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- THE PRACTICE AND SCIENCE OF DRAWING Part 4
- XVII PORTRAIT DRAWING
- XVIII THE VISUAL MEMORY
- XIX PROCEDURE
- XX MATERIALS
- XXI CONCLUSION
THE PRACTICE AND SCIENCE OF DRAWING Part 4
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
XVII PORTRAIT DRAWING
There is something in every individual that is likely for a long time to defy the analysis of science. When you have summed up the total of atoms or electrons or whatever it is that goes to the making of the tissues and also the innumerable complex functions performed by the different parts, you have not yet got on the track of the individual that governs the whole performance. The effect of this personality on the outward form, and the influence it has in modifying the aspect of body and features, are the things that concern the portrait draughtsman: the seizing on and expressing forcefully the individual character of the sitter, as expressed by his outward appearance.
This character expression in form has been thought to be somewhat antagonistic to beauty, and many sitters are shy of the particular characteristics of their own features. The fashionable photographer, knowing this, carefully stipples out of his negative any striking characteristics in the form of his sitter the negative may show. But judging by the result, it is doubtful whether any beauty has been gained, and certain that interest and vitality have been lost in the process. Whatever may be the nature of beauty, it is obvious that what makes one object more beautiful than another is something that is characteristic of the appearance of the one and not of the other: so that some close study of individual characteristics must be the aim of the artist who would seek to express beauty, as well as the artist who seeks the expression of character and professes no interest in beauty.
Catching the likeness, as it is called, is simply seizing on the essential things that belong only to a particular individual and differentiate that individual from others, and expressing them in a forceful manner. There are certain things that are common to the whole species, likeness to a common type; the individual likeness is not in this direction but at the opposite pole to it.
It is one of the most remarkable things connected with the amazing subtlety of appreciation possessed by the human eye, that of the millions of heads in the world, and probably of all that have ever existed in the world, no two look exactly alike. When one considers how alike they are, and how very restricted is the range of difference between them, is it not remarkable how quickly the eye recognises one person from another? It is more remarkable still how one sometimes recognises a friend not seen for many years, and whose appearance has changed considerably in the meantime. And this likeness that we recognise is not so much as is generally thought a matter of the individual features. If one sees the eye alone, the remainder of the face being covered, it is almost impossible to recognise even a well-known friend, or tell whether the expression is that of laughing or crying. And again, how difficult it is to recognise anybody when the eyes are masked and only the lower part of the face visible.
Plate L From a drawing in red chalk by Holbein in the British Museum Print Room.
Note how every bit of variety is sought for, the difference in the eyes and on either side of the mouth, etc.
If you try and recall a well-known head it will not be the shape of the features that will be recollected so much as an impression, the result of all these combined, a sort of chord of which the features will be but the component elements. It is the relation of the different parts to this chord, this impression of the personality of a head, that is the all-important thing in what is popularly called “catching the likeness.” In drawing a portrait the mind must be centred on this, and all the individual parts drawn in relation to it. The moment the eye gets interested solely in some individual part and forgets the consideration of its relationship to this whole impression, the likeness suffers.
Where there is so much that is similar in heads, it is obvious that what differences there are must be searched out and seized upon forcefully, if the individuality of the head is to be made telling. The drawing of portraits should therefore be approached from the direction of these differences; that is to say, the things in general disposition and proportion in which your subject differs from a common type, should be first sought for, the things common to all heads being left to take care of themselves for a bit. The reason for this is that the eye, when fresh, sees these differences much more readily than after it has been working for some time. The tendency of a tired eye is to see less differentiation, and to hark back to a dull uniformity; so get in touch at once with the vital differences while your eye is fresh and your vision keen.
Look out first for the character of the disposition of the features, note the proportions down an imagined centre line, of the brows, the base of the nose, the mouth and chin, and get the character of the shape of the enclosing line of the face blocked out in square lines. The great importance of getting these proportions right early cannot be over-emphasised, as any mistake may later on necessitate completely shifting a carefully drawn feature. And the importance of this may be judged from the fact that you recognise a head a long way off, before anything but the general disposition of the masses surrounding the features can be seen. The shape of the skull, too, is another thing of which to get an early idea, and its relation to the face should be carefully noted. But it is impossible to lay down hard and fast rules for these things.
Some artists begin in point drawing with the eyes, and some leave the eyes until the very last. Some draughtsmen are never happy until they have an eye to adjust the head round, treating it as the centre of interest and drawing the parts relatively to it. While others say, with some truth, that there is a mesmeric effect produced when the eye is drawn that blinds one to the cold-blooded technical consideration of a head as line and tone in certain relationships; that it is as well to postpone until the last that moment when the shapes and tones that represent form in your drawing shall be lit up by the introduction of the eye to the look of a live person. One is freer to consider the accuracy of one’s form before this disturbing influence is introduced. And there is a good deal to be said for this.
Although in point drawing you can, without serious effect, begin at any part that interests you, in setting out a painting I think there can be no two opinions as to the right way to go about it. The character of the general disposition of the masses must be first constructed. And if this general blocking in has been well done, the character of the sitter will be apparent from the first even in this early stage; and you will be able to judge of the accuracy of your blocking out by whether or not it does suggest the original. If it does not, correct it before going any further, working, as it were, from the general impression of the masses of the head as seen a long way off, adding more and more detail, and gradually bringing the impression nearer, until the completed head is arrived at, thus getting in touch from the very first with the likeness which should dominate the work all along.
Plate LI Sir Charles Dilke, Bart.
From the drawing in the collection of Sir Robert Essex, M.P., in red conté chalk rubbed, the high lights being picked out with rubber.
There are many points of view from which a portrait can be drawn—I mean, mental points of view. And, as in a biography, the value of the work will depend on the insight and distinction of the author or artist. The valet of a great man might write a biography of his master that could be quite true to his point of view; but, assuming him to be an average valet, it would not be a great work. I believe the gardener of Darwin when asked how his master was, said, “Not at all well. You see, he moons about all day. I’ve seen him staring at a flower for five or ten minutes at a time. Now, if he had some work to do, he would be much better.” A really great biography cannot be written except by a man who can comprehend his subject and take a wide view of his position among men, sorting what is trivial from what is essential, what is common to all men from what is particular to the subject of his work. And it is very much the same in portraiture. It is only the painter who possesses the intuitive faculty for seizing on the significant things in the form expression of his subject, of disentangling what is trivial from what is important; and who can convey this forcibly to the beholder on his canvas, more forcibly than a casual sight of the real person could do—it is only this painter who can hope to paint a really fine portrait.
It is true, the honest and sincere expression of any painter will be of some interest, just as the biography written by Darwin’s gardener might be; but there is a vast difference between this point of view and that of the man who thoroughly comprehends his subject.
Not that it is necessary for the artist to grasp the mind of his sitter, although that is no disadvantage. But this is not his point of view, his business is with the effect of this inner man on his outward appearance. And it is necessary for him to have that intuitive power that seizes instinctively on those variations of form that are expressive of this inner man. The habitual cast of thought in any individual affects the shape and moulds the form of the features, and, to the discerning, the head is expressive of the person; both the bigger and the smaller person, both the larger and the petty characteristics everybody possesses. And the fine portrait will express the larger and subordinate the petty individualities, will give you what is of value, and subordinate what is trivial in a person’s appearance.
The pose of the head is a characteristic feature about people that is not always given enough attention in portraits. The habitual cast of thought affects its carriage to a very large degree. The two extreme types of what we mean are the strongly emotional man who carries his head high, drinking in impressions as he goes through the world; and the man of deep thought who carries his head bent forward, his back bent in sympathy with it. Everybody has some characteristic action in the way that should be looked out for and that is usually absent when a sitter first appears before a painter on the studio throne. A little diplomacy and conversational humouring is necessary to produce that unconsciousness that will betray the man in his appearance.
