Wednesday, February 18, 2009


"I am for those who believe in loose delights."
-- Walt Whitman
Some of my very favorite drawings are free and spontaneous. Unfortunately, so are a whole lot of crappy drawings.

Is it possible to distinguish good loose drawing from bad loose drawing? Or from random marks on paper? It seems to me that there is not only a distinction to be made but also a good reason for making it. Loose, spontaneous art can be fun, but Ernest Hemingway correctly spotted the potential danger: "All our words from loose using have lost their edge." When sloppy or careless drawing masquerades as loose drawing, it eventually dilutes the meaning and potency of drawing.

Consider the following examples of artists who engage in the "loose delights" of drawing but who still preserve that edge.

The great George Lichty had a line like an unraveled ball of yarn:

Nevetheless, look at how beautifully that line conveyed a head, or the indentation of a pillow, or the folds in clothing:

You can tell that a lot of looking and thinking took place before Lichty was able to dash off a drawing like this. We are the beneficiaries of that looking and thinking, no matter how loosely it is conveyed.

Note how he understands the different postures of people sitting in chairs, the anatomy of fingers wrapped around an arm, the shadow created by a fore arm resting on a table:

William Steig is another great example. For decades Steig churned out mediocre cartoons such as this one, where he labored for some semblance of visual accuracy.

Then, in the 1960s he managed to shed these constraints and began drawing marvelous, meaningful pictures with a free hand.

The looser his touch, the better his drawings became.

James Thurber is a third example. He drew wispy nonvertebrates with a simple line that was the perfect complement to his brilliant writing.

In each of these examples, a seemingly spontaneous, haphazard style is employed to convey important insights without being obvious or labored about it. Technical skill is important, but it can also rob a drawing of the freshness and intimacy we see here . These are drawings with wings on, and they occupy a blessed place in the pantheon of drawing.