The time sketch, as it has come to be called, is with- -out doubt the really vital and testing exercise of the whole course of drawing study.
The search for form, by means of the antique and life, the study of tone, vigorous and prolonged as they may be, are deliberate and experimental. They correspond somewhat with the slow accumulation of knowledge in a science laboratory, but in the exercise under discussion the student has to set down his impressions directly, in a limited time, and therefore practically without erasure. In the result his artistic personality exhibits itself on the paper plain to any judge. The point to which he has trained his observation, his knowledge of structure, and of the principles governing plastic representation, are embodied in the drawing, and his weakness, his failure to profit by teaching are there also. It is a simple test--to make a drawing, but it stands in judgment on the student's previous study. His careful drawings, which have taken days and weeks to produce, are now seen to be not so much drawings as searchings for form more or less tentative, though without their discipline he would come ill-prepared to the more direct exercise.
As suggested above, the figure should be drawn about sight-size, and the whole figure always, not merely those portions which seem the most interesting, or which chance to occupy the paper. It is true that Alfred Stevens, Leighton and others often drew fragments, but they were not studying, but accumulating facts they wanted for a particular job. Reference may be made here to Mr. C. H. Holme's comments on this point in his "Science of Picture Making," where he deprecates students having to work all parts of a drawing to the same dead level of finish. That is also condemned emphatically in these pages, but it is true also that a course of art study, like any other, is bound to include much serious continuous study. It cannot all be at fever heat.
Art and art study is perhaps best looked upon as a game, a long, vigorous pastime, affording a few moments of ecstatic pleasure, with interludes of close application --but nevertheless a sport--and many sportsmen will accept the above as a pretty close description of their own favourite pursuit. And as such it is necessary to play the game properly, to have the sporting temperament--to hold on, to observe the rules, and to keep one's temper udder all circumstances.
Therefore, given the essential condition of the exercise, that the figure is to be doing something, standing firmly erect, sitting passively, or lying prone, it will be seen that there is no hardship in indicating the whole of the figure. The sense of proportion is the more fully exercised, and also it is extremely important that the student should see that the pose nearly always demands the representation of the whole figure. This is shown clearly in the erect pose. It is necessary that the lines should be brought down to the feet--that these shall be clearly indicated, so that the figure stands firmly and with weight. How often does one see in the drawings of students, standing figures which sway, which could be blown over with a breath, or seem almost to float?
In many cases the composition of line is shattered by the omission of the extremities. Further, by drawing the whole figure, the student is obliged to place it, to see that it goes on the paper nicely. The effect of piecemeal drawing often shows itself very plainly. A glaring instance is the absence of an extremity for which there is no room. Another is the biasing of the student's sense of proportion by the proportions of the paper--the inanimate sheet which is often allowed to dictate and dominate the proportions of the drawing. If the figure occupies the long way of the paper it is often drawn too long ; if it occupies the short way of the paper it is disproportioned in the opposite direction. The fewer rules the better, but one at least is necessary, that in commencing a drawing of the figure the extreme limits shall first be settled. The first lines not only suggest the movement, they also fix the limits and the placing. Then come the main facts, the essential structure, expressed by lines of direction. No attempt at detail or the refinement of outline should be made at this stage.
Next comes the establishing of the chief planes, the division of the figure into dark and light, or rather the determining of the edge dividing these planes. This edge again should be simplified, for it is quite as complex as the actual contour, being indeed a contour from another point of view--that of the light. The stage is difficult for the novice, obsessed as he is by his own division of the study into drawing and shading. It would be well if the term "shading" were dropped altogether, as its use by the teacher is apt to cause confusion, the student understanding it to mean shading of details. Expression by tone, however, follows a parallel course with line expression. As the contour must first be grasped as a "direction," which later will be resolved into the subtle line created by the overlapping of muscular and bony contours, so shading or expression by tone must first be seen as a mass or plane without variation, this and the subtleties of edge being left to a later stage. FIG. 22 shows the form divided into two planes under the influence of sunlight, which maps out the figure in this trenchant way. Study of the nude in sunlight is valuable because of this clear division of planes. Also the halftones and darks lose the dull, sooty quality they are apt to take on in the studio. All is definite and lucid without blackness.
