If it has passed into a proverb that he is a bad workman who complains of his tools, it is certain that to have good ones simplifies work, renders it more agreeable and brings a more satisfactory result. Therefore we shall not be afraid of being too diffuse in this chapter, or of entering into the smallest details concerning the different accessories necessary to the study of Charcoal Drawing. Whether you are an artist by profession or are only a lover of sketching, surround yourself with every thing that can be useful to you, and, believe the words of experience, you will gain a serious advantage from this precaution.
The furniture of an atelier is composed, first, of an easel ; and we believe, if one does much work, it will be best to procure a mechanical easel, called the Easel Bonhomme, because the common easels with three feet, very convenient for small drawings, will not support the frame sufficiently if you are working upon a design larger than the board called the supporter; for then there will be constantly a movement from right to left and from left to right, under the pressure of the hand during the work. If you can not obtain an easel Bonhomme, you may make use of the common eaisel with three feet, which is much less costly and almost as convenient. And you can even obviate the inconvenience of which we spoke above, by placing at the height of about twenty-two inches on the movable supporter when it is arranged for the hand in working seated, a cross-piece of wood, fixed by nails or moveable by the help of screws held by small nuts ; a cross-piece, which, being of the same size as the supporter, will very easily hold the frame. This will not be very agreeable to the sight, but it will render the same service as the mechanical easel. If you prefer the latter, take one with a fixed stand, less easily broken than a sliding stand. We say nothing of the easels provided with pulley^s ; they are seldom used now, on account of the difficulty, when the supporting board is once raised, of drawing it down at need without shaking it.
As to the easel for holding the model, with a single stand and cross feet, it is, in our opinion, altogether useless, seeing that, by the help of a hook fixed at the top of the easel on which you are working, you can always hang up your model, which will be supported by the very frame on which you are making your copy. If the model is too large to permit this arrangement, you can place it on a chair, on a table easel or on a common one; but in no case should you make use of the model-bearing easel, which is never firm enough to hold a large drawing, and which the least touch would shake.
In the atelier, a frame is the best thing on which to stretch your paper, it is also the cheapest, and indeed it is the only thing which stretches well and which offers a proper resistance. The frame ought to be made like those which you employ for canvas, but it need not be furnished with braces* And, moreover, it will be found convenient to attach[*] to it, at the middle of the back, a cross-piece of wood, which, when the drawing is finished, will permit you to hold it
easily in order to set it.
* We say "attach," because if you insert the crosspiece into the frame, as you do in those used for canvas, you will find it troublesome to set the drawing, the brush not passing easily under the bar.
You must not be discouraged if, the first time you stretch your paper, the result is not perfect. It is a matter of habit, and we assure you that, if you conform exactly to the instructions which we give you here, you will succeed in stretching your paper rapidly, without wrinkles, which never can be done with the ordinary stretcher.
To stretch your paper, after having cut it large enough to overlap the frame about an inch and a half on each side, you lay it on a table, the right side or, better, the grain of the paper, against the table; then, by the help of a little sponge, you moisten the wrong side from one end to the other. The paper thoroughly moistened, you lay the frame upon it and fasten one of the sides with tacks, one in the middle and one at each end. This done, you turn your frame, and repeat the same operation for the opposite side, then go on in the same way for the other two sides, taking care to press down the corners of the paper in drawing them a little over the edge of the frame. This work ought to be done as rapidly as possible. When the paper is thus held at each of the four sides by the three tacks, you should place between them as many other nails as you think needed, according to the size of the paper.
To stretch a paper well, put tacks at distances of about an inch and a half and, whilst you are putting them in, draw the paper, so as to stretch it as much as possible while it is moist, but do this gently, that it may not tear under your hands. This work finished, let the paper dry at the temperature of the weather ; at the end of a half hour in winter and a quarter of an hour in summer, it will be as well stretched as a painting canvas. In winter you must be very careful not to dry it before the fire for, in that case, the paper will wrinkle at a lower temperature and become loosened while you are working at it.
An instrument composed of two frames shut, one into the other, or placed and held, one above the other, by means of brads and clasps ; this is used very commonly for stretching the paper in Charcoal Drawing. For the first kind of stretcher, you need only place the moistened paper over the larger frame, then, placing the second frame upon the first, press it until you close the machine. For the second kind of stretcher, the use of it is still more simple ; you place the paper very evenly between the two frames and fold them at once, one over the other. This stretcher is convenient for out-of-door sketching, since you do not need all the apparatus of the frame, nails, hammer, etc., but it is very inferior for work in the atelier. The stretcher with clasps, drawing horizontally upon the paper, tears it easily when it dries and stretches. The other instrument, drawing the paper by means of a ledge which enters one of the frames from the other, tears it very easily also, especially in the corners. But there is a third stretcher which combines all the desired conditions. It is composed of two frames which, laid over each other, shut together by means of an interior groove. Moreover, it is improved by a frame covered with linen or muslin, which permits you to carry the drawing, without injury, before it is set. In this way, you may give several days to a drawing from nature. This stretcher has not the fault of the first mentioned, because the corners are free, and it does not tear the paper, like the second, because the tension is not horizontal. But, to be absolutely perfect, this machine needs such care in its construction, that the price is necessarily too high to justify any merchant in keeping it on hand.
