The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Fésole Club Papers

by W.G. Collingwood
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 438-444

[William Gershom Collingwood, 1854-1932, was an artist in the Lake District. He spent part of his life as John Ruskin's assistant, and became a family friend of Arthur Ransome, "who based his book Swallows and Amazons on his experiences of sailing with the Collingwoods' grandchildren" in Collingwood's boat, called Swallow. He loved Viking/Norse culture.]

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. [George Dunlop] 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 [John] Brett or [George] 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 comical 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 cared 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.

Proofread by LNL, August, 2023