There is a sentence often repeated to those who are beginning the study of drawing or of painting; this is, "Be yourself, try to be original ; success lies there." Certainly, when well understood, this is an absolute truth. But it does not therefore follow that it is useless to copy models or that you should work from nature without any previous study.
It is very true that, by dint of labor and perseverance, you can reach good results from nature, above all if you are endowed with a special talent for drawing. But this treatise is not written for the few exceptional artists by birth its object is to be useful to amateurs, not to interest artiste. Therefore we tell the amateur that to begin at once to dra,w from nature will be a mistake for him. He should subject his hand and his eye to work, less agreeable, it is true, but more useful. By copying you obtain, little by little, a satisfactory knowledge of the means employed in Charcoal Drawing and, from that A'ery knowledge, you will be less embarrassed when you draw from nature. But to make your copying profitable, it must be seriously studied and your models should be chosen with great care.
You should not copy from engravings nor from old lithographs, for, says Allonge, "These landscapes, however well sketched, having the white paper for the sky, whether gray, blue or white, make use of it again for lights on a road, for foliage in sunlight, as well as for the dull tone of tree trunks, the lights of thatch or brick, the bright spots of stone or plaster."
We do not condemn these models altogether; there is good in every thing, but you must know how to profit by it. The student who does not know how to draw and who wishes to succeed in Charcoal Drawing, should work, outside of his special study, on small copies in lead pencil, which will give him facility of hand and render him more skillful when he comes to treat Charcoal. Drawing with delicacy and to give careful details.
You can begin by copying the landscape drawing books, method Cassagne, but only for first models; for this method, excellent for buildings, appears to us defective when you come to trees.
If you are working for Charcoal Drawing, the particular study of the leaf is not useful ; you should habituate yourself, as much as possible, to treat trees by masses and by effects and not by the detail of the foliage. For this, you may copy some models from the album of Hubert, taking care to add a graded background for the sky.
Lately, many persons have copied in charcoal photographs after nature; this is very bad. These photographs, made with care and excellent guides for artists, since they give the exact and minute form of the objects reproduced, force the pupil into useless little ^details and lead him away from a large interpretation of nature. We may affirm this: for the study of Charcoal Drawing there are only two kinds of good models — reproductions of charcoal work by good methods, as wo have had lately, such as lithophotography or heliography, or better still in Paris, the Charcoal Drawings themselves, which you can easily obtain either by hiring them or by subscription.
This want of good models for drawing, and particularly for Charcoal Drawing, will soon be supplied, thanks to the intelligent en- ergy of Messrs. Groupil & Co. Foreseeing the important position which this kind of artistic work will soon take, this house has asked of M. Allonge a series of models which will form a course of landscape drawing. Nothing can be more practical or more complete than this collection of designs, where it would seem that the master has surpassed himself. You will find in this course all the examples and the teaching which is necessary for study from nature. All is treated ; trees, firet planes, forests, river banks, mountains and sea-views. And it is to be remarked that, in this collection, each drawing, taken separately, forms a real landscape, even in the first of the series.
There are none of the dry elements and principles of the old methods. The master has undertaken to demonstrate his principles by charming the student or the amateur ; and, from the opinion of those who have seen the originals, we can say that he has completely attained the end which he proposed to himself.
The reproduction of these Charcoal Drawings is a real marvel. We have shown the proofs to several artists, and we can state that the fac simile is so good that almost every one of them has taken the reproduction for a real Charcoal Drawing.
In conclusion, it is evident that this is a great step made in the teaching of drawing, and we hope that this result obtained in the reproduction of Charcoal Drawings, will facilitate the introduction of the study into the public schools.
We advise the amateur to take the drawings of M. Allonge as models and his manner as their method, because his designs are , executed in so clear and neat a manner that, by the time j^ou have copied the second drawing, you know the method of the artist. We do not say this because we are a pupil of M. Allonge, on the contrary it was because this was our opinion that we chose him for a master.
