The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
by Mrs. H. Perrin
I have been asked to add a few remarks on the subject of "Brushwork," which was so ably begun by Mrs. Steinthal in the May No. of the Review.
No one who like myself has had the privilege of listening to Mr. E. Cooke's lectures on Child Nature with regard to Art, and has watched his able fingers depict the curves he so dearly loves, can fail to be impressed by the way in which he deals with the subject. Taking his hints from the baby's spontaneous scribble, he builds up a systematic and progressive training directly in accordance with natural tendencies, in a way to stimulate the inventive faculty so strong in a child. He advocates taking it straight to natural forms for its examples, that the eye may quickly become accustomed to drawing from the round instead of from the dull, lifeless copies so much used by the Science and Art Department.
First we must create an interest and love in the subject, and afterwards exercises for training accuracy of eye and dexterity of hand will be much more quickly accomplished.
To teach a child to educate himself should be the aim of all teachers; and though this principle has permeated the whole Kinder Garten system, it has not been till lately carried out in its fulness with regard to art training.
Drawing is a means of expression as well as an art, and so it should be connected with the whole employment of the child, and it should not be an isolated performance.
Mr. Cooke recognizes the delight the child has in portraying the animals and plants around him, and he shows us that the business of the teacher is to take the cue from these hieroglyphs and to transform the same into a truer portrait by means of the simplest and fewest lines possible.
In my own nursery we have a large black board hung where the little ones can reach it, and they are encouraged to draw with white chalk large designs, or representations of animals and plants from memory, and any friends who come in are invited to do the same. In this way we get a variety in design, etc., and the best drawings are honoured by being allowed to remain on the board for a day or two. It is easy to fix a little shelf to catch the chalk dust; in our case we have placed the board over the ottoman sofa upon which the children stand in order that the board can be higher from the door and not so liable to get rubbed.
In very few cases should copies from the flat be allowed, indeed I would almost say never, as they ward the natural powers in a child and cramp his imagination. Let a child's mind and hand be as free as the wind, merely guide it in the right channels and teach it nothing that it has afterwards to unlearn, or which stunts its development. "Steam and electricity are our servants, because we learned from them their nature, entered into it, and worked in sympathy with it - did not oppose it. The nature of the child can no more be altered by us. We must study, sympathize and conquer by obeying it."
This month I would urge bold blackboard drawing with white chalk, the arm working freely from the shoulder in elliptical curves, horizontal and vertical lines, and next month I hope to give a few hints on colour and colour washes without the use of either chalk or pencil; the great benefit of "Brushwork" being that it can be made quite a moral training in exactness and decision. The children should be carefully taught to make all their mistakes in the air, and not touch the paper or blackboard until the hand is ready to draw fearlessly and with precision the line required. No retouching can be allowed. The old habit of indecision with cramped muscular handling of the pencil, followed by indiarubber was ruinous to all proper development and fostered stammering if not in word, in thought and hand.
Mr. Cooke is the first of our great teachers to recognize that the child's first lines are elliptical curves, and to show how the oval, rather than the circle, is to be traced in all animals and plants and things in motion. Ruskin dwells on the beauty of the ellipse and its four quarters when divided by a horizontal and vertical line. For this reason and also because something like the letter "j" Mr. Cooke calls each quarter a "j" curve, and shows how many of the most beautiful designs are based on this element. "The Greek potter has the child's conception, and delights in that general form we find common to living things. Vase and human form have ever been associated. We shall find no other art so familiar with the oval, its varieties, and elements; it is the germ-form of Greek art, the source of its simple strong curvature and ever beautiful ornament."
This month I would suggest that our little ones be asked to make different patterns, using only this one "j" curve in varied combinations. Let the patterns be put between parallel lines so as to make a frame in which to put their picture; the latter to be any shells, animals, etc., they can think of showing the ovate form or any flowers, plants, etc. A good exercise would be to draw, on a large scale, a fountain with the water rising and falling in "j" curves from an elliptical basin. These exercises can be done either on the blackboard or on large sheets of paper, in the latter case no pencil is to be used, but the brush, well filled with colour - say light red - should be held vertically with the wrist of the right hand resting on that of the left, in order to gain both freedom and steadiness. The point of the brush only must touch the paper, and the pressure to be sure as to produce a fine regular line.
Next month we shall see how in colour blobs of the brush, when placed sideways on the paper, the same oval form appears, and how it permeates all the vegetable world.
Last month I dwelt chiefly on the beauty of the "j" curve, and I hope our little friends will have by this time practised it in all directions and in numerous varied combinations, as it is in this way children can be encouraged to make original designs, and to see what lovely patterns can be drawn by repeating between parallel lines some of the simplest forms. It would be well if every page of their "brushwork" book (which ought to be not less in size than 9in. by 12in.) had a different pattern as a border to its central picture. Designs may be made also of straight lines in different directions with dots done with the point of the brush held upright; also "blobs" may be used, which are produced by the brush being laid on its side on the paper. The outlines of these "blobs" will be ovate, each formed of two "j" curves, so much used in Greek design. Children should be taken to see the Greek "Brushwork" on the pottery at South Kensington Museum, and shewn how the Greek artists made use of different modifications of the "j" in drawing their animals, especially those in motion. The spiral will be seen to consist of many "j" curves joined together, there being no complete circle; indeed the true circle is rarely seen in nature, and is not such a natural or easy curve to draw, therefore we will discourage its use for the present.
I would mention that of course compasses and rulers are never to be allowed; the horizontal and parallel lines enclosing the borders must be done by holding the brush of colour vertically, the little finger only touching the paper and the arm working freely from the shoulder and not from the elbow.