How the power to discover these things can be acquired, it is, of course, impossible to teach. All the student can do is to familiarise himself with the best examples of portraiture, in the hope that he may be stimulated by this means to observe finer qualities in nature and develop the best that is in him. But he must never be insincere in his work. If he does not appreciate fine things in the work of recognised masters, let him stick to the honest portrayal of what he does see in nature. The only distinction of which he is capable lies in this direction. It is not until he awakens to the sight in nature of qualities he may have admired in others’ work that he is in a position honestly to introduce them into his own performances.
Probably the most popular point of view in portraiture at present is the one that can be described as a “striking presentment of the live person.” This is the portrait that arrests the crowd in an exhibition. You cannot ignore it, vitality bursts from it, and everything seems sacrificed to this quality of striking lifelikeness. And some very wonderful modern portraits have been painted from this point of view. But have we not sacrificed too much to this quality of vitality? Here is a lady hurriedly getting up from a couch, there a gentleman stepping out of the frame to greet you, violence and vitality everywhere. But what of repose, harmony of colour and form, and the wise ordering and selecting of the materials of vision that one has been used to in the great portraiture of the past? While the craftsman in one is staggered and amazed at the brilliant virtuosity of the thing, the artist in one resents the sacrifice of so much for what is, after all, but a short-lived excitement. Age may, no doubt, improve some of the portraits of this class by quieting them in colour and tone. And those that are good in design and arrangement will stand this without loss of distinction, but those in which everything has been sacrificed to this striking lifelike quality will suffer considerably. This particular quality depends so much on the freshness of the paint that when this is mellowed and its vividness is lost, nothing will remain of value, if the quieter qualities of design and arrangement have been sacrificed for it.
Frans Hals is the only old master I can think of with whom this form of portrait can be compared. But it will be noticed that besides designing his canvases carefully, he usually balanced the vigour and vitality of his form with a great sobriety of colour. In fact, in some of his later work, where this restless vitality is most in evidence, the colour is little more than black and white, with a little yellow ochre and Venetian red. It is this extreme reposefulness of colour that opposes the unrest in the form and helps to restore the balance and necessary repose in the picture. It is interesting to note the restless variety of the edges in Frans Hal’s work, how he never, if he can help it, lets an edge run smoothly, but keeps it constantly on the move, often leaving it quite jagged, and to compare this with what was said about vitality depending on variety.
Plate LII John Redmond, M.P.
From the drawing in the collection of Sir Robert Essex, M.P., in red conté chalk rubbed, the high lights being picked out with rubber.
Another point of view is that of the artist who seeks to give a significant and calm view of the exterior forms of the sitter, an expressive map of the individuality of those forms, leaving you to form your own intellectual judgments. A simple, rather formal, attitude is usually chosen, and the sitter is drawn with searching honesty. There is a great deal to be said for this point of view in the hands of a painter with a large appreciation of form and design. But without these more inspiring qualities it is apt to have the dulness that attends most literal transcriptions. There are many instances of this point of view among early portrait painters, one of the best of which is the work of Holbein. But then, to a very distinguished appreciation of the subtleties of form characterisation he added a fine sense of design and colour arrangement, qualities by no means always at the command of some of the lesser men of this school.
Every portrait draughtsman should make a pilgrimage to Windsor, armed with the necessary permission to view the wonderful series of portrait drawings by this master in the library of the castle. They are a liberal education in portrait drawing. It is necessary to see the originals, for it is only after having seen them that one can properly understand the numerous and well-known reproductions. A study of these drawings will, I think, reveal the fact that they are not so literal as is usually thought. Unflinchingly and unaffectedly honest they are, but honest not to a cold, mechanically accurate record of the sitter’s appearance, but honest and accurate to the vital impression of the live sitter made on the mind of the live artist. This is the difference we were trying to explain that exists between the academic and the vital drawing, and it is a very subtle and elusive quality, like all artistic qualities, to talk about. The record of a vital impression done with unflinching accuracy, but under the guidance of intense mental activity, is a very different thing from a drawing done with the cold, mechanical accuracy of a machine. The one will instantly grip the attention and give one a vivid sensation in a way that no mechanically accurate drawing could do, and in a way that possibly the sight of the real person would not always do. We see numbers of faces during a day, but only a few with the vividness of which I am speaking. How many faces in a crowd are passed indifferently—there is no vitality in the impression they make on our mind; but suddenly a face will rivet our attention, and although it is gone in a flash, the memory of the impression will remain for some time.
The best of Holbein’s portrait drawings give one the impression of having been seen in one of these flashes and rivet the attention in consequence. Drawings done under this mental stimulus present subtle differences from drawings done with cold accuracy. The drawing of the Lady Audley, here reproduced, bears evidence of some of this subtle variation on what are called the facts, in the left eye of the sitter. It will be noticed that the pupil of this eye is larger than the other. Now I do not suppose that as a matter of mechanical accuracy this was so, but the impression of the eyes seen as part of a vivid impression of the head is seldom that they are the same size. Holbein had in the first instance in this very carefully wrought drawing made them so, but when at the last he was vitalising the impression, “pulling it together” as artists say, he has deliberately put a line outside the original one, making this pupil larger. This is not at all clearly seen in the reproduction, but is distinctly visible in the original. And to my thinking it was done at the dictates of the vivid mental impression he wished his drawing to convey. Few can fail to be struck in turning over this wonderful series of drawings by the vividness of their portraiture, and the vividness is due to their being severely accurate to the vital impression on the mind of Holbein, not merely to the facts coldly observed.
Plate LIII The Lady Audley. Holbein (Windsor)
Note the different sizes of pupils in the eyes, and see letterpress on the opposite page.
Copyright photo Braun & Co
Another point of view is that of seeking in the face a symbol of the person within, and selecting those things about a head that express this. As has already been said, the habitual attitude of mind has in the course of time a marked influence on the form of the face, and in fact of the whole body, so that—to those who can see—the man or woman is a visible symbol of themselves. But this is by no means apparent to all.
The striking example of this class is the splendid series of portraits by the late G.F. Watts. Looking at these heads one is made conscious of the people in a fuller, deeper sense than if they were before one in the flesh. For Watts sought to discover the person in their appearance and to paint a picture that should be a living symbol of them. He took pains to find out all he could about the mind of his sitters before he painted them, and sought in the appearance the expression of this inner man. So that whereas with Holbein it was the vivid presentation of the impression as one might see a head that struck one in a crowd, with Watts it is the spirit one is first conscious of. The thunders of war appear in the powerful head of Lord Lawrence, the music of poetry in the head of Swinburne, and the dry atmosphere of the higher regions of thought in the John Stuart Mill, &c.
In the National Portrait Gallery there are two paintings of the poet Robert Browning, one by Rudolph Lehmann and one by Watts. Now the former portrait is probably much more “like” the poet as the people who met him casually saw him. But Watts’s portrait is like the man who wrote the poetry, and Lehmann’s is not. Browning was a particularly difficult subject in this respect, in that to a casual observer there was much more about his external appearance to suggest a prosperous man of business, than the fiery zeal of the poet.
These portraits by Watts will repay the closest study by the student of portraiture. They are full of that wise selection by a great mind that lifts such work above the triviality of the commonplace to the level of great imaginative painting.
