The quiet scratch of a pencil over a sheet of paper is likely to be a child’s first entry point into the creation of something that could be called art. In its stripped-back simplicity, drawing is the most accessible of mediums, requiring little more than a will to sketch and an openness to experimentation. For many artists, drawing may serve as a preparation before commencing a final work, but it is also a powerful tool in its own right. From comic books to hand-drawn animations, room-scale murals to private sketchbook musings, drawing is both a beginning and an end within the creative process.
In celebration of the many facets of drawing, we asked artists to reflect on the medium in their own words, revealing their own personal relationship to the pencil and the page.
British artist who works in multiple mediums, from drawing and painting to sculpture and immersive installations. Read Elephant’s interview here
Drawing is an open and experimental space that really forms the foundation of everything I make. When I say drawing, it’s more about how immediate and exploratory it is as an activity, than something defined by its materiality. I might use a brush and watercolours on paper or make a 3D piece with fabric or other physical materials that I can manipulate by hand.
I use a continual practice of drawing to see what I’m thinking, to record experiences and work out ways of depicting intangible ideas. There is no defined or expected outcome and that’s really important to me.
London-based artist working at the intersection of drawing, painting and printmaking. Read Elephant’s feature here
For me, drawing is a very direct way into the work, and it’s about touch. It is a free space where I can wander. I love the simple means of drawing: you don’t need much to start and it doesn’t have to become anything. I keep a sketchbook where I make small thumbnail drawings using a pencil which act like windows that I can then climb through to make more involved drawings or paintings, bringing in colour and reference imagery.
Over the last year, I did a series of studies from photographs of things that we can’t touch, like rainbows, the iris of the eye, X-rays. I didn’t realise it at the time but I think drawing them was a way to feel my way into illusions, to touch things you can’t physically touch.
“Drawing is a free space where I can wander”—Mary Herbert
Greek-born artist working in painting, drawing and print. Read Elephant’s interview here
My paintings are very orchestrated, very planned, and as I am making them, I rehearse them again and again until the image and the idea reveals itself to me. With drawing I never really plan. My performance is about improvisation, spontaneity, and action. And contrary to the paintings that have a kind of hypnotic effect, I want my drawings to have an explosive energy.
British artist working primarily with ceramics and installation. Read Elephant’s interview here
Drawing is the way that I work out all of my ideas. I ruminate on a concept in my head for weeks, swapping out alternative ideas until the right combinations fit, and then I create a terrible sketch in my moleskin… I have about 30 books filled with these half-sculptures, installations and paintings. I’m horribly embarrassed by them!
Nigerian American contemporary visual artist known for multimedia drawings and works on paper. Read Elephant’s interview here
To me, drawing is a form of travel. The picture is a map to discover. I may start from a recognisable point—a photograph, a memory, a question—but that is only the preliminary sketch. Once I begin drawing, I must disregard that scaffolding to unfamiliarise myself with the surface, the marks, and most importantly, my intentions. If I am open to where it takes me, the drawing flourishes. Whenever I insist on what it must be, assuming I know the way, the drawing constricts into something lesser than what it could be.
The activity of drawing is an internal tug and pull of expectations. You may think you are the careful navigator, yet if the illusion isn’t paramount it’s incapable of expanding the terrain you can explore. And who is included to join the ride with you.
“With drawing I never really plan. My performance is about improvisation, spontaneity, and action”—Sofia Mitsola
New York-born artist, illustrator and author. Read Elephant’s feature here
Drawing for me was my entry into art making. It brings me back to when I was a little kid drawing in my sketchbook, laying on my bed, listening to the radio. That magical alone time when it was just me in my room and I could live within my imagination. Drawing brings me back to that feeling, and why I fell in love with making art.
London-based Japanese painter. Read Elephant’s feature here
I often draw something with watercolour or pencils subconsciously and I do not know what I am drawing while I am doing it. I draw intuitively whatever comes to mind, or whatever is in front of me. I choose colours and shapes quickly and intuitively, and when it is finished I am surprised by what I drew. Drawing is capturing disappearing things, such as memories and feelings of objects. It helps me to feel close to the things that I draw more than just looking at them.
