This practitioner’s essay was published in Visual Communication, an international peer-reviewed journal. It sets out to make a contribution to the field of pedagogy and drawing by testing in a series of drawing experiments what it is possible to learn about the form and content of a drawing by redrawing it. The essay explores the value of transcription as a means of learning to make and 'read' drawings. It tracks Farthing’s twenty-five interrogative transcriptions from the charcoal drawing 'Man Reading a Newspaper' made in 1950 by the modernist painter Jean Hélion.
The research that enabled this essay began in 2006 , when the author was Principal Investigator in ‘Drawing from Turner’ a collaborative project situated in Tate Britain‘s print room funded by the Rootstein Hopkins foundation and Tate Gallery. This project explored the value of transcription in teaching and learning, and was published by Tate Britain in 2006 as an exhibition (and at http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate- britain/exhibition/drawing-turner/drawing-turner-drawings).
On 5 May 1950, when he was 46 years old, Jean Helion, son of a dressmaker and a taxi driver, made a drawing from life of a man reading a newspaper. He made the drawing in just a few minutes, with charcoal, without corrections, on a sheet of cartridge paper, 22" × 32". When in June 2007 I showed the drawing to an artist friend, he said the newspaper that is central to the image looked like it was drawn by Frank Gehry. This observation and a recent experience of working on a research project that tested the value of making transcriptions as a means of both better understanding individual drawings and more generally learning how to draw got me thinking anew about Helion’s drawing. The research question underpinning the original Drawing from Turner project – Could the making of transcriptions from the drawings of high achievers have a part to play in developing a curriculum for learning to draw today? – clearly remained relevant but more important now was the specific question: What can you learn about a drawing by redrawing it? So the project On Drawing a Man Reading a Newspaper was born. It clearly relates to the Turner project, but this time focuses on just one modernist drawing and on discovering what can be learned by not just redrawing a drawing once but by redrawing it over and over again.