STUDENTS usually pass through the antique before being promoted to the life class. It is held that by working from casts they have time to gain facility in method, and also some knowledge of human proportions, both' very needful, before attacking the living figure.
That this latter study requires all the equipment the student can command need not be questioned, but though young students may not be able to use their materials skillfully, and may not have a keen sense of proportion, they are familiar with the living figure, for they are human themselves, and acquainted in a practical way with their own structure.
On the other hand all art teachers must be aware of the disadvantages of using the antique as a sole means of training. The student cannot see the classical figures as the sculptor created them in marble or bronze, cannot see them as part of an architectural whole, and viewed thus, torn from their past, in the antique classroom, the dull plaster does not stir his artistic consciousness. He `does not perceive the .subtle variations from the living form, by which the sculptor sought to express his idea of a god-like person. The fine proportions and flow of line
So escape him, and above all the statues stand so quietly that he finds himself quietening in his attack ; he involuntarily slows down and loses that touch of fever which counts for so much in the study of drawing.
In ordinary school life educationists postpone an abstract study like grammar until the child mind has developed sufficiently to take interest in the train of thought. So it is with art students, who, after working from the living model, willingly turn to the antique, and study it with more profit and more enthusiasm for its noble qualities than would have been possible to them coming to it without preparation. The problems of the human figure they now see presented in typical form, and they recognise a canon of proportion which they can more readily grasp, after having observed the great variations in a series of living models.
Coming now to the study of the living figure, the student should understand that a great deal more than mere copying is implied, for it embodies many aspects of art study, spacing, composition, structure, and especially proportion.
There are certain difficulties which will surely meet the beginner, and these it may be well to discuss. First the anthropomorphic attitude of mind on the part of the student already referred to must be combated by the teacher. The former is likely to be obsessed by the figure before him to the extent that the necessity for imitation seems all important. The drawing, he thinks, must be made as like the figure as possible. In other words the student's power of selection is dormant. There are so many things to be attended to that the drawing is apt to be a mere assembling of members, trunk, limbs, etc., to say nothing of details such as fingers and toenails.
The teacher, therefore, has to point out the aims of drawing from the figure. These are not necessarily to recreate a material person by the accumulation of parts, and especially not to emphasize the nakedness of the figure, as beginners are prone to do. The figure is selected as a special subject of study because the nude form presents problems of line and structure more 'directly and trenchantly than any other material which can be set before him.
What should the teacher emphasize as the first step in studying the living figure ? The answer may be given in a word--movement! The living figure is posing in a state of suspended animation, and a sense of movement there must be in any position of the figure. Either the movement has preceded the pose, or the latter is about to pass into action.
Beginners are often oblivious of this sense of arrested movement. Their figures are lumpy and stiff, and they rarely or never give as much action as the figure displays. If, say, the torse leans, they diminish the amount of inclination so that the figure seems to be sitting upright, or nearly so. Especially is this seen in the pose of the head, which often inclines in order to balance an obliquity of the torse or limbs. The novice rarely sees this. To him all heads are upright at attention. It may be said here that what the student suffers from in every branch of ;drawing is not, as he supposes, an unskilled hand, but an untrained eye. The teacher's efforts are constantly directed to the development of the visual faculty, the power of analysing, judging inclinations, measuring proportions, finding the lines which indicate the structure, in all of which the eye needs to be trained. Cleverness, a kind of juggling, which produces effects akin to the lightning sketches at an entertainment, may be deemed essential by an indiscriminating public, but such ideas must be gently laughed out of a school of art, if they ever find utterance there.
It is to the eye then that the main course of direction and criticism should be directed. Even plumbing and measuring should be used only as a secondary aid, to corroborate criticism, for if these mechanical aids are employed too freely, the eye suffers and loses self-reliance.
