The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Fesole Club Papers
by W.G. Collingwood
XI.--On A Camp-Stool
[This is, as nearly as I can reproduce it, the report of a real lesson on the spot that it describes.]
Now, this is very nice. This is what I am always wishing for; to see one of my Fésole Club pupils, and to give a real lesson for once. Correspondence teaching is only the shadow of teaching; this morning we have a chance of the substance.
You have brought your sketching things. Let us see what you have got. A block, quarto imperial, beautifully bound. That is almost too good for the work we are going to do. Let me lend you a sketch-book. Seven inches by ten is about as much paper as we can cover before luncheon-time; and you see this is not nearly so heavy to hold, nor does it frighten you so much with the fear of spoiling such a valuable property. Pencils? Quite an assortment; the H.B. will do. Knife to cut it with? Well, I'll lend you mine. India-rubber? Not necessary; but if you should need it, you had better use this black piece, which has been kept at a warm temperature. The hard grey substance called India-rubber in some amateurs' outfits is really useless. You can rub out better with your finger.
We are going to paint, are we not? Let me see your colour-box. Oh, there are far too many colours here, and far too little palette space. I am afraid you didn't clean it after doing your exercise last month; but we will soon set that right. One good brush with a point will be all we shall need. I see your half-pan of cobalt is nearly gone. I will give you a present of another, for we mustn't run short of paint. And you have no Prussian blue. I know that this is not a permanent colour, but how long do you wish your sketches to last? Raw sienna, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, aureolin (or gamboges will do), rose madder, light red--not necessary, but useful--those are colours enough. We need not restrict ourselves on principle, but when one is sketching in a hurry one is often glad to escape the embarrassment of too rich a choice.
Water-bottle? I will carry a jam-pot in my pocket. There is plenty of water by the wayside in these parts, and those tiny tin dippers sometimes get so dirty (and you never can quite see inside them) that you go on painting the last finishing touches with a solution of mud, and then you wonder why your sketch is dull. You have a paint-rag; I give you a good mark. And a camp-stool? It is really worth while always carrying a camp-stool. Our banks are generally damp, and our big stones are uneasy to sit upon. Some people can paint standing, but if it tires you why should you try? You can't always explain to people who may see your sketch that its faults were owing to your discomfort, and that you could have done it so much better if you had been more at your ease. I think, however, we may draw the line at a sketching-umbrella. It is absolutely necessary to paint in the shade. Try painting once with the sun on your paper, and see how hopelessly dark and grubby the result will be. But we can generally contrive to cast a shadow on the sketch-book without having to carry and fix an umbrella. There is also something artistic in making the greatest possible use of apparently inadequate means, and something rather laughable in the mouse of a sketch that often comes out of the mountain of colourman's materials.
We shall have just two hours. We need not go far for something pretty. Any country garden on a bright summer morning is lovely. The mere masses of laurels from the porch, and dark copper beech overhanging them, give us glorious deep, rich colour; and there are poppies and roses, all ablaze like fairy lamps. But I think if we walk round you will soon see that a tidy garden like this is a very difficult thing to sketch. When all the children are having tea on the lawn, of course there are lovely subjects, and you could guess what pretty things Mr. Leslie or Mr. Marcus Stone would make, using these rhododendron bushes and ivied walls as backgrounds for their graceful figures. You could study a single plant, or corner, of you had time; but that would not be a landscape subject of the picturesque sort which I think you are looking out for, when you come for your summer holidays into our lake country.
Let us turn into the road. You see at once every square foot of wall and bank in this climate is a perfect fairyland of interesting form and colour. Think what lovely things you could make if you gave two or three days to work out the detail of this little nook of wild geranium and strawberry nestling into the crannies of the rough stone, with the exquisite grace of their lines of growth and tender colours of leaf and flower contrasting against the gloom of the rift and the stern severity of the rugged stones, here clothed in lichens and moss, there sharp and broken and angular. And along the road there is quite a view, with the shadows across, and flickering yellow lights playing through the trees, and blue light from above penetrating them. But look over the hedge. Isn't that grander still? There is the whole panorama of our valley, with one mountain after another rising in magnificent range, crag upon crag brought out in clear definition by the morning shadows, and settling downwards, through the fern-clothed slopes and forested lower hills, into sweet undulating pastures, embroidered with distant roads and hedgerows, and dotted with the gleam of far-away cottages, each jewel-like in its setting, with tiny accidents of light and shade along its walls, and still tinier tracery of detail in the little windows and porches and gates, and garden paths that you can follow among the bushes, with figures and cattle moving quietly about, or standing knee-deep among the reflections at the margin of the lake. Ah, if you could paint that! But think what patience, what delicacy of hand and eye must go to the making of a wide panoramic landscape, such as Brett or Vicat Cole (and not many another man) have drawn in their best days. You might try a bit of it, but not from this point--craning over the hedge among the hawthorn prickles, as we are.
