Drawing for Beginners
TO the keen, enthusiastic young artist there is nothing more fascinating, more enthralling, than sketching in nature, outsides.
A walk abroad among foreign scenes and strange people or a walk at home among one's own familiar haunts can be equally fruitful.
There are one or two points which need explaining, and one or two pitfalls of which the novice might be warned.
For the ardent young sketcher frequently digs a pit for his own feet. He begins a ' sketch,' but he pursues it into a finished study.
A sketch, it must be remembered, should be a sketch and nothing more. It is a trifle, an impression.
" How unfinished ! " remarks some one, looking over the young artist's shoulder. Do not let the remark influence you against your better judgment.
Did you begin the sketch as an impression of a particular thing--the wind swaying a spray of flowers, a branch, or a tree, a cloud passing over a distant hill and blurring its contour, a scrap of rugged masonry, a sunny portion of a terrace, a garden seat, a toy flung on the grass, a fragment of a flower over which a bird or butterfly hovers ? Then do not try to finish it. All the spirit of the sketch will vanish if you ' finish ' one tiny portion at the expense of another part.
Experience, that hard taskmaster, and experience only, will teach you how far to carry your sketch.
But the main thing to remember is this. If you wish to sketch--sketch. Leave the finished study for other times.
And never, never tinker with your sketch when you take it home.
Now, having given fair warning, let us proceed to details. The secret of successful sketching is to arrive at your chosen place fresh and eager for work.
If you burden yourself with a lot of sketching paraphernalia, you will arrive with aching arms, hot and tired, and possibly cross.
" Travel light when sketching " is a good motto. Take with you only essential sketching materials. A block or a book, and, if the book has limp covers, a piece of board or stiff card-
board on which to rest it, a pencil, indiarubber, paint-box, brushes, and a bottle of water are necessities. An easel, a camp-stool, a sketching umbrella, personally 1 should regard as superfluous.
It is usually possible to hold your book in such a way that your paper is shaded by your shoulder, your hat, or the opposite page.
A stile, fence, stone, stump, or bank more often than not offers a convenient resting-place and saves you the trouble of carrying a camp-stool.
If the weather is damp, an ordinary newspaper carried under your sketch-book and folded and used as a cushion is a good precaution against catching colds ; should the weather be very hot the same paper, folded and held fan-wise, shields the page from the glare of the sun.
A great point is gained by starting in a business-like frame of mind. It is a mistaken idea that an artist drifts into painting a picture as a cloud drifts across the sky. To obtain practical results you must start with practical intentions. You must be firm with yourself. You must choose your subject quickly and settle down determinedly, and you must not be too ambitious. Young people balk their efforts by attempting subjects that are so ambitious that they might well make a practised artist hesitate.
" I should love to paint a field of corn, with poppies and convolvuluses . . . and perhaps a little dip of the sea-- and a glimpse of the village church beyond," one will exclaim.
And another will say :
" Let's go on the beach and sketch the harbour, and the boats, and the cliffs. It would be simply topping ! "
I admit the attractiveness of such subjects. The very suggestion quickens one's pulses. But the difficulties !
Once upon a time there was a man of most eloquent tongue who wrote about art, and more especially about pictures. He advised artists to take a stone and study that. There's something very interesting in the drawing of an old lichened stone, though it is far from easy. A wise principle of selection, however, is--choose one simple subject rather than a dozen complicated ones.
From the field of corn choose a blade of wheat with perhaps the tendril of a convolvulus creeping up its stalk ; a cluster of poppies, a tall grass. If a butterfly flutters near, watch intently the angle of his wings, the exquisite poise of his body, the clutching, delicate strength of the tiny legs, and draw your remembrance of him.
In a meadow-land of gold and silver, where cows are " forty feeding like one," choose a spray of buttercups, a single fine marguerite ; take one cow under your observation ; make a sketch of a portion of a tree, a gnarled branch, or some twisted roots with an over-curling plume of a fern. Sketch the stile, or the fragment of a paling round which a spray of ivy is climbing.
Should you wish to sketch a cottage, be careful not to sit too near. If you do, your perspective will be very violent and look exaggerated. Sit half a meadow away rather than at the front gate.
And if the cottage is complicated (that is, filled with detail, the thatch deep and overhanging, the creepers thick and concealing the shape of the wall, and the little lattice-windows nearly hidden from view), draw a portion of the cottage--corner of the eaves and one window, a portion of the roof and the queer old chimney, the porch with its potted plants and window-seat, or the well-head with its dripping rope and shining pail. And a word of advice about a garden. There is nothing more difficult than garden scenes. The subjects are many, the lights are often broken, the shadows are confused.
Content yourself with a woodshed, or portion of a summer-house, a few mossy steps, a garden roller, a corner of the terrace, a wheelbarrow, or a cluster of pots and a trowel.
