Lines of enquiry

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Tom Deveson recommends an introduction to drawing.

The Drawing Book. By Sarah Simblet. Dorling Kindersley pound;20

This book can be dipped into for pleasure or studied for a purpose. Sarah Simblet starts from Ruskin's belief that drawing is the foundation of visual thought. She provides a fine collection of examples, including many of her own works, which can be enjoyed in their own right.

They are also used, however, to illustrate techniques and skills. It's a book about how to draw and how to see. Ninety artists are represented in generously clear and spacious reproductions. Documentary studies of animals by Duerer and Stubbs rub shoulders with a Bosch monster and a marvellous study of a fly's eye by the 17th-century scientist Robert Hook. Hawksmoor makes a careful illustration of St Paul's, while the composer Satie sketches a building on a fragment of parcel paper. There are Neolithic carvings and scenes from DC Comics, drawings by children, graffitists, book illustrators and unnamed Native Americans. Some of these are astonishingly accomplished, but given rather perfunctory comments, so that they might dismay the beginner.

However, the more general explanations are good. Simblett moves from making marks to controlling them, then proceeds to building lines and loops into the shape of something we know or might imagine and to the creation of convincing illusions. There are useful exercises for freeing the hand, for exploring perspective and foreshortening, for investigating "negative space" (like the use of silence in music) and the arrangement of compositions. Though there are many themes - plants, objects, costume and gods among them - perhaps the most rewarding of all is the human being. We are shown hands and feet, heads and necks, and how they fit together. We look into the page and Goya and Man Ray look out at us. This book is the precursor of the one that we can make for ourselves.

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