The Art of Drawing – World Drawing Day

Art is literally as old as the hills… but drawing it seems is one of the earliest forms of humankind’s desire to express itself…

A small piece of rock covered with a symbol akin to what we know as a hashtag found during an archaeological dig in the South Africa’s famous Blombos Cave in 2015 revealed the 73,000-year-old drawing…

Made using a red-ochre crayon the symbol was applied to the rock’s face and then seemingly discarded… but it’s not the only one of its kind, similar symbols have been found at sites in France and Australia… though this predates earlier known drawings by some 30,000 years!

This form of drawing may be simple; merely the making of a mark but modern dictionary definitions refer to drawing as the formation of a line by drawing some tracing instrument from point to point on a surface arranging lines to determine a form. The modern interpretation has come to include the use of colour, shading, and other elements in addition to the simple act of arranging lines on a surface.

William Heaton Cooper Sketchbook Allen Bank

Early civilisations such as the Ancient Egyptians decorated the walls of their temples and tombs with flat linear drawings depicting daily life, and created texts written on papyrus illustrated with similar designs.

In the post Roman period from 400’s to the late 1300’s, art in all its forms glorified God and shared religious messages to the masses – drawing in particular emerged as the main form of decoration, as monks used drawings to adorn bibles and prayer books.

Drawing in western culture became a highly regarded independent artistic art form in the 1400’s, with modern drawing beginning in earnest in Italy. This period in time later known as the Renaissance, saw the rise of drawing as a true art form, a form that came to be considered the foundation for work in all the arts.

Art students first trained in drawing before going on to painting, sculpture, or even architecture. Drawing was used as a tool for the study of form, which was becoming increasingly important both in terms of nature and in terms of the portrayal of the human body. The need for preparatory drawings also grew during the Renaissance, as many large-scale paintings were produced to decorate the interiors of churches, palaces, and public buildings. Drawings were an important tool in helping to create the finished work.

William Heaton Copper Sketchbook Allen Bank Colour

Renaissance artists continued to use pen and ink for drawing. But they turned increasingly to softer materials, such as black and red chalks and charcoal, to make larger drawings and to achieve a greater variety of effects, shading was also introduced to suggest solids forms and textures. Among the most celebrated draftsmen of the period are notables such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Certainly, many creative people have over the centuries have stressed the importance of drawing as a fundamental underpinning of their work in other art forms. As Degas said; “Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality.” There is no question that the term drawing applies to works that vary greatly in technique, indeed over the years it has been understood in very different ways and as a result is in reality quite difficult to define.

For example, during the Renaissance the term ‘disegno’ from the Italian word for drawing or design, has a much more complex meaning in art, involving both the ability to make the drawing and the intellectual capacity as the creative idea made visible in the preliminary sketch. This ability to invent, or create, put artists on a footing with God, the ultimate creator, and was used as a means of raising the status of painting from craft to art.

Alfred Heaton Cooper -Entrance To Bergen Harbour

John Ruskin commented in the Elements of Drawing: “All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.” Throughout history, drawing has been the foundation for artistic practice, commonly used as a tool for thought and investigation, acting as a study medium whilst artists were preparing for their final pieces of work. The Renaissance brought about a great sophistication in drawing techniques, enabling artists to represent things more realistically than before.

A sophistication seen across the varying styles of work produced by the artists from the Lake District’s Heaton Cooper family, who have all used the medium of drawing to great effect to capture and inform their artistic works.

The Scandinavian body of work created by Alfred Heaton Cooper, between 1890 to 1927, shows the artist’s process from sketchbook drawing done from life, up to the finished painting, precisely documenting all aspects of life and landscape in during that period to illustrate a series of guidebooks.

Alfred Heaton Cooper Norwegian Fjords Illustrated Book

William Heaton Cooper later, produced highly detailed drawings for the Fell and Rock-Climbing Club guides for over 50 years. These books became the bibles of the climbing fraternity, they depicted new routes as they were developed, often drawn on site working closely with the climbers who devised the routes at the very rock face.

And now William’s son, Julian Cooper, inspired by his local landscapes, uses drawing to focus on form and experiment with tonality, to depict planes and structure of a common enough element in almost every landscape, rock…. On a big scale they are mountains, on a small-scale they are the boulders or stones in a field… drawing captures their essence and informs his resulting works…

Alfred Heaton Cooper Ennerdale Sketchbook

The invention and popular rise of photography had a fundamental effect on artists’ drawing, the need for them to copy reality no longer existed… but instead this ushered in an age of experimentation, which saw the advent of Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Vorticism, Constructivism and so on…  All of these artistic movements experimented with a range of drawing media, previously frowned up on, charcoal, inks, graphite all became the common currency for drawing.

As abstraction became increasingly popular in the early 20th century, the role of drawing changed yet again…  becoming something of interest, rather than just an output leading to the creation of a work in another form… simply put “Drawing is the honesty of the art, there is no possibility of cheating, it is either good or bad…” (Salvador Dali).


Challenging the notion of picturesque

An exhibition which challenges some traditional notions of landscape art will open here in Grasmere next week.

