Art Can Live on Line Alone

When I think about how to draw the sights around me, my mind immediately starts envisioning line. For me, it is foundational for any good drawing. And I'm not alone. When I first saw artist Steven Ketchum's work I was amazed by all the ways he used line–and line alone–to make so many interesting and surprisingly emotive works. Here are a few of my favorites.

Ketchum isn't drawn to figures that are physically beautiful or idealized. In Yesterday's Party, a somewhat frowsy female figure is depicted with slightly wild hair and dark gaps in her mouth indicating missing or rotten teeth. But the look on her face is kind, and her smile is genuine and sweet. For Ketchum, the essence of beauty is not glamor but honesty coupled with compassion for the people he chooses to render.

Yesterday's Party  Steven Ketchum Yesterday's Party, 2010 Ink on Paper 11 x 8.5
Yesterday's Party by Steven Ketchum, 2010,
ink on paper, 11 x 8.5.

Some of Ketchum's more poignant, if forlorn, works, such as Sign, feature figures with multiple hands or extra fingers. They may at first glance seem grotesque or disfigured, but Ketchum offers a different view. "I imagine someone who is desperate to have affection, to be loved, and how that, in a metaphorical sense, can mutate," he says. "How that genuine need can turn ugly and seem almost aggressive or scary–an act of desperation."

Ketchum is also not stumped by how to draw people with line, despite the volume and curves inherent in the human form.  In fact, he uses his drawings to play with the body in different states of action or movement. In Fall Down, Get Up, the figure is violently active, moving so fast he sports extra legs. He could be hurling through space, jerking from the impact of a bullet, having a seizure, or forcefully dancing.

Sign by Steven Ketchum, 2010, ink on paper, 30 x 22. Get Up, Fall Down by Steven Ketchum, 2010, ink on paper, 24 x 18.
Sign by Steven Ketchum, 2010,
ink on paper, 30 x 22.
Get Up, Fall Down by Steven Ketchum, 2010,
ink on paper, 24 x 18.

For Ketchum, drawing and sketching mastery is inextricably linked to mark making and line. In every issue of Drawing magazine, there is instruction and artist profiles that allow me to more fully understand how varied and exceptional line can be–along with shadows, hatching, gradation, curves, and all the rest of the tools a draftsman needs. I've learned so much from the artists in Drawing and I think your art deserves that same opportunity. Enjoy your subscription!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “Art Can Live on Line Alone

  1. Ketchum’s work is both profundly funny and cerebral. The comicality and absurdity in his drawings is reminiscent of the eccentric and often hilarious toons of Gary Larson. To wit: The woman with the missing teeth and wild hair also has a swollen left eye, thanks to “Yesterday’s Party.” Meanwhile, the off-balance youth hears the shouts: “Get Up, Fall Down”, and he becomes a comical figure who obeys so rapidly and confusedlly that he loses his shadow. In my opinion, the depths of his mind seek comedy before beauty and honesty. HIs drawings, of course, are first rate. Thanks for showing them.