THE PRACTICE AND SCIENCE OF DRAWING PART 1
Project Gutenberg’s The Practice and Science Of Drawing, by Harold Speed. This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net. Title: The Practice and Science Of Drawing Author: Harold Speed Release Date: December 6, 2004 [EBook #14264] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 Produced by Jonathan Ingram and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net Associé de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Prepeared for WordPress by Inge Tang. January 25, 2014
By drawing is here meant the expression of form upon a plane surface.
Art probably owes more to form for its range of expression than to colour. Many of the noblest things it is capable of conveying are expressed by form more directly than by anything else. And it is interesting to notice how some of the world’s greatest artists have been very restricted in their use of colour, preferring to depend on form for their chief appeal. It is reported that Apelles only used three colours, black, red, and yellow, and Rembrandt used little else. Drawing, although the first, is also the last, thing the painter usually studies. There is more in it that can be taught and that repays constant application and effort. Colour would seem to depend much more on a natural sense and to be less amenable to teaching. A well-trained eye for the appreciation of form is what every student should set himself to acquire with all the might of which he is capable.
It is not enough in artistic drawing to portray accurately and in cold blood the appearance of objects. To express form one must first be moved by it. There is in the appearance of all objects, animate and inanimate, what has been called an emotional significance, a hidden rhythm that is not caught by the accurate, painstaking, but cold artist. The form significance of which we speak is never found in a mechanical reproduction like a photograph. You are never moved to say when looking at one, “What fine form.”
It is difficult to say in what this quality consists. The emphasis and selection that is unconsciously given in a drawing done directly under the guidance of strong feeling, are too subtle to be tabulated; they escape analysis. But it is this selection of the significant and suppression of the non-essential that often gives to a few lines drawn quickly, and having a somewhat remote relation to the complex appearance of the real object, more vitality and truth than are to be found in a highly-wrought and painstaking drawing, during the process of which the essential and vital things have been lost sight of in the labour of the work; and the non-essential, which is usually more obvious, is allowed to creep in and obscure the original impression. Of course, had the finished drawing been done with the mind centred upon the particular form significance aimed at, and every touch and detail added in tune to this idea, the comparison might have been different. But it is rarely that good drawings are done this way. Fine things seem only to be seen in flashes, and the nature that can carry over the impression of one of these moments during the labour of a highly-wrought drawing is very rare, and belongs to the few great ones of the craft alone.
It is difficult to know why one should be moved by the expression of form; but it appears to have some physical influence over us. In looking at a fine drawing, say of a strong man, we seem to identify ourselves with it and feel a thrill of its strength in our own bodies, prompting us to set our teeth, stiffen our frame, and exclaim “That’s fine.” Or, when looking at the drawing of a beautiful woman, we are softened by its charm and feel in ourselves something of its sweetness as we exclaim, “How beautiful.” The measure of the feeling in either case will be the extent to which the artist has identified himself with the subject when making the drawing, and has been impelled to select the expressive elements in the forms.
Art thus enables us to experience life at second hand. The small man may enjoy somewhat of the wider experience of the bigger man, and be educated to appreciate in time a wider experience for himself. This is the true justification for public picture galleries. Not so much for the moral influence they exert, of which we have heard so much, but that people may be led through the vision of the artist to enlarge their experience of life. This enlarging of the experience is true education, and a very different thing from the memorising of facts that so often passes as such. In a way this may be said to be a moral influence, as a larger mind is less likely to harbour small meannesses. But this is not the kind of moral influence usually looked for by the many, who rather demand a moral story told by the picture; a thing not always suitable to artistic expression.
One is always profoundly impressed by the expression of a sense of bulk, vastness, or mass in form. There is a feeling of being lifted out of one’s puny self to something bigger and more stable. It is this splendid feeling of bigness in Michael Angelo’s figures that is so satisfying. One cannot come away from the contemplation of that wonderful ceiling of his in the Vatican without the sense of having experienced something of a larger life than one had known before. Never has the dignity of man reached so high an expression in paint, a height that has been the despair of all who have since tried to follow that lonely master. In landscape also this expression of largeness is fine: one likes to feel the weight and mass of the ground, the vastness of the sky and sea, the bulk of a mountain.
On the other hand one is charmed also by the expression of lightness. This may be noted in much of the work of Botticelli and the Italians of the fifteenth century. Botticelli’s figures seldom have any weight; they drift about as if walking on air, giving a delightful feeling of otherworldliness. The hands of the Madonna that hold the Child might be holding flowers for any sense of support they express. It is, I think, on this sense of lightness that a great deal of the exquisite charm of Botticelli’s drawing depends.
The feathery lightness of clouds and of draperies blown by the wind is always pleasing, and Botticelli nearly always has a light wind passing through his draperies to give them this sense.
As will be explained later, in connection with academic drawing, it is eminently necessary for the student to train his eye accurately to observe the forms of things by the most painstaking of drawings. In these school studies feeling need not be considered, but only a cold accuracy. In the same way a singer trains himself to sing scales, giving every note exactly the same weight and preserving a most mechanical time throughout, so that every note of his voice may be accurately under his control and be equal to the subtlest variations he may afterwards want to infuse into it at the dictates of feeling. For how can the draughtsman, who does not know how to draw accurately the cold, commonplace view of an object, hope to give expression to the subtle differences presented by the same thing seen under the excitement of strong feeling?
In the Print Room at the British Museum.
These academic drawings, too, should be as highly finished as hard application can make them, so that the habit of minute visual expression may be acquired. It will be needed later, when drawing of a finer kind is attempted, and when in the heat of an emotional stimulus the artist has no time to consider the smaller subtleties of drawing, which by then should have become almost instinctive with him, leaving his mind free to dwell on the bigger qualities.
Drawing, then, to be worthy of the name, must be more than what is called accurate. It must present the form of things in a more vivid manner than we ordinarily see them in nature. Every new draughtsman in the history of art has discovered a new significance in the form of common things, and given the world a new experience. He has represented these qualities under the stimulus of the feeling they inspired in him, hot and underlined, as it were, adding to the great book of sight the world possesses in its art, a book by no means completed yet.
So that to say of a drawing, as is so often said, that it is not true because it does not present the commonplace appearance of an object accurately, may be foolish. Its accuracy depends on the completeness with which it conveys the particular emotional significance that is the object of the drawing. What this significance is will vary enormously with the individual artist, but it is only by this standard that the accuracy of the drawing can be judged.
It is this difference between scientific accuracy and artistic accuracy that puzzles so many people. Science demands that phenomena be observed with the unemotional accuracy of a weighing machine, while artistic accuracy demands that things be observed by a sentient individual recording the sensations produced in him by the phenomena of life. And people with the scientific habit that is now so common among us, seeing a picture or drawing in which what are called facts have been expressed emotionally, are puzzled, if they are modest, or laugh at what they consider a glaring mistake in drawing if they are not, when all the time it may be their mistaken point of view that is at fault.
But while there is no absolute artistic standard by which accuracy of drawing can be judged, as such standard must necessarily vary with the artistic intention of each individual artist, this fact must not be taken as an excuse for any obviously faulty drawing that incompetence may produce, as is often done by students who when corrected say that they “saw it so.” For there undoubtedly exists a rough physical standard of rightness in drawing, any violent deviations from which, even at the dictates of emotional expression, is productive of the grotesque. This physical standard of accuracy in his work it is the business of the student to acquire in his academic training; and every aid that science can give by such studies as Perspective, Anatomy, and, in the case of Landscape, even Geology and Botany, should be used to increase the accuracy of his representations. For the strength of appeal in artistic work will depend much on the power the artist possesses of expressing himself through representations that arrest everyone by their truth and naturalness. And although, when truth and naturalness exist without any artistic expression, the result is of little account as art, on the other hand, when truly artistic expression is clothed in representations that offend our ideas of physical truth, it is only the few who can forgive the offence for the sake of the genuine feeling they perceive behind it
From the collection of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon
How far the necessities of expression may be allowed to override the dictates of truth to physical structure in the appearance of objects will always be a much debated point. In the best drawing the departures from mechanical accuracy are so subtle that I have no doubt many will deny the existence of such a thing altogether. Good artists of strong natural inspiration and simple minds are often quite unconscious of doing anything when painting, but are all the same as mechanically accurate as possible.
Yet however much it may be advisable to let yourself go in artistic work, during your academic training let your aim be a searching accuracy.
It is necessary to say something about Vision in the first place, if we are to have any grasp of the idea of form.
An act of vision is not so simple a matter as the student who asked her master if she should “paint nature as she saw nature” would seem to have thought. And his answer, “Yes, madam, provided you don’t see nature as you paint nature,” expressed the first difficulty the student of painting has to face: the difficulty of learning to see.
Let us roughly examine what we know of vision. Science tells us that all objects are made visible to us by means of light; and that white light, by which we see things in what may be called their normal aspect, is composed of all the colours of the solar spectrum, as may be seen in a rainbow; a phenomenon caused, as everybody knows, by the sun’s rays being split up into their component parts.
This light travels in straight lines and, striking objects before us, is reflected in all directions. Some of these rays passing through a point situated behind the lenses of the eye, strike the retina. The multiplication of these rays on the retina produces a picture of whatever is before the eye, such as can be seen on the ground glass at the back of a photographer’s camera, or on the table of a camera obscura, both of which instruments are constructed roughly on the same principle as the human eye.
These rays of light when reflected from an object, and again when passing through the atmosphere, undergo certain modifications. Should the object be a red one, the yellow, green, and blue rays, all, in fact, except the red rays, are absorbed by the object, while the red is allowed to escape. These red rays striking the retina produce certain effects which convey to our consciousness the sensation of red, and we say “That is a red object.” But there may be particles of moisture or dust in the air that will modify the red rays so that by the time they reach the eye they may be somewhat different. This modification is naturally most effective when a large amount of atmosphere has to be passed through, and in things very distant the colour of the natural object is often entirely lost, to be replaced by atmospheric colours, as we see in distant mountains when the air is not perfectly clear. But we must not stray into the fascinating province of colour.
What chiefly concerns us here is the fact that the pictures on our retinas are flat, of two dimensions, the same as the canvas on which we paint. If you examine these visual pictures without any prejudice, as one may with a camera obscura, you will see that they are composed of masses of colour in infinite variety and complexity, of different shapes and gradations, and with many varieties of edges; giving to the eye the illusion of nature with actual depths and distances, although one knows all the time that it is a flat table on which one is looking.
Seeing then that our eyes have only flat pictures containing two-dimension information about the objective world, from whence is this knowledge of distance and the solidity of things? How do we see the third dimension, the depth and thickness, by means of flat pictures of two dimensions?
The power to judge distance is due principally to our possessing two eyes situated in slightly different positions, from which we get two views of objects, and also to the power possessed by the eyes of focussing at different distances, others being out of focus for the time being. In a picture the eyes can only focus at one distance (the distance the eye is from the plane of the picture when you are looking at it), and this is one of the chief causes of the perennial difficulty in painting backgrounds. In nature they are out of focus when one is looking at an object, but in a painting the background is necessarily on the same focal plane as the object. Numerous are the devices resorted to by painters to overcome this difficulty, but they do not concern us here.
The fact that we have two flat pictures on our two retinas to help us, and that we can focus at different planes, would not suffice to account for our knowledge of the solidity and shape of the objective world, were these senses not associated with another sense all important in ideas of form, the sense of touch.
This sense is very highly developed in us, and the earlier period of our existence is largely given over to feeling for the objective world outside ourselves. Who has not watched the little baby hands feeling for everything within reach, and without its reach, for the matter of that; for the infant has no knowledge yet of what is and what is not within its reach. Who has not offered some bright object to a young child and watched its clumsy attempts to feel for it, almost as clumsy at first as if it were blind, as it has not yet learned to focus distances. And when he has at last got hold of it, how eagerly he feels it all over, looking intently at it all the time; thus learning early to associate the “feel of an object” with its appearance. In this way by degrees he acquires those ideas of roughness and smoothness, hardness and softness, solidity, &c., which later on he will be able to distinguish by vision alone, and without touching the object.
Our survival depends so much on this sense of touch, that it is of the first importance to us. We must know whether the ground is hard enough for us to walk on, or whether there is a hole in front of us; and masses of colour rays striking the retina, which is what vision amounts to, will not of themselves tell us. But associated with the knowledge accumulated in our early years, by connecting touch with sight, we do know when certain combinations of colour rays strike the eye that there is a road for us to walk on, and that when certain other combinations occur there is a hole in front of us, or the edge of a precipice.
And likewise with hardness and softness, the child who strikes his head against the bed-post is forcibly reminded by nature that such things are to be avoided, and feeling that it is hard and that hardness has a certain look, it avoids that kind of thing in the future. And when it strikes its head against the pillow, it learns the nature of softness, and associating this sensation with the appearance of the pillow, knows in future that when softness is observed it need not be avoided as hardness must be.
Sight is therefore not a matter of the eye alone. A whole train of associations connected with the objective world is set going in the mind when rays of light strike the retina refracted from objects. And these associations vary enormously in quantity and value with different individuals; but the one we are here chiefly concerned with is this universal one of touch. Everybody “sees” the shape of an object, and “sees” whether it “looks” hard or soft, &c. Sees, in other words, the “feel” of it.
If you are asked to think of an object, say a cone, it will not, I think, be the visual aspect that will occur to most people. They will think of a circular base from which a continuous side slopes up to a point situated above its centre, as one would feel it. The fact that in almost every visual aspect the base line is that of an ellipse, not a circle, comes as a surprise to people unaccustomed to drawing.
But above these cruder instances, what a wealth of associations crowd in upon the mind, when a sight that moves one is observed. Put two men before a scene, one an ordinary person and the other a great poet, and ask them to describe what they see. Assuming them both to be possessed of a reasonable power honestly to express themselves, what a difference would there be in the value of their descriptions. Or take two painters both equally gifted in the power of expressing their visual perceptions, and put them before the scene to paint it. And assuming one to be a commonplace man and the other a great artist, what a difference will there be in their work. The commonplace painter will paint a commonplace picture, while the form and colour will be the means of stirring deep associations and feelings in the mind of the other, and will move him to paint the scene so that the same splendour of associations may be conveyed to the beholder.
In natural red chalk rubbed with finger; the high lights are picked out with rubber.
