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I grew up using normal desks in school and drawing in art class on tables. I have drawn on tables for most of my projects, but every artists desk has a lift to it.

What is the purpose of the varying angles of lift to the desk? Is this just a matter of ergonomics or is there some advantage to the artist to drawing on an angle?

If it were an ergonomic consideration you'd think a writer's desk would look the same, but almost all other desks are flat with the exception of drawing desks.

enter image description here

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    The school desks I grew up with were angled, and pictures of medieval monastic scribes show them with angled writing stands (or whatever the technical term for them is). For dry art work and technical drawing there are obvious advantages to an angled writing surface; you do not have to change the angle you hold the writing/drawing instrument at as much as with a horizontal surface, and there is less perspectival distortion of the work. – Conrad Turner May 2 '16 at 16:04
  • @ConradTurner you should write that as an answer. – Jay May 2 '16 at 16:09
  • Is it OK for me to add a tag to this question: calligraphy? – Kit Johnson May 3 '16 at 7:38
  • In many schools colleges and universities etc I saw high-bench slanted. In an old college even I saw in slanted benches with square horizontal slots to put inkpots (now obsolete for study purpose). Bags (backpack) often fall from tilted benches if drawer is not given. – Always Confused Oct 18 '16 at 10:33
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There are several advantages!

Ergonomics

We'll start with the one you mentioned. If you regularly draw on a horizontal surface, you'll spend a lot of time with your head down. This is terrible for your neck! It can lead to sore, tight muscles. Or, if you have neck problems (like I do), it can be downright painful to even try to draw like that for any length of time.

Perspective

Having the desk at an incline allows you to have a better vantage point of your work. You can more or less have your eyes even with the center of the work piece. This means you're less likely to distort your drawing with perspective problems. When you're head down on a flat surface, your visual focal point is generally aligned to a single spot.

To understand what I mean, take a look at this sidewalk chalk art. This is how it actually looks:

enter image description here

This is how it looks from a specific vantage point:

enter image description here

In the case of drawing on a flat plane, you may end up drawing a distorted, stretched out image, but your mind perceives it as perfectly proportional.

You can avoid that by using measurements and taking breaks to look at the piece from different angles, but it's a little more work.

Drawing grip

To me, this can be the biggest advantage.

Having an inclined plane allows you to use an underhand or paint brush grip with ease. These grips allow you to control your pencil by using your shoulder and elbow, instead of your wrist. Long, even, consistent lines are possible when using your whole arm. These grips, and your lines, will have a more natural and relaxed feel.

However, these grips aren't necessarily a benefit for all types of drawing. Generally, I'll use them for life drawings and similar work, but not for small character sketches. I still use an inclined drafting desk or tabletop easel whenever I can, though.

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    I could only mostly think of ergonomics and more importantly perspective. Well rounded answer. The other thing that might be secondary is SPACE. flat table takes up more space. – Matt May 2 '16 at 16:23
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    @Matt Depending on the design. My drawing table has the same footprint, because it can go flat. But many easels can collapse down to almost nothing. – Web Head May 2 '16 at 16:25
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    Nice pictures! I especially like how the metal post doubles as one of the snail's horns. – Rand al'Thor Aug 16 '16 at 21:52
  • Wow for the snail... however my sketches often distorted unknown when I draw sitting upon floor/bed/straight table and especially if I keep my head slanted. Though my subconscious brain corrects the perspective-error; there remains a shift almost uniformly throughout the picture. – Always Confused Oct 18 '16 at 10:39
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A historical reason for having writing desks at an incline was that quill pens work better that way. If you ever tried writing with a quill and ended up with a blotchy mess instead of some nice calligraphy, part of the reason was probably that you were writing on a horizontal surface, and thus were holding the pen pretty close to vertical. The closer to vertical the pen, the better the ink flows, but if the ink flows too quickly, you get blotches. If you raise your writing surface at an incline, your pen flattens out, and it's easier to write evenly and without blotches.

But the main reason for using a slanted surface is ergonomics: instead of curling your head over the paper and holding your pen (or other implement) in a death-grip, a slanted surface brings the paper closer to your face -- thus less neck fatigue -- and makes it easier to write/draw with your arm and shoulder instead of your wrist. (Note that the ergonomic advantage is easily lost if you don't sit at an appropriate distance -- too far and you'll need to bend in odd ways to reach, too close and you'll be cramping your elbow and shoulder.)

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