Old Books And Drawings – Doodles From The Past


Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons. – Al Hischfeld

Thorpe (2016) is a study of marginal drawings in a special collection of rare books and manuscripts. LJS361 is a 1327 book of tables and sermons that passed from a medieval convent into a place where children had access to it. Drawings in the book, the paper argues, were done by young children – but how can you tell?

It turns out that children draw differently as they get older – something you probably already knew. When little, they draw tadpole figures, a big circle for a head and legs sticking out straight down attached directly to the head. As they get older they start to recognise different body components and draw them separately, so you get a head and a body and arms and legs, possibly stick ones.

As they get older you find an increasing amount of intellectual realism, as they draw features that are detailed and sophisticated, representing elements of what they actually see – resulting in drawings that become visually realistic as well.

Many of us stop drawing too early in life and so we’re stuck at the effective drawing age of 6-10 years. You can tell that your drawing is like this if you struggle to create expressive figures – if your creations are locked into stiff poses. We try and bring out what’s important about the drawing, so we often draw human faces using a frontal view, while we draw horses using a sideways view. With people we like to see expressions but a horse head front on has less information than a sideways representation. Children drawing also like to balance things out, for example in the way they show arms and legs.

There are a number of other specific features discussed in the paper that suggest that drawings were the work of children rather than adults. And it’s a charming look into the play world of children a few hundred years ago – they drew and doodled just like your children do now. The book might have been boring but it was a surface to scribble on and that made the time go by.


Karthik Suresh


Thorpe, D.E. (2016), “Young hands, old books: Drawings by children in a fourteenth-century manuscript, LJS MS. 361”, Cogent Arts & Humanities, Vol 3.

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