This nearer group of cottages is a more practicable subject, still too panoramic for us to try. But it is paintable--the broad contrast of bright buildings near at hand, and shining in the sun against the distant hills, which sink in comparison into a quiet mass of cool colour to be expressed, since they are not the chief subject, with simple washes of tint and less elaborate detail. This does make a view which would reward the attempt. You see the panoramic view wanted the picturesque elements of contrast and principality, and that want would have to be made up by the delicacy of your execution and the refinement of your feeling. But, as an amateur, you will be wise in keeping to the simplest type of subject, and using all the helps that you know of.
Why not try the near cottages? Simply because we are still in the hedge. Let us go a little nearer to try for a better ground to plant our camp-stools on.
How disappointing! The whole subject seems to have vanished. What has happened? The interest of those cottages lay in the way they were grouped, in the variety and play of line and proportion. Now that we are close to them they are the same indeed, and we see the roses more distinctly, and the everical rockeries in the little garden; but the dominant line which you would have to draw is that level black water-spout against the sky, and that prim hedge and wall which cut across the field in front. An artist, of course, would alter it. He would leave out the pieces he didn't like, destroy the look of vulgar tidiness, or swamp it in some blaze of light and shade. But I think we had better go along the road and not be tempted to draw what we don't see.
There comes a cart and a bronzed carter, leading coal for a neighbour. See how it makes perfect subject. Out with your sketch-book, and jot it down as fast as you can.
He has passed. We might have asked him to stop; but I don't think that if he arranged himself at the head of his team, and if the horses had stood stock-still in the road, you would have card any more for the subject. The beauty of figures in landscape depends so largely upon their action, upon the strain and swing of unconscious attitude, upon the play of light and shade as they pass along. One should never lose the opportunity of making a memorandum, and some day, perhaps, one may get skill to "insert figures," as it is called, into one's landscapes. But there is a cottage up there that I think you'll like.
If it were not for that cottage we might stop at this gate where the ivy grows on the wall. You think it too stiff and modern a gate? The next one is broken enough, and the wild roses straggle over it deliciously. But you are not yet a master of foliage, and if we choose a view that is nearly all trees, we shall have too much on our hands.
Here we come to the cottage. See what a fine old trunk with ivy-stems wreathing it--what our children call an abbey--like Viking or Gothic carving. That is the kind of thing I should like you to try next month, for a bit of close study. And see this torrent stream, that dashes down among the rocks, dives under the bridge--out again from the dark into the sunshine, swirling in the brown pools under the fern, flashing in tiny falls and beaded bubbles through the rents of the purple-grey rocks, and roaring away from our feet over the great hedge. That is north-country scenery. That is what hardly any one cares about; so that, while hundreds of divine subjects lurk under the copses that vault our ghylls, they all remain yet to be painted, with the knowledge and the affection that would make their portraiture a joy for ever to many a far-away dweller in the towns of the plain country.
But for you I want simplest, easiest, most striking subject. Here it is. Just a rough old cottage, whitewashed, rugged, carelessly draped in a scanty wreath of honeysuckle. It has not rustic porch, no blaze of roses in the garden. Its doorway is neat and clean; it is not a pigsty, by any means. But the struggle for life is visible in the bareness of its aspect; in the garden walls built long ago with blocks of quartz and boulders of felstone, not without an eye to prettiness; and in the unconcealed repairs of woodwork and stonework and flagged approach. And round it rise great trees, flickering in the sun; and above it, filmy and broad, the mountain-tops.