Another point of view is that of treating the sitter as part of a symphony of form and colour, and subordinating everything to this artistic consideration. This is very fashionable at the present time, and much beautiful work is being done with this motive. And with many ladies who would not, I hope, object to one’s saying that their principal characteristic was the charm of their appearance, this point of view offers, perhaps, one of the best opportunities of a successful painting. A pose is selected that makes a good design of line and colour—a good pattern—and the character of the sitter is not allowed to obtrude or mar the symmetry of the whole considered as a beautiful panel. The portraits of J. McNeill Whistler are examples of this treatment, a point of view that has very largely influenced modern portrait painting in England.
Then there is the official portrait in which the dignity of an office held by the sitter, of which occasion the portrait is a memorial, has to be considered. The more intimate interest in the personal character of the sitter is here subordinated to the interest of his public character and attitude of mind towards his office. Thus it happens that much more decorative pageantry symbolic of these things is permissible in this kind of portraiture than in that of plain Mr. Smith; a greater stateliness of design as befitting official occasions.
It is not contended that this forms anything like a complete list of the numerous aspects from which a portrait can be considered, but they are some of the more extreme of those prevalent at the present time. Neither is it contended that they are incompatible with each other: the qualities of two or more of these points of view are often found in the same work. And it is not inconceivable that a single portrait might contain all and be a striking lifelike presentment, a faithful catalogue of all the features, a symbol of the person and a symphony of form and colour. But the chances are against such a composite affair being a success. One or other quality will dominate in a successful work; and it is not advisable to try and combine too many different points of view as, in the confusion of ideas, directness of expression is lost. But no good portrait is without some of the qualities of all these points of view, whichever may dominate the artist’s intention.
The camera, and more particularly the instantaneous camera, has habituated people to expect in a portrait a momentary expression, and of these momentary expressions the faint smile, as we all know, is an easy first in the matter of popularity. It is no uncommon thing for the painter to be asked in the early stages of his work when he is going to put in the smile, it never being questioned that this is the artist’s aim in the matter of expression.
The giving of lifelike expression to a painting is not so simple a matter as it might appear to be. Could one set the real person behind the frame and suddenly fix them for ever with one of those passing expressions on their faces, however natural it might have been at the moment, fixed for ever it is terrible, and most unlifelike. As we have already said, a few lines scribbled on a piece of paper by a consummate artist would give a greater sense of life than this fixed actuality. It is not ultimately by the pursuit of the actual realisation that expression and life are conveyed in a portrait. Every face has expression of a far more interesting and enduring kind than these momentary disturbances of its form occasioned by laughter or some passing thought, &c. And it must never be forgotten that a portrait is a panel painted to remain for centuries without movement. So that a large amount of the quality of repose must enter into its composition. Portraits in which this has not been borne in mind, however entertaining at a picture exhibition, when they are seen for a few moments only, pall on one if constantly seen, and are finally very irritating.
But the real expression in a head is something more enduring than these passing movements: one that belongs to the forms of a head, and the marks left on that form by the life and character of the person. This is of far more interest than those passing expressions, the results of the contraction of certain muscles under the skin, the effect of which is very similar in most people. It is for the portrait painter to find this more enduring expression and give it noble expression in his work.
Treatment of Clothes
It is a common idea among sitters that if they are painted in modern clothes the picture will look old-fashioned in a few years. If the sitter’s appearance were fixed upon the canvas exactly as they stood before the artist in his studio, without any selection on the part of the painter, this might be the result, and is the result in the case of painters who have no higher aim than this.
But there are qualities in dress that do not belong exclusively to the particular period of their fashion. Qualities that are the same in all ages. And when these are insisted upon, and the frivolities of the moment in dress not troubled about so much, the portrait has a permanent quality, and will never in consequence look old-fashioned in the offensive way that is usually meant. In the first place, the drapery and stuffs of which clothes are made follow laws in the manner in which they fold and drape over the figure, that are the same in all times. If the expression of the figure through the draperies is sought by the painter, a permanent quality will be given in his work, whatever fantastic shapes the cut of the garments may assume.
And further, the artist does not take whatever comes to hand in the appearance of his sitter, but works to a thought-out arrangement of colour and form, to a design. This he selects from the moving and varied appearance of his sitter, trying one thing after another, until he sees a suggestive arrangement, from the impression of which he makes his design. It is true that the extremes of fashion do not always lend themselves so readily as more reasonable modes to the making of a good pictorial pattern. But this is not always so, some extreme fashions giving opportunities of very piquant and interesting portrait designs. So that, however extreme the fashion, if the artist is able to select some aspect of it that will result in a good arrangement for his portrait, the work will never have the offensive old-fashioned look. The principles governing good designs are the same in all times; and if material for such arrangement has been discovered in the most modish of fashions, it has been lifted into a sphere where nothing is ever out of date.
It is only when the painter is concerned with the trivial details of fashion for their own sake, for the making his picture look like the real thing, and has not been concerned with transmuting the appearance of fashionable clothes by selection into the permanent realms of form and colour design, that his work will justify one in saying that it will look stale in a few years.
The fashion of dressing sitters in meaningless, so-called classical draperies is a feeble one, and usually argues a lack of capacity for selecting a good arrangement from the clothes of the period in the artist who adopts it. Modern women’s clothes are full of suggestions for new arrangements and designs quite as good as anything that has been done in the past. The range of subtle colours and varieties of texture in materials is amazing, and the subtlety of invention displayed in some of the designs for costumes leads one to wonder whether there is not something in the remark attributed to an eminent sculptor that “designing ladies’ fashions is one of the few arts that is thoroughly vital to-day.”
XVIII THE VISUAL MEMORY
The memory is the great storehouse of artistic material, the treasures of which the artist may know little about until a chance association lights up some of its dark recesses. From early years the mind of the young artist has been storing up impressions in these mysterious chambers, collected from nature’s aspects, works of art, and anything that comes within the field of vision. It is from this store that the imagination draws its material, however fantastic and remote from natural appearances the forms it may assume.
How much our memory of pictures colours the impressions of nature we receive is probably not suspected by us, but who could say how a scene would appear to him, had he never looked at a picture? So sensitive is the vision to the influence of memory that, after seeing the pictures of some painter whose work has deeply impressed us, we are apt, while the memory of it is still fresh in our minds, to see things as he would paint them. On different occasions after leaving the National Gallery I can remember having seen Trafalgar Square as Paolo Veronese, Turner, or whatever painter may have impressed me in the Gallery, would have painted it, the memory of their work colouring the impression the scene produced.
But, putting aside the memory of pictures, let us consider the place of direct visual memory from nature in our work, pictures being indirect or second-hand impressions.
We have seen in an earlier chapter how certain painters in the nineteenth century, feeling how very second-hand and far removed from nature painting had become, started a movement to discard studio traditions and study nature with a single eye, taking their pictures out of doors, and endeavouring to wrest nature’s secrets from her on the spot. The Pre-Raphaelite movement in England and the Impressionist movement in France were the results of this impulse. And it is interesting, by the way, to contrast the different manner in which this desire for more truth to nature affected the French and English temperaments. The intense individualism of the English sought out every detail, every leaf and flower for itself, painting them with a passion and intensity that made their painting a vivid medium for the expression of poetic ideas; while the more synthetic mind of the Frenchman approached this search for visual truth from the opposite point of view of the whole effect, finding in the large, generalised impression a new world of beauty. And his more logical mind led him to inquire into the nature of light, and so to invent a technique founded on scientific principles.
But now the first blush of freshness has worn off the new movement, painters have begun to see that if anything but very ordinary effects are to be attempted, this painting on the spot must give place to more reliance on the memory.
Memory has this great advantage over direct vision: it retains more vividly the essential things, and has a habit of losing what is unessential to the pictorial impression.