But to return to our infant mind. While the development of the perception of things has been going on, the purely visual side of the question, the observation of the picture on the retina for what it is as form and colour, has been neglected—neglected to such an extent that when the child comes to attempt drawing, sight is not the sense he consults. The mental idea of the objective world that has grown up in his mind is now associated more directly with touch than with sight, with the felt shape rather than the visual appearance. So that if he is asked to draw a head, he thinks of it first as an object having a continuous boundary in space. This his mind instinctively conceives as a line. Then, hair he expresses by a row of little lines coming out from the boundary, all round the top. He thinks of eyes as two points or circles, or as points in circles, and the nose either as a triangle or an L-shaped line. If you feel the nose you will see the reason of this. Down the front you have the L line, and if you feel round it you will find the two sides meeting at the top and a base joining them, suggesting the triangle. The mouth similarly is an opening with a row of teeth, which are generally shown although so seldom seen, but always apparent if the mouth is felt (see diagram A). This is, I think, a fair type of the first drawing the ordinary child makes—and judging by some ancient scribbling of the same order I remember noticing scratched on a wall at Pompeii, and by savage drawing generally, it appears to be a fairly universal type. It is a very remarkable thing which, as far as I know, has not yet been pointed out, that in these first attempts at drawing the vision should not be consulted. A blind man would not draw differently, could he but see to draw. Were vision the first sense consulted, and were the simplest visual appearance sought after, one might expect something like diagram B, the shadows under eyes, nose, mouth, and chin, with the darker mass of the hair being the simplest thing the visual appearance can be reduced to. But despite this being quite as easy to do, it does not appeal to the ordinary child as the other type does, because it does not satisfy the sense of touch that forms so large a part of the idea of an object in the mind. All architectural elevations and geometrical projections generally appeal to this mental idea of form. They consist of views of a building or object that could never possibly be seen by anybody, assuming as they do that the eye of the spectator is exactly in front of every part of the building at the same time, a physical impossibility. And yet so removed from the actual visual appearance is our mental idea of objects that such drawings do convey a very accurate idea of a building or object. And of course they have great advantage as working drawings in that they can be scaled
A. Type of first drawing made by children, showing how vision has not been consulted
B. Type of what might have been expected if crudest expression of visual appearance had been attempted
If so early the sense of vision is neglected and relegated to be the handmaiden of other senses, it is no wonder that in the average adult it is in such a shocking state of neglect. I feel convinced that with the great majority of people vision is seldom if ever consulted for itself, but only to minister to some other sense. They look at the sky to see if it is going to be fine; at the fields to see if they are dry enough to walk on, or whether there will be a good crop of hay; at the stream not to observe the beauty of the reflections from the blue sky or green fields dancing upon its surface or the rich colouring of its shadowed depths, but to calculate how deep it is or how much power it would supply to work a mill, how many fish it contains, or some other association alien to its visual aspect. If one looks up at a fine mass of cumulus clouds above a London street, the ordinary passer-by who follows one’s gaze expects to see a balloon or a flying-machine at least, and when he sees it is only clouds he is apt to wonder what one is gazing at. The beautiful form and colour of the cloud seem to be unobserved. Clouds mean nothing to him but an accumulation of water dust that may bring rain. This accounts in some way for the number of good paintings that are incomprehensible to the majority of people. It is only those pictures that pursue the visual aspect of objects to a sufficient completion to contain the suggestion of these other associations, that they understand at all. Other pictures, they say, are not finished enough. And it is so seldom that a picture can have this petty realisation and at the same time be an expression of those larger emotional qualities that constitute good painting.
The early paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood appear to be a striking exception to this. But in their work the excessive realisation of all details was part of the expression and gave emphasis to the poetic idea at the basis of their pictures, and was therefore part of the artistic intention. In these paintings the fiery intensity with which every little detail was painted made their picture a ready medium for the expression of poetic thought, a sort of “painted poetry,” every detail being selected on account of some symbolic meaning it had, bearing on the poetic idea that was the object of the picture.
But to those painters who do not attempt “painted poetry,” but seek in painting a poetry of its own, a visual poetry, this excessive finish (as it is called) is irksome, as it mars the expression of those qualities in vision they wish to express. Finish in art has no connection with the amount of detail in a picture, but has reference only to the completeness with which the emotional idea the painter set out to express has been realised.
In red conté chalk and white pastel rubbed on toned paper.
The visual blindness of the majority of people is greatly to be deplored, as nature is ever offering them on their retina, even in the meanest slum, a music of colour and form that is a constant source of pleasure to those who can see it. But so many are content to use this wonderful faculty of vision for utilitarian purposes only. It is the privilege of the artist to show how wonderful and beautiful is all this music of colour and form, so that people, having been moved by it in his work, may be encouraged to see the same beauty in the things around them. This is the best argument in favour of making art a subject of general education: that it should teach people to see. Everybody does not need to draw and paint, but if everybody could get the faculty of appreciating the form and colour on their retinas as form and colour, what a wealth would always be at their disposal for enjoyment! The Japanese habit of looking at a landscape upside down between their legs is a way of seeing without the deadening influence of touch associations. Thus looking, one is surprised into seeing for once the colour and form of things with the association of touch for the moment forgotten, and is puzzled at the beauty. The odd thing is that although thus we see things upside down, the pictures on our retinas are for once the right way up; for ordinarily the visual picture is inverted on the retina, like that on the ground glass at the back of a photographic camera.
To sum up this somewhat rambling chapter, I have endeavoured to show that there are two aspects from which the objective world can be apprehended. There is the purely mental perception founded chiefly on knowledge derived from our sense of touch associated with vision, whose primitive instinct is to put an outline round objects as representing their boundaries in space. And secondly, there is the visual perception, which is concerned with the visual aspects of objects as they appear on the retina; an arrangement of colour shapes, a sort of mosaic of colour. And these two aspects give us two different points of view from which the representation of visible things can be approached.
When the representation from either point of view is carried far enough, the result is very similar. Work built up on outline drawing to which has been added light and shade, colour, aerial perspective, &c., may eventually approximate to the perfect visual appearance. And inversely, representations approached from the point of view of pure vision, the mosaic of colour on the retina, if pushed far enough, may satisfy the mental perception of form with its touch associations. And of course the two points of view are intimately connected. You cannot put an accurate outline round an object without observing the shape it occupies in the field of vision. And it is difficult to consider the “mosaic of colour forms” without being very conscious of the objective significance of the colour masses portrayed. But they present two entirely different and opposite points of view from which the representation of objects can be approached. In considering the subject of drawing I think it necessary to make this division of the subject, and both methods of form expression should be studied by the student. Let us call the first method Line Drawing and the second Mass Drawing. Most modern drawing is a mixture of both these points of view, but they should be studied separately if confusion is to be avoided. If the student neglects line drawing, his work will lack the expressive significance of form that only a feeling for lines seems to have the secret of conveying; while, if he neglects mass drawing, he will be poorly equipped when he comes to express form with a brush full of paint to work with.
IV LINE DRAWING
Most of the earliest forms of drawing known to us in history, like those of the child we were discussing in the last chapter, are largely in the nature of outline drawings. This is a remarkable fact considering the somewhat remote relation lines have to the complete phenomena of vision. Outlines can only be said to exist in appearances as the boundaries of masses. But even here a line seems a poor thing from the visual point of view; as the boundaries are not always clearly defined, but are continually merging into the surrounding mass and losing themselves to be caught up again later on and defined once more. Its relationship with visual appearances is not sufficient to justify the instinct for line drawing. It comes, I think, as has already been said, from the sense of touch. When an object is felt there is no merging in the surrounding mass, but a firm definition of its boundary, which the mind instinctively conceives as a line.
There is a more direct appeal to the imagination in line drawing than in possibly anything else in pictorial art. The emotional stimulus given by fine design is due largely to line work. The power a line possesses of instinctively directing the eye along its course is of the utmost value also, enabling the artist to concentrate the attention of the beholder where he wishes. Then there is a harmonic sense in lines and their relationships, a music of line that is found at the basis of all good art. But this subject will be treated later on when talking of line rhythm.
Most artists whose work makes a large appeal to the imagination are strong on the value of line. Blake, whose visual knowledge was such a negligible quantity, but whose mental perceptions were so magnificent, was always insisting on its value. And his designs are splendid examples of its powerful appeal to the imagination.
On this basis of line drawing the development of art proceeded. The early Egyptian wall paintings were outlines tinted, and the earliest wall sculpture was an incised outline. After these incised lines some man of genius thought of cutting away the surface of the wall between the outlines and modelling it in low relief. The appearance of this may have suggested to the man painting his outline on the wall the idea of shading between his outlines.
At any rate the next development was the introduction of a little shading to relieve the flatness of the line-work and suggest modelling. And this was as far as things had gone in the direction of the representation of form, until well on in the Italian Renaissance. Botticelli used nothing else than an outline lightly shaded to indicate form. Light and shade were not seriously perceived until Leonardo da Vinci. And a wonderful discovery it was thought to be, and was, indeed, although it seems difficult to understand where men’s eyes had been for so long with the phenomena of light and shade before them all the time. But this is only another proof of what cannot be too often insisted on, namely that the eye only sees what it is on the look-out for, and it may even be there are things just as wonderful yet to be discovered in vision.
But it was still the touch association of an object that was the dominant one; it was within the outline demanded by this sense that the light and shade were to be introduced as something as it were put on the object. It was the “solids in space” idea that art was still appealing to.
“The first object of a painter is to make a simple flat surface appear like a relievo, and some of its parts detached from the ground; he who excels all others in that part of the art deserves the greatest praise,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci, and the insistence on this “standing out” quality, with its appeal to the touch sense as something great in art, sounds very strange in these days. But it must be remembered that the means of creating this illusion were new to all and greatly wondered at.
 Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on Painting, paragraph 178.
And again, in paragraph 176 of his treatise, Leonardo writes: “The knowledge of the outline is of most consequence, and yet may be acquired to great certainty by dint of study; as the outlines of the human figure, particularly those which do not bend, are invariably the same. But the knowledge of the situation, quality and quantity of shadows, being infinite, requires the most extensive study.”
The outlines of the human figure are “invariably the same”? What does this mean? From the visual point of view we know that the space occupied by figures in the field of our vision is by no means “invariably the same,” but of great variety. So it cannot be the visual appearance he is speaking about. It can only refer to the mental idea of the shape of the members of the human figure. The remark “particularly those that do not bend” shows this also, for when the body is bent up even the mental idea of its form must be altered. There is no hint yet of vision being exploited for itself, but only in so far as it yielded material to stimulate this mental idea of the exterior world
From an original drawing in the collection of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon.
All through the work of the men who used this light and shade (or chiaroscuro, as it was called) the outline basis remained. Leonardo, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Titian, and the Venetians were all faithful to it as the means of holding their pictures together; although the Venetians, by fusing the edges of their outline masses, got very near the visual method to be introduced later by Velazquez.
In this way, little by little, starting from a basis of simple outline forms, art grew up, each new detail of visual appearance discovered adding, as it were, another instrument to the orchestra at the disposal of the artist, enabling him to add to the somewhat crude directness and simplicity of the early work the graces and refinements of the more complex work, making the problem of composition more difficult but increasing the range of its expression.
But these additions to the visual formula used by artists was not all gain; the simplicity of the means at the disposal of a Botticelli gives an innocence and imaginative appeal to his work that it is difficult to think of preserving with the more complete visual realisation of later schools. When the realisation of actual appearance is most complete, the mind is liable to be led away by side issues connected with the things represented, instead of seeing the emotional intentions of the artist expressed through them. The mind is apt to leave the picture and looking, as it were, not at it but through it, to pursue a train of thought associated with the objects represented as real objects, but alien to the artistic intention of the picture. There is nothing in these early formulae to disturb the contemplation of the emotional appeal of pure form and colour. To those who approach a picture with the idea that the representation of nature, the “making it look like the real thing,” is the sole object of painting, how strange must be the appearance of such pictures as Botticelli’s.
The accumulation of the details of visual observation in art is liable eventually to obscure the main idea and disturb the large sense of design on which so much of the imaginative appeal of a work of art depends. The large amount of new visual knowledge that the naturalistic movements of the nineteenth century brought to light is particularly liable at this time to obscure the simpler and more primitive qualities on which all good art is built. At the height of that movement line drawing went out of fashion, and charcoal, and an awful thing called a stump, took the place of the point in the schools. Charcoal is a beautiful medium in a dexterous hand, but is more adaptable to mass than to line drawing. The less said about the stump the better, although I believe it still lingers on in some schools.
Line drawing is happily reviving, and nothing is so calculated to put new life and strength into the vagaries of naturalistic painting and get back into art a fine sense of design.
This obscuring of the direct appeal of art by the accumulation of too much naturalistic detail, and the loss of power it entails, is the cause of artists having occasionally gone back to a more primitive convention. There was the Archaistic movement in Greece, and men like Rossetti and Burne-Jones found a better means of expressing the things that moved them in the technique of the fourteenth century. And it was no doubt a feeling of the weakening influence on art, as an expressive force, of the elaborate realisations of the modern school, that prompted Puvis de Chavannes to invent for himself his large primitive manner. It will be noticed that in these instances it is chiefly the insistence upon outline that distinguishes these artists from their contemporaries.
Art, like life, is apt to languish if it gets too far away from primitive conditions. But, like life also, it is a poor thing and a very uncouth affair if it has nothing but primitive conditions to recommend it. Because there is a decadent art about, one need not make a hero of the pavement artist. But without going to the extreme of flouting the centuries of culture that art inherits, as it is now fashionable in many places to do, students will do well to study at first the early rather than the late work of the different schools, so as to get in touch with the simple conditions of design on which good work is built. It is easier to study these essential qualities when they are not overlaid by so much knowledge of visual realisation. The skeleton of the picture is more apparent in the earlier than the later work of any school.
The finest example of the union of the primitive with the most refined and cultured art the world has ever seen is probably the Parthenon at Athens, a building that has been the wonder of the artistic world for over two thousand years. Not only are the fragments of its sculptures in the British Museum amazing, but the beauty and proportions of its architecture are of a refinement that is, I think, never even attempted in these days. What architect now thinks of correcting the poorness of hard, straight lines by very slightly curving them? Or of slightly sloping inwards the columns of his facade to add to the strength of its appearance? The amount of these variations is of the very slightest and bears witness to the pitch of refinement attempted. And yet, with it all, how simple! There is something of the primitive strength of Stonehenge in that solemn row of columns rising firmly from the steps without any base. With all its magnificence, it still retains the simplicity of the hut from which it was evolved.
Something of the same combination of primitive grandeur and strength with exquisite refinement of visualisation is seen in the art of Michael Angelo. His followers adopted the big, muscular type of their master, but lost the primitive strength he expressed; and when this primitive force was lost sight of, what a decadence set in!
This is the point at which art reaches its highest mark: when to the primitive strength and simplicity of early art are added the infinite refinements and graces of culture without destroying or weakening the sublimity of the expression.
In painting, the refinement and graces of culture take the form of an increasing truth to natural appearances, added bit by bit to the primitive baldness of early work; until the point is reached, as it was in the nineteenth century, when apparently the whole facts of visual nature are incorporated. From this wealth of visual material, to which must be added the knowledge we now have of the arts of the East, of China, Japan, and India, the modern artist has to select those things that appeal to him; has to select those elements that answer to his inmost need of expressing himself as an artist. No wonder a period of artistic dyspepsia is upon us, no wonder our exhibitions, particularly those on the Continent, are full of strange, weird things. The problem before the artist was never so complex, but also never so interesting. New forms, new combinations, new simplifications are to be found. But the steadying influence and discipline of line work were never more necessary to the student.