There is nothing here you can't draw. No flash of stream, or delicacy of distant detail. The flickering trees are, you notice, subordinate to the bright and firmly marked mass of the house; they sink to a quiet mass of green-grey in comparison. Get their forms right, and never mind the detail, for the present. Trust to the broad masses of contrast. Even this cottage will be too much for us if we try to take in the whole of it. Take one end, and pencil it firmly on the paper. Note the swinging curve of the roof, for it is old, and the rafters give way just a little. Mark the jagged edges, irregularly regular, of the slates. You can't draw all the slates, but give their character at the edges, at the contour. The same with the stones in the wall, and the outline of the two doors on the ground-floor, and the tiny window, set on one side, above: then the formal water-pipe, whose straight black upright line, not being here the chief object in the view, only serves to bring out the variety of the rest by contrast. Then the larger window to the right; see how square and black its panes are at the top, and how they fade away as you follow them down till they are lost among the leaves of the box of plants on the window-sill.
We have done the cottage first, because it is the principal thing. The rest of the picture, which rightly comes in as "surroundings," must be outlined now. Get a sharp point on your pencil, and fix the top of the mountain. It is not exactly over the cottage chimney; no, nor over the window. Now the outline of the mountain, and the masses of its crags and nearer foot-hills: the level line of the lake, interrupted, before it can make a right angle with the wall, by the foliage of the garden: the sloping field behind; the trees that rise from it: the great ash-tree overhanging the roof: the gooseberry bushes in the garden; one or two yellow poppies--mark their places, not to forget them.
We have been a long time coming to the colour. But, if we have two hours at our disposal, we may spend one in finding our subject, and half the other in outlining it. By this time we know what we want, we are sure that we are not going to waste our morning. Before mixing colours, stop now, and think.
In this summer effect there are two main kinds of colour; the shadows and distance, cool, bluish or grey or purplish; and the lights and foliage, warm, cream white on the house, going into rasset or warm grey on woodwork or bare slates, green on the trees, but not a cold, raw, metallic green--rather a kind of yellow with a little green in it, and passing into the sunlit parts of the distance very faint and blending with the blue. Now, these two sorts of colour might conceivably by painted in two tints: a bluish one, beginning with the blue sky, Prussian blue, and clouds cobalt, with a little light red; then the mountain, mainly cobalt, but with faint intermixture of raw sienna and light red where it blooms into warmth and light. Yellow ochre is a useful paint for this sort of work; perhaps the best. Then, slowly bringing the wash down the picture, blending as we go, and taking out lights with the brush dried on the painting, we come to the roof, cobalt and burnt sienna, I think, very faintly washed, getting the graduations, but quite omitting the markings of the slates, already given by the outline, which, foreseeing its use, we did not touch with India-rubber. Then we lead this grey-blue-purple into the lower part of the picture, throwing it over such parts of the trees as are in broad shadow, vigorously marking the sharp shadows under the eaves with clean-edged touches, and the branches of the trees, where they are large and dark; and so, down into the foreground. Every part we complete as well as we can, while we go on. As the tint dries, before it is all quite dry, edges ca be got here, and lost there; and if we try to put in the darks, such as the windows, at the first attempt, in their full depth, our colour will be rightly transparent and not too heavy in the end.
When the cool tint is quite done, lay the greens. For the ash-tree I am afraid we must use aureolin and cobalt; but not thick and pasty, nor with attempt to get leaf-touch, except at the edge. The lights can be taken out as before; the darks reinforced before they dry. Then, with raw sienna and a little cobalt, perhaps adding aureolin now and then, or burnt sienna, to match the general colour of the moss, we come down the picture with one warm tint, just as we did with the cold one. A spot of clear aureolin for the poppies; a dry drag of burnt sienna here and there, where twigs appear among bushes, or moss comes on roof or wall.
There is one striking from the new church clock. Away with us to luncheon. But you have done a sketch you need not be ashamed to show them when we get in.
XII. A New Card Game
Please look into the waste-paper basket, and find some scraps of paper; backs of used envelopes, slit round with a knife, will do. Or, better still, rob the card-tray of some less-valued--but not highly glazed--visiting cards. And then find a BB, or at any rate a soft pencil, with which you can rub in a rough, strong shading easily and rapidly.