At the outset ask yourself whether the object you intend to draw will best fit an oblong or upright sheet of paper.
If you wish to draw a tall subject, such as a tree, a narrow building, an upright flower or figure, hold your sketch-book in an upright position. If you intend drawing a long-shaped
subject, a reclining figure of a person or animal, a widespreading building, a stretch of low-lying ground, hold the book open at the full width of the page.
Beginners are prone to dash at a subject, and, finding they have drawn it on a smaller scale than they intended, add other details until the page is filled.
But why fill the whole page ? An artist's sketch-book is a book of scraps. He seldom carries his sketches up to the margin of his paper. One page may,
and often does, carry an amazing variety of subjects.
If you decide to do a small sketch keep to that intention. Should you feel unhappy because a wide margin surrounds your small sketch, frame the sketch with a lightly drawn pencil line.
It is astonishing how important are these apparently trivial matters, how much they influence the sketch for good or ill.
We will presume that you have arrived at your destination and are sitting in a shady place, faced with a bewildering number of beautiful things. After fixing and unfixing your mind many times you at length decide to draw something that is close at hand--a tiny clump of white flowers with feathery foliage, golden disks, and silvery petals growing humbly near the shorn stubble of the cornfield. It is a wise selection. Being of a lowly habit, the flowers will not be tossed and stirred by the wind, and so worry you at the very outset of your task. Moreover, the flowers have simple forms. They resemble tiny umbrellas with long handles. Draw first the shape and curve of the slender stem, then the circular gold centre, then the mass ' shape of the petals, dividing up each petal later, noting their wayward manner of growing.
After this your eye probably will be attracted by the gorgeous berries of the woody nightshade twisting its jewels round the ash stump and fence.
Draw the post and paling before the entwining tendrils and stalks. Wide-flung circles and rampant growth such as these lead the eye astray. But if the upright post and the cross-piece are once fixed on paper, then we have two simple and solid shapes lending contrast to the delicacy of the twining stem. If you began by drawing the stem of the plant, your eye might be misled by its strength and sinews. The foliage is vigorous. There is no feeble indecision in the sweeping curves and twisted heart-shaped leaves. Sketch the looping curves of the stem, then place the leaves, drawing from tip to tip on the outside edges. The berries gem the post in fanciful clusters, hanging from thread-like stems. Make the post firm and strong and shade it broadly. The richest tone, however, is reserved for the berries, and the leaves have a high polish.
It is undoubtedly a tempting subject for the brush. Mix your colours clearly. The berries will probably attract your first attention. Try to get the rich tints glowing and bright, then the colour of the leaves, allowing for their transparency by laying the paint freshly and broadly, and, when dry, adding some of the deep greens and browns of the background.
In all probability you will be disappointed with your first efforts. The open air is one of the most exacting of conditions. The pure clear atmosphere reveals every blot and blemish. Your model challenges your poor attempts with its incomparable beauty.
Fig. 66. Sketching in nature - plants. Thumbnail landscape sketches.
Nevertheless, do not be discouraged, for you have this great encouragement, that if the painting or drawing looks at all passable outsides it will look infinitely better within doors.
A clump of brilliantly coloured fungi is a delicious subject for pencil or brush, and one that is often found in the woodlands on a summer's day. What could be more simple in form than a toadstool, with its curved top and ridged surface beneath, and the bulbous-shaped stalk ? Being a rounded surface, one part will be lighter than another. Try to place the shading correctly. The edge of the fungus may be broken, chipped, splotched, or stained. Do not neglect any of these happy accidents. Dame Nature springs the most extraordinary surprises upon those bent on discovering her secrets, and if we are lax in small matters we shall miss the beauties in larger objects later on.
A trailing spray of blackberry is a charming subject for brush and pencil alike. Sketch the direction of the spray, then the mass of each spray, then the direction of each leaf in the spray.
When the sun is high in the heavens and the colours are faint and sickly, use your pencil instead of a brush.
A bit of a fence overhanging a piece of rock or sandstone, or a fence topping a grassy bank, or a stile dividing two fields, are equally interesting subjects for a sketch.
And here I must repeat myself at the risk of appearing wearisome. In no case do I wish you to choose necessarily the subject that I have discussed. My examples are chosen, first, because they are simple and direct ; secondly, because they are within reach of the majority of young artists ; and, thirdly, because they represent variations of themes found over a broad area.
Draw the nearest upright post, get the direction of the farther ones, and the bars that link the three. If you are in doubt about the angle of the bars hold your pencil at arm's length and then you will note their direction. If you desire to check the perspective, lay your book on the ground and seek for a long piece of slender grass. Hold one end of the grass on the right of your drawing and above the top bar-- for that is the height of the eye in this little sketch (Fig. 68). The palings are curved and bent, and overhang the rock. The rock is a thick crumbling substance, its rounded edge projects, and its flat surface is slightly cleft and cast into shadow.
