The Difference Between Sketching and Drawing

What’s the real difference between drawing and sketching? To answer to this conundrum, let’s first establish that sketching is a form of drawing, and drawing is the method we produce marks in a sketch. Drawing can simply be defined as making marks on a surface. The two descriptions are often used interchangeably. It’s really no surprise that there is some confusion out there as to the differences between the two and I’m not really sure that a perfect answer exists, but I’ll offer my humble opinions.

Most people consider sketching to be a looser, less refined form of drawing.

Sketches are typically created as preliminary drawings in order to prepare for a more finished work of art. Sketches are typically created with quick marks and are usually lacking some of the details that a finished drawing may have.

Often, the “nuts and bolts” of a finished drawing is worked out in the sketching stage of the artistic process. Composition, balance between values, and proportion can all be worked out in a quick sketch, rather than jumping right into a finished drawing, risking mistakes.

Sketching vs. Drawing Mediums and Surfaces

Another consideration is the medium. Graphite, charcoal, ink and conte can all be considered as media that may be used to create a sketch, whereas pastels and colored pencils may be considered more finished media for a “drawing”. Sketches are also usually considered to be smaller than drawings, although many small “drawings” exist. Surface is another area where we can distinguish sketches from drawings.

Mostly, sketches are created on lower quality papers such as newsprint, while finished drawings are created on higher quality surfaces, like Bristol paper, rag paper, or drawing paper. But this definition of sketching isn’t quite complete. There are no rules here, just assumptions and generalizations.

Is this a sketch or a drawing?

Is this a sketch or a drawing?

The confusion can get intensified though when you consider that many sketches are quite significant and can be considered as “works of art” on their own. We see plenty of “sketches” by master artists in our art history books. These loose works are now considered “priceless” works of art, instead of lowly sketches. To blur the lines further, artists will often approach finished drawings with the intent of making them loose-much like sketches. Then there are the sketchpads and drawing pads. Can you sketch in a drawing pad or draw in a sketchpad? Why are they doing this to us?

Overthinking It?

I think we may be over thinking this one, so let me offer an analogy. Let’s compare sketching and drawing to eating dinner. You can approach this meal in any number of ways. You can hang around the house and eat some burgers, or you can get all dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner. Either way, you are eating dinner.

My opinion is that it’s all art. Sketching is just a less formal form of it.

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  • Nik Ki

    Thank you for discussing such topic! I also have been thinking about this stuff for a while and in the ended, I think anything created by a person, even if it’s just a sketch is an art. Albeit a less formal one! Glad to know I’m not the only one who thought about this.