This is to be a composition lesson in black and white; and it may be done of an evening by lamplight. It ought not to be more difficult than playing "Snap"; indeed, it is so simple that I am only afraid the members of the club will think it beneath their artistic dignity.
Draw a line horizontally across the paper; and shade all the lower half. There you have Contrast, about which we talked in the paper on "The Team of Phaethon." There is a black half and a white half. But you have not a picture yet, nor even the suggestion of a picture.
Now, with india-rubber, make a light patch in the dark half, and hold your drawing at arm's length, and think about it. I believe you will soon feel sort of craving to dash in something dark in the light half. The longer you look, the more you will feel certain that, though the formless scribble means nothing at all, and does not resemble any scene or shape in the world--unless a heraldic shield in a fog--still, as a mere arrangement, it cries out, so to say, for Balance. The question is not "Shall I make a dark patch in the light half?"--that is decided; but, "What sort of a dark patch shall I make?"
Now, that depends. Suppose, first, that you have rubbed out the light patch just in the middle of the dark half. A corresponding dark patch in the middle of the light half will balance it; and your eye will be satisfied so far. (Better make a separate sketch of this and call it A.) It is balanced, but formal and stiff.
Now make another sketch, with the light patch on one side, say, in the right-hand part of the dark half, and put a dark patch just about it, and call this sketch B. The balance here is not complete. You want to do something with the left-hand side of the picture--for a picture it begins to be--though what it may be going to represent you can hardly guess.
Try another (C), in which, while keeping the light patch on the right-hand side, you put the dark patch on the left, diagonally opposite to it. Here, again, balance is restored.
But in C, while you have balance, you have not as much contrast as possible. There is contrast between the light and the dark halves of the sketch; but the contrast between the light and dark patches is only in their tone and position, whereas they might also be contrasted in another way. One might be concentrated, and the other diffused; one might be tall, and the other broad; one square, and the other round; and all this without losing balance of weight and general effect. You begin to see a number of variations to be made in this very simple plan of composition.
Try a diffused, half-tone light on the dark half in another sketch (D), and oppose it with one or two sharp black touches in the light field, diagonally over against the light patch. In (E) reverse the conditions--a bright spot of light, and a broad cloudy dark.
Now look at all your sketches together. What do they suggest to you? I have let the cat out of the bag, as they say, with the word "cloudy," have I not? A few more touches will turn E into a landscape, with a cloud in the sky, and a white cottage against a dark moorland, or a white breaker in a dark sea, or a white goose on a dark common. D will stand for a dark bird--Noah's messenger, if you like, over a waste of waters with diffused reflection. A suggests the afternoon sun behind a cloud, throwing a bright dazzle beneath it into a lake; and so on. A great number of scenes can be made out of these simple arrangements; and by varying the position, size, shape, and relative tone of the opposing patches, you can suggest scores of different subjects, even without further complications of these elementary patches, keeping to a horizontal division in the middle of the paper. But as we have introduced the idea of contrasting the two patches in tone and shape--one being diffused and broad, and the other concentrated and sharp--so we can, if we like, vary the contrast of the two original halves of the first state of our sketch. The dividing line need not be straight and hard; it can go up into the sky on one side, if there is a corresponding depression on the other side. And so you get an irregular sky-line (F), which may represent a mountain and valley; and by other varieties (G, H, and so on), you can get the outline of mountains, trees, houses, or what not. And at once you see the prospect of an infinite series of possibilities of picturesque composition, still preserving only two equal great masses, and only two opposing patches.
We might complicate matters still farther, as an artist would very soon be forced to do. But in this lesson it will be well to keep the idea simple. Try a series of new sketches with D and E adapted to varied sky-lines, and you will get a gallery of landscape compositions of a broad and powerful type, into which you can fit reminiscences of real scenes, or sketches of your own. And notice how they gain in picturesque effect by this breadth; how, instead of being weak, and scattered, and amateurish, they begin to suggest a masterliness which your sketches had not before. A few lines joining the detached lights and darks to the sky-line will turn some into Turneresque trees against the sky, or ships with dark sails, or castle towers; and the light patches will become boats or cottages, roads or figures, or, in opposition to the Turneresque tree, a Turneresque river or lake in the middle distance.