But what is the essential in a painting? What is it makes one want to paint at all? Ah! Here we approach very debatable and shadowy ground, and we can do little but ask questions, the answer to which will vary with each individual temperament. What is it that these rays of light striking our retina convey to our brain, and from our brain to whatever is ourselves, in the seat of consciousness above this? What is this mysterious correspondence set up between something within and something without, that at times sends such a clamour of harmony through our whole being? Why do certain combinations of sound in music and of form and colour in art affect us so profoundly? What are the laws governing harmony in the universe, and whence do they come? It is hardly trees and sky, earth, or flesh and blood, as such, that interest the artist; but rather that through these things in memorable moments he is permitted a consciousness of deeper things, and impelled to seek utterance for what is moving him. It is the record of these rare moments in which one apprehends truth in things seen that the artist wishes to convey to others. But these moments, these flashes of inspiration which are at the inception of every vital picture, occur but seldom. What the painter has to do is to fix them vividly in his memory, to snapshot them, as it were, so that they may stand by him during the toilsome procedure of the painting, and guide the work.
This initial inspiration, this initial flash in the mind, need not be the result of a scene in nature, but may of course be purely the work of the imagination; a composition, the sense of which flashes across the mind. But in either case the difficulty is to preserve vividly the sensation of this original artistic impulse. And in the case of its having been derived from nature direct, as is so often the case in modern art, the system of painting continually on the spot is apt to lose touch with it very soon. For in the continual observation of anything you have set your easel before day after day, comes a series of impressions, more and more commonplace, as the eye becomes more and more familiar with the details of the subject. And ere long the original emotion that was the reason of the whole work is lost sight of, and one of those pictures or drawings giving a catalogue of tired objects more or less ingeniously arranged (that we all know so well) is the result—work utterly lacking in the freshness and charm of true inspiration. For however commonplace the subject seen by the artist in one of his “flashes,” it is clothed in a newness and surprise that charm us, be it only an orange on a plate.
Now a picture is a thing of paint upon a flat surface, and a drawing is a matter of certain marks upon a paper, and how to translate the intricacies of a visual or imagined impression to the prosaic terms of masses of coloured pigment or lines and tones is the business with which our technique is concerned. The ease, therefore, with which a painter will be able to remember an impression in a form from which he can work, will depend upon his power to analyse vision in this technical sense. The more one knows about what may be called the anatomy of picture-making—how certain forms produce certain effects, certain colours or arrangements other effects, &c.—the easier will it be for him to carry away a visual memory of his subject that will stand by him during the long hours of his labours at the picture. The more he knows of the expressive powers of lines and tones, the more easily will he be able to observe the vital things in nature that convey the impression he wishes to memorise.
It is not enough to drink in and remember the emotional side of the matter, although this must be done fully, but if a memory of the subject is to be carried away that will be of service technically, the scene must be committed to memory in terms of whatever medium you intend to employ for reproducing it—in the case of a drawing, lines and tones. And the impression will have to be analysed into these terms as if you were actually drawing the scene on some imagined piece of paper in your mind. The faculty of doing this is not to be acquired all at once, but it is amazing of how much development it is capable. Just as the faculty of committing to memory long poems or plays can be developed, so can the faculty of remembering visual things. This subject has received little attention in art schools until just recently. But it is not yet so systematically done as it might be. Monsieur Lecoq de Boisbaudran in France experimented with pupils in this memory training, beginning with very simple things like the outline of a nose, and going on to more complex subjects by easy stages, with the most surprising results. And there is no doubt that a great deal more can and should be done in this direction than is at present attempted. What students should do is to form a habit of making every day in their sketch-book a drawing of something they have seen that has interested them, and that they have made some attempt at memorising. Don’t be discouraged if the results are poor and disappointing at first—you will find that by persevering your power of memory will develop and be of the greatest service to you in your after work. Try particularly to remember the spirit of the subject, and in this memory-drawing some scribbling and fumbling will necessarily have to be done. You cannot expect to be able to draw definitely and clearly from memory, at least at first, although your aim should always be to draw as frankly and clearly as you can.
Plate LIV Study on brown paper in black and white conté chalk.
Illustrating a simple method of studying drapery forms.
Let us assume that you have found a subject that moves you and that, being too fleeting to draw on the spot, you wish to commit to memory. Drink a full enjoyment of it, let it soak in, for the recollection of this will be of the utmost use to you afterwards in guiding your memory-drawing. This mental impression is not difficult to recall; it is the visual impression in terms of line and tone that is difficult to remember. Having experienced your full enjoyment of the artistic matter in the subject, you must next consider it from the material side, as a flat, visual impression, as this is the only form in which it can be expressed on a flat sheet of paper. Note the proportions of the main lines, their shapes and disposition, as if you were drawing it, in fact do the whole drawing in your mind, memorising the forms and proportions of the different parts, and fix it in your memory to the smallest detail.
If only the emotional side of the matter has been remembered, when you come to draw it you will be hopelessly at sea, as it is remarkable how little the memory retains of the appearance of things constantly seen, if no attempt has been made to memorise their visual appearance.
The true artist, even when working from nature, works from memory very largely. That is to say, he works to a scheme in tune to some emotional enthusiasm with which the subject has inspired him in the first instance. Nature is always changing, but he does not change the intention of his picture. He always keeps before him the initial impression he sets out to paint, and only selects from nature those things that play up to it. He is a feeble artist, who copies individually the parts of a scene with whatever effect they may have at the moment he is doing them, and then expects the sum total to make a picture. If circumstances permit, it is always as well to make in the first instance a rapid sketch that shall, whatever it may lack, at least contain the main disposition of the masses and lines of your composition seen under the influence of the enthusiasm that has inspired the work. This will be of great value afterwards in freshening your memory when in the labour of the work the original impulse gets dulled. It is seldom that the vitality of this first sketch is surpassed by the completed work, and often, alas! it is far from equalled.
In portrait painting and drawing the memory must be used also. A sitter varies very much in the impression he gives on different days, and the artist must in the early sittings, when his mind is fresh, select the aspect he means to paint and afterwards work largely to the memory of this.
Always work to a scheme on which you have decided, and do not flounder on in the hope of something turning up as you go along. Your faculties are never so active and prone to see something interesting and fine as when the subject is first presented to them. This is the time to decide your scheme; this is the time to take your fill of the impression you mean to convey. This is the time to learn your subject thoroughly and decide on what you wish the picture to be. And having decided this, work straight on, using nature to support your original impression, but don’t be led off by a fresh scheme because others strike you as you go along. New schemes will do so, of course, and every new one has a knack of looking better than your original one. But it is not often that this is so; the fact that they are new makes them appear to greater advantage than the original scheme to which you have got accustomed. So that it is not only in working away from nature that the memory is of use, but actually when working directly in front of nature.
To sum up, there are two aspects of a subject, the one luxuriating in the sensuous pleasure of it, with all of spiritual significance it may consciously or unconsciously convey, and the other concerned with the lines, tones, shapes, &c., and their rhythmic ordering, by means of which it is to be expressed—the matter and manner, as they may be called. And, if the artist’s memory is to be of use to him in his work, both these aspects must be memorised, and of the two the second will need the most attention. But although there are these two aspects of the subject, and each must receive separate attention when memorising it, they are in reality only two aspects of the same thing, which in the act of painting or drawing must be united if a work of art is to result. When a subject first flashes upon an artist he delights in it as a painted or drawn thing, and feels instinctively the treatment it will require. In good draughtsmanship the thing felt will guide and govern everything, every touch will be instinct with the thrill of that first impression. The craftsman mind, so laboriously built up, should by now have become an instinct, a second nature, at the direction of a higher consciousness. At such times the right strokes, the right tones come naturally and go on the right place, the artist being only conscious of a fierce joy and a feeling that things are in tune and going well for once. It is the thirst for this glorious enthusiasm, this fusing of matter and manner, this act of giving the spirit within outward form, that spurs the artist on at all times, and it is this that is the wonderful thing about art.