Brooklyn-based American painter. Read Elephant’s interview here
Drawing for me is a place to rest and let the most playful side of myself come out. I draw when I’m on vacation or at home away from the studio, so I don’t feel any pressure at all to perform. The materials I use with the works on paper allow the compositions and colour combinations to be a bit more direct than painting; I like the honesty this directness allows.
“It brings me back to when I was a little kid drawing in my sketchbook, laying on my bed, listening to the radio” Aya Benaroya
Graduate from the University of Leeds and the Slade School of Fine Art working in paintings and ceramics. Read Elephant’s interview here
While drawing is always essential in some way to my practice, the way I use it shifts. At the moment the time I spend on a drawing tends to be short: it is more like a notation, a jotting down, than a laboured process. But without these urgent jottings I could misplace important, but sometimes fleeting, thoughts or ideas for paintings.
Drawing almost seems to function as an extension of scribbled words at the moment, but I long for the next intense drawing phase in which I might spend a long time with a pile of paper and some charcoal, rubbing clouds of it into the paper with my thumb.
Chicago-based Iranian painter. Read Elephant’s feature here
Drawing is an essential part of my process. I always have a story in my mind before starting a new painting and drawing allows me to depict the very essence of my subject matter. It brings my imagination out and helps me to think in pictures.
“Drawing for me is a place to rest and let the most playful side of myself come out”—Shara Hughes
Artist working between London and Los Angeles in print, video, performance, sound, sculpture, and installation. Read Elephant’s feature here
To cut to the chase, I love drawing. I’m obsessed with it. I love to draw, I love other people’s drawings, I love doodles, I love sketches for other works, I love etchings and hieroglyphics, I love drawings in Big White Cube Galleries, I love cave paintings, I love those sexy bizarre drawings in the margins of medieval texts, I love collage and printmaking and sculpture and fashion that incorporates drawing, I love drawings by people who claim they are terrible at drawing. I just fucking love drawing!
At the risk of sounding any treaclier than I already do I feel closer to myself when I draw and I feel closer to other people when I look at their drawings. I think both at once it is so simple and personal and at its core so human and down to earth and also such a serious and lofty and important medium, not only to me but across cultures and throughout history. I love that everybody can and has done it at some point in their life, for countless reasons or for no reason at all. It has been and always will be one of the reasons I love to look at and make art.
“I feel closer to myself when I draw and I feel closer to other people when I look at their drawings”—Gray Wielebinski
Canadian artist living in Glasgow working in sculpture, video, drawing and painting. Read Elephant’s interview here
I find it hard to say why drawing is so important to me because it is something I have done my whole life, at least for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I would talk to myself while drawing and make up stories. I suppose I’m still doing that in a way. Drawing is the perfect medium: it is uniquely immediate and doesn’t have to cost much. You just need a pencil or whatever and a surface. It is the one aspect of my practice I’m most comfortable with and is the basis for everything I do, whether that’s making a drawing, painting, sculpture or video, it all starts with drawing.
Multidisciplinary artist and alumni of The Royal Drawing School, living and working in London
Drawing for me has been the best way to be able to digest and process confusing feelings. I struggle with words and expressing myself verbally but drawing has always been a way of communicating and connecting with other people. It can be an escape too, to get lost in the process for a while. Sometimes the drawings can be brutal in their honesty though. I often wish to draw a nice picture but it comes out disturbing and silly. They make me laugh, though, and I have grown to love them.
“Drawing is the perfect medium: it is uniquely immediate and doesn’t have to cost much”—Erica Eyres
Glasgow-born painter living and working in London. Read Elephant’s interview here
I try to work as intuitively as possible, often drawing on the canvas without preparatory sketches. Some paintings end up unrecognisable from their beginnings, and others stay rooted to my initial marks. There’s an immediacy in drawing that lends itself to impulsive energy. This sort of urgency can inform the feeling of a painting. A scrawl that demarcates or records quickly the space between four walls of a room or between two figures, for example, making tangible an atmosphere that’s otherwise invisible.