And next, if you care to try the game reversed--as, after playing with the white draughtsmen you change pieces and play with the black--you can turn your sketches all upside down, and see what they suggest. You have now something like a light table or ground with a dark background. Against the darkness you see vaguely a bunch of flowers or a bird's nest; a few strokes underneath them may hint the glass they stand in, or the leaves under the nest; and the dark patch becomes the shadow they cast. You are on the way to a William Hunt! By adapting F, upside down, you get any sort of still life or portrait arrangement; or even a simple interior subject, with the light falling from the window to the floor, and interrupted be a chair or table. Your cards have become studies for pictures of all kinds, in permutations and combinations as endless as, they say, scientific whist can be.
If you will send in all your sketches in an envelope, that will be enough for this month's lesson, especially as November evenings are long, and November daylight scarce. But if you have time on your hands by daylight to spare, choose one of the cards, whichever takes your fancy most, and from an actual landscape scene, or from still life arranged into the composition you have invented, realise your subject, in full colour or in sepia or lamp-black, with outline and wash in the usual Fésole Club way.
[Note: Volume 4, pages 430-436--one blurred word was typed as ****.]
The Fésole Club Papers By W.G. Collingwood
XIV. The Royal Road
In the old times, when lands were wild, and tangled woods or trackless wastes made travelling really what its name implied--a travail--a toil and a pain, the best of kings were those who built the roads. We go off by train or coach for our holiday jaunt, and little think of the labour that was spent in bygone ages to bring this trim and tended countryside, with its highways and byways ready for our use, out of the primeval wilderness. And in any kind of study, nowadays, we have our methods and manuals prepared for us--we little know with how much labour--by former kings of these realms of thought. They say sometimes that there is no royal road to learning, but when you think of it, what road is there, so long as it is a right road, that is not a royal one? --surveyed by eyes that could see beyond a limited horizon, and fenced, for our wilful feet, by wise provision, which we in our turn are wise in recognising and obeying.
In drawing, as in any other study, you can go across country if you choose, but if you want "to get on" you must follow the beaten track. It may not lead you as far as you would like to go; it may be less interesting than loitering in pleasant places; but your pilgrim's progress is assured so long as you persevere in it.
But which road? Are there not many ways of learning art? Some recommended by this authority and some by that? Yes; it is true that there are cross-roads and by-paths, which the active walker may take, especially when he travels with some Mr. Greatheart to guide him. But for the rest of us it is best to go by the king's highway--the old road that all the great men of the past have taken, none the worse for its antiquity; just as many a triumph of modern engineering for coach or railroad carriage has only retraced the ancient line, laid down over mountain and moor hundreds of years ago by the Romans.
Now the object of these papers has been to indicate, as simply as may be, the way and course of study laid down by the royal road makers in art.
As new members one after another have joined the Fésole Club it has been convenient to refer them, for the principles on which it is worked, to the back numbers of the Parents' Review. But now it seems that many of these back numbers are no longer to be bought, and therefore it becomes necessary to repeat the substance of what has been said, though it would be difficult to present this old old story in a new and entertaining form.
The Fésole Club was formed in March, 1891, at the suggestion of the Editor, to give opportunities for subscribers to this Review to have correspondence lessons in drawing. It was called the Fésole Club, because the principles intended to be followed were to be those of Mr. Ruskin's Laws of Fésole, the book he wrote, or rather began, as a manual for his Oxford drawing school. That book was hardly intended for private study, and it has been found too difficult to serve as guide for most young people. But the method it sketches out and the suggestions it makes for amateur study are nevertheless perfectly practicable; indeed, they are of all systems the most practicable, for they reduce the teaching of drawing and colouring to its very lowest terms, according to the methods of the great masters of the early Renaissance.
I said just now "amateur study" for of course it must be well understood, that any young person intending to become an artist, must go to the regular artists' schools, and not expect to find short cuts to professional excellence in the works of Mr. Ruskin or any other writer. Indeed though it seems a hard saying, it is, I believe, a true one, that the less a young artist reads about theories and principles of art, the better. He cannot evolve pictures out of principles, and he need not waste his time in trying to deduce principles out of pictures, that is for the poor art-critic to do. The young artist must get into contact with the concrete, with actual facts, with nature and practice, and the more genius he has for art, in all probability the more incapable he will be--at any rate the more indisposed he will be for criticism or philosophising.