In commencing a drawing, don’t, as so many students do, start carelessly floundering about with your chalk or charcoal in the hope that something will turn up. It is seldom if ever that an artist puts on paper anything better than he has in his mind before he starts, and usually it is not nearly so good.
Don’t spoil the beauty of a clean sheet of paper by a lot of scribble. Try and see in your mind’s eye the drawing you mean to do, and then try and make your hand realise it, making the paper more beautiful by every touch you give instead of spoiling it by a slovenly manner of procedure.
To know what you want to do and then to do it is the secret of good style and technique. This sounds very commonplace, but it is surprising how few students make it their aim. You may often observe them come in, pin a piece of paper on their board, draw a line down the middle, make a few measurements, and start blocking in the drawing without having given the subject to be drawn a thought, as if it were all there done before them, and only needed copying, as a clerk would copy a letter already drafted for him.
Now, nothing is being said against the practice of drawing guide lines and taking measurements and blocking in your work. This is very necessary in academic work, if rather fettering to expressive drawing; but even in the most academic drawing the artistic intelligence must be used, although that is not the kind of drawing this chapter is particularly referring to.
Look well at the model first; try and be moved by something in the form that you feel is fine or interesting, and try and see in your mind’s eye what sort of drawing you mean to do before touching your paper. In school studies be always unflinchingly honest to the impression the model gives you, but dismiss the camera idea of truth from your mind. Instead of converting yourself into a mechanical instrument for the copying of what is before you, let your drawing be an expression of truth perceived intelligently.
Be extremely careful about the first few strokes you put on your paper: the quality of your drawing is often decided in these early stages. If they are vital and expressive, you have started along lines you can develop, and have some hope of doing a good drawing. If they are feeble and poor, the chances are greatly against your getting anything good built upon them. If your start has been bad, pull yourself together, turn your paper over and start afresh, trying to seize upon the big, significant lines and swings in your subject at once. Remember it is much easier to put down a statement correctly than to correct a wrong one; so out with the whole part if you are convinced it is wrong. Train yourself to make direct, accurate statements in your drawings, and don’t waste time trying to manoeuvre a bad drawing into a good one. Stop as soon as you feel you have gone wrong and correct the work in its early stages, instead of rushing on upon a wrong foundation in the vague hope that it will all come right in the end. When out walking, if you find you have taken a wrong road you do not, if you are wise, go on in the hope that the wrong way will lead to the right one, but you turn round and go back to the point at which you left the right road. It is very much the same in drawing and painting. As soon as you become aware that you have got upon the wrong track, stop and rub out your work until an earlier stage that was right is reached, and start along again from this point. As your eye gets trained you will more quickly perceive when you have done a wrong stroke, and be able to correct it before having gone very far along the wrong road.
Do not work too long without giving your eye a little rest; a few moments will be quite sufficient. If things won’t come, stop a minute; the eye often gets fatigued very quickly and refuses to see truly, but soon revives if rested a minute or two.
Do not go labouring at a drawing when your mind is not working; you are not doing any good, and probably are spoiling any good you have already done. Pull yourself together, and ask what it is you are trying to express, and having got this idea firmly fixed in your mind, go for your drawing with the determination that it shall express it.
All this will sound very trite to students of any mettle, but there are large numbers who waste no end of time working in a purely mechanical, lifeless way, and with their minds anywhere but concentrated upon the work before them. And if the mind is not working, the work of the hand will be of no account. My own experience is that one has constantly to be making fresh effort during the procedure of the work. The mind is apt to tire and needs rousing continually, otherwise the work will lack the impulse that shall make it vital. Particularly is this so in the final stages of a drawing or painting, when, in adding details and small refinements, it is doubly necessary for the mind to be on fire with the initial impulse, or the main qualities will be obscured and the result enfeebled by these smaller matters.
Do not rub out, if you can possibly help it, in drawings that aim at artistic expression. In academic work, where artistic feeling is less important than the discipline of your faculties, you may, of course, do so, but even here as little as possible. In beautiful drawing of any facility it has a weakening effect, somewhat similar to that produced by a person stopping in the middle of a witty or brilliant remark to correct a word. If a wrong line is made, it is left in by the side of the right one in the drawing of many of the masters. But the great aim of the draughtsman should be to train himself to draw cleanly and fearlessly, hand and eye going together. But this state of things cannot be expected for some time.
Let painstaking accuracy be your aim for a long time. When your eye and hand have acquired the power of seeing and expressing on paper with some degree of accuracy what you see, you will find facility and quickness of execution will come of their own accord. In drawing of any expressive power this quickness and facility of execution are absolutely essential. The waves of emotion, under the influence of which the eye really sees in any artistic sense, do not last long enough to allow of a slow, painstaking manner of execution. There must be no hitch in the machinery of expression when the consciousness is alive to the realisation of something fine. Fluency of hand and accuracy of eye are the things your academic studies should have taught you, and these powers will be needed if you are to catch the expression of any of the finer things in form that constitute good drawing.
Try and express yourself in as simple, not as complicated a manner as possible. Let every touch mean something, and if you don’t see what to do next, don’t fill in the time by meaningless shading and scribbling until you do. Wait awhile, rest your eye by looking away, and then see if you cannot find something right that needs doing.
Before beginning a drawing, it is not a bad idea to study carefully the work of some master draughtsman whom the subject to be drawn may suggest. If you do this carefully and thoughtfully, and take in a full enjoyment, your eye will unconsciously be led to see in nature some of the qualities of the master’s work. And you will see the subject to be drawn as a much finer thing than would have been the case had you come to it with your eye unprepared in any way. Reproductions are now so good and cheap that the best drawings in the world can be had for a few pence, and every student should begin collecting reproductions of the things that interest him.
This is not the place to discuss questions of health, but perhaps it will not be thought grandmotherly to mention the extreme importance of nervous vitality in a fine draughtsman, and how his life should be ordered on such healthy lines that he has at his command the maximum instead of the minimum of this faculty. After a certain point, it is a question of vitality how far an artist is likely to go in art. Given two men of equal ability, the one leading a careless life and the other a healthy one, as far as a healthy one is possible to such a supersensitive creature as an artist, there can be no doubt as to the result. It is because there is still a lingering idea in the minds of many that an artist must lead a dissipated life or he is not really an artist, that one feels it necessary to mention the subject. This idea has evidently arisen from the inability of the average person to associate an unconventional mode of life with anything but riotous dissipation. A conventional life is not the only wholesome form of existence, and is certainly a most unwholesome and deadening form to the artist; and neither is a dissipated life the only unconventional one open to him. It is as well that the young student should know this, and be led early to take great care of that most valuable of studio properties, vigorous health.
The materials in which the artist works are of the greatest importance in determining what qualities in the infinite complexity of nature he selects for expression. And the good draughtsman will find out the particular ones that belong to whatever medium he selects for his drawing, and be careful never to attempt more than it is capable of doing. Every material he works with possesses certain vital qualities peculiar to itself, and it is his business to find out what these are and use them to the advantage of his drawing. When one is working with, say, pen and ink, the necessity for selecting only certain things is obvious enough. But when a medium with the vast capacity of oil paint is being used, the principle of its governing the nature of the work is more often lost sight of. So near can oil paint approach an actual illusion of natural appearances, that much misdirected effort has been wasted on this object, all enjoyment of the medium being subordinated to a meretricious attempt to deceive the eye. And I believe a popular idea of the art of painting is that it exists chiefly to produce this deception. No vital expression of nature can be achieved without the aid of the particular vitality possessed by the medium with which one is working. If this is lost sight of and the eye is tricked into thinking that it is looking at real nature, it is not a fine picture. Art is not a substitute for nature, but an expression of feeling produced in the consciousness of the artist, and intimately associated with the material through which it is expressed in his work—inspired, it may be, in the first instance, by something seen, and expressed by him in painted symbols as true to nature as he can make them while keeping in tune to the emotional idea that prompted the work; but never regarded by the fine artist as anything but painted symbols nevertheless. Never for one moment does he intend you to forget that it is a painted picture you are looking at, however naturalistic the treatment his theme may demand.
