Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Power of Line

Since I was a child I have been in love with drawing, both with the looking and doing of it. I don't know why this mysterious dream of line has gripped me for so long. It is in my bones, my cells. A good line can make me light up with excitement and aspiration of connecting reality, imagination, intuition and intellect all into a simple element called line. This fall I began teaching a drawing course for incoming freshmen at a local university. The experience has been one of frustration in part trying to get the students to understand the importance of drawing let alone the fascination and love for it. I am grateful for this experience because it has woke me up yet again from my drawing slumber. It can be difficult to invest one's time in an art world where much of what is sold, marketed and praised are mostly paintings, but I hope that like me after contemplating the below drawings or drawings of your choice we will spend more time with this nurturing Mother of art, drawing. It is hard to put into words why these images touch me so deeply, but I will try to do them justice.
Portrait of Madame d'Haussonville by Ingres
I am in awe of the restraint Ingres had in the drawing of the dress and various background elements so that the strongest emphasis is on the portrait and especially on that haunting gaze.  How with the simplest of line in the gown has he suggested the bulging, pinching, folds and specific anatomical qualities of the elbow, shoulder,forearm and graceful fold of the fingers? In a time when we are obsessed with the microscopic "real" this drawing feels more realistic and alive to me. because of it's omissions and subordination to the crucial. It also shows the humble servant, the artist, holding back on the egoistic need of proving his immense skill in order to honor the subject and the viewer.


 Peter Paul Rubens: Don Diego Messia (1627)

This simple portrait by Rubens may not arrest my attention as quickly as some of his dynamic baroque drawings, but upon longer retrospection with it the very nature of it's understated qualities reveals to me even more what a master of line he was.  I am struck again by the restraint, the putting in only the most important elements in their hierarchical order. The pinpoint focus of the eyes created with the sharpest clarity, the robust thick curls made with variations of thick and heavy; thinner and lighter lines to suggest the light highlighted on their cylindrical forms and the shadow and gravitational pull close to the scalp. I love how he is able then to show us through his line variation the difference between that hair and the thinner, wiry strands of the mustache.  The ghostlike lines of the collar shows the intelligence of the artist who doesn't put everything in with the same treatment therefore equalizing all.


 John Singer Sargent - Study for El Jaleo

Perhaps one of the first "moving pictures" this quick sketch just oozes with raw delicious line. I love in a few minutes or even maybe a few seconds Sargent wrangles on the page all of the essential qualities of this action. He could not use the same quiet line as in the above Ingres drawing to capture this. Through his line we sense the swift swirling, bouncing dress and the arms pushing up and out of the whirling atmosphere as strong thrusting solid forms.  This drawing makes us all want to run out and scribble away speedily hoping to capture the same effect. I will insert a small warning, however, that it was his disciplined study that gave him the capability to have this freedom in this sketch. Every line is knowledge and understanding of how certain lines produce different effects.

The journey is for the sensitive, humble,  patient and  relentless romantic.  


  1. Hi Kelli
    I too have been drawing since childhood and it is my first love. I filled sketchbook after sketchbook with drawings and colorings, mostly horses and other animals.
    It's funny though after getting back into art after kids etc. I was so hesitant to draw or paint horses because I thought I could never do them justice on paper or canvas. I knew firsthand how noble and beautiful they were and all their expressions. But I guess all those hours sketching them as a child paid off because once I dove in to painting animals and people too I felt right at home. I continue to love painting the figure and animals as I had done as a child. And I wholeheartedly believe all aspects of your work will benefit from the discipline of daily drawing. Great post.

  2. Every night I read Art Spirit by Robert Henri. his comments on line is inspiring.

  3. Congrats on the teaching front...I can only imagine what a frustrating, challenging and rewarding experience that is going to be....
    Your comment, "when we are obsessed with the microscopic "real" this drawing feels more realistic and alive to me. because of it's omissions and subordination to the crucial." is so astute! I've been push my work this direction more and more....beautiful blog. Thank you for sharing your struggles and insights!

    1. Thanks so much Michael for your appreciation! Happy to share.


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