The Charcoal Crayons.[*]
You can certainly draw with all kinds of charcoal crayons; nevertheless, it is well to have, for landscape drawing in charcoal, those of a superior quality. The common crayon used in sketching, ought to be rejected, for it is better to employ, for the sketch, the same crayon which is used to finish the drawing. The artists' charcoal crayon, marked R. G. M., is certainly the best. It is the natural wood, and simply charred with care; unctious and pleasant to handle, it gives the most intense blacks and, at the same time, the softest grays for the background and the more distant planes, when you work it down with a stomp. For details and fine branches it is well to make use of a crayon made from the little shrub called mignonette,[**] which, harder than the other, is quite as black and does not crumble from the pressure of the hand. It can be cut to as fine a point as possible, so that vou can render with it the most tender twigs and the lightest details.
* Fasain, s. m. Term of botany. A shrub which grows naturally along hedges, whose wood serves to make distaffs, spindles, earding needles, etc. ; or, reduced to charcoal, is employed to draw light sketches. Spindle-tree or Prickwood (JSuonymus). — Dictionary of the Academy.
** A variety of Besida, with a woody stem, larger than the mignoDette cultivated here.
The Venitian charcoal crayon is not bad, but it is no better than the R. G. M., and it costs much more. There is also the charcoal crayon made from the broom handle[*]; a kind of hard wood, thick as a candle, which, cut flat, serves well for skies, and for even tints on a broad surface.
* Rather indefinite, as we do not know from what kind of wood broom bandies are made in France.
But there is a kind of crayon called soaked (treinpi) which you must never use. These crayons, which are nothing but common charcoal dipped into a composition making a black liquid, are far from having the worth of the natural crayon. Dry and hard, they interfere continually with good work and are, at the very best, only fit for sketches. I know that the paper in which they are wrapped is a great attraction; but, in this case, contrary to the proverb, the flag does not cover the merchandise.
We do not approve of vigorous retouches by the aid of the black or lithographic crayon. They take from the Charcoal Drawing the softness which characterizes it; but still there are some cases where a sharp touch is useful. The crayon H. Conte is, then, the best to employ. Pulverized charcoal is now used, sometimes, for skies, background and retouches.
In the two most interesting and most practical pamphlets which have been written on Charcoal Drawing, those of Lalanne and of Allonge, there is such a direct opposition in the recommendations of the paper to be employed, that we will quote the two paragraphs and give afterward our own opinion on the subject, specifying the manner in which the student mav use with advantage either kind of paper. "
M. Lalanne says, "If the paper has a certain roughness, like that of grained paper, it will catch the friable particles of the charcoal and, whatever be the subject you wish to treat, you will do well, after having cut your crayon, to pass a general tone over every thing, which will give, as it were, a commencement of values. You will not have to work afterwards on a white surface, but upon a preparatory background already established. This value may be modified according to the different planes of the subject." In Allonge we find, on the contrary, " What forces me to condemn those papers which have too rough a grain, or any regular divisions, is that I find it absolutely necessary, for the background, to be able to lighten the tone, in order to render it more delicate, in accordance with its plane, however vigorous it may be as a tone. The same is true in the representation of water. Now, if the grain of the paper gives, in the background, the same effects as in the foreground, it forces you to leave, in your work, sharp, white points in every light, however much these lights may differ the one from the other; you will have neither planes nor values, for this white grain will render the yellow as well as the green, the dull tones as well as the brilliant ones, and the pictorial aspects of your work will disappear."
This objection to the employment of rough paper appears to us very just ; for, putting aside the fact that it is very difficult, in preparing a general tone as M. Lalanne directs, to obtain, with such paper, a fine, even and every-where equal tone where the grain shall not appear, we meet, in using it, another obstacle. Between the roughnesses which catch the crayon, we see the tint of the paper itself; and this, far from giving a fresh and distant tone, leads the pupil to make drawings in which the sky and the water are unsteady, and where the ground itself wants solidity. Moreover, this paper is so light in its quality that it is difficult to use it on the frame or on the stretcher. It can only be used on blocks or on a pasteboard as it is prepared for the Academy ; this can never give the delicacy of paper that is stretched.
