early work

Although best known for his silkscreen paintings, Andy Warhol was also an excellent draughtsman. Drawing was a constant part of his artistic practice. As a child he took classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and he won several awards for drawings he produced in high school. At Carnegie Institute for Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), where Warhol earned a degree in pictorial design, his offbeat, nontraditional and sometimes irreverent drawing style did not always meet his professors’ academic standards. At one point they forced him to do extra work over the summer to remain in good standing at school. Upon graduation, Warhol moved to New York to begin his commercial design career.

In the 1950s Warhol used a “blotted line” technique to develop a signature style for his illustrations. Blotted line combines drawing with very basic printmaking, and it enabled Warhol to create a variety of illustrations along a similar theme. The process had many complex components. First, Warhol copied a line drawing onto a piece of non-absorbent paper, such as tracing paper. Next he hinged this piece of paper to a second sheet of more absorbent paper by taping their edges together on one side. With a nib pen, he inked over a small section of the drawn lines. He then transferred the ink onto the second sheet by folding along the hinge and lightly pressing or “blotting” the two papers together. Larger drawings were made in sections, and completing a large blotted line drawing took time and multiple pressings. The process resulted in the dotted, broken and delicate lines that are characteristic of Warhol’s illustrations. Warhol often colored his blotted line drawings with watercolor dyes or applied gold leaf. He also used hand-carved rubber stamps to create patterns. He employed all of these techniques in his burgeoning success as a commercial illustrator such as his award-winning and whimsical designs for I Miller shoes or the high end leather company Fleming Joffe. During the decade he also filled many sketchbooks with freehand drawings—mostly done in ballpoint pen—of friends and still-life objects. Wild Raspberries and A Gold Book are two books of drawings from this era.

While making a name for himself in New York, Warhol participated in the exciting metropolitan cultural life of the city. Despite his success as a commercial artist, Warhol longed to be known as a fine artist. He went to dance and opera performances, galleries, museums, and the New York Public Library, where he researched images that he later transformed in his work. In 1956, he left the United States for the first time and traveled around the world—visiting Japan, Cambodia, India, Egypt and Italy. After this enlightening experience, Warhol decided that his ambitions exceeded the bounds of the commercial art world. For the first time since his student years, he returned to painting on canvas. He began to make friends in the contemporary art world of downtown Manhattan—this scene embraced new forms of all arts, including dance, performance and film.

Early Work: Points of View 

“Working with Andy, by the way, was a very uncomplicated, very pleasurable, kind of experience from the point of working with a thorough professional. He was always on time. He always did what he said he was going to do. He did not have a big ego about his work. If we liked it, it was great. If we wanted to make a change, it was just fine with him. Andy was very, very smart, he got totally involved in a project. Andy was never superficial. People who say that about him were completely off.”

Teddy Edelman, art director of The Edelman Leather Company

“…I would draw I. Miller shoes on tracing paper, and Andy would make corrections. Andy then made a drawing from that and blotted it. Over the years, he got so busy that he didn’t have time to blot it, so I would blot it. Andy’s mother signed his handwriting, so she had over the years become tired of that, and I would fake it. Another reason why he liked it [the blotted line technique] so much [was that] by having your master drawing with which you made your blot, you could keep blotting it and redrawing it and reblotting it each time and make duplicate images.”

Nathan Gluck, commercial art assistant, interviewed by Partick Smith, Warhol: Conversations about the Artist 

“One Sunday…we went down to the flower market and bought some irises and came back and spent the afternoon drawing…He would just draw one line and then leave it, and when I would draw things, I was always erasing, changing, and improving. And he never improved on anything. Rather than do that, he would draw a new one, which is something I never thought of doing in those days.”

Charles Lisanby, interviewed by Patrick Smith on Nov. 11, 1978