Discover more from Still Life
Taking a look into drawings from the past and how they influence the future.
“[They], who find beauty even in the lowliest of Nature’s handicraft — in the buds, and twigs, and forms of plants among other things — stand apart from the followers of the modern creed of ugliness, and we are indebted to such painters...”
- Rex Vicat Cole
What are master drawings?
Master drawings are original drawings that are considered to be of the highest quality and are often used as the basis for paintings. They are created by skilled artists and are considered to be works of art on their own. The artists who make them are called draughtsmen. A term that has seen a serious decline in usage in recent decades. The word “draught” means “pulling”. So in a way, the draughtsman “pulls” from reality and through design their master drawing.
Master drawings may be created using a variety of media, including graphite, pen and ink, charcoal, or pastel. They may depict a wide range of subjects, including landscapes, portraits, still lives, and figures. In the art world, master drawings are highly prized and are often exhibited in galleries and museums.
I have attached great value to drawing, and shall continue to do so, because it is the backbone of painting.
-Vincent Van Gogh
Where do you find master drawings?
Most major museums around the world have them. Some have even been kind enough to digitize and upload their collections to the internet. In fact, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has digitized a great deal of its collection which spans 20,000+ drawings.
For the past week, I have been combing through their collection of drawings and selecting the crème de la crème. My selection process is as follows:
Quality of design
This selection of drawings are ones I wish to dissect and study. Initially, this was to be for my eyes only but I couldn’t help myself. It felt selfish to hold on to such a thing in secret. I attempted to share this database with a few key people and had a great time witnessing their reactions. Now I wish to share this nascent database of master drawings with you.
Why does this matter?
Conserving and learning more about old master drawing techniques is important for a number of reasons. First, these techniques represent a rich cultural and artistic history and a significant part of our artistic inheritance. By learning about, practicing, and preserving these techniques, we can better understand the evolution of art and the context in which it was born.
In addition, studying old master drawing techniques can provide valuable insights into the design process and the skills and techniques used by some of the greatest artists in history. Finally, in an age where images can be summoned through prompts and digital techniques are becoming more prevalent, understanding and appreciating classical drawing techniques can, I hope, help us learn to distinguish art from that which is not art.
If one can learn to appreciate that the foundation of art is design and respect the skill and effort that goes into creating a work of art, perhaps we stand a chance in conserving our traditions while expanding our technical horizons by collaborating with artificial intelligence.
Where do we go from here?
The database will be a living document where I will keep my notes and observations. I envision it becoming an important part of the library I am building. In a few weeks, I am traveling to Florence to study drawing more deeply. It is also my intention to use this pilgrimage to honor the draughtsmen that came before me and learn more about what they have to teach. Florence is the perfect destination for this pursuit, as it has a rich artistic history and is home to some of our most important works of art.
I believe that studying drawing in the city, surrounded by the beauty and inspiration of its art and architecture, will provide me with a unique opportunity to unlock new channels of thought. I intend to make a visual record of all of my findings.
What about the library?
Recently, I added a section to my website that shows a selection of books from my studio library. This collection is a work in progress and is just the beginning of a larger vision that I have for a physical place that serves as a sanctuary for learning and conserving the wisdom of the ancients.
Eventually, important works in mathematics and science will also be added to this library, as the overall goal is to conserve and protect our intellectual inheritance. While the library is currently focused on the conservation of rare art and design works, the ultimate aim is to provide both a digital and physical space where people can come to learn about and appreciate all forms of knowledge and intellectual pursuits. The library on my website is a small but important step towards this goal, and I hope that it will serve as a valuable resource for those interested in art and design, as well as other fields of study.