In the earlier history of art it was not so necessary to insist on the limitations imposed by different mediums. With their more limited knowledge of the phenomena of vision, the early masters had not the same opportunities of going astray in this respect. But now that the whole field of vision has been discovered, and that the subtlest effects of light and atmosphere are capable of being represented, it has become necessary to decide how far complete accuracy of representation will help the particular impression you may intend your picture or drawing to create. The danger is that in producing a complete illusion of representation, the particular vitality of your medium, with all the expressive power it is capable of yielding, may be lost.
Perhaps the chief difference between the great masters of the past and many modern painters is the neglect of this principle. They represented nature in terms of whatever medium they worked in, and never overstepped this limitation. Modern artists, particularly in the nineteenth century, often attempted to copy nature, the medium being subordinated to the attempt to make it look like the real thing. In the same way, the drawings of the great masters were drawings. They did not attempt anything with a point that a point was not capable of expressing. The drawings of many modern artists are full of attempts to express tone and colour effects, things entirely outside the true province of drawing. The small but infinitely important part of nature that pure drawing is capable of conveying has been neglected, and line work, until recently, went out of fashion in our schools.
There is something that makes for power in the limitations your materials impose. Many artists whose work in some of the more limited mediums is fine, are utterly feeble when they attempt one with so few restrictions as oil paint. If students could only be induced to impose more restraint upon themselves when they attempt so difficult a medium as paint, it would be greatly to the advantage of their work. Beginning first with monochrome in three tones, as explained in a former chapter, they might then take for figure work ivory black and Venetian red. It is surprising what an amount of colour effect can be got with this simple means, and how much can be learned about the relative positions of the warm and cold colours. Do not attempt the full range of tone at first, but keep the darks rather lighter and the lights darker than nature. Attempt the full scale of tone only when you have acquired sufficient experience with the simpler range, and gradually add more colours as you learn to master a few. But restraints are not so fashionable just now as unbridled licence. Art students start in with a palette full of the most amazing colours, producing results that it were better not to discuss. It is a wise man who can discover his limitations and select a medium the capacities of which just tally with his own. To discover this, it is advisable to try many, and below is a short description of the chief ones used by the draughtsman. But very little can be said about them, and very little idea of their capacities given in a written description; they must be handled by the student, and are no doubt capable of many more qualities than have yet been got out of them.
This well-known medium is one of the most beautiful for pure line work, and its use is an excellent training to the eye and hand in precision of observation. Perhaps this is why it has not been so popular in our art schools lately, when the charms of severe discipline are not so much in favour as they should be. It is the first medium we are given to draw with, and as the handiest and most convenient is unrivalled for sketch-book use.
It is made in a large variety of degrees, from the hardest and greyest to the softest and blackest, and is too well known to need much description. It does not need fixing.
For pure line drawing nothing equals it, except silver point, and great draughtsmen, like Ingres, have always loved it. It does not lend itself so readily to any form of mass drawing. Although it is sometimes used for this purpose, the offensive shine that occurs if dark masses are introduced is against its use in any but very lightly shaded work.
Plate LV From a silver-point drawing.
Its charm is the extreme delicacy of its grey-black lines.
Silver and Gold Point.
Similar to lead pencil, and of even greater delicacy, is silver-point drawing. A more ancient method, it consists in drawing with a silver point on paper the surface of which has been treated with a faint wash of Chinese white. Without this wash the point will not make a mark.
For extreme delicacy and purity of line no medium can surpass this method. And for the expression of a beautiful line, such as a profile, nothing could be more suitable than a silver point. As a training to the eye and hand also, it is of great value, as no rubbing out of any sort is possible, and eye and hand must work together with great exactness. The discipline of silver-point drawing is to be recommended as a corrective to the picturesque vagaries of charcoal work.
A gold point, giving a warmer line, can also be used in the same way as a silver point, the paper first having been treated with Chinese white.
Two extreme points of view from which the rendering of form can be approached have been explained, and it has been suggested that students should study them both separately in the first instance, as they each have different things to teach. Of the mediums that are best suited to a drawing combining both points of view, the first and most popular is charcoal.
Charcoal is made in many different degrees of hardness and softness, the harder varieties being capable of quite a fine point. A chisel-shaped point is the most convenient, as it does not wear away so quickly. And if the broad side of the chisel point is used when a dark mass is wanted, the edge can constantly be kept sharp. With this edge a very fine line can be drawn.
Charcoal works with great freedom, and answers readily when forceful expression is wanted. It is much more like painting than any other form of drawing, a wide piece of charcoal making a wide mark similar to a brush. The delicacy and lightness with which it has to be handled is also much more like the handling of a brush than any other point drawing. When rubbed with the finger, it sheds a soft grey tone over the whole work. With a piece of bread pressed by thumb and finger into a pellet, high lights can be taken out with the precision of white chalk; or rubber can be used. Bread is, perhaps, the best, as it does not smudge the charcoal but lifts it readily off. When rubbed with the finger, the darks, of course, are lightened in tone. It is therefore useful to draw in the general proportions roughly and rub down in this way. You then have a middle tone over the work, with the rough drawing showing through. Now proceed carefully to draw your lights with bread or rubber, and your shadows with charcoal, in much the same manner as you did in the monochrome exercises already described.
All preliminary setting out of your work on canvas is usually done with charcoal, which must of course be fixed with a spray diffuser. For large work, such as a full-length portrait, sticks of charcoal nearly an inch in diameter are made, and a long swinging line can be done without their breaking.
For drawings that are intended as things of beauty in themselves, and are not merely done as a preparatory study for a painting, charcoal is perhaps not so refined a medium as a great many others. It is too much like painting to have the particular beauties of a drawing, and too much like drawing to have the qualities of a painting. However, some beautiful things have been done with it.
It is useful in doing studies where much finish is desired, to fix the work slightly when drawn in and carried some way on. You can work over this again without continually rubbing out with your hand what you have already drawn. If necessary you can rub out with a hard piece of rubber any parts that have already been fixed, or even scrape with a pen-knife. But this is not advisable for anything but an academic study, or working drawings, as it spoils the beauty and freshness of charcoal work. Studies done in this medium can also be finished with Conté chalk.
There is also an artificial charcoal put up in sticks, that is very good for refined work. It has some advantages over natural charcoal, in that there are no knots and it works much more evenly. The best natural charcoal I have used is the French make known as “Fusain Rouget.” It is made in three degrees, No. 3 being the softest, and, of course, the blackest. But some of the ordinary Venetian and vine charcoals sold are good. But don’t get the cheaper varieties: a bad piece of charcoal is worse than useless.
Charcoal is fixed by means of a solution of white shellac dissolved in spirits of wine, blown on with a spray diffuser. This is sold by the artists’ colourmen, or can be easily made by the student. It lightly deposits a thin film of shellac over the work, acting as a varnish and preventing its rubbing off.
Charcoal is not on the whole the medium an artist with a pure love of form selects, but rather that of the painter, who uses it when his brushes and paints are not handy.
