Nasher Museum of Art

  • 1978_4_1_v4_700

    Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Mémin, French, Portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall, 1807-1808. Black and white crayon on pink paper, 22 x 16 inches (55.9 x 40.6 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Gift by transfer from Duke University Law School, 1978.4.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • George Cruikshank

    George Cruikshank, Page of Sketches for Book Illustrations, 1792-1878. Graphite on paper, 7 7/16 x 9 inches (18.9 x 22.9 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum Purchase, Charles Rufus Clegg Art Collection Fund, 1969.4.1.

  • 2008_14_2_v1_700

    Dorothy Dehner, Untitled, 1952. Pen and ink on paper, 15 3/4 x 20 3/8 inches (40 x 51.8 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Gift of Raphael Simons, 2008.14.2.  © Dorothy Dehner Foundation for the Visual Arts.


Drawing is the oldest non-performative art form. Made by marking lines on a surface, drawing has traditionally been the educational foundation for all of the arts—from painting and sculpture to architecture. Artists sketched models and copied works by other artists to train both their eye and their hand in using line and value (lightness and darkness) to represent visual forms. Before photography, drawing was the primary medium for capturing and making sense of the visible world.

Then and now, artists often draw in order to think through ideas and to plan out works that they will create later in another medium. These preliminary and preparatory sketches illuminate artists’ creative working processes. Drawings may also be finished works of art in their own right, made from a variety of media (materials).

How do you look at a drawing?

Look at the medium (the material) and technique.

  • What did the artist draw with? What did s/he draw on?
  • What visual effects do these materials have?
  • How did the artist use the medium? What technique did s/he use?
  • What visual effects does the technique contribute?
  • Why do you think the artist used these materials and technique?

Look at the graphic qualities like line, tone (the degree of lightness or darkness), and shading.

  • How would you describe the lines? Are they thick or thin? Bold or delicate? Deliberate or sketchy? Continuous or broken?
  • How do lines, tone, and shading define form?
  • Did the artist use color? How does color, or lack thereof, contribute to the composition?

Look at the drawing as a whole.

  • Why do you think the artist made the drawing? What makes you think this?
  • Who do you think s/he made the drawing for? Why do you think this?
  • Do you think the artist made the drawing to be exhibited in an art museum? If not, how does the art museum context affect how you experience, react to, and interpret the drawing, if at all? Why do you think this?
  • Do you think the artist intended for the drawing to be preserved for a long time, or was it supposed to be ephemeral and disposable? Why do you think this, or how do you know? How does this affect how you experience, react to, and interpret the work, if at all?
  • Is the drawing a preliminary or preparatory sketch for a subsequent work? If so, what medium did the artist use for the later finished work? Does knowing that the drawing is a sketch change how you experience, react to, and interpret the drawing? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
  • Is the drawing a copy of a work created in another medium? If so, in what medium was the other work done? How did the artist translate that medium and composition into a drawing? Does knowing that the drawing was made after a work in another medium alter how you experience, react to, and interpret the drawing? If so, how and why? If not, why not?

Look by genre (type) and style.

  • Consider relevant questions on the “How Do You Look at Paintings?” guide.

Want to know more?

Common drawing media and tools

The earliest drawings were made on cave walls; today they can be made on computers and smart phones. Historically, the most popular supports (surfaces on which drawings are made) were papyrus (made from a plant and used by the ancient Egyptians), parchment (made from animal skins), cloth, and paper. These supports were particularly popular because of their portability. Common drawing media include graphite and pencil; ink, applied either with a brush or pen; charcoal, chalk, and pastels, all of which must be sprayed with a fixative so they do not rub off; and metalpoint, which involves a tool with metal point and a colored ground.

Works in the Nasher’s Collection

Exhibitions at the Nasher Museum

Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature (Feb. 4 – May 16, 2010)

States of Mind: Dan & Lia Perjovschi (Aug. 23, 2007 – Jan. 6, 2008)


Ashwin, Clive. Encyclopaedia of Drawing: Materials, Technique, and Style. London: B. T. Batsford, 1982.

Burns, Thea. The Luminous Trace: Drawing and Writing in Metalpoint. London: Archetype Publications, 2012.

Clayton, Martin. “Drawing.” In The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online.

Duff, Leo, and Jo Davies, eds. Drawing – The Process. Bristol: Intellect Books, 2005.

Eisler, Colin. The Seeing Hand: A Treasury of Great Master Drawings. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.Gillham, Carol C., and Carolyn H. Wood, eds. European Drawings from the Collection of the Ackland Art Museum. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2001.

Jacoby, Beverley Schreiber, and Marjorie Shelley. “Drawing.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online.

Kenin, Richard. The Art of Drawing: From the Dawn of History to the Era of the Impressionists. New York: Paddington Press, 1974.

Kovats, Tania. The Drawing Book: A Survey of Drawing, the Primary Means of Expression. London: Black Dog, 2005.

Lazzari, Margaret, Dona Schlesier, and Douglas Schlesier. Drawing: A Sketch and Textbook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Meder, Joseph. The Mastery of Drawing. Translated by W. Ames. New York: Abaris Books, 1978.

Pergam, Elizabeth A., ed. Drawing in the Twenty-First Century: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Practice. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015.

Petherbridge, Deanna. The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Petrovich, Dushko, and Roger White. Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment. Brooklyn, NY: Paper Monument, 2012.

Rosand, David. Drawing Acts: Studies in Graphic Expression and Representation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Sullivan, Edmund J. Line: An Art Study. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2015.

The Drawing Center. (the only fine arts institution in the U.S. to focus solely on exhibiting drawings)

Weber am Bach, Sibylle. 100 Master Drawings from the Morgan Library & Museum. Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2008.