Coming to the question of movement we realise at once that it is represented through direction. All figures, torses or limbs have a general direction, and these inclinations can be suggested by lines. A seated figure can be represented in direction by three lines. (FIG. 15.) Students unwilling to commence a study with such simple preparation generally show in their work a lack of vitality and movement ; they begin by seizing on the forms, and consequently the general idea escapes them. The mischief occurs at the commencement of the drawing. No amount of delicate detail, if it be drawn piecemeal, will compensate for the lack of intelligent construction. The whole figure should be surveyed at the outset. Too often the eye wanders round .the contours, with the result that the drawing lacks proportion and movement.
Fig. 15. Sketches showing the first lines or " directions " which settle the movement of the figure and its proportions.
Fig 16 -- A drawing made with charcoal on Michallet. The appearance of weight and solidity is due as much to the quality of the line as to the shading.
The student then should determine a line on which to build the figure, this line occurring perhaps within the contour, or again coinciding with it.
When drawing a standing female figure, the student is often attracted by the rich and accented forms of the contours of the breast and hips, with the result that these features are exaggerated. The figure should be built on a simpler line, in this case a vertical through the pit of the neck and ankle of the supporting leg. It should be noted that this is not an arbitrary line, but one actually existing in the pose, being traceable in the median line of the torse, and again between the legs.. (FIG. 16A).
Such a simple commencement is unpopular with the student, for it is head work, an requires studious analysis of the forms.
Unfortunately also the beginner has often acquired, from old habit and force of tradition a method of drawing which consists generally in beginning at the top and descending piecemeal till the feet are reached, that is if there is room for them. Such a vicious method is common even among students possessing great facility. The case may be compared with that of a language student who has never heard French spoken, and is surprised when his tutor tells him he has a wretched accent, though he is entirely unconscious of having acquired it. Ingres used to say "Don't draw one by one and in succession, the head, then the torso, then the arms, and so forth. If you did you would be bound to fail in reproducing the harmony of the whole effect. Rather set yourself to fix the relative proportions existing between the several parts, and to gain the mastery over the life and motion, and in giving expression to this action, don't be afraid of exaggeration. What you have to fear is lukewarmness."
The teacher has another difficulty to face. He should not impose his own way of seeing on his pupils, and thus deprive them of their individuality, nor seek to bias their own self-expression. A student's feeling for form may perchance be somewhat stark, indeed may verge on ugliness, to the point of exaggerating or caricaturing the form, but the wise teacher will be shy of admonishing- such a student, of advising him to look for smoothness, grace or beauty, because character, individuality and strength may be the chief note in that pupil's future work. There is room in the world of art for all manner of individual expression. The touchstone is whether it is sincere. Imitation, posing, conscious seeking after a style on the part of students cannot be too loudly condemned.
But where the student's work is wanting because of his lack of method or of knowledge of materials, the teacher is on firm ground. The student must be taught everything, even how to hold a pencil or brush. In matters of method and of the use of the implements of his craft, he should put himself entirely in the hands of his teacher, who cannot guide his students unless they trust him.
That introduces the question whether the teacher should work at the model before or with his students, or confine himself entirely to the office of adviser and critic. The exponents of the new modes of teaching, as practised in junior schools, incline to the latter view. They say that directly a teacher demonstrates before his scholars, he is biasing their vision, is preventing their seeing the object for themselves, and is obtruding his own vision of things to the detriment of their personal expression. This is very true provided that the teacher's inhibition does not extend to method, which, as pointed out above, must be taught; but there is another aspect of the relations between teacher and pupils, an aspect which is of special importance in dealing with art students who are spending all their hours at the same study. They are apt to be discouraged after long toiling, and consequently may be tempted to look upon their teacher as he visits them on his rounds, merely as critic, carper and fault-finder. This is a real danger, and it is in the power of the teacher to overcome it. If he is wise -he will regard himself not as one aloof, in another sphere, that of the professional artist who occasionally condescends to criticise the efforts of the novice, but in the much closer relationship of an elder brother, who is willing to work at the same tasks as his pupils. It is certainly dangerous always to paint and draw before the students, but to work with them occasionally is to exhibit a spirit of comradeship which at once stimulates the class to its best efforts.
