Monday, October 08, 2007

The Drawing Book - into the vivid heart of drawing

I've attended two lectures on drawing by Dr. Sarah Simblet in the last 10 weeks. She is an excellent lecturer as well as a practising artist - very knowledgeable and thoughtful with a very bright and energetic approach to providing an insight into the language of drawing.

Her style is reflected in her book The Drawing Book which is described as 'an innovative, practical approach to drawing the world around you'. It is published by Dorling Kindersley (2005) who always seem to produce marvellous looking books and this one is no exception.
For me personally, drawing is the immediate expression of seeing, thinking and feeling. It is a tool for investigating ideas and recording knowledge, and is a reflector of experience. Drawing is a mirror through which I understand my place in the world and through which I engage with and anchor myself if life. It makes me feel excited to be alive
A Drawing Book - Foreword (Sarah Simblet)
I think the The Drawing Book has four main components which I'll attempt to describe below as its 264 pages are jam packed with information and images. Quotations are from the book.
  1. The main structure of the book is a series of chapters covering: animals; plants and gardens; architecture; objects and instruments; the body; portraiture; costume; gatherings; earth and the elements; abstract lines and gods and monsters.
  2. Interspersed within these are illustrated summaries of drawing materials - drawing books and paper; pens and inks; graphite and erasers; silver or metal point (excellent); coloured materials (pigments, pastels, pencils, felt-tip pens); disposable pens; charcoal; collage and brushes (including Japanese and sword liners)
  3. Similarly interspersed are instruction and tips about some basic techniques and some not so basic - posture and grip (how to hold a pencil or pastel); drawing in pen and ink and capturing character; drawing your dog; use of negative space; single point perspective, creating an imaginary space, further aspects of perspective; light and illusions; further illusions; how to draw ellipses; tonality; drawing with wire; measurement and foreshortening; tips for quick poses in life class; hands and feet (how to gauge proportion); head and neck (how to frame and generalise, essential observations); drawing portraits; study and design; the structure of costume; textures and patterns (drawing fabrics); dressing character and posture carving (with examples from Goya); drawing from masterworks and in museums; the travel journal; catching the moment; drawing landscapes; drawing in the round; being 'just' (or 'rightness') in relation to an image; semi-abstract drawing; brush marks.
  4. All of the above are illustrated using:
    • 200 examples of Simblet's own drawings, pages from her sketchbooks and doodles. Although her PhD specialism is drawing in relation to human anatomy (see The Anatomy Book ), my personal view is that her best work relates to the natural landscape and elements - forces of water, shapes and texture of clouds.
    • images of drawing across the ages with examples of the many different approaches to drawing found in archeology and used by various Old and Modern Masters and well-known illustrators - such as Basquiat, Bauer, Bellini, Beuys, Blake, Bosch, Daumier, Durer, van Eyck, Gericault, Gaudi, Giacometti, Goya, 'Grandville', Hawksmoor, Holbein, Hokusai, Klee, Kollwitz, Liebeskind, Lautrec, Lorrain, Man Ray, Matisse, Michelangelo, Modrian, Moore, Mucha, Mughal painters - Bishndas and Nanha, Picasso, Piranesi, Rackham, Raphael, Redon, Rembrandt, Rodin, Schongauer, Seurat, Shoshone School, Stubbs, Turner, Twombly, Da Vinci, Van Dyke, Van Gogh
This book is authoritative but accessible. It's important to note that the language used is thoughtful but 'plain English'. There is nothing highbrow about this book even though much of it relates to a conceptual approach to drawing. Instruction is also well explained - and I found she included bits very often missed out in other art books. It also finishes with a glossary of terms relevant to drawing - something which is essential to but missing from many books about drawing. If you're familiar with Dorling Kindersley books you'll be familiar with the sort of level of detail and overall tone they employ - and this book fits well with that.
Drawing is a living language that over millennia has grown and changed, adapting its forms and occupation, and enfolding new media. The chapters of this book present 90 different artists ways of seeing and many more reasons for drawing the world. To these I have added my own drawings to explain elementary materials and techniques and offer introductory the total wealth of these pages we still only glimpse a corner of the magnitude of this subject and the infinity of what can be achieved. This practical journey will take you through the door into the vivid heart of drawing
A Drawing Book - The Thinking Eye (Sarah Simblet)
The book includes almost the equivalent of an extremely well illustrated lecture about the language of drawing across the ages. The range of styles of drawing - the grammar and the vocabulary - is absolutely tremendous - you can feel your eyes widening as you page through this book just looking at the images. The reproduction quality of art history images and drawings used as illustrations in the book is also really excellent. One of the really fantastic things about this book is the extent to which the art editor has designed it so that a double page spread can open up to complete drawings from edge to edge - that's 11"x17" - with detailed macros as well as complete drawings. The extent to which one can see light feathery first drawing marks is amazing. You can see and review examples of double page spreads here.