The primitive force we are in danger of losing depends much on line, and no work that aims at a sublime impression can dispense with the basis of a carefully wrought and simple line scheme.
The study, therefore, of pure line drawing is of great importance to the painter, and the numerous drawings that exist by the great masters in this method show how much they understood its value.
And the revival of line drawing, and the desire there is to find a simpler convention founded on this basis, are among the most hopeful signs in the art of the moment.
V MASS DRAWING
In the preceding chapter it has, I hope, been shown that outline drawing is an instinct with Western artists and has been so from the earliest times; that this instinct is due to the fact that the first mental idea of an object is the sense of its form as a felt thing, not a thing seen; and that an outline drawing satisfies and appeals directly to this mental idea of objects.
But there is another basis of expression directly related to visual appearances that in the fulness of time was evolved, and has had a very great influence on modern art. This form of drawing is based on the consideration of the flat appearances on the retina, with the knowledge of the felt shapes of objects for the time being forgotten. In opposition to line drawing, we may call this Mass Drawing.
The scientific truth of this point of view is obvious. If only the accurate copying of the appearances of nature were the sole object of art (an idea to be met with among students) the problem of painting would be simpler than it is, and would be likely ere long to be solved by the photographic camera.
This form of drawing is the natural means of expression when a brush full of paint is in your hands. The reducing of a complicated appearance to a few simple masses is the first necessity of the painter. But this will be fully explained in a later chapter treating more practically of the practice of mass drawing
Showing how early Chinese masters had developed the mass-drawing point of view.
The art of China and Japan appears to have been more [influenced by this view of natural appearances than that of the West has been, until quite lately. The Eastern mind does not seem to be so obsessed by the objectivity of things as is the Western mind. With us the practical sense of touch is all powerful. “I know that is so, because I felt it with my hands” would be a characteristic expression with us. Whereas I do not think it would be an expression the Eastern mind would use. With them the spiritual essence of the thing seen appears to be the more real, judging from their art. And who is to say they may not be right? This is certainly the impression one gets from their beautiful painting, with its lightness of texture and avoidance of solidity. It is founded on nature regarded as a flat vision, instead of a collection of solids in space. Their use of line is also much more restrained than with us, and it is seldom used to accentuate the solidity of things, but chiefly to support the boundaries of masses and suggest detail. Light and shade, which suggest solidity, are never used, a wide light where there is no shadow pervades everything, their drawing being done with the brush in masses.
When, as in the time of Titian, the art of the West had discovered light and shade, linear perspective, aerial perspective, &c., and had begun by fusing the edges of the masses to suspect the necessity of painting to a widely diffused focus, they had got very near considering appearances as a visual whole. But it was not until Velazquez that a picture was painted that was founded entirely on visual appearances, in which a basis of objective outlines was discarded and replaced by a structure of tone masses.
When he took his own painting room with the little Infanta and her maids as a subject, Velazquez seems to have considered it entirely as one flat visual impression. The focal attention is centred on the Infanta, with the figures on either side more or less out of focus, those on the extreme right being quite blurred. The reproduction here given unfortunately does not show these subtleties, and flattens the general appearance very much. The focus is nowhere sharp, as this would disturb the contemplation of the large visual impression. And there, I think, for the first time, the whole gamut of natural vision, tone, colour, form, light and shade, atmosphere, focus, &c., considered as one impression, were put on canvas.
All sense of design is lost. The picture has no surface; it is all atmosphere between the four edges of the frame, and the objects are within. Placed as it is in the Prado, with the light coming from the right as in the picture, there is no break between the real people before it and the figures within, except the slight yellow veil due to age.
But wonderful as this picture is, as a “tour de force,” like his Venus of the same period in the National Gallery, it is a painter’s picture, and makes but a cold impression on those not interested in the technique of painting. With the cutting away of the primitive support of fine outline design and the absence of those accents conveying a fine form stimulus to the mind, art has lost much of its emotional significance
The Impressionist Point of View
But art has gained a new point of view. With this subjective way of considering appearances—this “impressionist vision,” as it has been called—many things that were too ugly, either from shape or association, to yield material for the painter, were yet found, when viewed as part of a scheme of colour sensations on the retina which the artist considers emotionally and rhythmically, to lend themselves to new and beautiful harmonies and “ensembles,” undreamt of by the earlier formulae. And further, many effects of light that were too hopelessly complicated for painting, considered on the old light and shade principles (for instance, sunlight through trees in a wood), were found to be quite paintable, considered as an impression of various colour masses. The early formula could never free itself from the object as a solid thing, and had consequently to confine its attention to beautiful ones. But from the new point of view, form consists of the shape and qualities of masses of colour on the retina; and what objects happen to be the outside cause of these shapes matters little to the impressionist. Nothing is ugly when seen in a beautiful aspect of light, and aspect is with them everything. This consideration of the visual appearance in the first place necessitated an increased dependence on the model. As he does not now draw from his mental perceptions the artist has nothing to select the material of his picture from until it has existed as a seen thing before him: until he has a visual impression of it in his mind. With the older point of view (the representation by a pictorial description, as it were, based on the mental idea of an object), the model was not so necessary. In the case of the Impressionist the mental perception is arrived at from the visual impression, and in the older point of view the visual impression is the result of the mental perception. Thus it happens that the Impressionist movement has produced chiefly pictures inspired by the actual world of visual phenomena around us, the older point of view producing most of the pictures deriving their inspiration from the glories of the imagination, the mental world in the mind of the artist. And although interesting attempts are being made to produce imaginative works founded on the impressionist point of view of light and air, the loss of imaginative appeal consequent upon the destruction of contours by scintillation, atmosphere, &c., and the loss of line rhythm it entails, have so far prevented the production of any very satisfactory results. But undoubtedly there is much new material brought to light by this movement waiting to be used imaginatively; and it offers a new field for the selection of expressive qualities.
This point of view, although continuing to some extent in the Spanish school, did not come into general recognition until the last century in France. The most extreme exponents of it are the body of artists who grouped themselves round Claude Monet. This impressionist movement, as the critics have labelled it, was the result of a fierce determination to consider nature solely from the visual point of view, making no concessions to any other associations connected with sight. The result was an entirely new vision of nature, startling and repulsive to eyes unaccustomed to observation from a purely visual point of view and used only to seeing the ” feel of things,” as it were. The first results were naturally rather crude. But a great amount of new visual facts were brought to light, particularly those connected with the painting of sunlight and half light effects. Indeed the whole painting of strong light has been permanently affected by the work of this group of painters. Emancipated from the objective world, they no longer dissected the object to see what was inside it, but studied rather the anatomy of the light refracted from it to their eyes. Finding this to be composed of all the colours of the rainbow as seen in the solar spectrum, and that all the effects nature produced are done with different proportions of these colours, they took them, or the nearest pigments they could get to them, for their palette, eliminating the earth colours and black. And further, finding that nature’s colours (the rays of coloured light) when mixed produced different results than their corresponding pigments mixed together, they determined to use their paints as pure as possible, placing them one against the other to be mixed as they came to the eye, the mixture being one of pure colour rays, not pigments, by this means.
But we are here only concerned with the movement as it affected form, and must avoid the fascinating province of colour.
Those who had been brought up in the old school of outline form said there was no drawing in these impressionist pictures, and from the point of view of the mental idea of form discussed in the last chapter, there was indeed little, although, had the impression been realised to a sufficiently definite focus, the sense of touch and solidity would probably have been satisfied. But the particular field of this new point of view, the beauty of tone and colour relations considered as an impression apart from objectivity, did not tempt them to carry their work so far as this, or the insistence on these particular qualities would have been lost.
But interesting and alluring as is the new world of visual music opened up by this point of view, it is beginning to be realised that it has failed somehow to satisfy. In the first place, the implied assumption that one sees with the eye alone is wrong
“In every object there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of seeing,”
 Goethe, quoted in Carlyle’s French Revolution, chap. i.
and it is the mind behind the eye that supplies this means of perception: one sees with the mind. The ultimate effect of any picture, be it impressionist, post, anti, or otherwise—is its power to stimulate these mental perceptions within the mind.
But even from the point of view of the true visual perception (if there is such a thing) that modern art has heard so much talk of, the copying of the retina picture is not so great a success. The impression carried away from a scene that has moved us is not its complete visual aspect. Only those things that are significant to the felt impression have been retained by the mind; and if the picture is to be a true representation of this, the significant facts must be sorted out from the mass of irrelevant matter and presented in a lively manner. The impressionist’s habit of painting before nature entirely is not calculated to do this. Going time after time to the same place, even if similar weather conditions are waited for, although well enough for studies, is against the production of a fine picture. Every time the artist goes to the selected spot he receives a different impression, so that he must either paint all over his picture each time, in which case his work must be confined to a small scale and will be hurried in execution, or he must paint a bit of today’s impression alongside of yesterday’s, in which case his work will be dull and lacking in oneness of conception.
And further, in decomposing the colour rays that come to the eye and painting in pure colour, while great addition was made to the power of expressing light, yet by destroying the definitions and enveloping everything in a scintillating atmosphere, the power to design in a large manner was lost with the wealth of significance that the music of line can convey.
But impressionism has opened up a view from which much interesting matter for art is to be gleaned. And everywhere painters are selecting from this, and grafting it on to some of the more traditional schools of design.
Our concern here is with the influence this point of view has had upon draughtsmanship. The influence has been considerable, particularly with those draughtsmen whose work deals with the rendering of modern life. It consists in drawing from the observation of the silhouette occupied by objects in the field of vision, observing the flat appearance of things as they are on the retina. This is, of course, the only accurate way in which to observe visual shapes. The difference between this and the older point of view is its insistence on the observation of the flat visual impression to the exclusion of the tactile or touch sense that by the association of ideas we have come to expect in things seen. An increased truth to the character of appearances has been the result, with a corresponding loss of plastic form expression.
Plate XII, a reproduction of a drawing in the British Museum, attributed to Michael Angelo, is contrasted with one in the Louvre by Degas, Plate XIII. The one is drawn from the line point of view and the other from the mass. They both contain lines, but in the one case the lines are the contours of felt forms and in the other the boundaries of visual masses. In the Michael Angelo the silhouette is only the result of the overlapping of rich forms considered in the round. Every muscle and bone has been mentally realised as a concrete thing and the drawing made as an expression of this idea. Note the line rhythm also; the sense of energy and movement conveyed by the swinging curves; and compare with what is said later about the rhythmic significance of swinging curves.
Then compare it with the Degas and observe the totally different attitude of mind in which this drawing has been approached. Instead of the outlines being the result of forms felt as concrete things, the silhouette is everywhere considered first, the plastic sense (nowhere so great as in the other) being arrived at from the accurate consideration of the mass shapes.
Notice also the increased attention to individual character in the Degas, observe the pathos of those underfed little arms, and the hand holding the tired ankle—how individual it all is. What a different tale this little figure tells from that given before the footlights! See with what sympathy the contours have been searched for those accents expressive of all this.
Note the desire to express form as a felt solid thing, the contours resulting from the overlapping forms. The visual appearance is arrived at as a result of giving expression to the mental idea of a solid object.
In contrast with Michael Angelo’s drawing, note the preoccupation with the silhouette the spaces occupied by the different masses in the field of vision; how the appearance of solid forms is the result of accurately portraying this visual appearance.
How remote from individual character is the Michael Angelo in contrast with this! Instead of an individual he gives us the expression of a glowing mental conception of man as a type of physical strength and power.
The rhythm is different also, in the one case being a line rhythm, and in the other a consideration of the flat pattern of shapes or masses with a play of lost-and-foundness on the edges. It is this feeling for rhythm and the sympathetic searching for and emphasis of those points expressive of character, that keep this drawing from being the mechanical performance which so much concern with scientific visual accuracy might well have made it, and which has made mechanical many of the drawings of Degas’s followers who unintelligently copy his method.
VI THE ACADEMIC AND CONVENTIONAL
The terms Academic and Conventional are much used in criticism and greatly feared by the criticised, often without either party appearing to have much idea of what is meant. New so-called schools of painting seem to arrive annually with the spring fashions, and sooner or later the one of last year gets called out of date, if not conventional and academic. And as students, for fear of having their work called by one or other of these dread terms, are inclined to rush into any new extravagance that comes along, some inquiry as to their meaning will not be out of place before we pass into the chapters dealing with academic study.
It has been the cry for some time that Schools of Art turned out only academic students. And one certainly associates a dead level of respectable mediocrity with much school work. We can call to mind a lot of dull, lifeless, highly-finished work, imperfectly perfect, that has won the prize in many a school competition. Flaubert says “a form deadens,” and it does seem as if the necessary formality of a school course had some deadening influence on students; and that there was some important part of the artist’s development which it has failed to recognise and encourage.
The freer system of the French schools has been in many cases more successful. But each school was presided over by an artist of distinction, and this put the students in touch with real work and thus introduced vitality. In England, until quite lately, artists were seldom employed in teaching, which was left to men set aside for the purpose, without any time to carry on original work of their own. The Royal Academy Schools are an exception to this. There the students have the advantage of teaching from some distinguished member or associate who has charge of the upper school for a month at a time. But as the visitor is constantly changed, the less experienced students are puzzled by the different methods advocated, and flounder hopelessly for want of a definite system to work on; although for a student already in possession of a good grounding there is much to be said for the system, as contact with the different masters widens their outlook.
But perhaps the chief mistake in Art Schools has been that they have too largely confined themselves to training students mechanically to observe and portray the thing set before them to copy, an antique figure, a still-life group, a living model sitting as still and lifeless as he can. Now this is all very well as far as it goes, but the real matter of art is not necessarily in all this. And if the real matter of art is neglected too long the student may find it difficult to get in touch with it again.
These accurate, painstaking school studies are very necessary indeed as a training for the eye in observing accurately, and the hand in reproducing the appearances of things, because it is through the reproduction of natural appearances and the knowledge of form and colour derived from such study that the student will afterwards find the means of giving expression to his feelings. But when valuable prizes and scholarships are given for them, and not for really artistic work, they do tend to become the end instead of the means.
It is of course improbable that even school studies done with the sole idea of accuracy by a young artist will in all cases be devoid of artistic feeling; it will creep in, if he has the artistic instinct. But it is not enough encouraged, and the prize is generally given to the drawing that is most complete and like the model in a commonplace way. If a student, moved by a strong feeling for form, lets himself go and does a fine thing, probably only remotely like the model to the average eye, the authorities are puzzled and don’t usually know what to make of it.