When, after some months of study, you have acquired the manner of working, in a word the secret of Charcoal Drawing, you may try it in every way. The drawings of Appian and Lalanne ought to be taken at the end of your studies. The works of these two masters do not present themselves clearly to the mind in the way of execution, and in our opinion you must have all the talent that they possess to arrive at such results by such simple means.
Copies after Painting
The passage from copying to original work is often difficult, and the student who, by perseverance, has come to be a faithful copyist, does not always succeed in giving a satisfactory work from nature. Thus we believe that it is an excellent transition work to render a few oil paintings into charcoal. If in such a picture the drawing is clear, if the form is easy to reproduce, you must still study for yourself the values which the painter has rendered, values which are the absolute bases of art. Moreover, the execution of painting having nothing in common with the method of Charcoal Drawing, you can profit by your former work, and learn gradually to take advantage of all the methods in your power.
Now, reader, that you understand all the accessories that you have to employ, we are going to do our best to teach you the use of them, by practicing together, if you are willing. The first drawing that we submit to you. Souvenir D'Auvers, is simple in execution ; for that reason we have chosen it for our first lesson.[*]
* Tou can obtain in Paris, at the shop of M. G. Meusnier, rue Neuye-Saint-Augustain, No. 27, the plate (Souvenir d'Auvere) of the size of the original, about 14 X 11 inches, and also a collection of models and progressive studies, either by hiring them or by subscription.
In the first place, you must take the outside measure of your drawing, making four lines, very light because they are not to remain; then, when you have the size of your work, with your charcoal crayon cut or worn flat and a little broad, pass a general tone from left to right,, beginning at the top, and that in the most regular manner possible and so that there shall remain no white spaces between your touches in any direction. The paper once covered, by the aid of your four fingers joined, or, better still (because this sky tone is very clear), by the help of your rag, spread your charcoal, turning from the right to the left and beginning at the bottom, in order that the rag, gathering more i^harcoal from the lower part, may leave you a more vigorous tone at the top, which will make your sky fall back and give it the desired perspective. You have thus your background, sky and water. With some breadcrumb you must take off all that passes the limits of your drawing, lines which should already disappear under the work of the rag ; then you must take the measure of your drawing again, this time without making lines, for nature has no outlines and Charcoal Drawing permits you to give form only by masses, shadows and lights.
On the background which you have already laid, you make your sketch; that is to say, you mark your masses lightly to obtain their position, which you must rectify until it is very exact. For your first trials, take measurements if you find them necessary; but, when you have a little more practice, your eye ought to guide you, and, to obtain the position and size of your objects, you will simply compare one with another. Thus, in the design which we are studying, you see that the ground from the left to the right is at about one-third of the whole height, starting from the bottom of the drawing, and that it grows gradually narrower toward the right ; you will indicate it by massing it with a flat and vigorous tone. You mass, then, your background much more lightly and rub it in with the stomp. The first plane is a piece of ground which is about half way between your horizon and the bottom of your drawing ; you mass it in the same manner as your ground in your second plane, but less vigorously in the upper part, and by passing your crayon lightly over it, so as to obtain that grain which you observe in your model. Then you see that the middle of your drawing is occupied by the group of willows which are in the strongest shadow; indicate this group, observing that its width is about two-thirds of its height, and place the little poplar on the right, at its proper distance.
Then take the middle point between this poplar and the right extremity of the drawing, where you will place the group of poplars in the background, and then draw all the details which are on the right and on the left of this mass. After this, make the reflections in the water. And here we wish you to notice that the general tone of the water is, as in nature, a little more vigorous than the tone of the sky; to obtain it, pass over, with your crayon, a light tone which you will spread with your finger. The reflections ought to be sketched very perpendicular and in a general vigorous tone.
