The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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


by W. G. Colllingwood.
Volume 5, 1894, pg. 24-29


XV. NIOBE

We are now entering upon the fourth year of our work. For the first two years we studied still-life and landscape; for the third year, animals; and this year it is proposed to take a course of the human figure. In the earlier part of our course we shall do well to prepare ourselves for outdoor figure sketching when summer comes; and then, during the winter, we may attempt the head, going into more detail, and venturing, before the year is out, upon a real portrait in watercolours. Most of the members of the Fésole Club are quite strong enough to attempt this programme: but there will always be an easier subject, such as will be found at the end of this paper, for a junior class.

The first and greatest difficulty of the amateur figure-sketcher is to find a model. It is all very well for the art-student who lives in a large town, and can afford seven-and-sixpence a day, and luncheon, to hire a professional model, who sits for an hour at a time in any conceivable attitude. But our members are mostly young people in the country, and their choice, for one reason and another, is very limited. Most of the people around them are too busy to give much time, and the sort of country-folk who might be supposed to be picturesque, and obtainable for a shilling, are often very bad sitters, and more worry than they are worth. It is not so easy to sit still, unless one is getting old, and is naturally indolent. They say in the North, "Lontering folk are lazy folk;" and there are reasons of domestic and political economy against introducing the more indolent type of cottager into the Hall or the Vicarage. The casual tramp or gipsy is picturesque enough, but not to be thought of, except by the artist whose studio is out of the house, and whose house is not worth burglarizing.

Still there must be one or two elderly people in any neighbourhood who are at leisure for a couple of hours in the day, and who could sit in an easy position, without torture; or, when we come to more rapid studies of attitude and movement, could stand for twenty minutes, or walk slowly round the garden. The objection you may raise to such models is that they are not pretty.

Now let me say at once that we are not going to paint lovely Greuzes and Greek goddesses just yet. We are going to aim at sketching the ordinary, contemporary human being, in its real character and its true proportions. When we can get arms and legs the right length for the body, hands the right size for the face, feet properly planted on the ground, and head poised on the shoulders, then we may try a pretty face. Meanwhile your pretty housemaid is the worst model you can choose. You will spend your rose madder on her cheeks and your cobalt on her eyes, and forget to notice where her elbows come, or how far it is between her chin and her apron. For this reason don't go down to the school to pick out the nicest of the children. Children are terribly hard to draw, though they sometimes sit very patiently, as long as they are shy; but the moment they begin to get a natural expression on their faces, they begin to be restless.

Once more: don't ask parents to sit. Mothers are much too busy; and fathers will sometimes say, "I'll sit, if I may read the paper;" which either brings the face down in a very difficult foreshortened position, and in the dark--the reader's back being toward the light; or else the paper gets into the way, and becomes the principal subject; which is all very well for a genre-picture, but not for this study. Besides, relatives have a way of saying, "Well, I didn't know I looked like that!" which is more discouraging than they mean to be.

Where two or three students live near each other, they can take turns to be artist and victim. That is perhaps the best way of all; for a friend is more willing, and a fellow student is much more intelligent of the requirements of the case, less constrained and uncomfortable-looking, and doesn't hope you have nearly done, while you are worrying about the outline.

This month's study, then, is to be a female figure, of course in any ordinary dress, sitting in a chair or upon a sofa. She is not to be doing anything particular, because the study is not one of action, but simple of the general proportions of the figure. Tell her that she must sit like a rock, for half-an-hour at a time, and that she represents Niobe, who was turned into stone. She need not, however, have both her hands in her lap like an early Greek image, such as the original Niobe perhaps was; but let her take any comfortable, but not lounging attitude, and one that can be taken again after that interval for refreshment; and the next time she comes to sit, she ought of course to wear the same dress. If you can raise her chair upon a flat packing-case to serve as platform, or "throne" as it is called, it will be best; if not, a thick hassock on the chair, and a low chair or stool to support her feet will do. Otherwise your model will be for the most part below the level of the eye, and it is easier to draw figures, or anything else, when your eye is on a level with the middle of the object, or even a little below it. You must sit near the window, with the light coming in over your left hand, and place your model anywhere at a distance of ten or twelve feet. These rules are to make it easy for you; and you need not challenge unnecessary difficulties this month.

Sit on a low chair, with your drawing board, or book or block* on a high chair before you, leaning against the chairback, and raise upon a pile of books, or a hassock. You cannot stand at an easel, because that would bring the eye too high; and if you put your drawing on the table, you will be stooping over it, and not keeping it at arm's length, as this arrangement compels you to do.

Don't get out your colours for the first sitting, but only an HB pencil, india-rubber, a hand looking-glass, and a plumb-line, which can easily be made by tying any trinket of about two ounces weight at the end of a thin string.

First day: block out the main forms, just as though the model were a real stone for a still-life study. Never mind Niobe's face, except to get the right size of it, and a touch or two giving the position of the features. Sketch the hand as a whole, indicating the fingers as if they were radiating cracks in the rock or sprays of moss, without attempting joints and nails. With the plumb held at arm's length you can see what comes vertically over the foot or elbow, or any fixed point, and with the pencil, similarly, you can measure the proportions, taking the length of the head as your unit of measurement. But it is best to sketch in the whole figure without plumbing or measuring, to begin; then correct. Finally look at both your drawing and your model in the glass, and compare them critically. Correct, and dismiss your sitter with a cheerful heart.

