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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Pen Drawings

( Originally Published 1917 )



"Art is Emphasis"

"THE pen is the piccolo flute of the artistic orchestra," as C. D. Maginnis calls it in his delightful treatise on "Pen Drawing." While the pen has not the perfect freedom of the etching point, it is very near to it in this respect. The limitations of the medium are not unlike those of etching. There is the same convention of the outline which does not exist in nature, and the same disregard for colour, except by suggestion. Economy and individuality of line, combined with a proper regard for the limitations of the medium, are found in the work of the best pen draughtsmen. Individuality should be as pronounced in pen work as in one's handwriting.

The technique of pen drawing has undergone great changes in comparatively recent times, largely on account of the employment of photo-chemical processes. The "process" block has almost entirely superseded the old method of interpreting the artist's drawing by a wood engraving. This change is responsible for the limitations in the technique of pen drawing as practised to-day. Briefly, these limitations are: making the lines clear and distinct, keeping the work open, avoiding involved passages which might become a blotch in reproduction, especially if the drawing is much reduced; keeping the values as few and simple as possible, and using only black ink on white paper. The improvements in mechanical reproduction have been so rapid of late that these limitations have not the force that they formerly had. However, they all tend to good, clear technique, and should be considered for that, if nothing else. Almost any drawing can now be satisfactorily reproduced. A comparatively new method, called collotype, gives facsimile reproductions of the most delicate work.

The first method of reproducing pen drawings was to trace them on a block of wood. The engraver then cut away the wood between the lines of the design, which would print the same as type. Later photography was employed to transfer the drawing to the block or metal plate, which had still to be worked over by the engraver, who cut away the material between the lines. The best engravers, notably those working in America in the 8o's, did most wonderful work in their close imitation of the artist's design. The last stage was the discovery of a method of cutting away the metal in the space between the lines by means of acid. The metal plate thus treated was fastened to a block of wood the height of type. "Process," as this is called, has many advantages over the old method, not the least of which is its cheapness. The fact that the artist's work is reproduced in facsimile instead of being interpreted is a great step forward.

A "process" block is made in the following manner: The drawing is photographed and the glass negative is placed over a metal plate coated with a gelatine and bichromate of potassium composition, and exposed to the light. When placed in a bath of warm water the unexposed gelatine will dissolve, leaving the drawing as gelatine lines on a metal surface. This surface is lowered by placing the plate in an acid bath. Another method is to photograph the drawing directly onto a zinc plate and then roll prepared ink over it; the ink adheres only to the lines which are then brought into relief by employing acid as before. We now have the drawing in raised lines on a metal plate which can be printed from the same as type. You will note that this is the opposite of etching, where the lines of the drawing are eaten into the plate by the acid.

A variation of the above method, known as "half tone," is employed more especially for the reproduction of wash drawings or paintings. In this a screen of varying degrees of fineness is placed in front of the drawing to be photographed, thus dividing the tones into dots or squares, which are treated just as the lines are in the "process" method. The screen causes the values to lose in strength, and this should be considered in the drawing. In photographing the drawing the size can be changed at will. In most cases the drawing is reduced in size. As this affects the technique the draughtsman should know beforehand how much the drawing is to be changed and work accordingly. A photogravure is made by photographing the drawing onto a copper plate and then biting the lines into the copper as in etching. The work can then be gone over with a graver, if necessary, and must be printed in an etching press. The photogravure is more like an etching than the other photo mechanical methods, and is of course more expensive, as it requires separate printing. The history of illustration has been a striving after better and cheaper methods of reproduction. Line engraving, lithography, wood engraving and process each show an advance in ease and cheapness. The successful illustrator must know all about process and keep informed as to the improvements which are being made from time to time.

Some confusion exists as to the difference between etching and pen and ink work. The pen and ink reproductions, which are familiar to us in prints, are usually made by means of the "process" method described above, while etching is seldom seen in illustrated magazines except in reproduction, as its cost is practically prohibitive outside of very expensive art publications. Some years ago the "Studio" printed a few etchings and lithographs, and issued them as a part of the magazine. Owing to the great pressure employed in printing an etching, the edge of the plate leaves a decided mark on the paper. This plate mark and the moulded ridges of ink, which can be felt by passing the fingers lightly over the darker parts of an etching, are means of distinguishing an etching from a reproduction of a pen drawing or of an etching. The etched line having depth as well as width, contains more ink than the pen line. The gamut of pen and ink is therefore less than that of etching, where one finds deeper and more velvety blacks, and, at the other end of the scale, more delicate greys. The blacks of the pen are much deeper than those of the pencil, and do not have their unpleasant shine.

The technique of the pen is entirely different from that of the etching needle. Changing pressure with the pen results in giving lines of varying width and intensity. Sometimes pens of different sizes and strength are employed, but usually with a loss of simplicity. As the etching needle must be used with the same pressure in all parts, a beautiful grey in the distance is attained by drawing many lines close together and biting lightly. Should the pen draughtsman work in the same way, not having the advantage of the light biting, he would probably have to call for "first aid" from the photo-engraver to get a result.

Simplicity and variety of line are to be kept constantly in mind by the beginner. A very careful pencil drawing should be made first, and over this the ink lines should be drawn. The pencil drawing may then be erased with a soft rubber. Don't try to tell as much with the pen as with the pencil. Be satisfied with a partial expression. Strive to make each line valuable, telling as much as possible of shade and form. A good plan is to make numerous pen drawings directly from nature without preparatory pencil work; then do the same subject carefully and compare the results. The ideal is to retain the strength and freshness of the quick sketch in the finished drawing. Pen and ink drawing is a kind of shorthand. Always remember that light and shade are most important in pen and ink, and that colour is only to be suggested, and even may be entirely disregarded. There should be few lines, but each should be made to tell. It iE not easy to make the result look easy, and yet that is an important requisite. The values should be few and simply treated. The black blot is most effective in pen work. It represents all values below a certain level, just as the white paper represents those above a certain level. Indicate as much as possible in the dark values and as little as possible in the light.

Pen drawing is characterised by large, light areas, and has therefore few values. Employing three values, the following are some of the most useful arrangements: Black area against white surrounded by grey. Black area against grey surrounded by white. Black, grey and white from edge of picture to centre. Grey at top or bottom, dark in centre, and then white. A gradation from dark through grey to light is simple, and therefore good. Avoid all complicated effects.

The method of printing determines the technique in pen drawing as much as it does in etching. The ink should be very black and each line distinct, with an extra allowance of space between to allow for the thickening in reproduction. As to materials, the requirements are simple: A Gillott No. 303 and a Crow-quill pen, a bottle of Higgins' waterproof ink, and for paper Bristol board, Whatman's Hot Press or Strathmore. The treatise on "Pen Drawing," by C. D. Maginnis, mentioned above, and the large volume, "Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen," by Joseph Pennell, may be consulted by those who wish to learn more of the technique of this most fascinating art.



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