Here is, then, the sketching out and the putting in position of your drawing. Try to be exact, especially in your first attempts, otherwise you will come to content yourself with being nearly right, which is a fatal weakness. It is very well, however, when you begin, to mass a little under the model ; that is to say, make your objects a little smaller, very little, the tenth of an inch perhaps, in this case, so that, afterwards, in working out the details you may reach the exact measure of your model; otherwise yqu gain a little in spite of yourself and make your object too large. Your drawing then loses in elegance. For the details in the execution, we proceed in the same order as for the sketching.
The sky is so simple that we need not enlarge upon it ; there is nothing to do but to mark out the white spots forming clouds, with bread-crumb. A light touch with the stomp will indicate the little cloud at the top of the drawing on the right.
Next, we shall attack the ground on the second plane, where we find the principal motif of the design, and for this we begin by drawing the line of demarkation between the land and the water ; speaking artistically, establish the viofors which arrest the land at the edge of the water. Then, if the general tone is correct, draw Avith the crayon every vigorous detail as exactly as possible and, with bread-crumb already a little soiled, we lighten the luminous parts of the half-tint. Take notice that we say the bread-crumb ought to be a little soiled ; this is important, otherwise we shall have the same light as in the sky or on the brilliant parts of the water.
The ground being finished, you will proceed with each detail upon it, drawing with the crayon well sharpened and lighting them up with the spill or with the stomp, taking care that the vigorous details, fence, branches, etc., be very clearly and carefully placed and. that the background be lighter than the bright spots on the land itself.
The working of the group of willows in the middle is very simple. It is made of two vigorous tones lightened on each side by the spills ; in the middle you may use the eraser to take out some details of the leaf.
Here we may remark that, in employing the eraser, it is convenient to hold it in a particular manner. Let the handle of the eraser be under the hand, in such way that you can perceive only the blade and the end of the handle. This is the way it is held by clerks when they want to erase a large blot.
To return to our drawing ; take out with bread-crumb the clean lights which separate the branches of the tree on the right of the group. This done, draw the middle poplar very perpendicular, in working up the charcoal with a slender and close-twisted spill.
The poplars in the background on the right, should be modeled with the stomp or, better still, you can indicate with it the general mass well rubbed in and then cut out the form or the profile with bread-crumb. Then you may draw the ground on the first plane as you did that on the left, taking care to make it detach itself well from the water which it divides ; but do this without making any lines, solely by the opposition of lights and of vigors.
The drawing may be finished by the execution of the water. Permit me, reader, to repeat here what I said above; give great care to your water, that is the great charm of Charcoal Drawing. A Charcoal Drawing without water is like "a book without a preface or a man who goes out without a hat ;" consult a hundred amateurs, ninety-nine will tell you that your drawing lacks something. Therefore you can not treat this element of success with too much care. You may employ every means to render the transparency and the reflection of the water ; paper stomps, leather stomps, cork, wadding, etc. Xothing, in our opinion, is better than the pith of the elder, cut flat. In our drawing you can spread the charcoal with the elder pith very regularly, taking care that the touches melt well together as if they were all made with one single stroke. Then give the vigors which reflect the masses in the shadow, and by caressing the charcoal with the edge of the eraser you have the half tints.
Last of all, you will give the brilliant touches of sunlight which just strike the surface of the water, with the edge of a ball of bread-crumb very carefully flattened. When your drawing is finished, set it as we have shown you above.
THE BROOK (SOUVENIR OP NORMANDY)
You may have remarked, in sketching the first plate, that the backgrounds are worked up at once with a spill or a paper stomp ; you should proceed in the same way with the brook. After having passed over your paper a general tone for the sky with a rag covered with charcoal dust, you must model the poplars in the back ground with a spill, first massing them very lightly with the crayon ; then commence your positions at the left, taking care to denote the very delicate contours in the drawing.