But the amateur student is in quite another position. He cannot expect to produce artistic results in the same sense that the professional artist's work is "artistic". An amateur, after two or three years' study, giving two or three hours a week to drawing, can hardly expect, unless by unparalleled conceit, to do things that critics would desire to look into, as works of art; and yet, as reflections of nature, as notes of beautiful visions, and memoranda of strong emotions, an amateur's work may be not only beautiful, but it may be extremely valuable, and well worth the time spent in learning how to produce it. The question is, then, how to economise the amateur's time and labour; and above all, how to teach nothing that will ever have to be unlearnt.
For example, any young person may learn in a few lessons from any clever teacher, of whom there are many, how to reproduce his mannerisms, and make what is called a "charming sketch." But that is not learning to draw; that is only learning how to manufacture a single article, for which there is an extremely limited demand, and of which there ought to be a still more limited supply. Learning to draw means much more; it means gaining the habit of seeing it when it is set before you. Mannerist sketching means shutting your eyes to everything which cannot be easily represented in your teacher's style; and habituating your hand to certain kinds of action, which prevent it from following the forms of nature with real accuracy and unaffected fidelity.
The simplest way of all would be to teach the beginner from the beginning to lay down the correct form, the correct tone, and the correct color, at one moment, and with one movement, by dexterous brushwork. And that is, of course, what the greatest artists have always attained to. No doubt it is quite possible to encourage the habit of brushdrawing in the beginner, and to teach it as a special branch of education, as an accomplishment, useful in training the eye and hand to decision. In elementary exercises very pretty results can be obtained, and there is no doubt that the brushdrawing drill is capital practice. But the members of our club would hardly consider themselves fortunate if they were condemned to go through all the exercises necessary to make them even tolerable brush draughtsmen before advancing to the study of nature in her more complicated and interesting forms. There is hardly a single subject which could be set to a sketching class, in which the attempt of young amateurs to draw with the brush would not mean every sort of disproportion and clumsiness. Perfect brushdrawing is the glory of the master, the swaggering imitation of which is the shame of the misguided amateur.
Is it too strong a thing to say? I think not, because there is another way of drawing by which you canbe correct without being clever; and there is no need for you to be clever; while correctness is the root of all the value of anything you can do in art. Only so far as you are correct can you make things beautiful. A careless draughtsman can be picturesque or comic, but only accurate drawing can be beautiful. If you doubt that, try to draw a mouth. If you can draw a beautiful mouth with the brush you are a master, and need no lessons such as I can give. But if you find it hopeless, I can tell you how to learn, and I can assure you at the same time that the great brush-draughtsmen have learnt their art in exactly the way I propose to you; that is to say, by giving up the attempt at dexterity, and fixing all attention at first upon accuracy. In the Florentine School the earliest drawings of the great masters are in painstaking outline. Michael Angelo, for example, facsimiled German engraving with his pen as a boy, and afterwards became the boldest wielder of hammer and brush in Rome, and, beyond cavil, the draughtsman of his age. To step over into modern times, you may have seen the engravings from Turner given in "Modern Painters" as examples of the most perfect and elaborate brush-drawing of mountains and rocks. The engraver, in order to give full value to their accuracy, has drawn a fine line round each of the little spaces which, in the originals, are merely dabs and splashes of the brush; but dabs so exquisitely formed, and splashes so accurately placed, in spite of their apparent freedom, that no amount of elaboration can improve upon their correctness. How, do you suppose, did Turner come by that power? It was simply by steady point work during the whole period of his youth; and not only that, but by the habitual sketching of everything in pencil outline in preference to splashes and effects of colour. The same can be shewn, I believe, of all the old-fashioned masters who have become really great as draughtsmen with the brush. Some, of course, like Durer, never get beyond point work; of come, like Tintoret, we have hardly remains enough to judge their juvenile work; but speaking generally, when the members of the Fésole Club are asked to outline their studies, they are only asked to do what most great artists have done, and in so doing have become great draughtsmen.
Outline then is the first step in our process; either simple pencil outline, or outline corrected and completed* with the quill pen, or refined with the crowquill steel pen (using Indian ink); or if the student wishes to take the most difficult, but at the same time the most perfect course, outline with the fine brush point. The next step is to lay on the colour.
