Discovering the Magic of Drawing

Credit: Angela Moore/ Courtesy of the Royal Drawing School

Imagine a time long ago, when a hand in the ancient caves of South Africa created a beautiful cross-hatch design on a stone flake with an ochre crayon. This small act marked the birth of drawing as we know it today. Julia Balchin, the head of the Royal Drawing School in London, believes that drawing is a fundamental part of every one of us. “As a child, before you can even talk, or walk or read, you can draw. So it’s often our first way of expressing ourselves,” she says.

Through the ages, drawing has been an essential part of every artist’s practice. From the detailed anatomical studies of Leonardo da Vinci to the powerful films of William Kentridge and the expressive drawings of Tracey Emin, drawing has always been a vital form of artistic expression.

Despite periods of fluctuating popularity, drawing is experiencing a revival, particularly for its therapeutic qualities. The Royal Drawing School saw a doubling of student intake during lockdowns, with many finding solace in life drawing. Drawing has been shown to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing, with many students citing it as a way to slow down the pace of life and relieve anxiety.

For artists like Emily Haworth-Booth, drawing became a lifeline during times of illness. She found that mindful drawing provided a sense of grounding and relief, similar to that experienced after a yoga class or therapy session. Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center in New York, also noticed a surge in passion for drawing during lockdown, with many artists finding solace in putting pen to paper during trying moments.

Roger Malbert, curator and writer on contemporary art, collaborated with Gilman to produce a richly illustrated overview of diverse approaches to drawing, showcasing its role as a way of addressing personal social trauma and unrest. This universal appeal of drawing as a form of self-expression offers a much-needed relief from the constant bombardment of digital screens.

The healing properties of drawing have been celebrated by artists like Zhang Yanzi, whose delicate drawings portray the interplay of mental and physical phenomena and the power of art to assuage psychological suffering. Drawing has the ability to put us in touch with the world and ourselves, offering a unique perspective on social strife, humanity, and emotions.

Renowned artist John Hewitt has found joy in sharing his imaginative and detailed drawings with the world, often capturing the scenes of everyday life in his sketchbooks. Even in moments of personal tragedy, such as the London terrorist bombings or the final days of his mother’s life, drawing has provided him with a sense of purpose and comfort.

Drawing is not only a means of artistic expression but also a simple pleasure, as experienced by Charlie Mackesy, who turned to drawing as a way of processing trauma after a personal loss. His picture book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, has touched the hearts of many with its poignant drawings and inspiring messages on life and friendship.

In a world dominated by digital screens, drawing offers a tangible connection to the world around us and a much-needed escape from the chaos of everyday life. Whether it’s through intricate anatomical studies, delicate portraits of animals, or simple sketches on a full-moon night, drawing has the power to heal, inspire, and change the way we see the world. So, pick up a pencil and let your imagination unfold on the blank canvas before you.

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