Why drawing?

Drawing as a medium through which to investigate creative thinking is pertinent because of the immediacy of the activity – there is little in the medium that intervenes between the artist and the marks that are made. I read that, ‘drawings are seen as a unique form of access to the thoughts of the people who make them. Indeed they are simply treated as thoughts’ (Wigley in De Zegher & Wigley 2001: 29).

There appears to be a consensus amongst commentators that ‘drawing turns the creative mind to expose its workings’ (Hill 1966: 4). Some define the activity as a cognitive tool to facilitate and assimilate information (Tversky 1999). Others interpret drawing more personally as being akin to the conflict between signature and outcome of intelligence (Godfrey 1980; Chhatralia in Kingston 2003). Yet others emphasise how drawing plays a developmental role in the process of thinking through ‘an interplay between the functions of seeing and knowing’ (Rawson 1979: 7). Whilst many of these were the views of practitioners, they were still in effect the opinions of others. I was left wondering how I might have some understanding of these findings for myself, and began by reviewing a number of contemporary theoretical assumptions about the drawing/thinking relationship.

Style and thinking

Perhaps the most easily assumed visual connection between drawing and thinking is the possibility that a drawing’s style can reveal the nature of the thinking processes that made it. In other words, style is analogous to mode of thinking and, by extension, its purpose (Thompson 1969).

It is often assumed that cool or analytical drawings which are linear, hard-edged and precise in their mark-making are the outcome of pre-determined and conventional cognitive processes (Rawson 1969; Thompson 1969). The plan section and elevation drawings used in the architectural process rely on their ability to operate like a language that is understood by a wide range of disciplines. Warm or intuitive drawings on the other hand suggest informal, gestural and experimental attitudes to mark-making. They appear to involve processes with no a priori or forward-thinking cognitive strategy, where aims are revealed only on completion of the drawing (Perry 1992).

These assumptions have been challenged on the basis that their use very much depends upon the social and cultural context in which drawing is used (Robbins 1994). I also noticed how a variety of practitioners often use drawing styles out of context; in fact, some practitioners actively play with these assumptions. I investigated the grey area in which architects such as Kiesler rely on a range of non-technical drawing conventions for conceptual architectural projects, and where artists such as Paterson  explore technical drawing conventions more traditionally associated with architectural drawings to make social comments.

However, this idea fails to take into account how, in practice, ideas often appear to emerge as the activity progresses. I began to question whether it was actually possible to carry out a totally pre-determined drawing without the process of making it changing one’s plans as one went along. Could it be the case that the act of making would always interfere to change one’s intentional or logical reasoning?