Always draw the largest and most important parts first, such as the fence, and the rock, then add the grass tufting the summit, and the bramble swinging down into space. An oak-tree stands close by. Its roots have become welded into crevices of the rock, and it rears a twisted and graceful trunk bending slightly backward in its efforts to reach the sun. The rock and tree have characteristics in common. Sketch the mass of the projecting boulder, then the root of the tree mark the girth of the trunk, and draw the tree, building up with big curves, and noting the snake-like twist of the slender branches. Mark the richest and deepest shadows, how the shadows break into shadow shapes of twigs, leaves, and grass.
Trees are difficult--that much is admitted even by Ian, who is devoted to his pencil.
" Oh, yes," said Ian, " I can draw horses, and men, and houses--but trees--" and he paused thoughtfully.
To draw a tree from life, we must aim at the main structure. First draw the trunk, then the biggest branches, lastly the leaves.
There is a curious fact about trees that is worth recording, for it is often helpful when we arc faced with the difficulties of grasping such a big subject. A branch of a tree will have all the characteristics of the tree itself.
Examine a small branch of an oak-tree--just a spray of leaves. Are they not sturdy, stout fellows ? Does not each twig strike out in an independent fashion--spreading strongly ? And is not the branch from which the twig is broken gnarled and twisted, stubborn and strong ? Walk some distance away from the oak-tree, then turn and observe it carefully.
Has not the tree the same characteristics as the branch, as the twig ?
Compare a twig of the poplar-tree with the tree itself. Is not the twig the same pyramid shape as the parent tree ?
It is a good idea to draw some twigs of a tree before trying to draw the tree itself. And this is an excellent subject when the weather is too cold to stand outsides. Gather some bare twigs and carry them home and make careful drawings of the twigs. When spring is approaching you will find delightful little subjects in the swinging green and red catkins and the soft down of the pussy willows, and autumn provides us with a wealth of clustering nuts. Which studies will help you with your drawing of the tree.
When drawing the branch of a tree look from one side to another side, from one angle to another angle. Build up the tree, as if it were growing under your pencil, with its roughness, nodules, and irregularities. Do not draw it too smoothly, like the polished leg of a table, but try to give it a natural sturdy growth.
Trees of a striking peculiarity are easiest to draw, as are people with strongly marked features. Such arc Scotch fir-trees with spiky needles, bony branches, and spiked trunks ; thorn-trees, small and twisted with the winds ; oak-trees that have braved many a storm, with lopped branches and thin foliage.
You will find it interesting to sketch clumps of trees with the brush, either in black or white or colour--a few tall elm-trees in a distant meadow, or a .fringe of fir-trees against the sky. This teaches you to observe trees as a whole, and also impresses upon you the varied silhouette of each type of tree.
Before we embark on the subject of landscape -- for our horizon is broadening rapidly -- we might spend a few moments discussing the sketching of ruined castles and old houses, which so often form an excuse for an excursion or a picnic, and of which we usually desire to carry home some little memento in the shape of a sketch.
Do not attempt complicated subjects. If the ruin is large and there are many turrets, many towers, flights of steps, and long passages, choose a modest fragment.
An angle of a wall against which twist the bony stems of ivy, one little window framing a patch of blue sky, a morsel of broken masonry, or a few steps--any of these will give you the materials you need.
Fig 76. A SILHOUETTE OF TREES. SKETCHES OF RUINS
A ruin invariably presents a crumbling, and softened, and somewhat elusive outline.
Rough in the whole mass, the general structure. Look for the highest point, compare the position of each thing with that point, then, having settled on the principal forms, look for the darkest dark and brightest light. Try to give an impression of the roughened surface. Draw the near shapes with care. If you sketch the masonry in the foreground with accuracy, then the parts that lie farther away can be more slightly drawn. The little bit of knowledge acquired by sketching something with care has a very solid value. Young sketchers faced with picturesque ruins are often tempted to try a tricky way of drawing.
We have all seen ruins ' touched in ' with sharp and telling bits of light and shade (apparently with ease and quickness), and we are fired with a desire to do likewise.
Believe me when I say that this is yet another pitfall for the unwary. The tricky methods of drawing never advance us one step. We must sketch only what we see, and that with care.
Look also for the perspective (another thing that is often ignored when sketching outsides), check the top angle, and the base of the arch, also the fragment of carving, and the window in the wall with the near and projecting masonry.
Once we are fairly embarked on the subject of ruined buildings and trees, we feel more capable of trying real landscapes on a larger scale.