Red Chalk (Sanguine)
A delightful medium that can be used for either pure line work or a mixed method of drawing, is red chalk. This natural red earth is one of the most ancient materials for drawing. It is a lovely Venetian red in colour, and works well in the natural state, if you get a good piece. It is sold by the ounce, and it is advisable to try the pieces as they vary very much, some being hard and gritty and some more soft and smooth. It is also made by Messrs. Conté of Paris in sticks artificially prepared. These work well and are never gritty, but are not so hard as the natural chalk, and consequently wear away quickly and do not make fine lines as well.
Red chalk when rubbed with the finger or a rag spreads evenly on paper, and produces a middle tone on which lights can be drawn with rubber or bread. Sticks of hard, pointed rubber are everywhere sold, which, cut in a chisel shape, work beautifully on red chalk drawings. Bread is also excellent when a softer light is wanted. You can continually correct and redraw in this medium by rubbing it with the finger or a rag, thus destroying the lights and shadows to a large extent, and enabling you to draw them again more carefully. For this reason red chalk is greatly to be recommended for making drawings for a picture where much fumbling may be necessary before you find what you want. Unlike charcoal, it hardly needs fixing, and much more intimate study of the forms can be got into it.
Most of the drawings by the author reproduced in this book are done in this medium. For drawings intended to have a separate existence it is one of the prettiest mediums. In fact, this is the danger to the student while studying: your drawing looks so much at its best that you are apt to be satisfied too soon. But for portrait drawings there is no medium to equal it.
Additional quality of dark is occasionally got by mixing a little of this red chalk in a powdered state with water and a very little gum-arabic. This can be applied with a sable brush as in water-colour painting, and makes a rich velvety dark.
It is necessary to select your paper with some care. The ordinary paper has too much size on it. This is picked up by the chalk, and will prevent its marking. A paper with little size is best, or old paper where the size has perished. I find an O.W. paper, made for printing etchings, as good as any for ordinary work. It is not perfect, but works very well. What one wants is the smoothest paper without a faced and hot-pressed surface, and it is difficult to find.
Occasionally black chalk is used with the red to add strength to it. And some draughtsmen use it with the red in such a manner as to produce almost a full colour effect.
Holbein, who used this medium largely, tinted the paper in most of his portrait drawings, varying the tint very much, and sometimes using zinc white as a wash, which enabled him to supplement his work with a silver-point line here and there, and also got over any difficulty the size in the paper might cause. His aim seems to have been to select the few essential things in a head and draw them with great finality and exactness. In many of the drawings the earlier work has been done with red or black chalk and then rubbed down and the drawing redone with either a brush and some of the chalk rubbed up with water and gum or a silver-point line of great purity, while in others he has tinted the paper with water-colour and rubbed this away to the white paper where he wanted a light, or Chinese white has been used for the same purpose.
Black Conté and Carbon Pencil
Black Conté is a hard black chalk made in small sticks of different degrees. It is also put up in cedar pencils. Rather more gritty than red chalk or charcoal, it is a favourite medium with some, and can be used with advantage to supplement charcoal when more precision and definition are wanted. It has very much the same quality of line and so does not show as a different medium. It can be rubbed like charcoal and red chalk and will spread a tone over the paper in very much the same way.
Carbon pencils are similar to Conté, but smoother in working and do not rub.
White chalk is sometimes used on toned paper to draw the lights, the paper serving as a half tone while the shadows and outlines are drawn in black or red. In this kind of drawing the chalk should never be allowed to come in contact with the black or red chalk of the shadows, the half tone of the paper should always be between them.
For rubbed work white pastel is better than the ordinary white chalk sold for drawing, as it is not so hard. A drawing done in this method with white pastel and red chalk is reproduced on Plate IV, and one with the hard white chalk, on Plate LIV.
This is the method commonly used for making studies of drapery, the extreme rapidity with which the position of the lights and shadows can be expressed being of great importance when so unstable a subject as an arrangement of drapery is being drawn.
Lithography as a means of artistic reproduction has suffered much in public esteem by being put to all manner of inartistic trade uses. It is really one of the most wonderful means of reproducing an artist’s actual work, the result being, in most cases, so identical with the original that, seen together, if the original drawing has been done on paper, it is almost impossible to distinguish any difference. And of course, as in etching, it is the prints that are really the originals. The initial work is only done as a means of producing these.
A drawing is made on a lithographic stone, that is, a piece of limestone that has been prepared with an almost perfectly smooth surface. The chalk used is a special kind of a greasy nature, and is made in several degrees of hardness and softness. No rubbing out is possible, but lines can be scratched out with a knife, or parts made lighter by white lines being drawn by a knife over them. A great range of freedom and variety is possible in these initial drawings on stone. The chalk can be rubbed up with a little water, like a cake of water-colour, and applied with a brush. And every variety of tone can be made with the side of the chalk.
Some care should be taken not to let the warm finger touch the stone, or it may make a greasy mark that will print.
When this initial drawing is done to the artist’s satisfaction, the most usual method is to treat the stone with a solution of gum-arabic and a little nitric acid. After this is dry, the gum is washed off as far as may be with water; some of the gum is left in the porous stone, but it is rejected where the greasy lines and tones of the drawing come. Prints may now be obtained by rolling up the stone with an inked roller. The ink is composed of a varnish of boiled linseed oil and any of the lithographic colours to be commercially obtained.
The ink does not take on the damp gummed stone, but only where the lithographic chalk has made a greasy mark, so that a perfect facsimile of the drawing on stone is obtained, when a sheet of paper is placed on the stone and the whole put through the press.
The medium deserves to be much more popular with draughtsmen than it is, as no more perfect means of reproduction could be devised.
The lithographic stone is rather a cumbersome thing to handle, but the initial drawing can be done on paper and afterwards transferred to the stone. In the case of line work the result is practically identical, but where much tone and playing about with the chalk is indulged in, the stone is much better. Lithographic papers of different textures are made for this purpose, but almost any paper will do, provided the drawing is done with the special lithographic chalk.
Pen and Ink
Pen and ink was a favourite means of making studies with many old masters, notably Rembrandt. Often heightening the effect with a wash, he conveyed marvellous suggestions with the simplest scribbles. But it is a difficult medium for the young student to hope to do much with in his studies, although for training the eye and hand to quick definite statement of impressions, there is much to be said for it. No hugging of half tones is possible, things must be reduced to a statement of clear darks—which would be a useful corrective to the tendency so many students have of seeing chiefly the half tones in their work.
Plate LVI Study in pen and ink for tree in “The Boar Hunt”, Rubens (Louvre).
The kind of pen used will depend on the kind of drawing you wish to make. In steel pens there are innumerable varieties, from the fine crow-quills to the thick “J” nibs. The natural crow-quill is a much more sympathetic tool than a steel pen, although not quite so certain in its line. But more play and variety is to be got out of it, and when a free pen drawing is wanted it is preferable.
Reed pens are also made, and are useful when thick lines are wanted. They sometimes have a steel spring underneath to hold the ink somewhat in the same manner as some fountain pens.
There is even a glass pen, consisting of a sharp-pointed cone of glass with grooves running down to the point. The ink is held in these grooves, and runs down and is deposited freely as the pen is used. A line of only one thickness can be drawn with it, but this can be drawn in any direction, an advantage over most other shapes.
Etching is a process of reproduction that consists in drawing with a steel point on a waxed plate of copper or zinc, and then putting it in a bath of diluted nitric acid to bite in the lines. The longer the plate remains in the bath the deeper and darker the lines become, so that variety in thickness is got by stopping out with a varnish the light lines when they are sufficiently strong, and letting the darker ones have a longer exposure to the aci
Many wonderful and beautiful things have been done with this simple means. The printing consists in inking the plate all over and wiping off until only the lines retain any ink, when the plate is put in a press and an impression taken. Or some slight amount of ink may be left on the plate in certain places where a tint is wanted, and a little may be smudged out of the lines themselves to give them a softer quality. In fact there are no end of tricks a clever etching printer will adopt to give quality to his print.