On this rough but true pencil outline the next time proceed to colour in our usual way. That is, match the tints of the great masses: lay them on; take out lights while wet, and throw in emphatic darks when dry. In this exercise there is no fidgeting over small features: it is not a portrait of the face, but of the figure; and so the complexion and modelling of eyes and mouth are neglected. There is no pen outline required, because we are now getting beyond the necessity of it, and in this sort of sketch the proportions are everything, the detail unimportant; but you may fix your outline with the pen, if you get into a mess with the pencil, and need to rub it about much.

For the junior class, the subject is to be still Niobe, but instead of the lady, the real stone: any rough stone, as big as you can carry, with some moss on it, if any is to be had. Place it on the level of your eye, about ten feet away; pencil it "the size of life;" get an absolutely correct outline; fix the outline with the pen and Indian ink, which can be put into the pen with a brush. Rub the paper clean of the pencil marks. Match the colours on the edge of a slip of paper, and paint the picture in the true tints thus matched, putting in the background you see. On the wet tint, take out lights with a dry brush, and when dry, put in the darker touches; and then let your drawing be, without subsequent retouching or pulling it about. If it fails, do another: and send them both by the end of the month to the writer, addressed "Coniston, Lancashire." Members of this class who have the second year's volume of the Parents' Review will do well to read the paper for March, No. I. of our series, which tells the why and wherefore of the rules here curtly given; but even from this article it can be gathered that, whether we are painting ladies or stones, our aim is to learn to see them truly and unconventionally, and to paint just what we see.

* The size of all studies for the Fésole Club should be not more than Quarto Imperial, or 14 by 10 inches.

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NÄÄS.
By J. Russell.
Nääs--what does it mean? I have allowed the strange-looking word to stand alone at the head of this paper with the deliberate purpose of stimulating curiosity, and so inducing some to read whose attention otherwise might not have been caught.

Nääs (pronounced nayce) is the name of a tiny Swedish village, already famous in its own country, and to be renowned some day the whole world over, as the cradle of Sloyd. Of Sloyd some account was given in the July number of the Review, to which enquirers may be referred. Nääs, I have said, is a village; it would be truer, perhaps, to say that it is a large estate near Gothenburg, on which stand a big house, a smaller one, and a few scattered cottages. In the big house lives Herr August Abrahamson, philanthropist; in the smaller one lives his nephew, Herr Otto Salomon, educationalist. To the combined efforts of these two men we owe Sloyd.

For nearly twenty years, in a school on the estate, provided and supported by Herr Abrahamson, experiments have been conducted by Herr Salomon in educational hand-work, with the result that today there is scarcely a civilized country that has not adopted it in some form or another.

But I am not so much concerned here with the history of these long years of patient experiment as with the unique form that the experiment has finally taken. For some few years past the school has been no longer a school for children, but a school for teachers, a Sloyd training school in short, in which men and women, duly qualified as teachers in other respects, have been invited by Herr Abrahamson to spend a certain number of weeks, at different seasons of the year, to qualify further as teachers of Sloyd. And with far-seeing generosity, this invitation has been extended to the teachers, not of Sweden alone, but of all nations. As a consequence, a considerable number of English teachers, amongst others, now spend their summer holidays at Nääs. Four years ago, I was one of fifty successful applicants, a merely nominal sum for house-room and food, everything else being free. It was thus a cheap six weeks' holiday, but woe to the unlucky--nay, dishonourable--wight attracted solely by the cheapness! Some nine hours steady work a day--of which six with saw and plane--added materially to the real cost, so that he, or she, whose heart was not involved in the contract, had a heavy price to pay. For myself, I can aver that never have I so completely proved the truth of the common saying, that the best recreation is, oftentimes, change of work. Quite unused to the bench, I throve under the combined effects of manual labour, northern air, a beautiful country, pleasant companionship, and an atmosphere of enthusiasm, in a way that was a wonder to all my friends, and I came home again, as they said, another man.

Of the details of the almost family life and fascinating work there is no need to speak. It is enough to say that there are few who have once been to Nääs but have been anxious to go again, such a fillip does it give to the whole nature, moral no less than physical.

Unfortunately, however necessarily, this realized Utopia can be entered only be teachers, but I have sometimes wondered whether so sound an educationalist as Herr Salomon would not immediately recognize, if the idea were once suggested to him, that the truest teacher is after all the parent, and straightway issue an invitation to all parents, alive or dead to their responsibilities, to go over to Nääs and see for themselves what he has to teach them. Things being as they are, no more would accept, I suspect, than he could easily accommodate, but even so, how many of the new generation would grow up to bless his name.

This, however, is but a dreamer's dream. In our most wide-awake times there is surely no need of travelling to Sweden to be instructed in one's duty towards one's children. Well, perhaps not, but there would seem to be a need, and a pressing one, for most of us to travel somewhere in search of such instruction, without which out wealth, our constitution, our learning, our schools, and our churches will stand us in poor stead.

All honour then to the Swedish enthusiasts who have set the world such a notable example, and all honour to the first Englishman who shall be forthcoming to follow it.

[The Editor allows me to say that owing to a mislaid address the proofs of my paper in the July number reached me too late for revision. There were many typical errors that I should have been glad to correct, but the only misprints that seriously affected the meaning were boldly for baldly (p. 321, 1. 21) and word for wood (p. 329, 1. 7).]



Typed by happi, Aug 2018