As an introduction to this more ambitious task, try your hand at thumbnail sketches. By thumbnail I mean tiny impressions of fairly large things, small houses, small trees, and the broadest indication of the curve of the ground, of fields, hills, and hedges. Not scribbles, but honest though minute sketches marking the chief characteristics : the lie of the ground, the position of the houses, the shape of roof (whether pointed or fiat), the comparative size of the trees or shrubs, the tint or tone of trees, grass, roof, and walls. (See the examples in Fig. 66.)
Needless to say, distance does lend enchantment to the view in these thumbnail impressions, and they are far easier to draw when seen from a long distance. They are useful, too, for the few minutes' wait at a railway-station, or the short space of time spent at places when motoring. We can seize on a few of the salient or chief characteristics of the landscape and jot down tiny little pictures of houses and trees, hills and valleys, cliff-end and sea. The concentration necessary for these sketches will help us to grasp the chief characteristics of larger sketches.
A barn on the top of a sloping field, with a horse cropping the turf, and a morsel of a fence is as simple and direct a subject as one could find. Begin by sketching the slope of the ground, on which erect the shape of the barn, with its pointed roof, then the upright palings and short bushes, the horse with bent neck and the barrel shape of its rounded body.
Then as to the colour. A soft yellow light pervades sky, barn, grass, and horse, and on this float the rounded misty shapes of the grey clouds. The golden-brown roof is touched with cooler grey shadows on the near side, and the grass mingles with the reddish soil, something the same tint as the barn. The hedge is olive deepening to brown, and the flank and neck of the horse is a richer brown and olive sharpened with darker tints.
Light and shade outsides is often most bewildering to the young student. The light is suffused, the air is clean and penetrating, shadows flicker and change.
Before beginning a sketch try to decide on the most definite bits of light and shade. Make a thumbnail sketch in the corner of your book if you will, in pencil or charcoal. Say to yourself, " The sun was out, the rays shone from that particular angle." Should you find the shadows and rays vanishing before the approach of large clouds, wait till the clouds pass. If, instead of passing, more clouds appear, then begin another sketch, for those clouds change the whole effect of the landscape. And how much they change it can be proved by referring to your thumbnail sketch.
Sketching on the seashore raises a fresh crop of difficulties and delights.
Boats arc not easy things to draw when lying on the beach. " And that is the reason," Audrey explains, " why I prefer to draw them in the water."
Audrey is wily, but she doesn't altogether avoid her difficulties. If we are spared drawing the curve of the keel seen when the boat is exposed on the pebbles, there is all the rigging to lead us astray when the boat is in the water.
Moreover, we must know something about the shape that is hidden by the waves. As it is necessary to know the shape of the limbs covered by the clothes, and the branches covered with the leaves, so is it essential that we should know something of the build of the boat.
Should our artistic eye be attracted by the rich tints of the sails of fishing smacks or long-shore boats, we must be careful not to neglect the rigging and shape of the sails.
I have a distinct remembrance of five drawings by five little ladies of a fishing smack with sails exactly the same shape fore and aft. Compare one sail with another sail. Begin by drawing the long sweeping curves of the hull, and then the angle of the mast. With these two facts carefully noted you won't go quite so far astray.
A beach, however, has a lot to offer besides the boats. There are the capstans, and the high black houses where the fishermen store their nets and tackle, and the lobster pots, and the heaps of coiled ropes. There are the rocks with their brown and mossy sides reflected in limpid pools ; crabs ; shells of all descriptions ; starfishes most obligingly lazy and quiet ; sprays of deliciously coloured seaweed ; sand castles, wooden spades, and scarlet buckets.
The beach is full of interesting little colour subjects. The air is clear, and the water reflects the light ; bright caps and frocks, sails and seaweed, and the striped tents and scarlet buckets are all most attractive.
All our former discussions, our thumbnail sketches, pencil and chalk studies, and small landscapes in colour will render sketching by the seashore easier.
If we wish to sketch people sitting on the beach, or children playing, we shall have to be very rapid. It is wisest to sketch the stationary things first. If we desire to sketch Mollie or Rosemary by their tent or climbing the breakwater or rocks, do not let us waste time waiting. Sketch a bit of the tent, the breakwater or rock, then when Mollie or Rosemary appears you will be prepared. Also, and I speak feelingly on the subject, they may dart away before you have painted the colour of their shoes, belt, or even dress--if so, write the colour tint in the margin.
Fig 81. On the Beach
But with the distant promontory and the glossy procession of rocks stretching into the sea, you will happily find something at rest. Only, remember this, never begin a sketch in the morning and finish the same at night. The light will be wholly different. Sketch a morning scene by morning, a noonday scene at noonday. If you have not done all you desired to do during those periods of time, put the sketch away until those hours recur. It is highly improbable that you will see the same effect again, for that is at once the bane and delight of sketching--its never-ending variety.
Art and perspective