There are schools where the most artistic qualities are encouraged, but they generally neglect the academic side; and the student leaves them poorly equipped for fine work. Surely it would be possible to make a distinction, giving prizes for academic drawings which should be as thoroughly accurate in a mechanical way as industry and application can make them, and also for artistic drawings, in which the student should be encouraged to follow his bent, striving for the expression of any qualities that delight him, and troubling less about mechanical accuracy. The use of drawing as an expression of something felt is so often left until after the school training is done that many students fail to achieve it altogether. And rows of lifeless pictures, made up of models copied in different attitudes, with studio properties around them, are the result, and pass for art in many quarters. Such pictures often display considerable ability, for as Burne-Jones says in one of his letters, “It is very difficult to paint even a bad picture.” But had the ability been differently directed, the pictures might have been good.
Example of unacademic drawing made in the author’s class at the Goldsmiths College School of Art.
It is difficult to explain what is wrong with an academic drawing, and what is the difference between it and fa fine drawing. But perhaps this difference can be brought home a little more clearly if you will pardon a rather fanciful simile. I am told that if you construct a perfectly fitted engine —the piston fitting the cylinder with absolute accuracy and the axles their sockets with no space between, &c.—it will not work, but be a lifeless mass of iron. There must be enough play between the vital parts to allow of some movement; “dither” is, I believe, the Scotch word for it. The piston must be allowed some play in the opening of the cylinder through which it passes, or it will not be able to move and show any life. And the axles of the wheels in their sockets, and, in fact, all parts of the machine where life and movement are to occur, must have this play, this “dither.” It has always seemed to me that the accurately fitting engine was like a good academic drawing, in a way a perfect piece of workmanship, but lifeless. Imperfectly perfect, because there was no room left for the play of life. And to carry the simile further, if you allow too great a play between the parts, so that they fit one over the other too loosely, the engine will lose power and become a poor rickety thing. There must be the smallest amount of play that will allow of its working. And the more perfectly made the engine, the less will the amount of this “dither” be.
The word “dither” will be a useful name to give that elusive quality, that play on mechanical accuracy, existing in all vital art. It is this vital quality that has not yet received much attention in art training.
It is here that the photograph fails, it can only at best give mechanical accuracy, whereas art gives the impression of a live, individual consciousness. Where the recording instrument is a live individual, there is no mechanical standard of accuracy possible, as every recording instrument is a different personality. And it is the subtle differences in the individual renderings of nature that are the life-blood of art. The photograph, on account of its being chained to mechanical accuracy, has none of this play of life to give it charm. It only approaches artistic conditions when it is blurred, vague, and indefinite, as in so-called artistic photography, for then only can some amount of this vitalising play, this “dither” be imagined to exist.
It is this perfect accuracy, this lack of play, of variety, that makes the machine-made article so lifeless. Wherever there is life there is variety, and the substitution of the machine-made for the hand-made article has impoverished the world to a greater extent than we are probably yet aware of. Whereas formerly, before the advent of machinery, the commonest article you could pick up had a life and warmth which gave it individual interest, now everything is turned out to such a perfection of deadness that one is driven to pick up and collect, in sheer desperation, the commonest rubbish still surviving from the earlier period.
But to return to our drawings. If the variations from strict accuracy made under the influence of feeling are too great, the result will be a caricature. The variations in a beautiful drawing are so subtle as often to defy detection. The studies of Ingres are an instance of what I mean. How true and instinct with life are his lines, and how easily one might assume that they were merely accurate. But no merely accurate work would have the impelling quality these drawings possess. If the writer may venture an opinion on so great an artist, the subtle difference we are talking about was sometimes missed by even Ingres himself, when he transferred his drawings to the canvas; and the pictures have in some cases become academic and lifeless. Without the stimulus of nature before him it was difficult to preserve the “dither” in the drawing, and the life has escaped. This is the great difficulty of working from studies; it is so easy to lose those little points in your drawing that make for vitality of expression, in the process of copying in cold blood.
The fact is: it is only the academic that can be taught. And it is no small thing if this is well done in a school. The qualities that give vitality and distinction to drawing must be appreciated by the student himself, and may often assert themselves in his drawing without his being aware that he is doing aught but honestly copying. And if he has trained himself thoroughly he will not find much difficulty when he is moved to vital expression. All the master can do is to stand by and encourage whenever he sees evidence of the real thing. But there is undoubtedly this danger of the school studies becoming the end instead of the means.
A drawing is not necessarily academic because it is thorough, but only because it is dead. Neither is a drawing necessarily academic because it is done in what is called a conventional style, any more than it is good because it is done in an unconventional style. The test is whether it has life and conveys genuine feeling.
There is much foolish talk about conventional art, as if art could ever get away from conventions, if it would. The convention will be more natural or more abstract according to the nature of the thing to be conveyed and the medium employed to express it. But naturalism is just as much a convention as any of the other isms that art has lately been so assailed with. For a really unconventional art there is Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks. There, even the convention of a frame and flat surface are done away with, besides the painted symbols to represent things. They have real natural chairs, tables, and floors, real clothes, and even real hair. Realism everywhere, but no life. And we all know the result. There is more expression of life in a few lines scribbled on paper by a good artist than in all the reality of the popular show.
It would seem that, after a certain point, the nearer your picture approaches the actual illusion of natural appearance, the further you are from the expression of life. One can never hope to surpass the illusionary appearance of a tableau vivant. There you have real, living people. But what an awful deathlike stillness is felt when the curtain is drawn aside. The nearer you approach the actual in all its completeness, the more evident is the lack of that movement which always accompanies life. You cannot express life by copying laboriously natural appearances. Those things in the appearance that convey vital expression and are capable of being translated into the medium he is working with, have to be sought by the artist, and the painted symbols of his picture made accordingly. This lack of the movement of life is never noticed in a good picture, on the other hand the figures are often felt to move.
Pictures are blamed for being conventional when it is lack of vitality that is the trouble. If the convention adopted has not been vitalised by the emotion that is the reason of the painting, it will, of course, be a lifeless affair. But however abstract and unnaturalistic the manner adopted, if it has been truly felt by the artist as the right means of expressing his emotional idea, it will have life and should not be called conventional in the commonly accepted offensive use of the term.
It is only when a painter consciously chooses a manner not his own, which he does not comprehend and is incapable of firing with his own personality, that his picture is ridiculous and conventional in the dead sense.
But every age differs in its temperament, and the artistic conventions of one age seldom fit another. The artist has to discover a convention for himself, one that fits his particular individuality. But this is done simply and naturally—not by starting out with the intention of flouting all traditional conventions on principle; nor, on the other hand, by accepting them all on principle, but by simply following his own bent and selecting what appeals to him in anything and everything that comes within the range of his vision. The result is likely to be something very different from the violent exploits in peculiarity that have been masquerading as originality lately. Originality is more concerned with sincerity than with peculiarity.
The struggling and fretting after originality that one sees in modern art is certainly an evidence of vitality, but one is inclined to doubt whether anything really original was ever done in so forced a way. The older masters, it seems, were content sincerely to try and do the best they were capable of doing. And this continual striving to do better led them almost unconsciously to new and original results. Originality is a quality over which an artist has as little influence as over the shape and distinction of his features. All he can do is to be sincere and try and find out the things that really move him and that he really likes. If he has a strong and original character, he will have no difficulty in this, and his work will be original in the true sense. And if he has not, it is a matter of opinion whether he is not better employed in working along the lines of some well-tried manner that will at any rate keep him from doing anything really bad, than in struggling to cloak his own commonplaceness under violent essays in peculiarity and the avoidance of the obvious at all costs.
But while speaking against fretting after eccentricity, don’t let it be assumed that any discouragement is being given to genuine new points of view. In art, when a thing has once been well done and has found embodiment in some complete work of art, it has been done once for all. The circumstances that produced it are never likely to occur again. That is why those painters who continue to reproduce a picture of theirs (we do not mean literally) that had been a success in the first instance, never afterwards obtain the success of the original performance. Every beautiful work of art is a new creation, the result of particular circumstances in the life of the artist and the time of its production, that have never existed before and will never recur again. Were any of the great masters of the past alive now, they would do very different work from what they did then, the circumstances being so entirely different. So that should anybody seek to paint like Titian now, by trying to paint like Titian did in his time, he could not attempt anything more unlike the spirit of that master; which in its day, like the spirit of all masters, was most advanced. But it is only by a scrupulously sincere and truthful attitude of mind that the new and original circumstances in which we find ourselves can be taken advantage of for the production of original work. And self-conscious seeking after peculiarity only stops the natural evolution and produces abortions.
But do not be frightened by conventions, the different materials in which the artist works impose their conventions. And as it is through these materials that he has to find expression, what expressive qualities they possess must be studied, and those facts in nature selected that are in harmony with them. The treatment of hair by sculptors is an extreme instance of this. What are those qualities of hair that are amenable to expression in stone? Obviously they are few, and confined chiefly to the mass forms in which the hair arranges itself. The finest sculptors have never attempted more than this, have never lost sight of the fact that it was stone they were working with, and never made any attempt to create an illusion of real hair. And in the same way, when working in bronze, the fine artist never loses sight of the fact that it is bronze with which he is working. How sadly the distinguished painter to whom a misguided administration entrusted the work of modelling the British emblem overlooked this, may be seen any day in Trafalgar Square, the lions there possessing none of the splendour of bronze but looking as if they were modelled in dough, and possessing in consequence none of the vital qualities of the lion. It is interesting to compare them with the little lion Alfred Stevens modelled for the railing of the British Museum, and to speculate on what a thrill we might have received every time we passed Trafalgar Square, had he been entrusted with the work, as he might have been.
And in painting, the great painters never lose sight of the fact that it is paint with which they are expressing themselves. And although paint is capable of approaching much nearer an actual illusory appearance of nature than stone or bronze, they never push this to the point where you forget that it is paint. This has been left for some of the smaller men.
And when it comes to drawing, the great artists have always confined themselves to the qualities in nature that the tool they were drawing with was capable of expressing, and no others. Whether working with pen, pencil, chalk, or charcoal, they always created a convention within which unlimited expression has been possible.
To sum up, academic drawing is all that can be really taught, and is as necessary to the painter as the practising of exercises is to the musician, that his powers of observation and execution may be trained. But the vital matter of art is not in all this necessary training. And this fact the student should always keep in mind, and be ever ready to give rein to those natural enthusiasms which, if he is an artist, he will find welling up within him. The danger is that the absorbing interest in his academic studies may take up his whole attention, to the neglect of the instinctive qualities that he should possess the possession of which alone will entitle him to be an artist.
VII THE STUDY OF DRAWING
We have seen that there are two extreme points of view from which the representation of form can be approached, that of outline directly related to the mental idea of form with its touch association on the one hand, and that of mass connected directly with the visual picture on the retina on the other.
Now, between these two extreme points of view there are an infinite variety of styles combining them both and leaning more to the one side or the other, as the case may be. But it is advisable for the student to study both separately, for there are different things to be learnt and different expressive qualities in nature to be studied in both.
From the study of outline drawing the eye is trained to accurate observation and learns the expressive value of a line. And the hand is also trained to definite statement, the student being led on by degrees from simple outlines to approach the full realisation of form in all the complexity of light and shade.
But at the same time he should study mass drawing with paint from the purely visual point of view, in order to be introduced to the important study of tone values and the expression of form by means of planes. And so by degrees he will learn accurately to observe and portray the tone masses (their shapes and values) to which all visual appearances can be reduced; and he will gradually arrive at the full realisation of form—a realisation that will bring him to a point somewhat similar to that arrived at from the opposite point of view of an outline to which has been added light and shade, &c.
But unless both points of view are studied, the student’s work will be incomplete. If form be studied only from the outline point of view, and what have been called sculptor’s drawings alone attempted, the student will lack knowledge of the tone and atmosphere that always envelop form in nature. And also he will be poorly equipped when he comes to exchange the pencil for a brush and endeavours to express himself in paint.
And if his studies be only from the mass point of view, the training of his eye to the accurate observation of all the subtleties of contours and the construction of form will be neglected. And he will not understand the mental form stimulus that the direction and swing of a brush stroke can give. These and many things connected with expression can best be studied in line work.
Let the student therefore begin on the principles adopted in most schools, with outline studies of simple casts or models, and gradually add light and shade. When he has acquired more proficiency he may approach drawing from the life. This is sufficiently well done in the numerous schools of art that now exist all over the country. But, at the same time (and this, as far as I know, is not done anywhere), the student should begin some simple form of mass drawing in paint, simple exercises, as is explained later in the chapter on Mass Drawing, Practical, being at first attempted and criticised solely from the point of view of tone values.
Splendid example of Rubens’ love of rich, full forms. Compare with the diagram above, and note the flatnesses that give strength to the forms.
From lack of this elementary tone study, the student, when he approaches painting for the first time, with only his outline and light and shade knowledge, is entirely at sea. With brushes and paint he is presented with a problem of form expressions entirely new. And he usually begins to flounder about, using his paint as much like chalk on paper as possible. And timid of losing his outlines, he fears to put down a mass, as he has no knowledge of reducing appearances to a structure of tone masses or planes.
I would suggest, therefore, that the student should study simultaneously from these two points of view, beginning with their most extreme positions, that is, bare outline on the one side and on the other side tone masses criticised for their accuracy of values only in the first instance. As he advances, the one study will help the other. The line work will help the accuracy with which he observes the shapes of masses, and when he comes to light and shade his knowledge of tone values will help him here. United at last, when complete light and shade has been added to his outline drawings and to his mass drawing an intimate knowledge of form, the results will approximate and the two paths will meet. But if the qualities appertaining to either point of view are not studied separately, the result is confusion and the “muddling through” method so common in our schools of art.
VIII LINE DRAWING: PRACTICAL
Seeing that the first condition of your drawing is that it has to be made on a flat surface, no matter whether it is to be in line or mass you intend to draw, it is obvious that appearances must be reduced to terms of a flat surface before they can be expressed on paper. And this is the first difficulty that confronts the student in attempting to draw a solid object. He has so acquired the habit of perceiving the solidity of things, as was explained in an earlier chapter, that no little difficulty will be experienced in accurately seeing them as a flat picture.
Observing Solids as a Flat copy
As it is only from one point of view that things can be drawn, and as we have two eyes, therefore two points of view, the closing of one eye will be helpful at first.