Before going any further I would again urge upon parents and teachers the necessity of leading the child to make his own observations of simple objects and to draw his own portraits of them, and above all to encourage imagination and originality of expression in design. Do nothing for the child but make him work for you, put him before nature, and tell him to paint what he sees, without thinking what he ought to see or what you see.
Mr. Brownlie, R.S.W., says:--"Many children (??? dislike?) drawing; the eternal outlining, the production of thin lines, is unutterably wearisome, and you cannot, or are not allowed, to put individuality into them. We may have clever draughtsmen, but where are our designers? You can count the real artist-designers of the present day on your fingers. What is the reason? It is this. All individuality has been destroyed in them, because in their art-training they have never been allowed to follow their own ideas, but had to adhere to certain rules which pressed everybody into the same form, or, even if the teacher was lenient, originality was not encouraged, though it might to some extent be suffered. But what ought to be done is to encourage a child to work by the aid of its imagination; and to give its own impressions of things."
Miss Mason, in her admirable system at the House of Education, gets her students to bring back leaves and buds of trees from their walks, and to copy them in "Brushwork," with name, locality and date attached to each. The twigs with buds they secure early in the spring, and later in the year compare their sketches with the same trees when in full leaf. This is an excellent way of teaching the students to know the many varieties of trees and shrubs, and to identify them at any time of the year. There is ample opportunity for this in London as elsewhere.
I will now make a few general remarks on colour, and afterwards try to illustrate them by taking an example of a flower.
It is necessary from the first to get children to see the beauty of pure colour. They should be shown that the box and palette are to be kept in clean working order, and the colours free from muddiness caused by the reckless stirring of one colour into another, a trick so popular with children. They should also be taught that their water should be always clean during painting; for this reason a separate brush should be kept for supplying the water to the palette. It is also good to insist as far as possible that different brushes be used for different colours, if not this, that another glass of water be kept for washing out the brush. The colour in the brush should be liquid enough to flow freely, and when once applied to the paper, not touched again whilst wet. A good exercise is to practise the production of secondary colours by passing one colour over another when dry, as for instance in the case of violet, the blue can be passed over the pink. The effect is often far better than a previously mixed tint, and the children are able better to notice the action of one colour upon another in different proportions.
They can also be directed to gradate shades of the same colour, or different colours one into the other, as seen in the rainbow, sunset, petals of flowers, etc. Let them gradate a plain tint from the top of the paper downwards, and beginning with a full brush from left to right, guide the floating colour down the paper, taking more water and less colour as they proceed, a dryer brush can be used to suck up any surplus quantity of colour. The tint when finished must be a flat one, though gradated, without any unevenness or brush mark. Very pretty effects can be produced by one touch of say purple and another brush of yellow colour laid at the side of it, so that the two unite while wet, making an exquisite gradation most useful in flower painting and design.
Teachers should show their little would-be artists the difference between reflected colours and those which receive the direct light, and bring their eyes to see all the colours of the tulip in the grey light on the leaf. Ruskin says:--"The man who can see all the greys, and reds, and purples in a peach will paint the peach rightly round and rightly altogether."
I mentioned before that the brush is capable of giving various impressions of form in mass according to the angle at which it is placed on the paper and the amount of pressure used; it is well for children to notice these forms and to practise all in different directions, not forgetting the line work with the point of the brush. The "blob" impression is most useful for many petals and for small leaves, etc., but the elongated ovate form is perhaps the most needed as for instance in crocuses, daisies, etc., and many leaves. My object in saying this, is to show that it is best to do all leaves and petals with one touch of the brush, and generally it is best to use the lightest tint and run in the darker shades with another brush while wet; this will avoid hardness. For example, take the tulip, a flower much beloved by children because of its bright colour.
Of course no pencil outline is to be drawn, but having first well filled the brush with the lightest colour seen draw in mass the flower, and with another brush with red, orange or purple, work into the damp colour, using as few touches as possible. The light and shade must be carefully noted, and the darkest part of the shadow tint not taken to the edge, as there is always a reflected light to give roundness. A clean water brush will with one touch soften the colour to the edge sufficiently.
With regard to the leaf, the child should first mix red, blue and yellow to make the grey for the lights, and before this tint is quite dry run in the rich greens where necessary. Leaves with very pronounced veins, must have the latter inserted in a second painting when the first is dry, but as a rule it is unnecessary to do more than suggest them as they are apt to spoil breadth of treatment. It makes it easier for a child to have the object laid on or stood against white paper, that its true depth of tone may be more readily seen.
If any little child in the Parents' Review School would like to paint me a flower and leaf, with a pattern border round the page, and put his or her name, age, and address on the back, I will return it to the little artist with a few remarks. It must be strictly understood that no help is to be given by others in the actual painting, which should bear the child's own stamp of originality.
One can only touch the outer garment of a subject so vast as colour, in a short article like this, but I shall have been content, if in my few remarks, I have driven home the necessity of impressing a child with a love of pure colour, and a respect for his brush and color-box which will hold him in good stead, and direct him in all his studies and necessary experiments.
I will close my paper with a few words of Mr. Ruskin. "Great art accepts nature as she is, but directs the eyes and thoughts to what is most perfect in her; false art saves itself the trouble of direction by removing or altering whatever it thinks objectionable. It is only by the habit of representing faithfully all things, that we can truly learn what is beautiful and what is not. High art, therefore, consists neither in altering, nor in improving nature; but in seeking throughout nature for 'whatever things are lovely and whatever things are pure.' Art is great in exact proportions to the love of beauty shewn by the painter, provided that love of beauty forfeit no atom of truth, and it must include the largest possible quantity of truth in the most perfect possible harmony. The inferior artist chooses unimportant and scattered truths; the great artist chooses the most necessary first, and afterwards the most consistent with them, so as to obtain the greatest possible and most harmonious sum."
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