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Academic Drawing Origins

Academic Drawing Origins

Paleolithic cave art and the origins of academic drawing.

The recreation of shapes and patterns is one of the first things we are taught and It’s from this creative habit that fine art originates. By utilising various skills, drawing escaped the two-dimensional plane and began to play with our visual perception through the use of volume.


Regardless of any inherited talent, we are all taught to draw from a very early age. During our first steps on this creative path we have no idea of how to find the right way. We all try and the uncertainty of the produced childish shapes does seem silly at first.

Nevertheless, our natural desire for collective involvement gives us the courage to overcome the various technical problems we might face, like utilising and developing our fine motor skills. We progressively learn, start to enjoy it and finally begin to crave for drawing.

The story of drawing is interlinked with the formation of man on this planet. It was the first successful experiment to disregard time and space. A discovery of immortality.

The first ever drawings were scratched or painted on with coal and showcased the details of what human life in caves once was.

And to this day, the surviving pieces allow for us to see through the eyes of our ancestors.We can “read” the various narratives carved out by these people who lived more than 10 000 years ago.

This timeless communication is what became the first act of representational art and since then, nothing changed much.

The objects were represented by their contour which defined the shape. While the shape incorporated the essence of the objects. With time, the variety of techniques and tools involved in the process dramatically expanded.

However, if we look through history in places like Ancient Egypt, China or just overall until the middle ages, the representation of the surrounding world was purely figurative, if not abstract.

Shapes were meant to be easily understood by the viewer. Even the finest examples of Byzantine Art are far away from reality and our natural perception.

With time and the coming of the Renaissance, several principles were accepted amongst artists that revolutionised representational art.

The works of masters such as Tommaso Masaccio, Leonardo Da Vinci and a bit later Michelangelo Buonarroti, for the first time ever, depicted the human body as if three dimensional and illuminated by natural light with respect to its realistic shape. Their figure drawings were also supported by profound anatomical studies.

By copying and advancing the principles left from the previous generation of masters, European artists learned the ideas of contour, texture, light and shade. Later, when the Académie des Beaux-Arts opened in 1648, these conventions became a recognized foundation and thus began the monopoly of the “officially” approved realistic style of drawing that is taught to this day in universities.

The acquired through time knowledge of nature, perspective, anatomy, colors and behaviour of light gave us a chance to escape the two-dimensional portrayal of visual information. Mastery over light and shadow allowed for more freedom and depth to academic drawings. Or more simply said, we learned to add volume to a sheet of paper originally devoid of it.