WE hear a great deal now about the cultivation of the sense of beauty by the choice of drawing models. Many go so far as to say that nothing but the most beautiful forms should be given from the start, and, asserting that the cube, cylinder, and other type forms are not beautiful, they say that they should not be used, but that beautiful variations of these type forms should be provided. More definite information than this is rarely given. We are not told what natural objects are beautiful, and cheap enough to be provided, or how these objects of beauty are to be obtained, if they are not provided by the city. Such advice as to the use of beautiful models must be very pleasant and valuable to the drawing teacher, who so often fails to secure the money necessary to provide the cheap wooden models costing a few cents each ; and we do not wonder that special and regular teachers often regard this subject as one having no standards and no authorities.
Much of all this commotion about beautiful objects of study is raised by those who, suffering from criticism, have in the desire to escape it plunged headlong from one set of mechanical rules for a series of lessons for the public schools, to another set less arbitrary in certain directions, but still mechanical, and if possible, more harmful than before, because attempting more.
The average teacher can readily learn to discover at a glance whether or not the drawing of a cube represents the object as it might appear. She can do this even without seeing the model from the pupil's position ; and the student can compare his drawing with the object and discover its errors more easily than he can in the drawing of a cast, a leaf, a figure, or any other object of beauty, in which the beauty depends upon lines which are subtle and which require a trained eye to see at all truly.
It is absurd to think that a pupil will profit by taking for his first lessons the most difficult problems. He may be satisfied, and generally is better satisfied, to make drawings which are childish attempts at work beyond his perception, than to begin the severe study of the elements of his art ; but if he is serious and begins by attempting to produce pictures, he will always' come at last to the study of the alphabet, namely, form and values. I have yet to know an artist of reputation who does not say that corrections of errors in drawing and in light and shade, or color effects, are the most important work of the teacher : in fact, are the greater part of what the teacher can do for the pupil.
Any drawing which does not help the student to make a better one has not properly educated him. To be helpful, the drawing must be criticised, and any teacher who gives her students work which she cannot criticise, must retard their progress. If public school teachers were generally able to criticise figure drawing and drawings from the most relined and beautiful forms, supposing that these forms could be provided and were best for the pupils to study, they would be unable to give their classes instruction in drawing for lack of time. When forty pupils are to be instructed in fifteen or twenty minutes, each can have but an instant of individual attention ; and with objects of the nature of those recommended, the most skilful artist would not be able to criticise the work of one quarter of the class.
But these objects are not only impossible to obtain and difficult to work from, but they are really not as desirable, educationally, as the now despised cube, cylinder, etc. The best education is due to individual effort : particularly in drawing is this true. The student can criticise the errors in the drawing of the cube, and thus can help himself. The teacher can carry the criticism farther, and at a glance can say whether the drawing is correct ; for there is but one possible appearance of a cube at a given distance, level, and angle. There is but one cube--that is, but one type form. Of potatoes and other similar forms there is no type, every object is individual, and therefore every consideration proves the cube and other geometric objects the best material for study. All of any experience know that those who can draw these objects and their variations easily and accurately, can draw almost anything. The students who begin by studying objects whose drawings they cannot criticise, and which, as has been shown, cannot be criticised for them, are not likely to progress far or well ; and though study from natural or artistic variations of the solids is interesting and valuable, this should not come first nor be given exclusively until the more severe forms can be drawn easily and correctly. Not only for young pupils, but for all beginning the study of drawing, are the geometric forms the best objects of instruction. Properly studied, more ability in drawing will be gained from them in a given time than from any other material. The student who has drawn from life, even for many years, will find the drawing of geometric forms not only interesting, but valuable, because they will often prove to him that they are difficult to draw and that he cannot draw them well or easily. The student who can draw one thing well ought to be able to draw another ; but many draw from memory as much or even more than from the object, and those who have not studied these forms are without the training which is most valuable for all work in which perspective is involved.
Groups including the double cross and the various frames are very difficult to draw, for they present many problems in foreshortening and the slightest error in drawing is very noticeable. For these reasons, all public school instruction should be based upon the geometric type forms. It may be said that to make the children interested in the subject of drawing, interesting subjects must be given them, and that in the continued drawing of the severe type forms they will lose their interest. Under the usual conditions, in which it is necessary for pupils to depend wholly upon the teachers for the correction of their work, students may not be interested in geometric subjects ; but if they are enabled to correct their own drawings, they will find these subjects interesting, for they will see the value derived from each lesson.