The land, sketched as we have told you above, will then be worked up with the stomp and retouched with bread-crumb on the road that leads to the fence. The piece of ground which forms the bank at the right, is rubbed in only in spots and is modeled by the crayon itself. The water should be treated as in the other study. You see that we can give very few instructions on the manner of treating this second drawing, since every design contains all the proceedings applied to Charcoal Drawing. There is nothing to be found here which we have not indicated above. It is quite enough, then, for serious study, to copy some good models and to notice well the manner in which the artist avails himself of his means. For this, the half-tint obtained by the eraser is easily recognized ; let it be the line of the water or a reed, its form is always clear and distinct; the bread-crumb, on the contrary, gives a broader and more brilliant form ; and in the half-tints made by the spill, you can obtain your lights with the leather stomp, if you wish, often less bright than with the bread-crumb.
What we have just said, contradicts that prejudice which many artists have against Charcoal Drawing, which they say is only a tissue of tricks. There are but few means ; in this work we do not seek to hide the fact ; but the artist must study seriously the mode of employing them, if he wishes to give just values, which is the basis of painting and above all of landscape painting.
OR MANNER OP TREATING ANY SUBJECT
There is no landscape, however extended it may be, which embraces, in itself alone, all that nature can present. Therefore, the preceding lessons and the models chosen have for their object only to designate the methods employed for those different subjects.
If we had to explain the manner of rendering every landscape, ten volumes and a hundred plates would not be enough.
We shall try, in this chapter, to guide the amateur and to give him the fullest instructions possible, so that, through whatever country he may travel, he will not be embarrassed in filling his album with souvenirs.
If you have to render a blue and clear sky, as in summer, treat it simply with the rag, as we have described above; if it is of an intense blue, as in winter in frosty weather, work it up with the thumb or with the palm of the hand, this will leave it the vigor it ought to have.
Apropos to this, we find a very interesting paragraph in the pamphlet of M. Armand Chamey, which is worth quoting: "If you have a sky of clear blue or of luminous white, be careful not to cover your paper with a uniform tint. The orientalists, who have brought back to us landscapes resembling Chinese shadows pasted on a background of uniform blue, have fallen into a profound error in imagining that they can render thus the depth and intensity of the southern skies. Decamps and Delacroix have always avoided this fault — ^they are observers too clear sighted to fall into it. The purest sky is never uniform ; if you look at it fixedly, you will see myriads of spots of a blue more or less deep, which have the appearance of moving. It is this resonance, this vibration of the light which you should try to render; without it there is no air, no space, no depth in the picture. A light tint rubbed over with cotton, which you can work up by breaking it into luminous points with bread-crumb, renders very well the effect of which we have just spoken, but you will be very far from succeeding in this always. Therefore it is better to choose generally cloudy skies, which exact much less care and trouble. To render an effect of storm, a cloudy sky, model your clouds with the stomp or the leather, always in the direction in which they are moving; lighten them with bread-crmnb if you wish to obtain those brilliant sunlight effects which every- where gild the sky before or after a storm.
But above all, let your tone of background or of azure be always very smooth, and let your clouds detach themselves well, that is what will give depth and movement to your sky.
Water presents itself under many aspects ; sleeping, as in a lake, a pool, etc., it always reflects the objects which border it or which are near to it. But the running water of rivers does not always reflect these objects, or else it presents their image in a thousand different ways.
At sunrise the reflection is, so to say, flat and without brilliancy. At noon, scarcely any reflection ; the water is very brilliant, sometimes it is even brighter than the sky.
It is in the evening, from four o'clock till sunset, that water j)resents itself in the manner most charming for the artist. The reflections then are clear and calm and reproduce objects as in a mirror, in all their values and their varieties of tone. For this you must use all the resources of Charcoal Drawing-elder-pith, leather stomps, eraser; you
must avail yourself of them all if you wish to succeed in rendering the variety of nature.
It is not, accurately speaking, the ground itself which ofifers serious difficulties of execution, but what the soil bears: shrubs, plants, rocks, etc. It is especially difficult to carry these details over the ground so as to make them a part of it and cause you to feel that the one produces the other. To succeed in this, you must establish well the ground tone of your soil, and for this take care not to leave any of the white of the paper; you should use that only when you want a bright sunlight on a rocky ground; for however light grass and other details of the sort may be, they are far from the brilliancy of sunlight on a white house or on a stone. It is well to be very moderate in the use of this brilliant tone, which, when employed, gives an excellent result even when it exaggerates the effect.
