Self Portrait by Kathe Kollwitz by Brent Eviston

Self Portrait by Kathe Kollwitz / Charcoal on Paper / 1935

My students tease me about how often I proclaim that one drawing or another is my very favorite.  Apparently I’ve said this dozens of times through the years. There are so many drawings I love and for so many reasons. There are a few that, if pressed, would rise to the top of the list, but there is only one drawing I have ever gotten choked up about while discussing in class: a self portrait by Kathe Kollwitz.

Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was a german artist who is known primarily for her harrowing drawings and prints depicting the struggles of the working class.  Her work seems to teeter on the edge of representation and expressionism.  

The first thing that strikes me about her self portrait is Kathe's depiction of her own face. Here we see the same despondent expression often seen in the faces of her depictions of grieving mothers.  The tenderness of the strokes in which she renders the details of her face suggest she is calming and reassuring herself through her mark making. Her hand on the left side of the drawing appears to have been rendered with the same care. The strokes connecting her head and hand is what, to me, make this drawing a masterpiece.

At first glance these jagged marks moving across the page can be mistaken for a simplified depiction of drapery, but looking closer we find that the these marks are at odds with her initial block in of her sleeve.

Instead we find a defiant shoving of the charcoal back and forth that communicate power, rage and an elemental truth about drawing:  To draw is to make a visceral connection beginning in the mind, out to the hand, onto the page and into a viewer. We, as viewers, intuitively understand the force and speed that mark was made with and the power and confidence it implies.

With this stroke Kollwitz demonstrates that she understands, and masterfully wields, her drawing tool as a powerful communication device that is both poetic and persuasive and, when needs be, dangerous. I have learned more from simply looking at this drawing than I have from entire drawing classes I’ve taken.

Some Thoughts on Teaching & Learning Drawing by Brent Eviston

“There is only one right way to learn to draw...”

 - Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw


     Nicolaides was wrong. There is no right way to learn to draw.  Every movement in art, from ancient to contemporary, has it’s own conception of drawing.  Within each movement, every individual artist develops a unique approach to drawing that yields a personal style. 

     This has not stopped drawing teachers from proclaiming, that they have discovered the “right” way to draw.  

     What I wished someone had told me when I was learning to draw, and what I am telling you now, is that you should experience as many of these exceptional drawing methods as possible. Learn George Bridgman’s architectural methods of constructing the human form.  Copy Burn Hogarth’s drawings to learn how he achieved his pumped-up super-humans.  Participate in Kimon Nicolaides self-help style, 365-day drawing program. 

But remember that when Nicolaides wrote “There is only one right way to learn to draw and that is a perfectly natural way,” he should have inserted the words “to me,” at the end of this sentence.  I’m sure Nicolaides way of learning to draw did feel “right” and “perfectly natural”… to him.  If you want to draw like Hogarth, then yes, Hogarth’s method is the only way to get there.  If you want to draw like Bridgman, he wrote volumes detailing how to achieve his style. But hopefully you do not want your drawings to be mistaken for Hogarth’s or Loomis’s or Vanderpoel’s or any of the other drawing book luminaries, as much of an accomplishment as that would be.

You want to learn to draw like you.  Learning how you draw will be a unique endeavor through which you will learn from many masters, adopt many of their techniques, reject some, adapt others and develop some of your own.

This is the process I have been, and am still, going through.  My drawing process continues to evolve as I develop a fascination with new artists or rediscover old favorites.  Keeping one foot in tradition while reaching out with the other to test new ground, is the most powerful way I have found of learning and growing as a draftsman and teacher.