Students often spend much time on minutiae of shading while oblivious to the general plane of tone, just as great variety of curve and hollow in the contours of a drawing of the figure may be accompanied by neglect of directions and proportion.
The figure now being set out in its essentials of direction and plane, the drawing should be held alongside the model for self-criticism. This is the stage for second thoughts, for alterations, the next stage will be too late.
The student should now retrace his steps and set out on these simple indications, the structural lines giving the general build of the figure. Next comes general work in expressing form. The line, is drawn and then backed up by the adjoining tone.
Lastly comes the edge study referred to in detail later. The subtleties of the contour and shade edges are worked at, and the influence of the background on the contour of the figure.
In each of these stages the figure has been worked over from head to foot, and the resulting finish is not that of piecemeal tinkering, but of right method and artistic treatment ,by logical steps. Further, the method ensures that the interest is sustained during the exercise. Too often the student, after completing the head or other interesting passages, turns to the remainder with something akin to disgust or weariness.
Of course it is not to be supposed that the method suggested above should be adopted continuously. The time allotted to a pose may vary. Quite short poses of ten or even five minutes force the students to attempt the figure as a whole, otherwise when time is called they find themselves left with a fragment. In these brief attempts the stages suggested above have to be compressed, but even if omitted they must be kept in mind. As a rule a beginner requires from 10 to 30 minutes to set down his impressions in order. The following arrangement for a two hours' session has at any rate met with the approval of students after several years' experiments First a sitting of forty-five minutes, followed by ten or fifteen minutes' rest. Next a pose of twenty minutes or the same time given to a memory exercise. The remainder of the sitting is occupied with ten or five minute poses, these being taken last because they engender a certain excitement which makes a longer pose seem dull and slow.
Referring again to the question of movement, mention may be made of the theory of Dynamic Symmetry as set forth by Mr. Jay Hambidge. It is not proposed to enter on a discussion of the theory here ; it will probably provoke much discussion and controversy, but two points of interest in drawing from the life arise out of it. First it would appear that a maximum amount of movement obtains when the figure is contained within a square. If the rectangle enclosing the figure is narrower than a square, the action subsides, the figure shuts up as it were. If the rectangle on the other hand is wider than a square, the action begins to partake of a creeping character which is emphasized as the rectangle is widened.
Secondly, the division of the enclosing rectangle whatever it may be, by diagonals and other oblique lines to important points give the maximum of movement within that rectangle. If the directions pass to less important points the action flags and weakens.
WHEN the pupil has learned to draw a figure with some sense of proportion of line and appropriate expression of detail, it is time to devise other exercises. Too often students plod at the single figure year in and out. For their compositions they take a figure from their sketch book, add others, and then wonder why they do not come together happily. They will not because they have been seen isolated, and remain so even if a number are crowded together. When we watch people in real life or in the cinema, constantly their gestures and movements form a link between them. In dancing, which is the art of movement, the line is consciously rhythmical, but in ordinary intercourse, and all the more so because movements and gestures are unstudied, the line expresses also emotion in varying degrees. Two people meet, and their heads incline in conversation, the more earnest speaker laying a hand on the other's shoulder. These movements establish a sympathetic line or bond of union which creates a unified and controlling form. The speakers are not now two but one, and the lines pass from one to another. In a more obvious case, one figure bowed in grief, and the other bending sympathetically towards her, the lines flow together so obviously that the idea of consolation in sorrow is complete without the necessity for appropriate facial expression. The lines of the figures express the emotion.
In such exercises these controlling lines must be sought for at an early stage. It is worse than useless to draw first one figure and then the other, for the eye is then seeing the figures detached. The combination must be looked for. (FIG. 23-25).
Fig. 24-A chalk drawing by Watteau. The lines of the arms flow together, continued by the lines of the drapery on the lady's shoulders. One almost expects the lady to rise
In such associations as two figures pulling or holding hands, the lines formed by the united arms and hands must be drawn, and the two hands as one.
Two figures seated or standing with arms entwined furnish a good instance of the controlling line.
The sympathetic relations of the feet should be noted, and the variations in their position. Attention should be given to the hands which in the figure in grief form a cup in which the face is held, or where clasped round the knees follow the shape of the latter. (FIG. 23). Or again they form a bowl when they are used to drink from.
