What is a Working Drawing?

Architect working on construction drawing.
Westend61 / Getty Images

In Fine Art, a working drawing is a separate, exploratory drawing that develops an idea towards a final work of art.

Creating a work of art is often an iterative process. This means that rather than diving feet-first into a complete drawing or painting, the artist will do a series of sketches with the aim of trying out or brainstorming ideas. It can be difficult to translate an idea from the mind to the canvas, so working drawings allow the artist to revise the work and re-draw to develop a composition, working through problems as they occur. Particularly in the case of large and complex works, these will then become references as the artist embarks on the final piece.

Working drawings are often among the most interesting of an artist's works because they reveal the thought processes behind a work of art; done not for an audience but for the artist's own use, they have an honesty and straightforwardness. As an artist, it's important not to let an awareness of that fact intrude on the function of your drawings. Particularly in the contemporary culture of documenting every moment, the intention to share work-in-progress on social media can lead to a sense of self-consciousness about the aesthetic of the drawing that can interfere with its primary roles of experimenting and inform the major work of art. 

Working Drawings in Drafting and Engineering

Working drawings are drawings used as a reference or guide in the manufacture of a product. This most often refers to engineering and architecture, but working drawings are used in many different modes of construction. These drawings are composed according to industry standards so that all the information is easily and clearly understood, and standard conventions and units are used

There are two distinct types of working drawing: one is detail drawing, which shows various views of an object and includes important information such as measurements and tolerances that the craftsperson or machine operator might need to know when manufacturing the object, or that people using the object might need to know. The second is an assembly drawing, which shows how various components fit together during construction.

The Detail Drawing

The detail drawing conveys as much information as possible about a single component. It will be clearly labeled with a part number and name, It may include several views of the object--top, front and side--and a projection view. These drawings are annotated with information, including overall and detail dimensions, tolerances, materials, and treatments.

The Assembly Drawing

Assembly drawings show how pieces of a construction fit together. These may include an 'exploded' view, with pieces drawn separately but in correct relative positions, a 'general' assembly drawing where everything is drawn in its right place, and a detailed assembly drawing, which is a drawing of working assembly with measurements.

Working Drawings in Architecture

Architectural working drawings need to not only show all the detail and measurement needed for the builder to construct the building but also to plan the construction process, particularly showing any unusual features or requirements that need special attention. These will include plans for each floor, exterior elevations (outside views) and sections (cutaway views) of the building.