The traditional Dorling Kindersley approach of using annotation next to an image is employed and this enables you to to identify easily what are the key features of the style and approach used in each drawing. As with the Pen and Ink Book yesterday credits are also thorough.

Those preferring traditional realistic drawing may not initially feel interested. However can I suggest you go and take a look at this book in a book shop and see the very many different ways in which artists draw. To say it's enlightening is a complete understatement. My view is that it will fire people up to want to try to do more if people are keen to develop and experiment - but I recognise that it might also intimidate others. I'm not really sure who the book is aimed at. I could imagine it being used with a very wide variety of groups in class in a sensible way which breaks it out into manageable chunks. However, taken in one sitting, this book can leave one feeling as if you've read your way through an overview of drawing across the ages while an art gallery provides you with a gargantuan visual feast. It's very much a book to come back to and study again in small doses!

Pencil rating: If you feel you are most comfortable with traditional rendering/realism then this is probably not the book for you. However it emphatically earns in my view a five pencil rating for those keen to develop their drawing skills beyond technically correct rendering and/or are interested in drawing in art history and/or those who just want to develop their drawing generally. This book is a 'must buy' - I guarantee you will be blown away by it.

Note about the Author:

Sarah Simblet has taught drawing and anatomy primarily at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford and at the Royal College of Art in London. She has studied and worked in Oxford, Cheltenham, Heidelberg, and Madrid, and was awarded her PhD by the University of Bristol.

Her work is centred upon and directed by the act of drawing. She uses it to invent imagined scenarios and to create a visual understanding of her physical and mental world. A main source of inspiration is the study of Human Anatomy, including its social and scientific history.

Her drawings are in national and private collections, including the Royal Academy of Art in London and the Ashmolean in Oxford. Sarah is the author of the highly acclaimed Anatomy for the Artist and has had three solo shows of her large-scale work. She has given interviews on BBC Radio 4 and has acted as a consultant for Watchmaker and for Discovery Channel's Art-Science documentaries.

Her studio base is in Oxford, where she is also a member of Wolfson College. In 2001, she wrote and illustrated Anatomy for the Artist for Dorling Kindersley.



  1. this one sounds really interesting

  2. It is. It's much more what I think a drawing book should be about - something which inspires as well as educates.

  3. I might have to get a copy of that one. Sarah taught at Cheltenham when I did my degree there. I went on a drawing trip to the anatomy museum in London with her in my first year. I wasn't actually in her drawing class but I was doing a lot of very anatomical-looking stuff at the time so my tutor asked if I could tag along. She was an excellent teacher and it was completely engrossing looking at all the specimens - none of us fancied lunch much afterwards, mind you!

  4. Katherine,

    As always what a wonderful post.

    I have no idea where you find the time to write all these posts but as a reader I am grateful because it saves me so much trouble researching things.

    God knows I would rather be painting.

    Thank you!

  5. Kirsty - the slide show at one of her lectures about the history of drawing anatomy was also fascinating - but somebody did have to get up and walk out!

    Last Wednesday at the National Gallery was the first time I've gone out of an art lecture hearing people commenting on how good the lecturer was - in terms of presentation as well as content.

    Elio - it's quite simple - the housework rates lower on my list of priorities! ;)


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