One of the most troublesome tasks of the amateur is the execution of foliage. And yet it is very difiScult to give aljsolute rules for this work, for at a certain distance, such a distance as that at which the student generally places himself to get a view, the details of the foliage disappear completely; the masses alone are visible. To know how to lighten these masses and to maintain them on the shadow, there the study of foliage ought to end, and working after nature is really the only means of acquiring that knowledge. It is in the study of foliage above all that almost all the methods of teaching known at this day are defective. For, I repeat, unless you have your tree completely in the foreground, you should not occupy yourself with tiie foliage, and even in that case you should make its quality felt only by the touch and not by drawing it leaf by leaf. But if, on the second plane, you wish to indicate the foliage in a mass, either lightened or in half-tint, then the eraser will be very useful to you, by employing it simply in the rection of the leaf, which will give its form, and by bearing on more or less forcibly, which will give you a variety of lights that you can render more brilliant with bread-crumb.
You may use also a paint-brush, more or less moistened, or even dry, but this ought to be employed only in great moderation. This process, if it is not practiced with the greatest skill, gives a monotonous stippling which is not in harmony with the rest of the drawing.
Offer no serious difficulty. You can easily obtain their perspective by their relation to the objects which surround them. There is no need of making a special study of perspective. It is well, in general, to treat buildings largely, and for that, close your eyes slightly, so as to see only the salient details.
The sharp and picturesque sites of Switzerland and of the Pyrenees, so frequented by tourists, are well suited to Charcoal Drawing, because of the quickness with which it seizes the eflfiects always so fugitive among mountains. You should distrust all harsh lines in the treatment of such subjects, above all in backgrounds where the profiles of the mountains cross each other on diflferent planes. For the rest, mountains ought to be treated with the same vigor and with the same solidity as the ground.
The Rocks and the Sea ; the Sands
Which of you, my readers, has not seen those fine drawings of the sea-shore, by Allonge, the Souvenirs of Brittany, with their dolmens and their menhirs, in the midst of that severe and almost savage nature? And those coasts of Normandy, where the master excels in rendering the low tide sands when the water has gone out of sight?
You may easily succeed in rendering the sea-shore itself, but you need serious study to render the atmosphere and its immensity, and above all to vary your drawings from nature. I need not repeat here that rocks and cliffs should be solid and vigorous, but there needs very different work for the sky, the sea and the sand. The sea should generally be rendered by the paper stomp and with a tolerably vigorous tone, the foam of the waves by bread-crumb. The sand is to be treated by the thumb or, if you wish to obtain the grain of the wet sand lighted up by the sun, here you may make use of that process spoken of by various artists; that is, to draw your charcoal crayon lightly over your paper, so that the grain may catch the friable particles of the charcoal, and let the white of the paper be seen between the interstices.
And now, reader, permit me to close this chapter by recommending to you again variety in your work. This is an important point, and for want of taking account of it, many amateurs, artists even, fall into monotony and uniformity, defects for which no genius can compensate, especially in artistic work.
SKETCHES IN CHARCOAL
Sketches in charcoal ought to render only eflfects. You make a sketch only when you want to catch a passing effect, or when time presses and does not permit, you to make a careful drawing from nature. Look at the plate entitled Sunlight in the Woods. How well Charcoal Drawing, even when rapidly executed, can render this impression of nature! We can not undertake to show how such sketches are made; it is there especially that skill makes itself seen. In our model, the background is a rough surface smoothed over by the thumb, the ground worked down by the stomp, then, the trees once drawn and the masses put in place, the artist obtained his sunlight effects by breadcrumb. We believe that it would be very useful, after having made serious studies from nature, to make some of these sketches, rapidly drawn. In this way you can keep a great number of impressions and remembrances of nature.