In the first work it is much better to have the pupils draw from models placed upon their own desks than from objects farther away, for the reason that there is more perspective effect and the drawings are easier to criticise. When small models are placed at the back of each desk, the pictorial effect is not pleasant, as there is too violent perspective ; but this effect may be avoided by placing the models upon the model support, books, or some other object which will raise them a few inches from the desk. This first work, however, cannot be pictorially pleasing or artistic. It must be educational, and considered in this light the position of the models on the desk is the best that can be found for the first work, since they are near the pupil, and he can test his drawings very exactly, much more easily and better than he could were the models at a greater distance. Another advantage is that the pupils are independent, and may advance as rapidly as they are able. Those who finish a drawing, instead of waiting for those who have not finished, can rearrange the model and draw again. The simple tablets and solids are thus adapted to give the most severe and valuable training to the pupils. After study from them for a short time, they will be able to see correctly enough to make good drawings from objects of common use and interest.
The best models for the first work in the public schools consist of cardboard tablets which may be connected by means of metal clips, or by rods fitting sockets secured to the tablets. The tablets are sold in sets, including the common geometric forms, and by combining them the solid type forms may be represented in whole or in part. The chief value of these models over the wooden models is due to the fact that by their use, the edges of the solids which are invisible may be made visible, for the tablets may be combined to present the appearance of the interior, as well as that of the exterior of the solid forms. By connecting the bases of the prism forms by a rod, these forms are presented to the pupils in the simplest way. When thus arranged all, or nearly all, of the angles of two or more type forms, arranged in a group, may be seen at the same time. These models are thus much easier to draw correctly than the solid objects.
The metal clips hold the tablets at right angles to each other, but they may be bent to give any desired angle, and thus the tablets may be combined to present the type solids and many common objects of similar forms.
The tablets are light, noiseless, durable, and so inexpensive that each pupil may have a set. They are the best size for free-hand drawing, being two and one-half times the size of the models usually intended for individual use. They are large enough to use for tracing in design and color work. In the study of working drawings, they furnish each pupil an extended range of subjects so that copying is unnecessary.
The slate can rarely be used the first primary year for the testing of the perspective appearance of objects, as the pupils are not old enough to hold it and compare the drawing with the object.
Before the slate is used for the testing of the perspective appearance of form, a sphere, cylindrical pail, an apple, or other simple large object, may be truthfully represented by many pupils in the first primary grade, if they have not studied the actual facts of solids in the mechanical way which prevents conceptions of their appearances. Even the first year pupils should draw occasionally from simple large objects. The drawings should be upon paper and should be large and entirely free-hand. An occasional exercise of this kind will show the capacity for seeing which has been gained, and will prove the value of study upon the slate from the geometric forms.
In the grammar grades and the high school, models can be provided by the pupils, who may bring vases, boxes, bags, baskets, and all kinds of articles which they may wish to draw ; but these objects should not be drawn in the lower grades, except occasionally to test the capacity of the pupils.
When rightly taught, interest in the subject of drawing will not depend upon the object of the lesson or upon the making of drawings, which may falsely cause the pupils to think that they are really doing something valuable. The greatest interest will be aroused by the work which causes each pupil to think for himself all the time, and to discover for himself the truths of Nature. This is necessary when pupils draw from the geometric objects, using the slate to correct their drawings, and to point out the inaccuracies of their reasoning ; and when, after a time, they become able to make a drawing which does " fit " the first time, they are often unable to restrain their enthusiasm, and greater interest in the subject could be desired by no one.
From the National Drawing Books
The difficulty of using brush and color or ink in tracing upon glass, and the clumsiness of the wire screen and chalk, have rendered their use, particularly with young pupils, simply an interesting experiment.
To make practical use of the principle, a pencil which will draw freely upon the glass must be used. With such a pencil the glass may take the place of paper, and the principle enables even the young child to test his drawing quickly and surely. This pencil must be one which will draw a fine line and be tough enough not to break easily. After long study and experiment, a pencil has been made which is tough and durable, and which marks as readily upon the glass as upon paper.
If, instead of tracing, the appearance of an object is sketched by eye upon the slate, the drawing may be tested, when it is thought correct, by holding the glass in front of the object and moving it back and forth until the lines of the drawing appear to cover those of the object. If a sheet of white paper is placed behind the glass, the drawing will appear as if on the paper, and there is no difference, so far as its making is concerned, between the use of paper and the transparent glass slate. When the drawing is completed, the difference between the use of the slate and the paper appears. The best teacher is often unable to make the pupil see that his drawing on paper is incorrect ; while the errors of the drawing upon the slate are shown when it is held in front of the object. The pupil is then his own teacher.
The slate should not be used for tracing the appearance-- not that Madame Cavil's system has not accomplished much good, but that when used in this way, the result is less satisfactory than when the drawing is made by eye alone, as upon a sheet of paper.
It is not meant that tracing of beautiful forms may not help to realize their beauty, and that work of this nature once in a while may not be profitable, but that object drawing should be by eye alone.
We learn by experience. We may watch an artist draw and paint for a long time and, if we have never tried to draw or paint, receive little benefit. The teacher who draws much for the student is not teaching. The student who copies is not drawing in its true sense.