Again a student sometimes confesses inability to proceed with an exercise, and if the teacher is convinced that the case is genuine, and works on the drawing, showing in what ways the pupil's vision has fallen short, and giving a demonstration of how far a drawing may be carried, much good may result.
From this it follows that the student should not flag or sulk at the continuance of his task while the teacher is willing to interest himself in it. R. A. M. Stevenson, in his life of Velasquez, has some interesting comments on the methods of the great teacher Carolus Duran, which should be read by all students, weak-kneed or otherwise.
In order to secure proportion students should work at a distance of some yards from the model. Then the natural tendency to draw sight size can be utilized. By holding up the drawing alongside the model (FIG. I 7) the proportion may be checked very effectually. Students should never be admonished to "draw large," "to fairly fill the paper," because violence is thus done to the natural scale of the drawing, the eye and hand travelling, as it were, at the same rate. This is the most direct road to good proportion, and, as Mr. Walter Sickert has pointed out, was the method of the masters.
If the drawing is too small in scale to allow of adequate treatment, the student should go nearer the model or use a finer point.
The drawing should be frequently viewed at arm's length. Students often hold the drawing too close, so that the lower half of the paper is practically out of sight, with a consequent detriment to the proportions.
A few words may be said on the vexed question of backgrounds. Some teachers, in their zeal for complete expression, insist that their students shall indicate the tone of the background, with any accessories that may be present. This it must be contended, is a mistaken view, for backgrounds imply tone study, but drawing from the figure is not merely an exercise in tone; structure, flow of line, composition, etc., demand their share of attention. The student is not concerned with the photographic aspect of the figure, nor is he studying tone as such; other exercises can be devised for that side of art study. To make tone studies of the figure with its background is to degrade it from its high purpose; but this does not imply that it should be drawn as existing by itself--isolated in space, for by the use of expressive line the tone of background can be suggested. The degree of emphasis of the edge treatment will show whether the background is darker or lighter than the general tone of the figure. This aspect is considered in detail in the remarks on Edge Study.
THE FIGURE--THE SEARCH FOR FORM.
THE beginner often shares the general opinion of the outside public that drawing is a kind of legerdemain, a conjuring trick done with clever fingers, a tour de force thrown off lightly with no trouble or study. Of course there are varying degrees of facility among students, and where one accomplishes a task with seeming ease, others may flounder or fail. But the history of art shows clearly that a want of facility has not prevented men from achieving fame, while among good judges the exhibition of cleverness and of smart handling, removes a painter from the highest place.
The facility of a master of drawing has been attained by close study, and by what has been called the "search for form." That is to say mastery over technique does not come by gaily tracing contours with a pencil, but by more or less painful efforts to track down the subtleties of form. It is difficult to make students understand this, for they suppose that mere practice will give facility.. whereas the eye should be trained by exercises demanding a rigorous scrutiny of form, and needing all the intellectual capacity which can be brought to bear.
Drawing from the figure may be divided into two main types of exercise. One, very important, is the time sketch, recording the main facts of the figure, and varying the method and visual search according to the time at one's disposal. Generally the time sketch deals mainly with movement, flow of line, and character as shown in the pose. Such work requires supplementing by more searching and detailed expression of form, which indeed enables the student to arrive at the more summary methods of the time sketch. The student who sketches only on a small scale, and for limited periods of time, will not be sure of himself, nor be aware of how far he can pursue his scrutiny. In other words, he has not really learnt to-search for the form.
The materials with which to engage in this detailed expression of form have not been agreed upon generally. The pencil or crayon point leads to redundancy of strokes, and is wanting in breadth. Further, neither allows of the tentative technique necessary in this kind of exercise. To mention the stump is to condemn it, for it is incapable of making a definite stroke.
Charcoal, as indicated elsewhere, supplies the best weapon for this particular kind of attack. With it can be produced with ease broad masses of tone, and also, when well pointed, lines can be drawn as finely as with a pencil. It has a full range of tone from velvety black to palest grey.