The simplest and most mechanical way of observing things as a flat subject is to have a piece of cardboard with a rectangular hole cut out of the middle, and also pieces of cotton threaded through it in such a manner that they make a pattern of squares across the opening, as in the accompanying sketch. To make such a frame, get a piece of stiff cardboard, about 12 inches by 9 inches, and cut a rectangular hole in the centre, 7 inches by 5 inches, as in Diagram III. Now mark off the inches on all sides of the opening, and taking some black thread, pass it through the point A with a needle (fixing the end at this point with sealing-wax), and across the opening to the corresponding point on the opposite side. Take it along to the next point, as shown by the dotted line, and pass it through and across the opening again, and so on, until B is reached, when the thread should be held by some sealing-wax quite taut everywhere. Do the same for the other side. This frame should be held between the eye and the object to be drawn (one eye being closed) in a perfectly vertical position, and with the rectangular sides of the opening vertical and horizontal. The object can then be observed as a flat copy. The trellis of cotton will greatly help the student in seeing the subject to be drawn in two dimensions, and this is the first technical difficulty the young draughtsman has to overcome. It is useful also in training the eye to see the proportions of different parts one to another, the squares of equal size giving one a unit of measurement by which all parts can be scaled.
Fixing Positions of Salient Points
Vertical and horizontal lines are also of the utmost importance in that first consideration for setting out a drawing, namely the fixing of salient points, and getting their relative Positions. Fig. Z, Diagram IV, will illustrate what is meant. Let A B C D E be assumed to be points of some importance in an object you wish to draw. Unaided, the placing of these points would be a matter of considerable difficulty. But if you assume a vertical line drawn from A, the positions of B, C, D, and E can be observed in relation to it by noting the height and length of horizontal lines drawn from them to this vertical line. This vertical can be drawn by holding a plumb line at arm’s length (closing one eye, of course) and bringing it to a position where it will cover the point A on your subject. The position of the other points on either side of this vertical line can then be observed. Or a knitting-needle can be held vertically before you at arm’s length, giving you a line passing through point A. The advantage of the needle is that comparative measurements can be taken with it.
Fig. X, Masses; Fig. Y, Curves; Fig. Z, Position of points
In measuring comparative distances the needle should always be held at arm’s length and the eye kept in one position during the operation; and, whether held vertically or horizontally, always kept in a vertical plane, that is, either straight up and down, or across at right angles to the line of your vision. If these things are not carefully observed, your comparisons will not be true. The method employed is to run the thumb-nail up the needle until the distance from the point so reached to the top exactly corresponds with the distance on the object you wish to measure. Having this carefully noted on your needle, without moving the position of your eye, you can move your outstretched arm and compare it with other distances on the object. It is never advisable to compare other than vertical and horizontal measurements. In our diagram the points were drawn at random and do not come in any obvious mathematical relationship, and this is the usual circumstance in nature. But point C will be found to be a little above the half, and point D a little less than a third of the way up the vertical line. How much above the half and less than the third will have to be observed by eye and a corresponding amount allowed in setting out your drawing. In the horizontal distances, B will be found to be one-fourth the distance from X to the height of C on the right of our vertical line, and C a little more than this distance to the left, while the distance on the right of D is a little less than one-fifth of the whole height. The height of B is so near the top as to be best judged by eye, and its distance to the right is the same as B. These measurements are never to be taken as absolutely accurate, but are a great help to beginners in training the eye, and are at times useful in every artist’s work.
Illustrating how different directions of lines can help expression of form.
It is useful if one can establish a unit of measurement, some conspicuous distance that does not vary in the object (if a living model a great many distances will be constantly varying), and with which all distances can be compared.
In setting out a drawing, this fixing of certain salient points is the first thing for the student to do. The drawing reproduced in Plate XVIII has been made to illustrate the method of procedure it is advisable to adopt in training the eye to accurate observation. It was felt that a vertical line drawn through the pit of the arm would be the most useful for taking measurements on, and this was first drawn and its length decided upon. Train yourself to draw between limits decided upon at the start. This power will be of great use to you when you wish to place a figure in an exact position in a picture. The next thing to do is to get the relative heights of different points marked upon this line. The fold at the pit of the stomach was found to be exactly in the centre. This was a useful start, and it is generally advisable to note where the half comes first, and very useful if it comes in some obvious place. Other measurements were taken in the same way as our points A B C D E in the Diagram IV, and horizontal lines drawn across, and the transverse distances measured in relation to the heights. I have left these lines on the drawing, and also different parts of it unfinished, so as to show the different stages of the work. These guide lines are done mentally later on, when the student is more advanced, and with more accuracy than the clumsy knitting-needle. But before the habit of having constantly in mind a vertical and horizontal line with which to compare positions is acquired, they should be put in with as much accuracy as measuring can give
Blocking in your Drawing
The next thing to do is to block out the spaces corresponding to those occupied by the model in the field of your vision. The method employed to do this is somewhat similar to that adopted by a surveyor in drawing the plan of a field. Assuming he had an irregular shaped one, such as is drawn in in Fig. X, Diagram IV, he would proceed to invest it with straight lines, taking advantage of any straightness in the boundary, noting the length and the angles at which these straight lines cut each other, and then reproducing them to scale on his plan. Once having got this scaffolding accurately placed, he can draw the irregularities of the shape in relation to these lines with some certainty of getting them right.
You should proceed in very much the same way to block out the spaces that the forms of your drawing are to occupy. I have produced these blocking-out lines beyond what was necessary in the accompanying drawing Diagram IV, in order to show them more clearly.
How to observe the Shape of Curves
There is yet another method of construction useful in noting accurately the shape of a curved line, which is illustrated in Fig. Y, Diagram IV. First of all, fix the positions of the extremities of the line by means of the vertical and horizontal. And also, as this is a double curve, the point at which the curvature changes from one direction to the other: point C. By drawing lines CA, CB and noting the distances your curves travel from these straight lines, and particularly the relative position of the farthest points reached, their curvature can be accurately observed and copied. In noting the varying curvature of forms, this construction should always be in your mind to enable you to observe them accurately. First note the points at which the curvature begins and ends, and then the distances it travels from a line joining these two points, holding up a pencil or knitting-needle against the model if need be.
Note the different stages. 1st. Centre line and transverse lines for settling position of salient points. 2nd.
Blocking in, as shown in further leg. 3rd. Drawing in the forms and shading, as shown in front leg. 4th.
Rubbing with fingers (giving a faint middle tone over the whole), and picking out high lights with bread, as shown on back and arms.
The Drawing proper
A drawing being blocked out in such a state as the further leg and foot of our demonstration drawing in Plate XVIII, it is time to begin the drawing proper. So far you have only been pegging out the ground it is going to occupy. This initial scaffolding, so necessary to train the eye, should be done as accurately as possible, but don’t let it interfere with your freedom in expressing the forms afterwards. The work up to this point has been mechanical, but it is time to consider the subject with some feeling for form. Here knowledge of the structure of bones and muscles that underlie the skin will help you to seize on those things that are significant and express the form of the figure. And the student cannot do better than study the excellent book by Sir Alfred D. Fripp on this subject, entitled Human Anatomy for Art Students. Notice particularly the swing of the action, such things as the pull occasioned by the arm resting on the farther thigh, and the prominence given to the forms by the straining of the skin at the shoulder. Also the firm lines of the bent back and the crumpled forms of the front of the body. Notice the overlapping of the contours, and where they are accentuated and where more lost, &c., drawing with as much feeling and conviction as you are capable of. You will have for some time to work tentatively, feeling for the true shapes that you do not yet rightly see, but as soon as you feel any confidence, remember it should be your aim to express yourself freely and swiftly.
There is a tendency in some quarters to discourage this blocking in of the forms in straight lines, and certainly it has been harmful to the freedom of expression in the work of some students. They not only begin the drawing with this mechanical blocking in, but continue it in the same mechanical fashion, cutting up almost all their curves into flatnesses, and never once breaking free from this scaffolding to indulge in the enjoyment of free line expression. This, of course, is bad, and yet the character of a curved line is hardly to be accurately studied in any other way than by observing its relation to straight lines. The inclination and length of straight lines can be observed with certainty. But a curve has not this definiteness, and is a very unstable thing to set about copying unaided. Who but the highly skilled draughtsman could attempt to copy our random shape at Fig. X in Diagram IV, without any guiding straight lines? And even the highly skilled draughtsman would draw such straight lines mentally. So that some blocking out of the curved forms, either done practically or in imagination, must be adopted to rightly observe any shapes. But do not forget that this is only a scaffolding, and should always be regarded as such and kicked away as soon as real form expression with any feeling begins. But it will be some years before the beginner has got his eye trained to such accuracy of observation that he can dispense with it.
In Blocking-in observe Shape of the Background as much as the Object.
In the case of foreshortenings, the eye, unaided by this blocking out, is always apt to be led astray. And here the observation of the shape of the background against the object will be of great assistance. The appearance of the foreshortened object is so unlike what you know it to be as a solid thing, that much as it is as well to concentrate the attention on the background rather than on the form in this blocking-out process. And in fact, in blocking out any object, whether foreshortened or not, the shape of the background should be observed as carefully as any other shape. But in making the drawing proper, the forms must be observed in their inner relations. That is to say, the lines bounding one side of a form must be observed in relation to the lines bounding the other side; as the true expression of form, which is the object of drawing, depends on the true relationship of these boundaries. The drawing of the two sides should be carried on simultaneously, so that one may constantly compare them.
Boundaries a series of Overlappings
The boundaries of forms with any complexity, such as the human figure, are not continuous lines. One form overlaps another, like the lines of a range of hills. And this overlapping should be sought for and carefully expressed, the outlines being made up of a series of overlappings.
In Line Drawing shading should only be used to aid the expression of form. It is not advisable to aim at representing the true tone values.
In direct light it will be observed that a solid object has some portion of its surface in light, while other portions, those turned away from the light, are in shadow. Shadows are also cast on the ground and surrounding objects, called cast shadows. The parts of an object reflecting the most direct light are called the high lights. If the object have a shiny surface these lights are clear and distinct; if a dull surface, soft and diffused. In the case of a very shiny surface, such as a glazed pot, the light may be reflected so completely that a picture of the source of light, usually a window, will be seen.
In the diagram Diagram V, let A represent the plan of a cone, B C the opening of a window, and D the eye of the spectator, and E F G the wall of a room. Light travels in straight lines from the window, strikes the surface of the cone, and is reflected to the eye, making the angle of incidence equal to the angle of reflection, the angle of incidence being that made by the light striking an object, and the angle of reflection that made by the light in leaving the surface.
It will be seen that the lines B1D, C2D are the limits of the direct rays of light that come to the eye from the cone, and that therefore between points 1 and 2 will be seen the highest light. If the cone have a perfect reflecting surface, such as a looking-glass has, this would be all the direct light that would be reflected from the cone to the eye. But assuming it to have what is called a dull surface, light would be reflected from other parts also, although not in so great a quantity. If what is called a dull surface is looked at under a microscope it will be found to be quite rough, i.e. made up of many facets which catch light at different angles.
Plan of a cone A, lit by window BC; position of eye D. Illustrating principles of light and shade
Lines B4, C3 represent the extreme limits of light that can be received by the cone, and therefore at points 3 and 4 the shadow will commence. The fact that light is reflected to the eye right up to the point 3 does not upset the theory that it can only be reflected from points where the angle of incidence can equal the angle of reflection, as it would seem to do, because the surface being rough presents facets at different angles, from some of which it can be reflected to the eye right up to point 3. The number of these facets that can so reflect is naturally greatest near the high lights, and gets gradually less as the surface turns more away; until the point is reached where the shadows begin, at which point the surface positively turns away from the light and the reflection of direct light ceases altogether. After point 3 there would be no light coming to the eye from the object, were it not that it receives reflected light. Now, the greatest amount of reflected light will come from the direction opposite to that of the direct light, as all objects in this direction are strongly lit. The surface of the wall between points E and H, being directly opposite the light, will give most reflection. And between points 5 and 6 this light will be reflected by the cone to the eye in its greatest intensity, since at these points the angles of incidence equal the angles of reflection. The other parts of the shadow will receive a certain amount of reflected light, lessening in amount on either side of these points. We have now rays of light coming to the eye from the cone between the extreme points 7 and 8. From 7 to 3 we have the light, including the half tones. Between 1 and 2 the high light. Between 3 and 8 the shadows, with the greatest amount of reflected light between 5 and 6.
I should not have troubled the reader with this tedious diagram were it not that certain facts about light and shade can be learned from it. The first is that the high lights come much more within the edge of the object than you would have expected. With the light directly opposite point 7, one might have thought the highest light would have come there, and that is where many students put it, until the loss of roundness in the appearance of their work makes them look more carefully for its position. So remember always to look out for high lights within the contours of forms, not on the edges.
The next thing to notice is that the darkest part of the shadow will come nearest the lights between points 3 and 5. This is the part turned most away from the direction of the greatest amount of reflected light, and therefore receiving least. The lightest part of the shadow will be in the middle, rather towards the side away from the light, generally speaking. The shadow cast on the ground will be dark, like the darkest part of the shadow on the cone, as its surface is also turned away from the chief source of reflected light.
Although the artist will very seldom be called upon to draw a cone, the same principles of light and shade that are so clearly seen in such a simple figure obtain throughout the whole of nature. This is why the much abused drawing and shading from whitened blocks and pots is so useful. Nothing so clearly impresses the general laws of light and shade as this so-called dull study.
This lightening of shadows in the middle by reflected light and darkening towards their edges is a very important thing to remember, the heavy, smoky look students’ early work is so prone to, being almost entirely due to their neglect through ignorance of this principle. Nothing is more awful than shadows darker in the middle and gradually lighter towards their edges. Of course, where there is a deep hollow in the shadow parts, as at the armpit and the fold at the navel in the drawing on Plate XVIII, you will get a darker tone. But this does not contradict the principle that generally shadows are lighter in the middle and darker towards the edges. Note the luminous quality the observation of this principle gives the shadow on the body of our demonstration drawing.
This is a crude statement of the general principles of light and shade on a simple round object. In one with complex surfaces the varieties of light and shade are infinite. But the same principles hold good. The surfaces turned more to the source of light receive the greatest amount, and are the lightest. And from these parts the amount of light lessens through what are called the half tones as the surface turns more away, until a point is reached where no more direct light is received, and the shadows begin. And in the shadows the same law applies: those surfaces turned most towards the source of reflected light will receive the most, and the amount received will gradually lessen as the surface turns away, until at the point immediately before where the half tones begin the amount of reflected light will be very little, and in consequence the darkest part of the shadows may be looked for. There may, of course, be other sources of direct light on the shadow side that will entirely alter and complicate the effect. Or one may draw in a wide, diffused light, such as is found in the open air on a grey day; in which case there will be little or no shadow, the modelling depending entirely on degrees of light and half tone.
In studying the principles of simple light and shade it is advisable to draw from objects of one local colour, such as white casts. In parti-coloured objects the problem is complicated by the different tones of the local colour. In line drawing it is as well to take as little notice as possible of these variations which disturb the contemplation of pure form and do not belong to the particular province of form expression with which drawing is concerned.