These exercises may be followed by combinations of three or more figures. There is no need to wait for professional models, for pupils in turn will be ready, for a few minutes, to act their parts.
Such work will enable the student to face the unconscious emotional gestures and combinations of real life, whether sympathetic or antagonistic.
A friend once told the writer that when making studies for a series of compositions of wrestling, so violent were the movements that he had only time to select a contour, say pyramidal in shape, indicating the figures locked together, with perhaps a suggestion of the space between the legs. Afterwards, with the aid of models posed to fit into the sketch, the structure and detail of the wrestlers could be examined.
IF a white ball be placed before a grey background, the contour of the light side will tell against that grey. The contour of the dark side will tell also, the background being a tone midway between light and dark.
Then, at two points, where the light contour melts into the dark one, the outline disappears, ceases to exist to normal sight. (FIG. 14). Drawings or paintings of objects can only be made to relieve, to take on roundness or solidity of appearance by following natural lighting, by noticing where the outline is lost. This is difficult to see and to represent, so accustomed are students to searching not for form, but for contours.
It need hardly be discussed at this stage whether the achievement of such relief to the point of losing the sense of the flatness of the plane on which the object is depicted, is necessary or artistic. The really vulgar portraits in the galleries are those which the admiring public declares to be almost "coming out" of their frames. But the art student has to learn the use of all weapons. For the poster he uses the broad outline which reveals everything, but flattens it also. In these pages the student is not considered as composing, but as striving to acquire a mastery over structure and movement by means of the appearance, and to do this he must know how far he can go in the way of realistic treatment.
Experiment will prove to the student that whenever the whole contour is clearly defined, a flatness results.. If the figure is viewed with the light behind it, it shows dark and flat; if the light is behind the spectator the figure is seen all in light without shadow, and again a flatness results. All realistic painters have used strong light and shade; from Caravaggio onwards, and all such have made use of this melting of the contour at the halfway points. In other words a continuous outline implies an incompletely expressed figure.
This paradox supplies the clue to the study of form by light and shade, in its simplest terms.
The object, whether cast or living figure, should be placed before a background midway in tone between the light and dark, that is, equal in tone to the half tone of the object.
Now in nature there are no outlines--only edges. Yet one must use outlines ; one cannot be always smudging in backgrounds in order to reveal the form. The outline is not a part of the object, nor of the background, but an imaginary line sensed by the eye, and representing the degree of contrast in tone between the object and its background. This contrast can be represented by a line varying in intensity or even width. The line takes the place of a more or less mechanical background tone, and gives opportunity for close edge study which is practically absent where backgrounds are insisted upon.
From the character of the outline it should be possible to determine the tone of the background. One can see on looking at FIG. i8 that the model was posed before a low toned background, although this background has been omitted intentionally. This is expressed by the strength of the line where the light falls on the contour, and by the softness of that part of the contour in shade, which approached the background so nearly in tone that a clearly drawn outline would have falsified the relations.
To put backgrounds behind studies of the antique or living model is to waste time better spent on edge study, and confuses drawing with painting, which consists essentially in spreading tone.
Drawings by students who overlook this principle of expressive contour, have a vague indeterminate effect. The contour of the light side is often drawn timidly and faintly with the mistaken notion that any line on that side is too dark. Or worse still, a hard line is drawn all round the contour. In this case students are trying to 'draw the figure by itself as if it could exist without an environment, which is unthinkable. Expressive drawing implies not only the figure but its background. All other drawing is mere diagram making, very necessary at times, but alien to the aim in this connexion, of realising the figure as completely as direct and student-like methods will allow.
The old way of simplifying the student's task was to place a white screen behind the object. This was supposed to represent the whiteness of the paper drawn upon, thus freeing the student from any trouble in regard to the background.
But a moment's consideration will show that this ruined the exercise. First, the glare of the background unduly forced forward the contour in shade, which was furthest from the spectator (because generally the light is behind him, though to the left or right). Also the blackening of the edge by contrast destroyed the effect of reflected light, which students had been taught to allow for, and still did, though they saw it not.