In old times when people talked about chiaroscuro, which was a sweet mysterious work, like "Mesopotamia" to the old woman, there were three stages of art,--outline, and shading, and colouring. But I believe Mr. Ruskin was one of the first in modern times, at least in England, to insist upon a practice which is now becoming general--though not be any means so general as it should be,--by which the student is directed to match the colour of nature as nearly as possible, and to lay it frankly on his paper or canvas at once. The general colour of any visible **** can be more or less imitated by mixing a tint to match it, just as you match a ribbon in a shop; holding up your bit of paper with a trial tint upon it between your eye and the object you are painting, and then laying that tint over the mass you have outlined.
If you have made your outline right, it will not look like an elaborate pen etching, or complete engraving of your subject, but it will look rather like a map of it; for by "outline" we mean outline in the strict sense of the word--the contour of masses of different colours. For instance, in drawing a leaf, you do not outline all its ribs (unless they show masses of different colours, which is unlikely); while if there are spots of discolouration, brown or yellow, you would outline them, as being separate colour-masses. This, of course, makes the outline a much simpler business; it also makes the effect of your picture more likely to be simple and massive. And when you come to draw, as you ought, at a distance of ten or twelve feet from even small objects, to outline them firmly, refusing all fidgetty detail, but getting their great colour masses simply laid down with the pen, and simply tinted with the brush, you will begin to understand why we take the name of Fésole for this club, you will find some of the broad and dignified spirit of the greatest Florentine art, stealing, you can hardly tell how, into your studies of chairs and tables, or cocks and hens.
But it is not enough to rest with a flat wash over the outline. The colour must express the light and dark, and every colour-mass must be modelled. While the colour is still wet you can take out the lights with a nearly dry brush, and when the tint is dry, or nearly dry, the darkest touches can be thrown in. In this way you preserve the transparency and clearness which are the especial virtues and beauties of water-colour. Water-colour that is washed and rubbed becomes gritty and loses its brilliancy; water-colour that is too often retouched and over-painted becomes opaque and heavy; but you cannot be wrong with a single wash, matched to the general half-tone of the mass, and modelled and reinforced in this manner. Nor need the process take either much time or much labour. What is does require is great attention, and decision, not of hand, but of mind. In this way water-colour sketching on our principles becomes one of the most educational of all occupation.
I should not venture to say that, if I were going to ask you to do dull exercises and uninteresting drill, but the fact is that our first attempts have always been direct sketching from nature; and that is what they must always be, until the students are their own masters, able to dispense with the leading strings and to follow their own bent or talent. This method of outline and modelled colour is not proposed as a principle for artists, but simply as a method of study; historically the method of the great Florentines, and always the simplest and most natural process. Given the habit of representing nature on these terms, and all the other powers and possibilities of art may follow in their due time. Observation to begin with, choice of subject and taste in composition may follow in their own course as they naturally develop themselves. This is at any rate nothing in the way of affectation and unnatural mannerism to be unlearnt, and every step in the process is a firm one.
It has sometimes been asked what are the rules of this club. There are no rules, but what the common sense and good feeling of the members should dictate. To send in their studies punctually,** to see that the portfolio sent round to them containing the exercises and criticisms which form the class teaching of the club, are carefully handled, properly repacked and forwarded, and in a general way to do as you would be done by, is all that is asked. But one thing is needful, and that is perseverance. The Royal toad, in common parlance, has come to mean a railroad, that carries you like a parcel when once you have taken a ticket. The Royal road of the times when travelling was travelling, had only one sort of Royal coach upon it, and they called that the DILIGENCE.
*In three steps: A. strike the leading lines; B. mark the points of detail and expression (these with the lead pencil, lightly, and if possible, without the use of indiarubber); C., with steady, equal, fine pen line, draw the contours of masses. This last is the outline proper.
**The subject for August, in our present Natural History series, will be Caterpillars. Get your caterpillar on a large sheet of paper--not too close under the eye--say five or six feet off, so that you may see him as a whole without technical attention to detail. Let him crawl about as he likes, and do you make as many sketches of his attitude and colour as the time will allow. Drawings to be sent in by the end of the month to W.G. Collingwood, Comiston, Lancashire.
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