Drawing a picture of to-be-remembered information substantially boosts memory performance in free-recall tasks. In the current work, we sought to test the notion that drawing confers its benefit to memory performance by creating a detailed recollection of the encoding context. In Experiments 1 and 2, we demonstrated that for both pictures and words, items that were drawn by the participant at encoding were better recognized in a later test than were words that were written out. Moreover, participants’ source memory (in this experiment, correct identification of whether the word was drawn or written) was superior for items drawn relative to written at encoding. In Experiments 3A and 3B, we used a remember-know paradigm to demonstrate again that drawn words were better recognized than written words, and further showed that this effect was driven by a greater proportion of recollection-, rather than familiarity-based responses. Lastly, in Experiment 4 we implemented a response deadline procedure, and showed that when recognition responses were speeded, thereby reducing participants’ capacity for recollection, the benefit of drawing was substantially smaller. Taken together, our findings converge on the idea that drawing improves memory as a result of providing vivid contextual information which can be later called upon to aid retrieval.