Experiments with the introduction of pencil and paper to indigenous communities have been a fascination of anthropologists and developmental psychologists alike. It is often assumed that the results give access to aptitudes which are beyond the particularities of graphic conventions: the ‘degree zero’ position (to use Barthes's term) discussed under various alternative headings by Haddon, Lévi-Strauss, Dubuffet and others. In terms of drawing, much focuses on observations of the ability to produce revelatory, representational imagery – arguably an inheritance of Renaissance practices of drawing. Here it is argued that the encounter with pencil and paper is conceptual as much as it is technical, that drawing is not necessarily conceived as representational and that the surfaces to which drawing is applied may be as important as the imagery itself. If one of the concerns of a World Art approach is with aptitudes, instinct and ability, another is with cross-cultural comparison. An understanding of the nature and purposes of drawing itself as an activity and the characteristics of cultural encounter is at the core of this essay.