Lastly, and most important, the emphasis of the pose is determined by the way the light falls on the figure, and this emphasis was destroyed by the white background, the contour on the light side being rendered ineffective, thus spoiling the pose, and making unity of treatment impossible.
Another feature of edge study which should be mentioned is the nature of the edge, both of the light and dark areas. How shall it be drawn or painted so as to express the volume of the form ? The beginner looks at the edge of an object, and puts down a line accordingly. But solidity or mass is not to be compassed in that way, for if one looks at any round object, as a flower pot, the eye is naturally attracted to the line of shade dividing the light area from the dark that is, the eye forgets to look at the contours. Hence in representing solidity, the student should follow the action of the unbiassed eye, and should not, when drawing the contours of the object, look directly at them, but at the line of shade, when these contours will at once fall out of focus and blur somewhat.
Here one comes upon a very important and interesting controversy already mentioned, which has agitated art schools of all periods. Not seldom the student is implored to be honest ; to draw what he sees, to follow nature faithfully. But before a student has worked at a drawing five minutes he finds it quite impossible to follow this advice, for the conventions of his materials, and especially the limitations of pictorial representation, restrict his efforts, and he will be wise to try to understand these limitations. Honesty one can rule out of the argument; it is for greengrocers, not for artists, at least in this connexion.
The immediate problem before the student is whether he shall emphasize the edges of his object, with the result that he loses the effect of roundness, the object appearing as if cut out of card, or whether he shall concentrate on the volume of the object by blurring his edges. The primitive Italians and Netherlandish painters adopted the earlier method, and we see their work to be essentially flat in spite of much pains taken to model the form. Leonardo da Vinci, and those who followed him, have chosen to accentuate the roundness by blurring the contours. If the Venus of Velasquez in the National Gallery be examined, it will be seen that the contour of the cheek and shoulder has been brushed to and fro so that the edge is almost lost. Sir Joshua Reynolds often made edges wonderfully enveloped.
Early portraits (three-quarter view), however, show the hard edge of the further cheek ; consequently the nose, weakened by contrast, appears pressed against the face. If the contour of the cheek be covered by the hand, the nose at once relieves or comes forward.
Holbein's lines are hard because he was drawing with the definite purpose of providing himself with exact contours from which to paint. His drawn portraits were to be translated into painted ones, and he wanted exact form. The Windsor Holbeins show the contours marked by tracing on to the canvas.
The moral of all this seems to be that success in modelling form does not depend on keen eyesight. Extreme keenness of sight is often a disadvantage to young students, and not always taken into consideration by teachers, whose sight is losing its first sharpness. We see the result of powerful sight in Holman Hunt's pictures. Doubtless he saw like that, for he could distinguish the moons of Jupiter with the naked eye.
FIG. 18 shows that the contour of a figure need not consist in an unvarying line such as is produced by a piece of wire. It should be noted that the expressiveness of the line is conditioned by the way the light falls on the contours. Students wishing to give variety and interest to their outline often accentuate it in an arbitrary way, especially where bony forms crop up, without reference to the lighting. But natural lighting will give this emphasis more truly than any invented and artificial method.
Judged by this standard many careful and well constructed drawings are yet mere diagrams, because the variety of the edge is disregarded. This is seen, too, in cases as mentioned above where the contours of two forms both in light, overlap, the nearer contour being- delicate and perhaps scarcely visible. These delicate, sharp-edged contours demand the most refined handling..
Fig. 25 -- A composition by Guercino. The lines of the monk's gown rise upwards, flow along the arm and down the forms of the recipients, with a beautiful feeling for movement and rhythm. See chapter on " Related Figures." [British Museum].
Fig. 25a -- A drawing made with charcoal on Michallet. An example of variety of edge treatment.
Appreciation of variety of edge may be stimulated by consideration of the dogma that "the opposite contours. of an object vary in emphasis." The fault generally consists in drawing the contours say of a limb with line& of the same strength. Observation will show that they. vary. Further, if two contours come together so that a Y shape occurs, the three arms of the Y are never of equal' strength ; the line of emphasis will ignore one arm, other-- wise the eye would be pinned down to the meeting point of the three lines. These irregular Y's, of course, occur at many points in any pose, as armpit, neck and shoulder, ankle, and various creasings and overlappings.