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Deftness of Touch when Drawing

Mandy Theis

Monday, 26 April 2021

Sensitivity of touch is a necessary skill for drawing at the highest levels.

SAA Director Mandy Theis at a figure drawing competition at the Salmagundi Club in NYC

When I started learning how to draw at an atelier, I was completely astonished when observing my very first drawing demonstration. The instructor picked up a piece of charcoal and went to draw a line on paper. Immediately, he threw the charcoal aside and said that even though it was labeled soft, it was actually much too hard to be considered a soft charcoal.

I was in absolute amazement. How can anyone tell how hard a piece of charcoal is with only the briefest contact of charcoal to paper?

Fast forward a handful of years, to when I was filming a class on how to draw with charcoal. I picked up a piece that was much too hard for the task at hand, even though it was labeled soft.

I was even more astonished this time to realize that through the last few years of atelier training, my hand had become so deft as to be able to know this difference, just like my very first instructor could. This was something that I had thought magical only a few years prior, and yet now I had yet more evidence that even the most elevated artistic skills can be taught with practice and a high-level teacher.

Deftness of touch sounds like a purely artistic aspiration, but it is a very desirable skill in many areas of life.

Ben Carson, former presidential hopeful and famed surgeon, is well-known for his ability to complete very minute adjustments during surgery. His sensitivity to touch allows him to manipulate biological masses with precision. He has said that his hand–eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning made him a gifted surgeon.

I studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a couple years, and I was amazed to discover that my sensitivity of touch as an artist was quite valuable for choking out opponents. Art for the win!

Luckily for all the hopeful heart surgeons and MMA fighters out there, anyone can improve their deftness of touch and hand-eye coordination through atelier training. By continuously improving your ability to manipulate pencil, charcoal, paint, or clay, you will find that your fine motor skills improve immensely.

You will begin to be able to erase pencil widths, change the vector of a curve by minute degrees, and sense the depth of your touch. You will even discover, simply by placing charcoal to paper, what its hardness is.



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