Unpicturesque at our Heaton Cooper Archive gallery features the work of seven eminent painters and photographers – Martin Greenland, Alan Stones, Rebecca Scott, Alan Thompson, Julian Cooper and John and Rosamund Macfarlane – who all live and work in Cumbria and the Lake District. It aims to extend and complement the inherited notion of the picturesque in both art and landscape.

Torver Quarry, Julian Cooper

The exhibition is being curated by Julian Cooper who is bringing artists together in a critical stand against the “picturesque” view of the Lakes, in the gallery founded by his artist-grandfather.

The term originated in Italy in the 16th century and referred to non-classical subjects in painting, with the French painter Claude Lorraine in particular embodying the picturesque ideal in landscape painting. The Lake District assumed its own identity as a distinct region after becoming a vehicle for ideas of the picturesque imported into English cultural debate by William Gilpin in the 18th century. For tourists the landscape was to be enjoyed as a series of leisurely ‘views’ from particular standpoints, preferably seen through a Claude glass.

“This way of viewing the Lake District survives largely intact through contemporary paintings, film, photographs, and publicity material promoting the tourist industry,” says Julian Cooper, the Cumbria Life visual artist of the year,  whose father William Heaton Cooper, and grandfather Alfred Heaton Cooper, both painted more traditional scenes of the Lakes.

“How we see profoundly affects the way we think, and seeing this and other landscapes as beyond ‘scenery’ and more as a dynamic layering of natural and human systems, all connecting to each other, may help in adjusting our attitudes to the benefit of all who live and visit here, whether they be human or non-human.”

Julian Cooper’s two works on show will include his earlier paintings of abandoned slate quarries, a subject which was part of his exploration of mountains and rock-faces. They were a rich source of possibilities in both form and colour, as well as an exploration of the interaction of natural and man-made worlds. In Torver Quarry the wall of sun-dappled rock leads down to the dark entrance of a cave, with band of coloured iron oxide running across the bedding layer, suggesting fracture and instability. The painting Overhangs, Hodge Close Quarry tries to convey the subtle abstract conjunctions of form and colour of rough and smooth slate typical of old Lakeland quarry walls.

There are three paintings of Setmurthy Forest near Cockermouth by Martin Greenland which are all done from memory.

They show the feeling and experience of walking slowly and quietly along the edge of the forest in fading light at dusk. In Setmurthy Forest Memory – Deeper, More Silent, Very Late, the little path runs alongside the forest on the left, with open fields on the right, leading to the Elva Plain – the site of an ancient stone circle. Beyond the Trees depicts the shock of suddenly seeing a light through the trees and not understanding that its source is a half-hidden farmhouse beyond.

The work by Alan Stones is a fine charcoal drawing, Field, which conjures up a corner of an ordinary field with a row of ancient thorn trees and celebrates the modern type of barn that’s typical everywhere, including the Lakes, but which remains ‘unseen’ in comparison with its picturesque old stone-built equivalent.

Two paintings by Rebecca Scott have a conceptual boldness and painterliness that makes them both successful and disturbing. There’s a rhyming consistency between the shapes and patterns of both meat and the landscape from which it originates. Her paintings Crescent Moon and Red in Tooth and Claw were both referenced from picture-postcards and supermarket catalogues, adding another layer of irony by seeing both the meat and the landscape as consumable products.

Alan Thompson’s extraordinary painting Lakeland Gathering becomes more believable the further in one goes. On the far edge of the invented Lakeland landscape the clothed figures are witnessing a party gathering of some sort, but as one gets nearer the front, it becomes an artificial world of posed nudes arranged in a tight composition.

Nicky Below Great Gable convinces because one doesn’t really believe Nicky is lying on that rock ledge, bracing herself from falling downwards – however, the painting wants us to believe it, and we do. She is somehow held back by the looming bulk of Great Gable behind, which acts not so much as a background but as another character in the painting.

In Alan and Kathryn on a Rock two figures are engaging in a sort of static dance, held in place by the interaction of shapes between each other’s limbs and the shapes in the landscape, each affecting the other.

John Macfarlane’s recent photographs reveal a hidden world just beneath the surface of typical Lakeland becks and streams. Rock changes its nature when it continues downwards under the water – from pitted and gnarled in the air, it becomes smooth and sinuous underwater, worn down by and echoing the shapes of constant water currents. Light becomes magical as if seen through an extra lens, the under-surface of the water becomes a roof, creating a claustrophobic landscape in the most shallow of streams. These photographs take us both physically and imaginatively right into the landscape.

John Macfarlane in Black Moss Pot

Rosamund and John Macfarlane’s series of photographs taken in the air from a Gyrocopter give an exhilarating release from the ground and an overview of how the various different parts of this landscape fit together – both man-made and natural. They show parallel paths of road, river and wall running up Honister Pass, a quarry road snaking its way up even higher, the delicate edging of Holme Wood as it meets Loweswater, and a sweeping view from within the heart of the Lake District, looking outwards over West Cumbria and over the Solway Firth and on to Scotland.

Their son is Robert Macfarlane, the internationally bestselling, prize-winning author of Landmarks, The Lost Words and The Old Ways and whose latest work, Underland, has just been published.

The exhibition, which is free, will run from the 13th of May until 30th September.