Although one has selected a strong half light and half shade effect to illustrate the general principles of light and shade, it is not advisable in making line drawings to select such a position. A point of view with a fairly wide light at your back is the best. In this position little shadow will be seen, most of the forms being expressed by the play of light and half tone. The contours, as they are turned away from the light, will naturally be darker, and against a light background your subject has an appearance with dark edges that is easily expressed by a line drawing. Strong light and shade effects should be left for mass drawing. You seldom see any shadows in Holbein’s drawings; he seems to have put his sitters near a wide window, close against which he worked. Select also a background as near the tone of the highest light on the object to be drawn as possible. This will show up clearly the contour. In the case of a portrait drawing, a newspaper hung behind the head answers very well and is always easily obtained. The tone of it can be varied by the distance at which it is placed from the head, and by the angle at which it is turned away from or towards the light.
Don’t burden a line drawing with heavy half tones and shadows; keep them light. The beauty that is the particular province of line drawing is the beauty of contours, and this is marred by heavy light and shade. Great draughtsmen use only just enough to express the form, but never to attempt the expression of tone. Think of the half tones as part of the lights and not as part of the shadows.
There are many different methods of drawing in line, and a student of any originality will find one that suits his temperament. But I will try and illustrate one that is at any rate logical, and that may serve as a fair type of line drawing generally.
The appearance of an object is first considered as a series of contours, some forming the boundaries of the form against the background, and others the boundaries of the subordinate forms within these bounding lines. The light and shade and differences of local colour (like the lips, eyebrows, and eyes in a head) are considered together as tones of varying degrees of lightness and darkness, and suggested by means of lines drawn parallel across the drawing from left to right, and from below upwards, or vice versa, darker and closer together when depth is wanted, and fainter and further apart where delicacy is demanded, and varying in thickness when gradation is needed. This rule of parallel shading is broken only when strongly marked forms, such as the swing lines of hair, a prominent bone or straining muscles, &c., demand it. This parallel shading gives a great beauty of surface and fleshiness to a drawing. The lines following, as it were, the direction of the light across the object rather than the form, give a unity that has a great charm. It is more suited to drawings where extreme delicacy of form is desired, and is usually used in silver point work, a medium capable of the utmost refinement.
Plate XX Study for the figure of love in the picture “Love leaving Psyche” illustrating a method of drawing
The lines of shading following a convenient parallel direction unless prominent forms demand otherwise.
In this method the lines of shading not being much varied in direction or curved at all, a minimum amount of that “form stimulus” is conveyed. The curving of the lines in shading adds considerably to the force of the relief, and suggests much stronger modelling. In the case of foreshortened effects, where the forms are seen at their fullest, arching one over the other, some curvature in the lines of shading is of considerable advantage in adding to the foreshortened look.
Lines drawn down the forms give an appearance of great strength and toughness, a tense look. And this quality is very useful in suggesting such things as joints and sinews, rocks, hard ground, or gnarled tree-trunks, &c. In figure drawing it is an interesting quality to use sparingly, with the shading done on the across-the-form principle; and to suggest a difference of texture or a straining of the form. Lines of shading drawn in every direction, crossing each other and resolving themselves into tone effects, suggest atmosphere and the absence of surface form. This is more often used in the backgrounds of pen and ink work and is seldom necessary in pencil or chalk drawing, as they are more concerned with form than atmosphere. Pen and ink is more often used for elaborate pictorial effects in illustration work, owing to the ease with which it can be reproduced and printed; and it is here that one more often finds this muddled quality of line spots being used to fill up interstices and make the tone even.
Speaking generally, lines of shading drawn across the forms suggest softness, lines drawn in curves fulness of form, lines drawn down the forms hardness, and lines crossing in all directions so that only a mystery of tone results, atmosphere. And if these four qualities of line be used judiciously, a great deal of expressive power is added to your shading. And, as will be explained in the next chapter, somewhat the same principle applies to the direction of the swing of the brush in painting.
Shading lines should never be drawn backwards and forwards from left to right (scribbled), except possibly where a mystery of shadow is wanted and the lines are being crossed in every direction; but never when lines are being used to express form. They are not sufficiently under control, and also the little extra thickness that occurs at the turn is a nuisance.
The crossing of lines in shading gives a more opaque look. This is useful to suggest the opaque appearance of the darker passage that occurs in that part of a shadow nearest the lights; and it is sometimes used in the half tones also.
Draughtsmen vary very much in their treatment of hair, and different qualities of hair require different treatment. The particular beauty of it that belongs to point drawing is the swing and flow of its lines. These are especially apparent in the lights. In the shadows the flow of line often stops, to be replaced by a mystery of shadow. So that a play of swinging lines alternating with shadow passages, drawn like all the other shadows with parallel lines not following the form, is often effective, and suggests the quality of hair in nature. The swinging lines should vary in thickness along their course, getting darker as they pass certain parts, and gradating into lighter lines at other parts according to the effect desired. (See Plate XXI.)
Illustrating a treatment of hair in line-work.
To sum up, in the method of line drawing we are trying to explain (the method employed for most of the drawings by the author in this book) the lines of shading are made parallel in a direction that comes easy to the hand, unless some quality in the form suggests their following other directions. So that when you are in doubt as to what direction they should follow, draw them on the parallel principle. This preserves a unity in your work, and allows the lines drawn in other directions for special reasons to tell expressively.
As has already been explained, it is not sufficient in drawing to concentrate the attention on copying accurately the visual appearance of anything, important as the faculty of accurate observation is. Form to be expressed must first be appreciated. And here the science of teaching fails. “You can take a horse to the fountain, but you cannot make him drink,” and in art you can take the student to the point of view from which things are to be appreciated, but you cannot make him see. How, then, is this appreciation of form to be developed? Simply by feeding. Familiarise yourself with all the best examples of drawing you can find, trying to see in nature the same qualities. Study the splendid drawing by Puvis de Chavannes reproduced on Plate XXII. Note the way the contours have been searched for expressive qualities. Look how the expressive line of the back of the seated figure has been “felt,” the powerful expression of the upraised arm with its right angle. And then observe the different types of the two standing figures; the practical vigour of the one and the soft grace of the other, and how their contours have been studied to express this feeling, &c. There is a mine of knowledge to be unearthed in this drawing.
There never was an age when such an amount of artistic food was at the disposal of students. Cheap means of reproduction have brought the treasures of the world’s galleries and collections to our very doors in convenient forms for a few pence. The danger is not from starvation, but indigestion. Students are so surfeited with good things that they often fail to digest any of them; but rush on from one example to another, taking but snapshot views of what is offered, until their natural powers of appreciation are in a perfect whirlwind of confused ideas. What then is to be done? You cannot avoid the good things that are hurled at you in these days, but when you come across anything that strikes you as being a particularly fine thing, feed deeply on it. Hang it up where you will see it constantly; in your bedroom, for instance, where it will entertain your sleepless hours, if you are unfortunate enough to have any. You will probably like very indifferent drawings at first, the pretty, the picturesque and the tricky will possibly attract before the sublimity of finer things. But be quite honest and feed on the best that you genuinely like, and when you have thoroughly digested and comprehended that, you will weary of it and long for something better, and so, gradually, be led on to appreciate the best you are capable of appreciating.
Note how the contours are searched for expressive forms, the power given to the seated figure by the right angle of the raised arm,
and the contrast between the upright vigour of the right-hand figure with the softer lines of the middle one.
Before closing this chapter there are one or two points connected with the drawing of a head that might be mentioned, as students are not always sufficiently on the look out for them.
In our Diagram VI, let Fig. 1 represent a normal eye. At Fig. 2 we have removed the skin and muscles and exposed the two main structural features in the form of the eye, namely the bony ring of the socket and the globe containing the lenses and retina. Examining this opening, we find from A to B that it runs smoothly into the bony prominence at the top of the nose, and that the rest of the edge is sharp, and from point C to E quite free. It is at point A, starting from a little hole, that the sharp edge begins; and near this point the corner of the eye is situated: A, Figs. 1, 2, 3. From points A to F the bony edge of the opening is very near the surface and should be looked for.
The next thing to note is the fact that the eyebrow at first follows the upper edge of the bony opening from B to C, but that from point C it crosses the free arch between C and D and soon ends. So that considering the under side of the eyebrow, whereas from point C towards B there is usually a cavernous hollow, from C towards D there is a prominence. The character of eyes varies greatly, and this effect is often modified by the fleshy fulness that fills in the space between the eyelid and the brow, but some indication of a change is almost always to be observed at a point somewhere about C, and should be looked out for. Any bony prominence from this point towards D should be carefully constructed. Look out for the bone, therefore, between the points CD and AF.
Never forget when painting an eye that what we call the white of the eye is part of a sphere and will therefore have the light and shade of a sphere. It will seldom be the same tone all over; if the light is coming from the right, it will be in shade towards the left and vice versa. Also the eyelids are bands of flesh placed on this spherical surface. They will therefore partake of the modelling of the sphere and not be the same tone all across. Note particularly the sudden change of plane usually marked by a fold, where the under eyelid meets the surface coming from the cheek bone. The neglect to construct these planes of the under eyelid is a very common fault in poorly painted eyes. Note also where the upper eyelid comes against the flesh under the eyebrow (usually a strongly marked fold) and the differences of planes that occur at this juncture. In some eyes, when there is little loose flesh above the eyelid, there is a deep hollow here, the eyelid running up under the bony prominence, C D. This is an important structural line, marking as it does the limit of the spherical surface of the eyeball, on which surface the eyelids are placed.
Fig. 4 is a rough diagram of the direction it is usual for the hairs forming the eyebrow to take. From A a few scant hairs start radiating above the nose and quite suddenly reach their thickest and strongest growth between B and E. They continue, still following a slightly radiating course until D. These hairs are now met by another lot, starting from above downwards, and growing from. B to C. An eyebrow is considered by the draughtsman as a tone of a certain shape and qualities of edge. And what interests us here is to note the effect of this order of growth upon its appearance as tone. The meeting of the strong growth of hair upwards with the downward growth between points B and E creates what is usually the darkest part of the eyebrow at this point. And the coming together of the hairs towards D often makes another dark part in this direction. The edge from C to B is nearly always a soft one, the tone melting into the flesh, and this should be looked out for, giving as it does a pretty variety to the run of the line. Another thing that tends to make this edge soft is the fact that a bony prominence is situated here and has usually a high light upon it that crosses the eyebrow. From C to D you usually find a sharper edge, the hairs running parallel to the line of the eyebrow, while from D to B and A to B a softer boundary can be looked for. The chief accent will generally be found at B, where a dark mass often comes sharply against the tone of the forehead
The eyelashes do not count for much in drawing a head, except in so far as they affect the tone impression. In the first place they shade the white of the eye when the light is above, as is usually the case. They are much thicker on the outer than on the inner side of the eyelids, and have a tendency to grow in an outward direction, so that when the light comes from the left, as is shown by arrow, Fig. 5, the white of the eye at A1 will not be much shaded, and the light tone will run nearly up to the top. But at B4, which should be the light side of this eye, the thick crop of eyelashes will shade it somewhat and the light will not run far up in consequence, while B3, A2 will be in the shade from the turning away from the direction of the light of the spherical surface of the whites of the eyes.
These may seem small points to mention, but the observance of such small points makes a great difference to the construction of a head.
Fig. 6 gives a series of blocks all exactly alike in outline, with lines showing how the different actions of the head affect the guide lines on which the features hang; and how these actions can be suggested even when the contours are not varied. These archings over should be carefully looked out for when the head is in any but a simple full face position.
IX MASS DRAWING: PRACTICAL
This is the form of drawing with which painting in the oil medium is properly concerned. The distinction between drawing and painting that is sometimes made is a wrong one in so far as it conveys any idea of painting being distinct from drawing. Painting is drawing (i.e. the expression of form) with the added complication of colour and tone. And with a brush full of paint as your tool, some form of mass drawing must be adopted, so that at the same time that the student is progressing with line drawing, he should begin to accustom, himself to this other method of seeing, by attempting very simple exercises in drawing with the brush.
Most objects can be reduced broadly into three tone masses, the lights (including the high lights), the half tones, and the shadows. And the habit of reducing things into a simple equation of three tones as a foundation on which to build complex appearances should early be sought for.
Exercise in Mass Drawing
Here is a simple exercise in mass drawing with the brush that is, as far as I know, never offered to the young student. Select a simple object: some of those casts of fruit hanging up that are common in art schools will do. Place it in a strong light and shade, preferably by artificial light, as it is not so subtle, and therefore easier; the light coming from either the right or left hand, but not from in front. Try and arrange it so that the tone of the ground of your cast comes about equal to the half tones in the relief
Set of four photographs of the same painting from a cast in different stages
No. 1. Blocking out the shape of spaces to be occupied by masses.
No. 2. A middle tone having been scumbled over the whole, the lights are now painted.
Their shapes and the play of lost-and-foundness on their edges being observed.
Gradations are got by thinner paint, which is mixed with the wet middle tone of the ground, and is darkened.
No. 3. The same as the last, with the addition of the darks; variety being got in the same way as in the case of the lights,
only here the thinner part is lighter, whereas in the case of the lights it was darker.
No. 4. The finished work, refinements being added and mistakes corrected.
First draw in the outlines of the masses strongly in charcoal, noting the shapes of the shadows carefully, taking great care that you get their shapes blocked out in square lines in true proportion relative to each other, and troubling about little else. Let this be a setting out of the ground upon which you will afterwards express the form, rather than a drawing—the same scaffolding, in fact, that you were advised to do in the case of a line drawing, only, in that case, the drawing proper was to be done with a point, and in this case the drawing proper is to be done with a brush full of paint. Fix the charcoal well with a spray diffuser and the usual solution of white shellac in spirits of wine.
Taking raw umber and white (oil paint), mix up a tone that you think equal to the half tones of the cast before you. Extreme care should be taken in matching this tone. Now scumble this with a big brush equally over the whole canvas (or whatever you are making your study on). Don’t use much medium, but if it is too stiff to go on thinly enough, put a little oil with it, but no turpentine. By scumbling is meant rubbing the colour into the canvas, working the brush from side to side rapidly, and laying just the thinnest solid tone that will cover the surface. If this is properly done, and your drawing was well fixed, you will just be able to see it through the paint. Now mix up a tone equal to the highest lights on the cast, and map out simply the shapes of the light masses on your study, leaving the scumbled tone for the half tones. Note carefully where the light masses come sharply against the half tones and where they merge softly into them.
You will find that the scumbled tone of your ground will mix with the tone of the lights with which you are painting, and darken it somewhat. This will enable you to get the amount of variety you want in the tone of the lights. The thicker you paint the lighter will be the tone, while the thinner paint will be more affected by the original half tone, and will consequently be darker. When this is done, mix up a tone equal to the darkest shadow, and proceed to map out the shadows in the same way as you did the lights; noting carefully where they come sharply against the half tone and where they are lost. In the case of the shadows the thicker you paint the darker will be the tone; and the thinner, the lighter.
