I first took note of the use of drawing in films during an Italian cinema class that I took in the late Eighties. In one film there was a character who loses a ton of money in a stock exchange. The main characters observe him minutes later, nonchalantly drawing a flower on a napkin in an outdoor café. The scene held as much simple power for me as drawing itself.
Since this clip I have been really interested in how and why drawing is shown in films that are unrelated to the arts. Typically, it is a way to show thoughts, which are normally handled with voiceovers. A voiceover is much easier to pull off because it is direct, and can be tacked on in post-production. The typical drawing scene in a film has little concern for the act of drawing or whether or not the character enjoys the exercise. Its purpose is to show a unique visual cue about the thinking of the character.
Two drawing scenes that I recently noted in shows/films were in House of Cards, and There Will Be Blood. In House of Cards, Kevin Spacey’s character sketches a potent bull while listening to the President of the United States practice a speech. Spacey, as Vice President, explains there are two types of Vice Presidents: doormats and matadors. He proves to be the latter. In There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, an oilman in the early 1900’s, studies an etching of an oil-drilling rig and sketches his own derrick. It is not as direct an assault as the bull, but it is just as scheming because it is the machine behind his ruthless deals, cut-throat pragmatism, and godless approach to life.
What is most interesting about these scenes is that they show something unique to humans. I have read that one difference between Neanderthals and humans is that the former never created art. For that matter, humans have the most developed capacity to extensively plot a future move over a long stretch of time. These cinematic examples couple drawing and scheming, and show how a determined person can dominate his or her environment.