bamboo pens for this.

There are films of Picasso drawing, some can be found on YouTube. If you come across film of him painting or even making sculptures out of soft clay pots you will see the same amazing confidence. For most of us though, this can be a bit of a hit or miss approach, giving all sorts of results. But we can take comfort... in one film of Picasso painting, even he decides his picture is not working. The next one he does however is of course stunning.

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