The Elements of Art: A Drawing Guide

Explore different elements of art and techniques of drawing as seen in the Norton Simon Museum's collection with artist and teacher Richard Houston. Artists and those just interested in learning more about some of their favorite artworks will enjoy these in-depth analyses of prints and drawings from the Norton Simon collections, followed by optional prompts with which to hone your own drawing skills.

Some Information on Etching

The works explored in these guides are all etchings. Etching is a form of printmaking where the lines that will hold the ink are bitten into a copper plate. The plate is first coated with an acid resistant ground. The design is then drawn into this ground with a finely pointed tool exposing the plate. The plate is placed in an acid bath where the exposed design is eaten away by the acid or ‘etched.’ When the artist is satisfied with the design on the plate, the ground is removed. The plate is inked and then carefully wiped, allowing ink to remain in the bitten lines of the plate while the surface of the plate is left clean. The plate is then covered with a piece of damp paper and run through a printing press at very high pressure, forcing the paper fibers into the inked lines of the plate to reproduce the design on the paper.

The darkness of any etched line is dependent on the width of the originally drawn line as well as the length of time the plate would have been exposed in the acid bath. The longer the design is exposed, the deeper the lines of the design are bitten or etched. Deeper lines will hold more ink and print as darker lines.

Rembrandt and Mark Making

Examine Rembrandt’s mark making and the variety of ways in which he uses line in the etching Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill.


Goya and Value Studies

Analyze Goya’s use of value in the etching Here Comes the Bogey-Man (Que viene el Coco).


Picasso and Contour Drawing

Examine Picasso’s use of line and contour in two etchings from the suite: Defeated Minotaur (Minotaur Defeated by Youth in Arena) and Sculptor and Model Kneeling (Sculptor and Model by a Window, with Overturned Sculptured Head).