Drawing for Exploration and Learning

Growing up, my teachers encouraged me to draw as an act of exploration. To let my eyes trace a line, not looking down at my drawing, but instead looking at what I was attempting to represent. I’d let my drawing unfold outside my frame of vision.

When I draw a thing — a body, a piece of fruit, a face, a flower — my relationship to that thing changes. What I know about it changes, and therefore, what I know about the world around me expands.

Drawing is a process of letting go. It’s the chance to be fully immersed in a moment. It’s the opportunity to practice seeing things in a new way. To disregard old ideas and rewrite what we see. It’s a meditation and appreciation for the present moment.

Sometimes I make drawings to represent what’s in front of me. Other times, I draw to explore my imagination. Things creep in beyond the visual. What am I feeling? Am I rushed? Is the moment slow and easy? Why is this room so warm? Has the sun set yet?

It’s easy to find poetic quotes by famous artists celebrating the beauty and challenges of drawing. Some mention drawing as a way of seeing and learning about the world.

‘Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see,’ said Edgar Degas, the great French painter and sculptor.

Sometimes discipline is required to achieve the benefits of drawing. David Hockey, the British painter, said, ‘Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer and clearer still, until your eyes ache.’

It turns out, there’s more than poetic truth to these statements. Drawing is an excellent way to take in new information.

A group of researchers in Canada recently studied drawing as a tool for memory and retention. In a paper entitled, The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory, they concluded that drawing is a highly effective study technique.

‘Why is drawing such a powerful way to study? To figure this out, the researchers tried to narrow down what exactly about drawing was so effective. Would tracing an existing drawing of an idea have the same effect? Would looking at someone else's visual representation? While both of these approaches were better than just reading over a word or concept, drawing beat them all.

The researchers hypothesize that's because drawing gives your brain so many different ways to engage with new material -- you have to figure out how to draw it by imagining it in detail in your mind, you experience the physical feeling of rendering that idea, and then, in the end, you look at a visual representation of it.’

— Jessica Stillman, Drawing Is the Fastest, Most Effective Way to Learn, According to New Research, INC Magazine

The connections found by the researchers corresponds to my own experience as an artist who draws. Drawing is a tool that people of all ages can use to take in new information and problem solve.

If you want to remember a moment, grab a pencil and start sketching.