But still, we must not condemn this rough paper entirely : in the first place, because M. Lalanne, making use of it with his talent, has really obtained the result of which he speaks ; and secondly, because we believe that, in certain cases, it facilitates execution, especially when you wish to reproduce ruins, villages, old picturesque streets and buildings in fact.
But we must proscribe this paper on principle, in all teaching, because in using it the pupil will have to conquer difficulties which a good paper does not present. Therefore, we advise the papers used by M. Allonge and M. Appian, which are a dull yellow or else white, with a fine and even grain. With these papers you can treat every subject, provided you know how to modify and vary your work according to the nature of the subject you wish to reproduce.
There is no other special precaution to be given with regard to the paper, except to keep it always pure and clean, and, in putting it on the frame or on the stretcher, to take care not to moisten the side on which you are going to draw, as this makes spots which are difficult to get rid of.
We never employ, and we counsel our readers against employing, tinted papers. If you desire to obtain a general yellow tint, dissolve a little saffron in your white fixative.
Stomps, Spills, Punk, Wadding, Linen and Woolen Rags, Pith of the Elder-Bush, The Employment and the Preservation of Bread-Crumbs.
All these accessories and their manner of employment have so much importance, in our opinion, that we can not content ourselves with simply giving a list of them.
The paper stomp is that most frequently used. All paper stomps, being made in the same way, are equally good ; to keep them so, you have only to press them with care, immediately after your work, to prevent them from losing their point ; otherwise you can no longer obtain delicate results — they will be good for nothing except for flat work.
The flat stomp, called the hare's foot, is very useful for obtaining a uniform tone on a broad surface; you should always use it for reflections in the water.
Amongst other stomps, those of leather, of silk, of cork, etc., the leather stomp is the only one which appears to us of any use in Charcoal Drawing. It obtains clear tones and half-tints. It is generally used in broad tints, which the paper stomp would not make light enough and which bread-crumb would make too light.
Spills render nearly the same service as paper stomps, especially for small surfaces. They are more supple, more agreeable to handle and, besides, much cheaper. Indeed, you can make them yourself with gray paper, blotting paper or silk paper.
To pass a general tone over your paper, and take from it the crudeness of the white, and also to obtain sky values, you should generally use the palm of the hand or the four fingers joined, after having laid on, as regurarly as possible, the quantity of charcoal necessary to obtain the regular values. But if you want a brilliant and clear sky or transparent and luminous water, the use of a piece of old linen or of old cotton is excellent. You must roll up the rag so that it may present a broad and even surface, then, turning it from the bottom of your paper toward the top, you can spread the charcoal. But, to prevent this operation from doing harm to the work which follows it, it must be performed with skill ; it should be done, so to say, at the first trial ; otherwise, if you are obliged to make several attempts, the charcoal, sinking too much into the paper, will give a tone either too light or too dark, according to the quantity first placed there ; and then, even with the help of breadcrumb, you can never obtain a fresh light nor a brilliant and lively tone to lighten a cloud or a sunbeam on the water. To obtain this same general tone, many persons use glove kid, punk, wadding, etc. But these are inferior to the rags ; they are more difficult to use, they often make spots or cottony, heavy, disagreeable skies. You may use them to mark out the clouds, but not for the tone of the background or clear sky, which ought always to be smooth and even. You can obtain this tone only by the aid of the rag. Use, for that purpose, pulverized charcoal, covering with it the roll of cloth which we have just described. This will give a soft and light tone, one on which you then can model your clouds.
Carefully crumbled and worked into a flat or pointed lump, it is used, as we know, for the most brilliant lights. You must always use stale, home-made bread ; fresh bread will grease the paper and injure your retouches. To keep your bread-crumb, you must press it into a little metal box, lead or tin, such as are sold for snuff-boxes. In that way, you can keep it two or three days, according to the season. This is a very convenient way of keeping it, especially on excursions ; the box of bread-crumb takes up but little space and yet you can press in enough to serve for several drawings.
This instrument fills a role important enough in Charcoal Drawing to make it necessary to choose it with care ; it is used to obtain middle tints in the details of the work, where the stomp or the spill would not give enough delicacy of touch. You may use it advantageously for the foliage of trees on the second plane, and also on the first planes, to mark out grass, furze and reeds. Let the eraser be always very sharp, otherwise it will take off the surface of the paper and, in fixing the drawing, the liquid will make a smutch. The common eraser, fixed or shutting into its case by means of a groove, is excellent ; but what is still better is the eraser called the scali)el. With the point you can obtain a great delicacy of touch and with the edge you may work upon broader surfaces than with the common eraser. Moreover, this eraser is more conveniently held between Ihe fingers and allows you to work always in the same direction.