Last weekend I spent a few happy hours creating very quick little paintings using some of the thousands of reference photos I’ve stockpiled over the last couple of years but haven’t had a chance to paint. I was surprised by reactions to these simple pen, ink and watercolor sketches.
Last year at a plein air art auction, I noticed that, of all the works exhibited, which included oils, watercolors, acrylics, multi-media, etc., the most highly sought after were the pen/ink/watercolor works.
And yesterday, walking into Barnes and Noble, I was reminded of the huge current craze in adult coloring books.
The function of lines in art is a huge topic, of course, but why are simple, almost cartoon-like drawings filled with color so appealing to us?
Here are a couple of my thoughts:
- Alphabets are made up of various little straight and squiggly lines, so maybe our brains are trained to respond to the explicit little doodles that form letters, words and then sentences.
- As pointed out in the website ehow.com, “In the most basic sense, the line captures the essence and the shape of an object,” so perhaps it’s just the simplicity of the drawings and the parsimony lines allow to suggest rather than be specific that appeals to people.
- Many children’s books, at least in the culture I grew up in, were illustrated with pen/ink/watercolor paintings, so maybe enjoying this type of art is a throwback to childhood. Likewise, most comic books and cartoons use the line and color format. In writing and teaching, the best way to leave your mark is through storytelling, which we learned how to learn as very small childre
n. Perhaps lines follow a similar trajectory (pun intended) to the way we learned visually as kids.
To artists, graphic designers, children’s book illustrators and cartoonists out there who are practiced in this medium or who have studied the psychology of art, I’d love to hear from you on pen, ink and watercolor have such a strong appeal to people. Please let me know what you think.