When the lights and shadows have been mapped out, if this has been done with any accuracy, your work should be well advanced. And it now remains to correct and refine it here and there, as you feel it wants it. Place your work alongside the cast, and walk back to correct it. Faults that are not apparent when close, are easily seen at a little distance.
I don’t suggest that this is the right or only way of painting, but I do suggest that exercises of this description will teach the student many of the rudimentary essentials of painting, such elementary things as how to lay a tone, how to manage a brush, how to resolve appearances into a simple structure of tones, and how to manipulate your paint so as to express the desired shape. This elementary paint drawing is, as far as I know, never given as an exercise, the study of drawing at present being confined to paper and charcoal or chalk mediums. Drawing in charcoal is the nearest thing to this “paint drawing,” it being a sort of mixed method, half line and half mass drawing. But although allied to painting, it is a very different thing from expressing form with paint, and no substitute for some elementary exercise with the brush. The use of charcoal to the neglect of line drawing often gets the student into a sloppy manner of work, and is not so good a training to the eye and hand in clear, definite statement. Its popularity is no doubt due to the fact that you can get much effect with little knowledge. Although this painting into a middle tone is not by any means the only method of painting, I do feel that it is the best method for studying form expression with the brush.
But, when you come to colour, the fact of the opaque middle tone (or half tone) being first painted over the whole will spoil the clearness and transparency of your shadows, and may also interfere with the brilliancy of the colour in the lights. When colour comes to be considered it may be necessary to adopt many expedients that it is as well not to trouble too much about until a further stage is reached. But there is no necessity for the half tone to be painted over the shadows. In working in colour the half tone or middle tone of the lights can be made, and a middle tone of the shadows, and these two first painted separately, the edges where they come together being carefully studied and finished. Afterwards the variety of tone in the lights and the shadows can be added. By this means the difference in the quality of the colour between lights and shadows is preserved. This is an important consideration, as there is generally a strong contrast between them, the shadows usually being warm if the lights are cool and vice versa; and such contrasts greatly affect the vitality of colouring.
Try always to do as much as possible with one stroke of the brush; paint has a vitality when the touches are deft, that much handling and continual touching kills. Look carefully at the shape and variety of the tone you wish to express, and try and manipulate the swing of your brush in such a way as to get in one touch as near the quality of shape and gradation you want. Remember that the lightest part of your touch will be where the brush first touches the canvas when you are painting lights into a middle tone; and that as the amount of paint in the brush gets less, so the tone will be more affected by what you are painting into, and get darker. And in painting the shadows, the darkest part of your stroke will be where the brush first touches the canvas; and it will gradually lighten as the paint in your brush gets less and therefore more affected by the tone you are painting into. If your brush is very full it will not be influenced nearly so much. And if one wants a touch that shall be distinct, as would be the case in painting the shiny light on a glazed pot, a very full brush would be used. But generally speaking, get your effects with as little paint as possible. Thinner paint is easier to refine and manipulate. There will be no fear of its not being solid if you are painting into a solidly scumbled middle tone.
Many charming things are to be done with a mixture of solid and transparent paint, but it is well at first not to complicate the problem too much, and therefore to leave this until later on, when you are competent to attack problems of colour. Keep your early work both in monochrome and colour quite solid, but as thin as you can, reserving thicker paint for those occasions when you wish to put a touch that shall not be influenced by what you are painting into.
Class A, round; Class B, flat; Class C, full flat brush with rounded corners; Class D, filbert shape.
It will perhaps be as well to illustrate a few of the different brush strokes, and say something about the different qualities of each. These are only given as typical examples of the innumerable ways a brush may be used as an aid to very elementary students; every artist will, of course, develop ways of his own.
The touch will of necessity depend in the first instance upon the shape of the brush, and these shapes are innumerable. But there are two classes into which they can roughly be divided, flat and round. The round brushes usually sold, which we will call Class A, have rather a sharp point, and this, although helpful in certain circumstances, is against their general usefulness. But a round brush with a round point is also made, and this is much more convenient for mass drawing. Where there is a sharp point the central hairs are much longer, and consequently when the brush is drawn along and pressed so that all the hairs are touching the canvas, the pressure in the centre, where the long hairs are situated, is different from that at the sides. This has the effect of giving a touch that is not equal in quality all across, and the variety thus given is difficult to manipulate. I should therefore advise the student to try the blunt-ended round brushes first, as they give a much more even touch, and one much more suited to painting in planes of tone.
The most extreme flat brushes (Class B) are thin and rather short, with sharp square ends, and have been very popular with students. They can be relied upon to give a perfectly flat, even tone, but with a rather hard sharp edge at the sides, and also at the commencement of the touch. In fact, they make touches like little square bricks. But as the variety that can be got out of them is limited, and the amount of paint they can carry so small that only short strokes can be made, they are not the best brush for general use. They are at times, when great refinement and delicacy are wanted, very useful, but are, on the whole, poor tools for the draughtsman in paint. Some variety can be got by using one or other of their sharp corners, by which means the smallest possible touch can be made to begin with, which can be increased in size as more pressure is brought to bear, until the whole surface of the brush is brought into play. They are also often used to paint across the form, a manner illustrated in the second touch, columns 1 and 2 on Plate XXV.
A more useful brush (Class C) partakes of the qualities of both flat and round. It is made with much more hair than the last, is longer, and has a square top with rounded corners. This brush carries plenty of paint, will lay an even tone, and, from the fact that the corners are rounded and the pressure consequently lessened at the sides, does not leave so hard an edge on either side of your stroke.
Another brush that has recently come into fashion is called a filbert shape (Class D) by the makers. It is a fine brush to draw with, as being flat it paints in planes, and having a rounded top is capable of getting in and out of a variety of contours. They vary in shape, some being more pointed than others. The blunt-ended form is the best for general use. Either this class of brush or Class C are perhaps the best for the exercises in mass drawing we have been describing. But Class A should also be tried, and even Class B, to find out which suits the particular individuality of the student.
On Plate XXV a variety of touches have been made in turn by these different shaped brushes.
In all the strokes illustrated it is assumed that the brush is moderately full of paint of a consistency a little thinner than that usually put up by colourmen. To thin it, mix a little turpentine and linseed oil in equal parts with it; and get it into easy working consistency before beginning your work, so as not to need any medium.
In the first column (No. 1), a touch firmly painted with an equal pressure all along its course is given. This gives you a plane of tone with firm edges the width of your brush, getting gradually darker or lighter as your brush empties, according to the length of the stroke and to whether you are painting into a lighter or darker ground.
In column No. 2 a drag touch is illustrated. This is a very useful one. The brush is placed firmly on the canvas and then dragged from the point lightly away, leaving a gradated tone. A great deal of the modelling in round objects is to be expressed by this variety of handling. The danger is that its use is apt to lead to a too dexterous manner of painting; a dexterity more concerned with the clever manner in which a thing is painted than with the truth expressed.
Column No. 3. This is a stroke lightly and quickly painted, where the brush just grazes the surface of the canvas. The paint is put on in a manner that is very brilliant, and at the same time of a soft quality. If the brush is only moderately full, such touches will not have any hard edges, but be of a light, feathery nature. It is a most useful manner of putting on paint when freshness of colour is wanted, as it prevents one tone being churned up with another and losing its purity. And in the painting of hair, where the tones need to be kept very separate, and at the same time not hard, it is very useful. But in monochrome painting from the cast it is of very little service.
Another method of using a brush is hatching, the drawing of rows of parallel lines in either equal or varying thicknesses. This method will lighten or darken a tone in varying degree, according to whether the lines are thick, thin, or gradated—somewhat in the same way that lines of shading are drawn in line work. In cases where the correction of intricate modelling is desired and where it would be very difficult to alter a part accurately by a deft stroke of the brush, this method is useful to employ. A dry brush can be drawn across the lines to unite them with the rest of the work afterwards. This method of painting has lately been much used by those artists who have attempted painting in separate, pure colours, after the so-called manner of Claude Monet, although so mechanical a method is seldom used by that master.
As your power of drawing increases (from the line drawing you have been doing), casts of hands and heads should be attempted in the same manner as has been described. Illustrations are given of exercises of this description on Plate XXIII and Plate XXIV. Unfortunately the photographs, which were taken from the same study at different stages during the painting, are not all alike, the first painting of the lights being too darkly printed in some cases. But they show how much can be expressed with the one tone, when variety is got by using the middle tone to paint into. The two tones used are noted in the right-hand lower corner.
Try to train yourself to do these studies at one sitting. But if you find you cannot manage this, use slower drying colours, say bone brown and zinc white, which will keep wet until the next day.
When you begin studying from the life, proceed in the same way with monochrome studies painted into a middle tone.
And what are you to do if you find, when you have finished, that it is all wrong? I should advise you to let it dry, and then scumble a middle tone right over the whole thing, as you did at first, which will show the old work through, and you can then correct your drawing and proceed to paint the lights and shadows as before. And if only a part of it is wrong, when it is quite dry rub a little, poppy oil thinned with turpentine over the work, as little as will serve to cover the surface. If it is found difficult to get it to cover, breathe on the canvas, the slightest moisture will help it to bite. When this is done, wipe it off with the palm of your hand or an old piece of clean linen. Now paint a middle tone right over the part you wish to retouch, being careful about joining it up to the surrounding work, and proceed as before, drawing in the light and shadow masses.
This form of drawing you will probably find more difficult at first. For the reason already explained it seems natural to observe objects as made up of outlines, not masses. The frame with cottons across it should be used to flatten the appearance, as in making outline drawings. And besides this a black glass should be used. This can easily be made by getting a small piece of glass—a photographic negative will do—and sticking some black paper on the back; turning it over the front to keep the raw edges of the glass from cutting the fingers. Or the glass can be painted on the back with black paint. Standing with your back to the object and your painting, hold this glass close in front of one of your eyes (the other being closed), so that you can see both your painting and the object. Seeing the tones thus reduced and simplified, you will be enabled more easily to correct your work.
I should like to emphasise the importance of the setting-out work necessary for brush-drawing. While it is not necessary to put expressive work into this preparatory work, the utmost care should be taken to ensure its accuracy as far as it goes. It is a great nuisance if, after you have put up some of your fair structure, you find the foundations are in the wrong place and the whole thing has to be torn down and shifted. It is of the utmost necessity to have the proportions and the main masses settled at this early stage, and every device of blocking out with square lines and measuring with your knitting-needle, &c., should be adopted to ensure the accuracy of these large proportions. The variations and emphases that feeling may dictate can be done in the painting stage. This initial stage is not really a drawing at all, but a species of mapping out, and as such it should be regarded. The only excuse for making the elaborate preparatory drawings on canvas students sometimes do, is that it enables them to learn the subject, so that when they come to paint it, they already know something about it. But the danger of making these preparatory drawings interesting is that the student fears to cover them up and lose an outline so carefully and lovingly wrought; and this always results in a poor painting. When you take up a brush to express yourself, it must be with no fear of hurting a careful drawing. Your drawing is going to be done with the brush, and only the general setting out of the masses will be of any use to you in the work of this initial stage. Never paint with the poor spirit of the student who fears to lose his drawing, or you will never do any fine things in painting. Drawing (expressing form) is the thing you should be doing all the time. And in art, “he that would save his work must often lose it,” if you will excuse the paraphrase of a profound saying which, like most profound sayings, is applicable to many things in life besides what it originally referred to. It is often necessary when a painting is nearly right to destroy the whole thing in order to accomplish the apparently little that still divides it from what you conceive it should be. It is like a man rushing a hill that is just beyond the power of his motor-car to climb, he must take a long run at it. And if the first attempt lands him nearly up at the top but not quite, he has to go back and take the long run all over again, to give him the impetus that shall carry him right through.
Another method of judging tone drawing is our old method of half closing the eyes. This, by lowering the tone and widening the focus, enables you to correct the work more easily.
In tone drawing there is not only the shape of the masses to be considered, but their values—that is, their position in an imagined scale from dark to light. The relation of the different tones in this way—the values, as it is called—is an extremely important matter in painting. But it more properly belongs to the other department of the subject, namely Colour, and this needs a volume to itself. But something more will be said on this subject when treating of Rhythm.
We saw, in speaking of line drawing, how the character of a line was found by observing its flatnesses and its relation to straight lines. In the same way the character of modelling is found by observing its planes. So that in building up a complicated piece of form, like a head or figure, the planes (or flat tones) should be sought for everywhere. As a carver in stone blocks out his work in square surfaces, the modelling of a figure or any complex surface that is being studied should be set out in planes of tone, painting in the first instance the larger ones, and then, to these, adding the smaller; when it will be seen that the roundnesses have, with a little fusing of edges here and there, been arrived at. Good modelling is full of these planes subtly fused together. Nothing is so characteristic of bad modelling as “gross roundnesses.” The surface of a sphere is the surface with the least character, like the curve of a circle, and the one most to be avoided in good modelling.
In the search for form the knowledge of anatomy, and particularly the bony structures, is of the utmost importance. During the rage for realism and naturalism many hard things were said about the study of anatomy. And certainly, were it to be used to overstep the modesty of nature in these respects and to be paraded to the exclusion of the charm and character of life, it would be as well left alone. But if we are to make a drawing that shall express something concrete, we must know something of its structure, whatever it is. In the case of the human figure it is impossible properly to understand its action and draw it in a way that shall give a powerful impression without a knowledge of the mechanics of its construction. But I hardly think the case for anatomy needs much stating at the present time. Never let anatomical knowledge tempt you into exaggerated statements of internal structure, unless such exaggeration helps the particular thing you wish to express. In drawing a figure in violent action it might, for instance, be essential to the drawing, whereas in drawing a figure at rest or a portrait, it would certainly be out of place.
Set of four photographs of the same study from the life in different stages
No. 1. Blocking out the spaces occupied by different masses in charcoal.
No. 2. A middle tone having been scumbled over the whole, the lights are painted into it;
variety being got by varying the thickness of the paint.
The darks are due to the charcoal lines of initial drawing showing through middle tone.
No. 3. The same as the last, but with the shadows added; variety being got by varying thickness of paint as before.
No. 4. The completed head.
In the chapter on line work it was stated that: “Lines of shading drawn across the forms suggest softness, lines drawn in curves fulness of form, lines drawn down the forms hardness, and lines crossing in every direction atmosphere,” and these rules apply equally well to the direction of the brush strokes (the brush work) in a painting.
