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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Pencil Drawing And Composition

( Originally Published 1917 )



"Go slowly at first in order that you may go fast in the end."

AS a preliminary to the making of pen and ink drawings or etchings, many pencil drawings should be made. The pencil employed for this purpose should be rather hard-an H or HB. The hard pencil approaches the directness of the pen. A rather smooth paper is best, and the same kind should be used all the time, as a different technique is required when drawing on rough paper. Soft pencils and rough paper are usually employed when making pencil drawings which are not intended for use in etching. Often pencils of varying degrees of hardness are used in the same drawing. The usual practise is to employ those grading from 3 or 4B to H, although every artist has his own way of working. The pencil is not so black as the chalk or pen. It has a disagreeable shine, and looks grey when placed beside ink drawings. In good pencil work black is used sparingly. Excessive blacks and a high degree of finish are signs of the amateur. The sketch should be drawn with decision, first slightly indicating the main contours and masses. Selection will come with practise. At first you will do too much. Local colour should be sparingly suggested or omitted altogether. Bear in mind that the fewer facts consistent with completeness the better the sketch. "So long as a drawing is harmonious, it need not be carried far." In time you will learn to feel your drawing, and without thinking select only what will assist the effect desired.

It is good sometimes to make careful studies-of trees, for instance-carrying the work as far as possible and trying to learn something of the way in which trees grow. Another good exercise is to make fifteen-minute sketches. Stop at the end of the time, whether the sketch is finished or not. Do this regularly for a month, and you will find much improvement. Do not be too worried if your work has not the looseness or freedom of handling you could wish. This most desirable quality will come in its own time, and should not be forced. One who strives too much for looseness in the beginning loses in solidity.

There is no pleasure equal to the ability, acquired after long practise, to express with ease on paper any subject you may select. This is the only way by which quality of line may be developed and improved; and quality of line is of vital importance in etching. Draw from nature every day. Be composing all the time. Constant practise with the pencil is most important for the beginner in etching. The musician practises scales and exercises every day. In the same way the etcher should employ his sketch book constantly. The ability to make good pencil drawings is surprisingly rare among artists. Most of them are content to jot down a rough memorandum with a very soft pencil. The softer the pencil the easier it is to get some sort of an effect. For the rapid sketch from nature, no medium equals the soft pencil.

"Koh-i-noor" or Faber drawing pencils, 3-ply smooth, or Strathmore or Harding's drawing papers, are all that is necessary in the way of materials. Many valuable hints for pencil sketching will be found in Sir Alfred East's "Landscape Painting."

Silver Point.-A silver point is a drawing on prepared paper with a silver pencil or stylus. The paper is usually prepared with a coating of Chinese white. This method of drawing was employed before lead pencils came into use. It was a favourite medium with the Old Masters, especially in the Florentine school of the fifteenth century. In appearance silver point is not unlike a hard lead pencil drawing. It is characterised by precision of line and delicacy of tone. The point gives a beautiful grey line of even width. Mistakes are not easily corrected, and the only way to erase lines is to use a brush with Chinese white. Tinted papers were sometimes used by the old Masters, the light being brought out with white. The silver point is best adapted to figure drawing. Legros' beautiful portraits done in this medium are examples of modern work. The points come in various sizes, usually threefine, medium and thick. Robertson & Co., of Piccadilly, London, supply the materials for this work.

Chalk Drawings.-Chalks of different degrees of hardness and various colours are used on tinted papers with interesting results. Black and white chalk on grey paper is very effective. Black, white and sanguin are used for figure work. Rubens' drawings are examples. Landscapes are best rendered in brown chalk. Nature may be suggested by more limited means with coloured chalks than in any other way. Interesting examples of chalk drawings are shown in the Studio Special Number on "Pen, Pencil and Chalk."

Charcoal Drawing.-Charcoal is employed by the painter in outlining his subject on the canvas. It is only in comparatively recent times that it has been used as an independent medium, when it is chiefly employed for landscapes and the figure. The coal comes in sticks of various degrees of hardness, and is used upon a grained paper. The facility with which the work can be removed from the paper by dusting with a cloth or rubbing with bits of stale bread allows of great changes, so that one can compose and rearrange the design with ease. This characteristic is also a difficulty, as the greatest care must be exercised to guard against damaging the drawing. The slightest touch may spoil the work of hours. When finished the drawing should be fixed on the paper by using a blower and fixative. Charcoal is employed for tone rather than line, although a combination of the two is common. The rapidity with which one gets an effect in sketching from nature is one of the advantages of this medium, but it is more adapted to making large drawings than small ones. While sometimes employed with crayon or pen, it is at its best when used alone. Russian or compressed charcoal and rough note paper have been used by Mr. Joseph Pennell with interesting results in a series of drawings of New York City.

Composition.-In making pictures, it is found that some arrangements of form and values please the eye and others do not. The conventions of composition are employed to bring about pleasing pictures. Balance of parts, simplicity and restfulness through selection, and what Ruskin calls the laws of principality and repetition, all tend toward good composition. The balance of parts is best illustrated by the familiar example of the steelyards. With two pounds of lead the bulk will be the same, but if a pound of feathers is balanced with a pound of lead, the unequal bulk excites the curiosity and makes the pivotal point a matter of interest. In a composition this point is known as the blind spot, and is the proper place to put the principal accent, such as a group of figures. Equal dark areas or equal light areas should be avoided. Ruskin's law is: a principal dark value with its repetitions or echoes, or a principal light value with its repetitions or echoes. Simplicity and restfulness are best attained by employing few values simply arranged and broadly treated. Three values are the least that one can use successfullyblack, grey and white. Black values attract the eye first and should be treated as broadly as possible and be placed in such a manner as to insure restfulness. The more black there is, the greater the number of values which can be employed.

These arrangements will help to indicate the "centre of interest," which should be at or near the centre of the picture. The lines of the composition should lead up to the "centre of interest" in graceful curves. The remainder of the picture should be given only enough expression so that the eye will instinctively seek this point. Whistler's method, or "secret of drawing," was to "draw the centre of interest first and finish it. Then draw in the surroundings. Keep all the composition well within the frame."



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