Looking at how artists employ technique in relation to subject matter

Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966)

I’ve spent some time looking at Giacometti’s sketches online, though as ever I would much rather see them in the flesh to see if I get the same information from them.

I get the sense that when he’s sketching he doesn’t lift his pencil from the paper, and more than that I get the sense he doesn’t take his eye of the subject. He is feeling his way with his eye. How he draws is how I felt when I did the exercise of drawing something while not looking at the paper. I get that same sensation.


Some of his sketches – mainly the interiors – are like a web. His lines create a web that stretches out over the room, in some parts denser and more concentrated than in others. The web behaves like a hologram, the denser areas come forward, creating dimension.

With his portraits and figure drawings it seems as if he is building up relief with his lines, he is working them over and over as if he is wants to create physical height and form with the lead itself. His marks are like topography. He isn’t using these marks traditionally to convey tone, to create form or shadow – it’s as if he is trying to bring life to his figures, trying to bring them forward, out of the paper.


I find his sketches of people uncomfortable. I don’t get a sense of empathy with his subject, no tenderness, no understanding, no connection. Instead I just feel his intensity, his furious burrowing beneath the skin, that relentless circling of the eye sockets, temples, skull. When he is sketching heads it’s as if he is trying to read the skull under the skin, however when it comes to the body this intensity wanes – he doesn’t delve under the skin to the same degree.


In a similar way when he draws still life he seems to be searching for something under the surface – looking for the bones, the geometry beneath – and then building up the lines that are important. Again I get the sense that he isn’t looking at his paper, he is absorbed in his search, he is feeling his way.

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