The brush swinging round the forms suggests fore-shortening, and fulness of form generally, and across the forms softness, while the brush following down the forms suggests toughness and hardness, and crossing in every direction atmosphere. A great deal of added force can be given to form expression in this way. In the foreshortened figure on the ground at the left of Tintoretto’s “Finding of the Body of St. Mark,” the foreshortened effect helped by the brush work swinging round can be seen The work of Henner in France is an extreme instance of the quality of softness and fleshiness got by painting across the form. The look of toughness and hardness given by the brush work following down the forms is well illustrated in much of the work of James Ward, the animal painter. In his picture in the National Gallery, “Harlech Castle,” No. 1158, this can be seen in the painting of the tree-trunks, &c.
The crossing of the brush work in every direction, giving a look of atmosphere, is naturally often used in painting backgrounds and also such things as the plane surfaces of sky and mist, &c.
It is often inconvenient to paint across the form when softness is wanted. It is only possible to have one colour in your brush sweep, and the colour changes across, much more than down the form as a rule. For the shadows, half tones and lights, besides varying in tone, vary also in colour; so that it is not always possible to sweep across them with one colour. It is usually more convenient to paint down where the colours can be laid in overlapping bands of shadow, half tone and light, &c. Nevertheless, if this particular look of softness and fleshiness is desired, either the painting must be so thin or the tones so fused together that no brush strokes show, or a dry flat brush must afterwards be drawn lightly across when the painting is done, to destroy the downward brush strokes and substitute others going across, great care being taken to drag only from light to dark, and to wipe the brush carefully after each touch; and also never to go over the same place twice, or the paint will lose vitality. This is a method much employed by artists who delight in this particular quality.
But when a strong, tough look is desired, such as one sees when a muscle is in violent action, or in the tendon above the wrist or above the heel in the leg, or generally where a bone comes to the surface, in all these cases the brush work should follow down the forms. It is not necessary and is often inadvisable for the brush work to show at all, in which case these principles will be of little account. But when in vigorously painted work they do, I think it will generally be found to create the effects named.
Drawing on toned paper with white chalk or Chinese white and black or red chalk is another form of mass drawing. And for studies it is intended to paint from, this is a quick and excellent manner. The rapidity with which the facts of an appearance can be noted makes it above all others the method for drapery studies. The lights are drawn with white, the toned paper being allowed to show through where a darker tone is needed, the white (either chalk or Chinese white) being put on thickly when a bright light is wanted and thinly where a quieter light is needed. So with the shadows, the chalk is put on heavily in the darks and less heavily in the lighter shadows. Since the days of the early Italians this has been a favourite method of drawing drapery studies.
Some artists have shaded their lights with gold and silver paint. The late Sir Edward Burne-Jones was very fond of this, and drawings with much decorative charm have been done this way. The principle is the same as in drawing with white chalk, the half tone being given by the paper.
Keep the lights separate from the shadows, let the half tone paper always come as a buffer state between them. Get as much information into the drawing of your lights and shadows as possible; don’t be satisfied with a smudge effect. Use the side of your white chalk when you want a mass, or work in parallel lines (hatching) on the principle described in the chapter on line drawing.
The subject of Rhythm in what are called the Fine Arts is so vague, and has received so little attention, that some courage, or perhaps foolhardiness, is needed to attack it. And in offering the following fragmentary ideas that have been stumbled on in my own limited practice, I want them to be accepted only for what they are worth, as I do not know of any proper authority for them. But they may serve as a stimulus, and offer some lines on which the student can pursue the subject for himself.
The word rhythm is here used to signify the power possessed by lines, tones, and colours, by their ordering and arrangement, to affect us, somewhat as different notes and combinations of sound do in music. And just as in music, where sounds affect us without having any direct relation with nature, but appeal directly to our own inner life; so in painting, sculpture, and architecture there is a music that appeals directly to us apart from any significance that may be associated with the representation of natural phenomena. There is, as it were, an abstract music of line, tone, and colour.
The danger of the naturalistic movement in painting in the nineteenth century has been that it has turned our attention away from this fundamental fact of art to the contemplation of interesting realisations of appearances—realisations often full of poetic suggestiveness due to associations connected with the objects painted as concrete things, but not always made directly significant as artistic expression; whereas it is the business of the artist to relate the form, colour, and tone of natural appearances to this abstract musical quality, with which he should never lose touch even in the most highly realised detail of his work. For only thus, when related to rhythm, do the form, tone, and colour of appearances obtain their full expressive power and become a means of vitally conveying the feeling of the artist.
Inquiry as to the origin of this power and of rhythm generally is a profoundly interesting subject; and now that recent advances in science tend to show that sound, heat, light, and possibly electricity and even nerve force are but different rhythmic forms of energy, and that matter itself may possibly be resolved eventually into different rhythmic motions, it does look as if rhythm may yet be found to contain even the secret of life itself. At any rate it is very intimately associated with life; and primitive man early began to give expression in some form of architecture, sculpture, or painting to the deeper feelings that were moving him; found some correspondence between the lines and colours of architecture, sculpture, and painting and the emotional life that was awakening within him. Thus, looking back at the remains of their work that have come down to us, we are enabled to judge of the nature of the people from the expression we find in hewn stone and on painted walls.
It is in primitive art generally that we see more clearly the direct emotional significance of line and form. Art appears to have developed from its most abstract position, to which bit by bit have been added the truths and graces of natural appearance, until as much of this naturalistic truth has been added as the abstract significance at the base of the expression could stand without loss of power. At this point, as has already been explained, a school is at the height of its development. The work after this usually shows an increased concern with naturalistic truth, which is always very popular, to the gradual exclusion of the backbone of abstract line and form significance that dominated the earlier work. And when these primitive conditions are lost touch with, a decadence sets in. At least, this is roughly the theory to which a study of the two great art developments of the past, in Greece and Italy, would seem to point. And this theory is the excuse for all the attempts at primitivism of which we have lately seen so much.
Art having lost touch with its primitive base owing to the over-doses of naturalism it has had, we must, these new apostles say, find a new primitive base on which to build the new structure of art. The theory has its attractions, but there is this difference between the primitive archaic Greek or early Italian and the modern primitive; the early men reverently clothed the abstract idea they started with in the most natural and beautiful form within their knowledge, ever seeking to discover new truths and graces from nature to enrich their work; while the modern artist, with the art treasures of all periods of the world before him, can never be in the position of these simple-minded men. It is therefore unlikely that the future development of art will be on lines similar to that of the past. The same conditions of simple ignorance are never likely to occur again. Means of communication and prolific reproduction make it very unlikely that the art of the world will again be lost for a season, as was Greek art in the Middle Ages. Interesting intellectually as is the theory that the impressionist point of view (the accepting of the flat retina picture as a pattern of colour sensations) offers a new field from which to select material for a new basis of artistic expression, so far the evidence of results has not shown anything likely seriously to threaten the established principles of traditional design. And anything more different in spirit from the genuine primitive than the irreverent anarchy and flouting of all refinement in the work of some of these new primitives, it would be difficult to imagine. But much of the work of the movement has undoubted artistic vitality, and in its insistence on design and selection should do much to kill “realism” and the “copying nature” theory of a few years back.
Although it is perfectly true that the feelings and ideas that impel the artist may sooner or later find their own expression, there are a great many principles connected with the arranging of lines, tones, and colours in his picture that it is difficult to transgress without calamity. At any rate the knowledge of some of them will aid the artist in gaining experience, and possibly save him some needless fumbling.
But don’t for one moment think that anything in the nature of rules is going to take the place of the initial artistic impulse which must come from within. This is not a matter for teaching, art training being only concerned with perfecting the means of its expression.
Ros. “He calls us back; my pride fell with my fortunes.”
It is proposed to treat the subject from the material side of line and tone only, without any reference to subject matter, with the idea of trying to find out something about the expressive qualities line and tone are capable of yielding unassociated with visual things. What use can be made of any such knowledge to give expression to the emotional life of the artist is not our concern, and is obviously a matter for the individual to decide for himself.
There is at the basis of every picture a structure of lines and masses. They may not be very obvious, and may be hidden under the most broken of techniques, but they will always be found underlying the planning of any painting. Some may say that the lines are only the boundaries of the masses, and others that the masses are only the spaces between the lines. But whichever way you care to look at it, there are particular emotional qualities analogous to music that affect us in lines and line arrangements and also in tone or mass arrangements. And any power a picture may have to move us will be largely due to the rhythmic significance of this original planning. These qualities, as has already been stated, affect us quite apart from any association they may have with natural things: arrangements of mere geometrical lines are sufficient to suggest them. But of course other associations connected with the objects represented will largely augment the impression, when the line and tone arrangements and the sentiment of the object are in sympathy. And if they are not, it may happen that associations connected with the representation will cut in and obscure or entirely destroy this line and tone music. That is to say, if the line and tone arrangement in the abstract is expressive of the sublime, and the objects whose representation they support something ridiculous, say a donkey braying, the associations aroused by so ridiculous an appearance will override those connected with the line and tone arrangement. But it is remarkable how seldom this occurs in nature, the sentiment of the line and tone arrangements things present being usually in harmony with the sentiment of the object itself. As a matter of fact, the line effect of a donkey in repose is much more sublime than when he is braying
Unity and Variety
There are two qualities that may be allowed to divide the consideration of this subject, two points of view from which the subject can be approached: Unity and Variety, qualities somewhat opposed to each other, as are harmony and contrast in the realm of colour. Unity is concerned with the relationship of all the parts to that oneness of conception that should control every detail of a work of art. All the more profound qualities, the deeper emotional notes, are on this side of the subject. On the other hand, variety holds the secrets of charm, vitality, and the picturesque, it is the “dither,” the play between the larger parts, that makes for life and character. Without variety there can be no life.
In any conception of a perfect unity, like the perfected life of the Buddhist, Nirvana or Nibbana (literally “dying out” or “extinction” as of an expiring fire), there is no room for variety, for the play of life; all such fretfulness ceases, to be replaced by an all-pervading calm, beautiful, if you like, but lifeless. There is this deadness about any conception of perfection that will always make it an unattainable ideal in life. Those who, like the Indian fakir or the hermits of the Middle Ages, have staked their all on this ideal of perfection, have found it necessary to suppress life in every way possible, the fakirs often remaining motionless for long periods at a time, and one of the mediaeval saints going so far as to live on the top of a high column where life and movement were well-nigh impossible.
And in art it is the same; all those who have aimed at an absolute perfection have usually ended in a deadness. The Greeks knew better than many of their imitators this vital necessity in art. In their most ideal work there is always that variety that gives character and life. No formula or canon of proportions or other mechanical device for the attainment of perfection was allowed by this vital people entirely to subdue their love of life and variety. And however near they might go towards a perfect type in their ideal heads and figures, they never went so far as to kill the individual in the type. It is the lack of this subtle distinction that, I think, has been the cause of the failure of so much art founded on so-called Greek ideals. Much Roman sculpture, if you except their portrait busts, illustrates this. Compared with Greek work it lacks that subtle variety in the modelling that gives vitality. The difference can be felt instinctively in the merest fragment of a broken figure. It is not difficult to tell Greek from Roman fragments, they pulsate with a life that it is impossible to describe but that one instinctively feels. And this vitality depends, I think it will be found, on the greater amount of life-giving variety in the surfaces of the modelling. In their architectural mouldings, the difference of which we are speaking can be more easily traced. The vivacity and brilliancy of a Greek moulding makes a Roman work look heavy and dull. And it will generally be found that the Romans used the curve of the circle in the sections of their mouldings, a curve possessing the least amount of variety, as is explained later, where the Greeks used the lines of conic sections, curves possessed of the greatest amount of variety.
But while unity must never exist without this life-giving variety, variety must always be under the moral control of unity, or it will get out of hand and become extravagant. In fact, the most perfect work, like the most perfect engine of which we spoke in a former chapter, has the least amount of variety, as the engine has the least amount of “dither,” that is compatible with life. One does not hear so much talk in these days about a perfect type as was the fashion at one time; and certainly the pursuit of this ideal by a process of selecting the best features from many models and constructing a figure out of them as an ideal type, was productive of very dead and lifeless work. No account was taken of the variety from a common type necessary in the most perfect work, if life and individual interest are not to be lost, and the thing is not to become a dead abstraction. But the danger is rather the other way at the moment. Artists revel in the oddest of individual forms, and the type idea is flouted on all hands. An anarchy of individualism is upon us, and the vitality of disordered variety is more fashionable than the calm beauty of an ordered unity.
Excess of variations from a common type is what I think we recognise as ugliness in the objective world, whereas beauty is on the side of unity and conformity to type. Beauty possesses both variety and unity, and is never extreme, erring rather on the side of unity.
Burke in his essay on “The Sublime and the Beautiful” would seem to use the word beautiful where we should use the word pretty, placing it at the opposite pole from the sublime, whereas I think beauty always has some elements of the sublime in it, while the merely pretty has not. Mere prettiness is a little difficult to place, it does not come between either of our extremes, possessing little character or type, variety or unity. It is perhaps charm without either of these strengthening associates, and in consequence is always feeble, and the favourite diet of weak artistic digestions.
The sculpture of ancient Egypt is an instance of great unity in conception, and the suppression of variety to a point at which life scarcely exists. The lines of the Egyptian figures are simple and long, the surfaces smooth and unvaried, no action is allowed to give variety to the pose, the placing of one foot a little in front of the other being alone permitted in the standing figures; the arms, when not hanging straight down the sides, are flexed stiffly at the elbow at right angles; the heads stare straight before them. The expression of sublimity is complete, and this was, of course, what was aimed at. But how cold and terrible is the lack of that play and variety that alone show life. What a relief it is, at the British Museum, to go into the Elgin Marble room and be warmed by the noble life pulsating in the Greek work, after visiting the cold Egyptian rooms.
In what we call a perfect face it is not so much the perfect regularity of shape and balance in the features that charms us, not the things that belong to an ideal type, but rather the subtle variations from this type that are individual to the particular head we are admiring. A perfect type of head, if such could exist, might excite our wonder, but would leave us cold. But it can never exist in life; the slightest movement of the features, which must always accompany life and expression, will mar it. And the influence of these habitual movements on the form of the features themselves will invariably mould them into individual shapes away from the so-called perfect type, whatever may have been nature’s intention in the first instance.
If we call these variations from a common type in the features imperfections, as it is usual to do, it would seem to be the imperfections of perfection that charm and stir us; and that perfection without these so-called imperfections is a cold, dead abstraction, devoid of life: that unity without variety is lifeless and incapable of touching us.
On the other hand, variety without unity to govern it is a riotous exuberance of life, lacking all power and restraint and wasting itself in a madness of excess.
So that in art a balance has to be struck between these two opposing qualities. In good work unity is the dominating quality, all the variety being done in conformity to some large idea of the whole, which is never lost sight of, even in the smallest detail of the work. Good style in art has been defined as “variety in unity,” and Hogarth’s definition of composition as the art of “varying well” is similar. And I am not sure that “contrasts in harmony” would not be a suggestive definition of good colour.
Let us consider first variety and unity as they are related to line drawing, and afterwards to mass drawing.