The varieties of paper on the market at the service of the artist are innumerable, and nothing need be said here except that the texture of your paper will have a considerable influence on your drawing. But try every sort of paper so as to find what suits the particular things you want to express. I make a point of buying every new paper I see, and a new paper is often a stimulant to some new quality in drawing. Avoid the wood-pulp papers, as they turn dark after a time. Linen rag is the only safe substance for good papers, and artists now have in the O.W. papers a large series that they can rely on being made of linen only.
It is sometimes advisable, when you are not drawing a subject that demands a clear hard line, but where more sympathetic qualities are wanted, to have a wad of several sheets of paper under the one you are working on, pinned on the drawing-board. This gives you a more sympathetic surface to work upon and improves the quality of your work. In redrawing a study with which you are not quite satisfied, it is a good plan to use a thin paper, pinning it over the first study so that it can be seen through. One can by this means start as it were from the point where one left off. Good papers of this description are now on the market. I fancy they are called “bank-note” papers.
Mechanical invention, mechanical knowledge, and even a mechanical theory of the universe, have so influenced the average modern mind, that it has been thought necessary in the foregoing pages to speak out strongly against the idea of a mechanical standard of accuracy in artistic drawing. If there were such a standard, the photographic camera would serve our purpose well enough. And, considering how largely this idea is held, one need not be surprised that some painters use the camera; indeed, the wonder is that they do not use it more, as it gives in some perfection the mechanical accuracy which is all they seem to aim at in their work. There may be times when the camera can be of use to artists, but only to those who are thoroughly competent to do without it—to those who can look, as it were, through the photograph and draw from it with the same freedom and spontaneity with which they would draw from nature, thus avoiding its dead mechanical accuracy, which is a very difficult thing to do. But the camera is a convenience to be avoided by the student.
Now, although it has been necessary to insist strongly on the difference between phenomena mechanically recorded and the records of a living individual consciousness, I should be very sorry if anything said should lead students to assume that a loose and careless manner of study was in any way advocated. The training of his eye and hand to the most painstaking accuracy of observation and record must be the student’s aim for many years. The variations on mechanical accuracy in the work of a fine draughtsman need not be, and seldom are, conscious variations. Mechanical accuracy is a much easier thing to accomplish than accuracy to the subtle perceptions of the artist. And he who cannot draw with great precision the ordinary cold aspect of things cannot hope to catch the fleeting aspect of his finer vision.
Those artists who can only draw in some weird fashion remote from nature may produce work of some interest; but they are too much at the mercy of a natural trick of hand to hope to be more than interesting curiosities in art.
The object of your training in drawing should be to develop to the uttermost the observation of form and all that it signifies, and your powers of accurately portraying this on paper.
Unflinching honesty must be observed in all your studies. It is only then that the “you” in you will eventually find expression in your work. And it is this personal quality, this recording of the impressions of life as felt by a conscious individual that is the very essence of distinction in art.
The “seeking after originality” so much advocated would be better put “seeking for sincerity.” Seeking for originality usually resolves itself into running after any peculiarity in manner that the changing fashions of a restless age may throw up. One of the most original men who ever lived did not trouble to invent the plots of more than three or four of his plays, but was content to take the hackneyed work of his time as the vehicle through which to pour the rich treasures of his vision of life. And wrote:
“What custom wills in all things do you do it.”
Individual style will come to you naturally as you become more conscious of what it is you wish to express. There are two kinds of insincerity in style, the employment of a ready-made conventional manner that is not understood and that does not fit the matter; and the running after and laboriously seeking an original manner when no original matter exists. Good style depends on a clear idea of what it is you wish to do; it is the shortest means to the end aimed at, the most apt manner of conveying that personal “something” that is in all good work. “The style is the man,” as Flaubert says. The splendour and value of your style will depend on the splendour and value of the mental vision inspired in you, that you seek to convey; on the quality of the man, in other words. And this is not a matter where direct teaching can help you, but rests between your own consciousness and those higher powers that move it.
If you add a line of 5 inches to one of 8 inches you produce one 13 inches long, and if you proceed by always adding the last two you arrive at a series of lengths, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 inches, &c. Mr. William Schooling tells me that any two of these lines adjoining one another are practically in the same proportion to each other; that is to say, one 8 inches is 1.600 times the size of one 5 inches, and the 13-inch line is 1.625 the size of the 8-inch, and the 21-inch line being 1.615 times the 13-inch line, and so on. With the mathematician’s love of accuracy, Mr. Schooling has worked out the exact proportion that should exist between a series of quantities for them to be in the same proportion to their neighbours, and in which any two added together would produce the next. There is only one proportion that will do this, and although very formidable, stated exactly, for practical purposes, it is that between 5 and a fraction over 8. Stated accurately to eleven places of decimals it is (1 + sqrt(5))/2 = 1.61803398875 (nearly).
We have evidently here a very unique proportion. Mr. Schooling has called this the Phi proportion, and it will be convenient to refer to it by this name.
THE PHI PROPORTION
|EC is 1.618033, &c., times size of||AB,|
Testing this proportion on the reproductions of pictures in this book in the order of their appearing, we find the following remarkable results:
“Los Meninas,” Velazquez, Plate IX.—The right-hand side of light opening of door at the end of the room is exactly Phi proportion with the two sides of picture; and further, the bottom of this opening is exactly Phi proportion with the top and bottom of canvas.
It will be noticed that this is a very important point in the “placing” of the composition.
“Fête Champêtre,” Giorgione, Plate XXXIII.—Lower end of flute held by seated female figure exactly Phi proportion with sides of picture, and lower side of hand holding it (a point slightly above the end of flute) exactly Phi proportion with top and bottom of canvas. This is also an important centre in the construction of the composition.
“Bacchus and Ariadne,” Titian, Plate XXXIV.—The proportion in this picture both with top and bottom and sides of canvas comes in the shadow under chin of Bacchus; the most important point in the composition being the placing of this head.
“Love and Death,” by Watts, Plate XXXV.—Point from which drapery radiates on figure of Death exactly Phi proportion with top and bottom of picture.
Point where right-hand side of right leg of Love cuts dark edge of steps exactly Phi proportion with sides of picture.
“Surrender of Breda,” by Velazquez, Plate XXXVI.—First spear in upright row on the right top of picture, exactly Phi proportion with sides of canvas. Height of gun carried horizontally by man in middle distance above central group, exactly Phi proportion with top and bottom of picture. This line gives height of group of figures on left, and is the most important horizontal line in the picture.
“Birth of Venus,” Botticelli, Plate XXXVII.—Height of horizon line Phi proportion with top and bottom of picture. Height of shell on which Venus stands Phi proportion with top and bottom of picture, the smaller quantity being below this time. Laterally the extreme edge of dark drapery held by figure on right that blows towards Venus is Phi proportion with sides of picture.
“The Rape of Europa,” by Paolo Veronese, Plate XXXVIII.—Top of head of Europa exactly Phi proportion with top and bottom of picture. Right-hand side of same head slightly to left of Phi proportion with sides of picture (unless in the reproduction a part of the picture on the left has been trimmed away, as is likely, in which case it would be exactly Phi proportion).
I have taken the first seven pictures reproduced in this book that were not selected with any idea of illustrating this point, and I think you will admit that in each some very important quantity has been placed in this proportion. One could go on through all the illustrations were it not for the fear of becoming wearisome; and also, one could go on through some of the minor relationships, and point out how often this proportion turns up in compositions. But enough has been said to show that the eye evidently takes some especial pleasure in it, whatever may eventually be found to be the physiological reason underlying it.