Analysis RE:drawing


Observation drawing discussed on this site usually involves the observation of tangible objects or spaces, but re-drawing illustrations and photographs can also be useful sources for observation.  Reproducing meaningful illustrations from academic texts or atlases with observation-drawing heightens the attention and time directed to observing the details of the illustration.

Observation drawing takes time and allows for more subtle details to be observed from the illustration.  For example, while redrawing an illustration it may be neccessary to count the number of segments depicted in an element, so that the redrawing is accurate.  Without the goal of reproduction there may not be a need to attend to and analyze the fine details, such as the number of segments present.  Observing without drawing may simple result in a recognition that multiple parts are present.  Reproduction through observation drawing requires an deeper analysis of structure and spatial relationships.

Copying vs Reproducing

There is an important distinction to be made between copying and reproducing. 

Copying involves production of a duplicate (clone) through the use of a technological process.  The process might involve a photocopier or hand-tracing or a back lite illustration.  Each of these processes involves duplicating the marks of the original without observing the overall spatial relationships. Marks and tones are duplicated without the need to observe overall patterns and relationships.

Reproduction involves observation and production of a new record (drawing), technologically disconnected from the original.  Re-productions are new artifacts, each with unique features and distinctions.  Like the  gene mutations and morphological variation that occur across generations of organisms, subtle differences can become elaborated through multiple reproductions.

Lasting Impressions

The reproduction (eg. pencil drawing paper) is a record of the observation drawing process but it is not the only result. The impacts on the knowledge and memory of the participant are hidden and of course challenging to study. However, some aspects of the changes to knowledge can be demonstrated through production of secondary “memory-drawings” some time after the production of the original observation drawing.

Redrawing from memory, details that were originally involved in the observation drawing, provides documentation of what details were retained.  Multiple implementations of memory-drawings have a reinforcing affect, so serialization will produce confounding affects. However, altering the time between observation-drawing and memory-drawing (eg. 10 minutes vs 1 day) could provide some insight into the retention span of a specific observation-drawing activity.

Observation-drawing of illustration from Benton and Harper 2012 (left) and memory-drawing after 1-hour (right).
Observation-drawing of illustration in Benton and Harper 2012 (left) and memory-drawing after 1-hour (right).


Give it a try and share your thoughts

  • Choose a reasonably complex illustration from a textbook of a topic you are interested in learning more about.
  • Create an observation-drawing of the illustration (est. time = 15 minutes).
  • Some time later (eg. two hours), create a memory-drawing without referring to either the original source or observation drawing.  (est. time = 5-10 minutes).
  • Compare the original observation-drawing to the memory-drawing.
  • Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.



4 replies on “Analysis RE:drawing”

You make really good points about the retention of details. I completely agree that ones memory of the object is much more detailed than if one had simply observed it. Great exercise!

Ruca,thanks for the comments.

I have recently been looking the book “Thinking with a Pencil” (Hennig Nelms, 1981). The opening chapter starts with a statements like:

“If you have found drawing difficult, you probably attributed this to a lack of skill. Actually, part of the trouble was almost certainly due to something quite different – lack of knowledge about the thing you were trying to draw.” (pg 1).

Basically everyone has some skill level for drawing, and within that skill level a drawing will be better if it involves greater knowledge – knowledge that can be gained through active and analytical observation.

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