AFTER THB FIXING OF THE DBAWING
Charcoal Drawing is minute work from this point of view, that it sometimes happens that, after having fixed your work, you find it incomplete from want of vigor in the first planes, or else it is too dry because you have kept it on a sc^e of tones much tpo dark. This latter trouble happens more frequently than the former, because the fixative always darkens the drawing perceptibly, and if you make your general tone only slightly vigorous, it is lost in blackness after the fixing. To obviate this inconvenience, which, however, will not present itself after some study and practice, you may advantageously use the rubber crayon, especially to lighten the background.
If, on the other hand, the drawing fails for want of solidity or of vigor, you can repeat certain touches with a very black charcoal crayon, such as the natural branch or twig well charred, or even the black crayon Conte.
These vigorous retouches made, you can fix them by the help of the atomizer, or fix the whole drawing again; otherwise, if you fix these touches only by the ordinary means, the fixative laid on a second time will form a circle over the first and make a spot.
You may also work up a Charcoal Drawing by means of gouache[*] of white crayons or by some touches of oil, to obtain very brilliant lights; but you should use these means very scrupulously. If you employ oil colors, mix a little cadmium or yellow ochre with the silver white, which will give a tone at once warm and very luminous. If you have been so imprudent as to make a sketch without having prepared your sky tone, you may still obtain it, even after fixing your work, by the help of your linen roll dipped into charcoal dust, which you can pass lightly over your drawing. This will not give a great delicacy, but it will take away the crudity of the drawing, especially if it is made on white paper.
* Gouache — watercolors mixed with gum-water.
STUDY FROM NATURE
It is now, reader, that you must endeavor to be yourself and try to make yourself original. For that, forget, before nature, what you have copied ; do not try to draw like this or that artist, but simply draw what you see.
The manner of working alone ought to remain with you, so that, your motif once chosen, the execution will not embarrass you.
The first time that you work from nature, choose a quiet subject, the corner of a wood, a glimpse of a river or of a field. Avoid space, extent, in a word all complex landscape. That will come later, but take care not to go too quickly, I know very well that the great desire of an amateur, when he goes to the country, is to bring back complete little landscapes, which can be framed. But, I repeat it, a little patience, and instead of having a gallery of your works you will have, it is true, only a few drawings, but these will easily find their admirers.
The first studies ought to be studies of trees ; the tree, it has been said, is the academy of landscape ; nothing is more true, and he who knows how to draw a tree well, that is to say, to construct it well and to lighten up its masses, will find no difficulty when he attempts a whole landscape. Water, sky, buildings, all present their difficulties it is true, but the tree is and always will be the serious difficulty in landscape, since it is the study which gives back the least result from skill in work or from good methods, A few buildings drawn with care, you have them all; a few borders of the water carefully studied, your waters will always be transparent, and your skies will leave nothing to desire if you begin by treating them simply.
But every tree bears in itself its mark of originality ; the oak has & thousand ways of being broad and powerful; the supple and elegant poplar, the willow, the elm, the aspen, the plane-tree change, a thousand times, their form and aspect, from one season to another. Therefore they must be studied with the greatest care; watch them even when they put on certain bizarre forms, if you wish to understand them well, and never forget that you must always build up your tree, no matter how lightly, before marking out its masses, or putting in its effects. In recalling vour last lesson, vou will remember that each object ought to be rendered differently, this alwaj^s happens in nature. The trees themselves ought to be treated after their kind. Render the willow by light rubbings ; the oak with vigorous, nay, brutal, masses ; the poplar with energy in touch, for it is a tree of strong tonality, but give to this touch the delicacy and the suppleness which <5haracterize the poplar.
I will not go back upon each detail. Try above all to make your drawing harmonize in all its parts, and after some months of study from nature, you will arrive at the best results, as I promised you in the beginning of this book ; nay more, at better results than you can have hoped for in the beginning.
Here, dear reader, is the summing up of all the instruction that I have received and that I transmit to you. May it make of you what it has made of me, an amateur, a lover and an admirer of Charcoal Drawing and of its artists.