FIG. 18 -- A charcoal drawing much rubbed and otherwise ill-treated since its completion. An example of edge study. Every inch of the contour has been carefully studied.
FIG. 19 -- 'This drawing, with all its defects, shows a great interest taken in the pose by the student and a determination to secure an expression of it.
FIGS. 10, etc., were 'drawn with charcoal on Michallet or other square grained paper, the sheets of which, measuring about 19" x 24", are of the dimensions most suitable for normal eyes. If one draws to a larger scale it is difficult to keep the whole of the drawing under surveillance, and errors in proportion, and in gradation of accent, are apt to occur. Even if drawings, say for a large mural decoration, were wanted, they should be drawn first to this scale, and then enlarged by squaring or other method. There are some life drawings by Albert Moore, at South Kensington, drawn full size or nearly so, but the method does not seem to possess compensating advantages.
The procedure is the same as indicated elsewhere. The student should, as always, mark top and bottom of his drawing, and at once find the main line from head to foot. Next follows the general structure of the figure with a plan lightly sketched in of the masses of dark tone. It is at this point that the proportions of the drawing should be scrutinized, and if found wanting, the charcoal strokes, which at first should be light and delicate, can be obliterated with a few flicks of a duster. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that this stage is most crucial, and tests severely a student's powers of selection and analysis. The drawing, no matter how many hours or days are required for its completion, will be substantially in proportion, and general scheme of light and 'dark, what it is at an early stage. Hence the importance of self-criticism, and if necessary of beginning afresh'. No alterations of moment should be made at a late stage. The time for erasure has then passed, and if great errors of proportion reveal themselves as the drawing progresses, they convict the student of heedlessly slurring over his first steps, and of failing to build on a sure foundation. Hints on further procedure are given elsewhere.
With regard to extremities, hands and feet, the charcoal drawing on Michallet paper gives opportunity for working these out in detail. In some schools such studies are made full size, and certainly the difficulties of constructing properly the head, hands and feet 'demand that considerable time shall be spent on them. On the other hand the nude figure should be used primarily to give right notions of proportion, construction and movement, and until the student is well grounded in these, it seems a pity to distract his attention from the main lines of the figure in order to focus it on detail, however important. A great deal can be done, as indicated elsewhere, in showing that the action and construction of the figure demand the consideration of the extremities, and involve at least construction of their mass forms. Poor drawings of hands and feet always show a lack of construction, and of articulation with the limbs.
Studies from the nude are sometimes almost pornographic in appearance because the student is (quite innocently) doing the wrong thing. He tries to reproduce a naked person, making a sort of inventory of physical characteristics, so many fingers, toe-nails, etc, Such drawings usually lack the higher interests of the figure, the flow of line, the rhythm of the accents of light and dark, the unity of the long line of shade running down the figure and revealing the "cubist" typical shape. These things sought after, the student cannot go far wrong, no matter how much he hankers after realism.
Unfortunately this wrongly realistic drawing has in the past been rewarded, on the ground that the student has been honest and sincere, qualities however which students evince rather by what they omit than by what they put in.
Another evil resulting from insistence on reality is loss of rhythm. One often sees a figure with carefully shaded details, all of about the, same weight of tone, and the dark masses monotonous in character. The drawing looks fussy and over-elaborated, while reference to the model gives an impression of simplicity and breadth. The student has been too busy to catch the rhythm of the modelling. The darks have been referred to as accents, and certainly tone rhythm is akin to that of music. The figure, perhaps, has dark hair, the contrast between that and the white brow giving the strongest accent. Lower, on the face add, neck the accent of dark is weakened, to be strengthened again, say, at the armpit, while the shade areas on the torse and lower limbs again diminish in strength--an ebb and flow, or rhythm throughout the figure, giving at once variety and breadth.. This supplies a method of procedure. The main masses of middle accent should be struck, the stronger and weaker accents following in their places, and keeping their relative pitch. Mention has been made of the 'division students arbitrarily make between drawing and shading. They often show that they do not consider shading as drawing. They work away laboriously at some dark patch without ever exploring its borders, its varying contour, or indeed without considering the structural use of their darks. Shading is only useful where if is expressing structure and revealing form. It should be busy, that is giving due emphasis to the line of shade which emphasizes the meeting of the planes.
