This section is from the "The elements of drawing & the elements of perspective" book, by J. M. Dent & Sons. Also see Amazon: The Elements Of Drawing & The Elements Of Perspective.
The exhibition of Ruskin's drawings in New Bond Street, this spring of 1907, has given us what must be our last opportunity of seeing his original work in any complete form. The collection there shown before its dispersal to the ends of the earth, would, if it could have been kept on view in some permanent Ruskin gallery, be the best accompaniment of the two handbooks coupled in this volume. But that is not to be; and the only resource left to the writer who, fresh from its record, would turn it to account in their fuller illustration, is to point to the many reproductions of some of the finest of those drawings, to be had in the various editions of his works, down to the final Library Edition which is now being published.
At that exhibition, the practice and the materials, the familiar David-Roberts grey paper, the Harding pencil effects, the washes and colours, cold or glowing, that marked Ruskin the artist and master of drawing, were so arranged as to recall him almost in the very act. The portraits too, - that of himself by Richmond at the end of the room, and that by himself, the beautiful and sensitive pencil drawing of Miss Rose La Touche, in particular, - added remarkably to the biographical actuality of these remains. Indeed their effect, illustrating and tracing as they did his growing command of his art, from stage to stage of his development, was that of his whole history' told in pictures. They showed how he began to imitate, stroke for stroke, line for line, Cruikshank's etchings for Grimm's Tales, of which he expressly speaks in his Elements of Drawing," and how he drew in 1835 under Prout's influence, or how his hand strengthened in 1845 and 1846, when he was looking for Turner effects in Switzerland, or making those noble mountain-studies which were reproduced in the volumes of Modern Painters.
Indeed there is passage after passage in the first of the two coupled handbooks republished in this volume, which might be given its direct application in those drawings; while they most luminously contributed as no written memoirs could do, to our knowledge of Ruskin in his long student's days; for when, it may be said, was he not a student? The pages here in which he directs, after a certain security of the hand has been attained, the copying of a plate from the Liber Studiorum, had their signal accompaniment in such studies as that of rock and leafage, made at Crossmount, Perthshire, in 1847; or that strange fantasy of exalted towered peaks, with a bridge below and a rift of troubled light surprising the sombre water, which was labelled simply, "98; Drawing in Imitation of Turner. Nos. 114, 117 and 120 again gave us three of his infinitely patient botanical studies - studies of a Rush, which he had used as one of his subjects at the Oxford Drawing School. And with these, the colour studies of a single larch bud or of ivy, served to bring back this incomparable drawing-master in his actual handling of his brush, and by some illusion perhaps to recall to those who had once studied under him the very tones of his voice, the very trick of his hand.
Mr. W. G. Collingwood, pupil and friend and biographer of the master, has also written a book on The Art-teaching of Ruskin, which will be found of very considerable service by those who care to become, in any larger sense, his pupils too. There is the less need to state here upon any elaborate plan, the theory and practice of Ruskin the artist, as he has expressed them elsewhere. Of the numberless passages in his larger works which continue or modify the teaching of this volume, I must be content to quote two or three that have been called to mind in reading it. Take this, applying to his climacteric art of arts, architecture, the idea of Proportion, essential, but unpredicable, which may be set beside what he says on composition in Letter III:
Now, of Proportion so much has been written, that I believe the only facts which are of practical use have been overwhelmed and kept out of sight by vain accumulations of particular instances and estimates. Proportions are as infinite (and that in all kinds of things, as severally in colours, lines, shades, lights, and forms) as possible airs in music: and it is just as rational an attempt to teach a young architect how to proportion truly and well by calculating for him the proportions of fine works, as it would be to teach him to compose melodies by calculating the mathematical relations of the notes in Beethoven's 'Adelaide' or Mozart's 'Requiem.' The man who has eye and intellect will invent beautiful proportions, and cannot help it; but he can no more tell us how to do it than Wordsworth could tell us how to write a sonnet, or than Scott could have told us how to plan a romance....
Not the least service that these two books do for us is to send us only half satisfied or asking for more and more knowledge to the pages of 'Modern Painters and other works where Ruskin uses lavish practical illustrations. This again: Take the commonest, closest, most familiar thing, and strive to draw it verily as you see it. Be sure of this last fact, for otherwise you will find yourself continually drawing, not what you see, but what you know. The best practice to begin with is, sitting about three yards from a bookcase (not your own, so that you may know none of the titles of the books), to try to draw the books accurately, with the titles on the backs, and patterns on the bindings, as you see them. You are not to stir from your place to seek what they are, but to draw them simply as they appear, giving the perfect look of neat lettering; which, nevertheless, must be (as you will find it on most of the books) absolutely illegible. Next, try to draw a piece of patterned muslin or lace (of which you do not know the pattern), a little way off, and rather in the shade; and be sure you get all the grace and look of the pattern without going a step nearer to see what it is. Then try to draw a bank of grass, with all its blades; or a bush, with all its leaves; and you will soon begin to understand under what a universal law of obscurity we live, and perceive that all distinct drawing must be baa drawing, and that nothing can be right, till it is unintelligible.