We must depend upon the eye for all good results. We train the eye when we discover its mistakes. If a person does not discover that the circle seen obliquely appears an ellipse, he will see it a circle all his life. He will always see the local colors of objects unless he sometimes discovers that something which he did not recognize, appeared very different from its actual color. The only way to train the eye is to depend upon it, and for this reason the student should always draw what is before him without measuring or testing in any way. He should draw upon the slate when the flap is behind it, and should remove the flap to test the drawing only when, after careful observation, he thinks it is what he sees.
The limit to the age when this slate may be used is determined by the ability of the pupil to hold it for testing the drawing at about right angles to the direction in which the object is seen. Some very young pupils will do this readily, and some older ones will have much trouble. One of the greatest difficulties that I have found during my teaching in art schools is, that students measure with the pencil tipped away from them ten or twenty degrees or more, and make drawings to agree with the incorrect measurements thus resulting, even when they can see proportions correctly. They apparently prefer to depend upon these false tests rather than to take the trouble to use their eyes. Of course nothing can prevent or excuse careless-ness, and all that is claimed for the slate is that it may be of great assistance when rightly used.
For use outside the public schools, the student may begin with a large sheet of paper or a circular or square card placed on the floor or on the table. He may then take a box or other common object. It will be seen that the subject studied must be, if small, quite near the eye : thus the student who draws at home has the advantage of the student in the classroom, for he has the choice of all the objects in the room, and may work with them near or distant, according to their sizes.
It will be well always to make the drawing on the slate as large as possible and yet have it cover the object when the slate is held at arm's length.
The slate should not be used for beginners when the models are small and at a distance.
Whatever the size of the models, they should be so near that the drawing which will cover them will be not less than about two inches high. The limit to size will vary with the subject of the lesson, but the drawing must be large enough to admit of comparison. If it is impossible to place the model near enough so that the drawing upon the slate, when made the desired size, will appear to coincide with the object, the directions of its lines may be tested by moving the slate so that the lines may cover those of the object, one at a time. But for the young pupil to get the best results from the work, the models must be placed so that a drawing of fair size can be held in such a way as to appear to coincide with the object.
The slate may be used to test the accuracy of a drawing on paper by tracing this drawing onto the slate, and then holding it before the object in the usual manner.
The slate at once introduces in the most forcible way the subject of appearances entirely separate from and in contradiction to the facts. After a little study upon it, many of the pupils are found to draw at first trial fairly well by eye, and it will be well to discard the slate, at least part of the time, or to use it as a test in the way just explained.
The reason why free-hand drawing has always been so difficult to teach is that no sure way of awakening the first correct impression of the appearance of the form has been given the student. When this impression has been received and appreciated, the rest is easy and consists simply in practice.
The objection of some that the slate may be used to trace the appearance, and that it is thus simply a mechanical means of making a drawing, will apply when teachers allow or advise pupils to work in this way. When, however, they are told how to use the slate properly, there will be few who will not find such use more interesting than the tracing of the form, and those who disobey and trace will even then obtain a better idea of the apparent form than they would without the slate.
Tracing is, however, quite impossible in any except the first lessons from objects placed upon the desks, or so that the slate may rest upon the desk or other support. The slate cannot be held steadily by the hand, and this is the effective safeguard against its improper use. When a drawing has been made upon the slate, it may be held with both hands steadily enough so that it may be compared with the object, and its proportions and masses tested ; but the tracing of more than a line or two of the distant object will be impossible until the slate is held and a sight fixed for the eye ; and such aids to mechanical work should not be given the pupil.
In the drawings of groups of models it will be difficult to hold the slate so as to compare the smallest details. The masses, and the directions of all important lines can, however, be seen, and the pupil who trains his eye to give these correctly will have little trouble with the minor points. As the size of the subject and the number of its parts increase, so does the difficulty of holding the slate so that it may give more than the principal masses ; therefore the pupil who does not understand that the slate is not given as a means for tracing will be disappointed in its use.
A tracing of a large subject which is near, or any extended subject such as an interior, becomes a plane perspective drawing, which always distorts large parts of what it represents. It is impossible to make a tracing upon a slate placed near the eye, of any extended subject which shall represent the different parts of the extended subject just as they appear. In order to represent such subjects with the best success, the draughtsman must have made a careful study of the theory of appearances and the distortions of plane perspective.
He cannot avoid error by mechanical means, such as tracing, or the use of photographs, which are frequently the most distorted representations it is possible to make. The avoidance of some distortion of detail in a drawing representing a wide field of view is impossible ; but this is a question of theory which is considered in Chapter VII.
The special pencil required for use upon the slate. is called the Cross Pencil. It is sold by Ginn & Co. and marks as readily upon glass, china, or any polished surface, as upon paper.
The pencils are of an oily nature and should not be placed near a radiator as they will become too soft for use. If pencils should soften by heat they will harden when placed in a cool place. To give the best results the pencil, slate, and air should be at about the same temperature.