Form is expressed by light against dark, and this form should be drawn and then be backed up by shading. Shading without drawing may be compared with bringing bricks into a field without attempting to build with them.
FIG. 20--An unfinished drawing showing the use of charcoal in expressing varying textures.
As pointed out elsewhere, any object is seen divided into two areas, light and dark. In the former are planes and forms sharply defined under usual conditions of lighting. In the shade area which under normal lighting is the further removed from the eye, the forms are quiet and subdued. Hence an equal distribution of focusing is destructive of unity. There is no need to pore into the crannies of the dark area, for Nature forbids it, while the light area affords abundance of opportunity for searching study. Often, however, the would-be finished drawing shows that the eye has not fully explored forms ; the test may be applied to the meeting of angles, such as the line of armpit, where it meets its shade edge. The lines may have been brought together in some fashion, but what happens at the junction? What is the actual shape of the dark patch ? The student must ask himself these questions as he approaches such passages, for unless he exercises a vigilant scrutiny his drawing will be full of insufficiently observed shapes. Lastly, light and shade is not merely utilitarian, does not serve only to reveal the forms, but has a beauty of its own well worth the closest attention. If we look say at an interior by Velasquez, we are conscious of a subtle yet clearly marked series of beautiful passages of light and shade, of rich velvety darks against liquid lights, or of light edges melting mysteriously into background tones. He showed us how to look at the beauty of tone in nature, and the seeing eye discerns it everywhere. What can be finer, for example, to be seen in any wood or clump of trees, than a trunk in full light with a dark spray cutting across it, or some such passage in constantly varying sequence as the eye examines the scene. Equally beautiful are the tone passages in the nude figure posed before a quiet background. The semi-translucency of the flesh seems to enhance these contrasts, and presents some of the most subtle and varied effects that light reveals. An arm in strong tone against a gleaming chest, or the darks of a hand or knee against a thigh fully illuminated are things to wonder at, and not merely because they are striking examples of the relief of one form against another, of what one may call the stereoscopic appearance, but because they are beautiful passages of light and shade. To judge from students' drawings they sternly ignore beauty of tone. They say in effect that they are not to be turned, aside from their purpose, which is to draw a human being, to fix the pose and the proportions, to indicate the structure, and to express the details. If they really were selecting from the model, the teacher would be delighted, even though they omitted what he considered an essential part of their training, the study of tone. But he finds that these effects of light and shade are ignored because the students fail to see them, or to be attracted by their beauty. Shading, to them, consists in industriously striping or stippling their study with tone, monotonous yet full of the wrong variety--too many lights in the dark areas, and too many darks in the light--while their shading has often no drawing in it; they fail to follow the boundary of the shade patch, nor do they give the variety of its edge, for they do not perceive the "invisible" spots, the places where the outline melts away, nor, on the other hand, the trenchant, brilliant edge where a dark comes sharply against the light, or where the contour of the figure in light contrasts with the darker background.
FIG. 21--.-Drawing with charcoal on Michallet paper.
On the other hand there are passages of the utmost subtlety generally in the lighter areas where a well-lit form comes against another similarly illuminated. A common example is that of the thighs and knees of a seated figure. The near thigh and top of the knee seen against the further thigh presents a border hardly visible except to a keen eye, so little difference is there in the tones of the two thighs, yet the edge of the near thigh is there, and though faint, must be expressed by a clear line, or in some cases by the sharp edge of a delicate tone suggesting the upper plane of the thigh. Students often represent this delicate edge as a thick black line like a cart track, partly because they do not perceive the refinement of the passage, but- also perhaps because they do not realize the different intensities their drawing implement is capable of. They should understand that a 6 B pencil, if used delicately on the right paper, will draw a line as lightly as a 6H.