Research point: Two artists who exemplify mastery of detailed drawing

Find out about two artists who exemplify mastery of detailed drawing and make notes about their work. Choose a modern artist and one working in the nineteenth century or earlier.

Susan Turcot (born 1966)

For the modern artist I turned to Vitamin D – New Perspectives in Drawing, one of the books on our reading list. Looking through the book, which I ordered some months back, I’m surprised by how differently I’m now viewing it. My appreciation of drawing must have changed somewhere along the way as my attention is being caught by artists that I skimmed over previously.

I’ve chosen Susan Turcot because of the extraordinary detail of the drawing achieved with a simple pencil on paper and also because of the drama, tension and sense of distress that her pictures often evoke. Turcot works from news photos “borrowed from the international news media” and her pictures show conflict, war, disasters, riots and demonstrations, often focusing on a crowd of onlookers reacting to an event taking place which we don’t see.

I particularly relate to Turcot’s work because I used to work for Reuters news agency and had  a lot of contact with the London Pictures Desk and many opportunities to meet the photographers, view their work and hear their stories about working in often extremely dangerous conditions.

Turcot’s drawings are quite faithful to the original photos but she often adds an additional element by scribbling over  (which she does with her eyes shut). This gives her pictures a sense of raw emotion and unnerving chaos.

Turcot was born in 1966 in Montréal, Canada and lives and works in London. She studied visual art and philosophy at Middlesex University in London. Her work has been exhibited internationally.

You can see some her pictures on the MOMA website.

Vitamin D- pages 312-315

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)

Born in Nuremburg, Germany, Durer was a naturally gifted artist of the Renaissance period. He was a  talented painter, draughtsman and printmaker, as well as a writer. His mastery of technique and imagination make him comparable to Italy’s Leonardo da Vinci.

Durer’s talent was evident from an early age when he began training as a goldsmith in his father’s workshop, where he learnt to draw and design. At the age of 15, he persuaded his father to allow him to change profession and became apprenticed to Michael Wolgemut, Nuremburg’s most successful painter.

As his artistic career progressed, Durer travelled extensively and brought the Italian Renaissance back to northern Europe. His most influential works, drawings, watercolours, woodcuts and engravings,  show great versatility. His subject matter includes portraits, figures, landscapes, the natural world and religious and allegorical themes.

Durer’s interest in the nude figure grew during  visits to Italy and he became fascinated by human proportions. This led to him developing his own system for measuring and dividing the body into mathematical proportions. Eventually he switched from looking for single models to illustrate the male or female body to a variety of ideal types. His Four Books on Human proportion were published in 1528, the year of his death.

Adam and Eve, 1504, engraving, Albertina, Vienna

Adam and Eve, 1504, engraving, Albertina, Vienna

This fascination with the ideal form can be seen in his engraving Adam and Eve where the figures are shown in symmetrical idealised poses. This image also demonstrates Durer’s mastery of light and tone and ability to depict texture, as in the human and snake skin, animal fur and tree.

Durer was curious about science and the natural world and made many incredibly detailed drawings of animals, fish, birds, insects, flower and grasses. A good example, showing how closely he observed the tiniest detail, is The Great Piece of Turf which shows a section of meadow as seen from the perspective of a small creature.


The Great Piece of Turf, 1503, Watercolour and Gouache, Albertina, Vienna

There’s something appealing about imagining an artist with a talent and artistic fame as huge as Durer’s, looking at the world through the eyes of the tiniest of creatures.


National Gallery –
Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art  –
National Gallery of Art –
BBC – Your Paintings –

Check and log

Which of the media you experimented with did you find most expressive? Make notes in your learning log on the pros and cons of each medium.

Now that I;m beginning to get the hang of what can be achieved with different densities of hatching, stippling and other marks, I’m finding a drawing pen very expressive. I continue to love using ink, particularly with a dipping pen as the irregular marks and the bleed can bring an element of surprise and help to create work that is loose and fluid.

Pros and cons of each medium:

Inks – as above fluid and loose but can be difficult to capture fine detail if used on their own.
Drawing pen – great for fine detail but I need to make better use of different types of marks to achieve depth and tone.
Conte crayons – I enjoy the way these can be blended and love the colours. At this stage I find it difficult to achieve detail although I know it can be done.
Oil pastels – lovely intensity of colour. They combine very well with inks and also, to my surprise, Conte crayons. Again, difficult to achieve fine detail but the graffito technique of scratching away layers, helps here.
Pencils – I’m beginning to realise how versatile these are and how much can be achieved but some other mediums such as charcoal, ink, pastels and crayons feel better for creating bold, sweeping, free marks.

Which medium do you think lends itself to very detailed work?
My first reaction is to say pencil and drawing pen but I would also say that working on a larger scale enables other media (charcoal, pastels etc) to give an impression of detail and complexity when viewed from a distance. And there is the graffito technique of scraping away at the surface which can produce very fine detail.
Of course a hard pencil will lend itself more to very detailed work than a soft one.


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