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.
And, first, of vegetation. You may think, perhaps, we have said enough about trees already; yet if you have done as you were bid, and tried to draw them frequently enough, and carefully enough, you will be ready by this time to hear a little more of them. You will also recollect that we left our question, respecting the mode of expressing intricacy of leafage, partly unsettled in the first letter. I left it so because I wanted you to learn the real structure of leaves, by drawing them for yourself, before I troubled you with the most subtle considerations as to method in drawing them. And by this time, I magine, you must have found out two principal things, universal facts, about leaves; namely, that they always, in the main tendencies of their lines, indicate a beautiful divergence of growth, according to the law of radiation, already referred tol; and the second, that this divergence is never formal, but carried out with endless variety of individual line. I must now press both these facts on your attention a little farther.
You may perhaps have been surprised that I have not yet spoken of the works of J. D. Harding, especially if you happen to have met with the passages referring to them in Modern Painters, in which they are highly praised. They are deservedly praised, for they are the only works by a modern draughtsman which express in any wise the energy of trees, and the laws of growth, of which we have been speaking. There are no lithographic sketches which, for truth of general character, obtained with little cost of time, at all rival Harding's. Calame, Robert, and the other lithographic landscape sketchers are altogether inferior in power, though sometimes a little deeper in meaning. But you must not take even Harding for a model, though you may use his works for occasional reference; and if you can afford to buy his Lessons on Trees2, it will be services
1 See the closing letter of The Elements of Drawing.
2 Bogue, Fleet Street. If you are not acquainted with Harding's works, (an unlikely supposition, considering their popularity,) and cannot meet with the one in uestion, the diagrams given here will enable you to understand all that is needful for our purposes.Viceable to you in various ways, and will at present help me to explain the point under consideration. And it is well that I should illustrate this point by reference to Harding's works, because their great influence on young students renders it desirable that their real character should be thoroughly understood.
You will find, first, in the titlepage of the Lessons on Trees, a pretty woodcut, in which the tree stems are drawn with great truth, and in a very interesting arrangement of lines. Plate 1. is not quite worthy of Mr. Harding, tending too much to make his pupil, at starting, think everything depends on black dots; still, the main lines are good, and very characteristic of tree growth. Then, in Plate 2., we come to the point at issue. The first examples in that plate are given to the pupil that he may practise from them till his hand gets into the habit of arranging lines freely in a similar manner; and they are stated by Mr. Harding to be universal in application; all outlines expressive of foliage, he says, are but modifications of them. They consist of groups of lines, more or less resembling our Fig. 23. on this page; and the characters especially insisted upon are, that they tend at their inner ends to a common centre; that their ends terminate in [are enclosed by] ovoid curves; and that the outer ends are most emphatic.
Now, as thus expressive of the great laws of radiation and enclosure, the main principle of this method of execution confirms, in a very interesting way, our conclusions respecting foliage composition. The reason of the last rule, that the outer end of the line is to be most emphatic, does not indeed at first appear; for the line at one end of a natural leaf is not more emphatic than the line at the other: but ultimately, in Harding's method, this darker part of
The touch stands more or less for the shade at the outer extremity of the leaf mass; and, as Harding uses these touches, they express as much of tree character as any mere habit of touch can express. But, unfortunately, there is another law of tree growth, quite as fixed as the law of radiation, which this and all other conventional modes of execution wholly lose sight of. This second law is, that the radiating tendency shall be carried out only as a ruling spirit in reconcilement with perpetual individual caprice on the part of the separate leaves. Sothat the moment a touch is monotonous, it must be also false, the liberty of the leaf individually being just as essential a truth, as its unity of growth with its companions in the radiatinggroup. It does not matter how small or apparently symmetrical the cluster may be, nor how large or vague. You can hardly have a more formal one than b in Fig. 9. p. 50., nor a less formal one than this shoot of Spanish chestnut, shedding its leaves, Fig. 24.; but in either of them, even the general reader, unpractised in any of the previously recommended Exercises, must see that there are wandering lines mixed with the radiating ones, and radiating lines with the wild ones: and if he takes the pen, and tries to copy either of these examples, he will find that neither play of hand to left nor to right, neither a free
Touch nor a firm touch, nor any learnable or describ-able touch whatsoever, will enable him to produce, currently, a resemblance of it; but that he must either draw it slowly, or give it up. And (which makes the matter worse still) though gathering the bough, and putting it close to you, or seeing a piece of near foliage against the sky, you may draw the entire outline of the leaves, yet if the spray has light upon it, and is ever so little a way off, you will miss, as we have seen, a point of a leaf here, and an edge there; some of the surfaces will be confused by-glitter, and some spotted with shade; and if you look carefully through this confusion for the edges or dark stems which you really can see, and put only those down, the result will be neither like Fig. 9. nor Fig. 24., but such an interrupted and puzzling piece of work as Fig. 25.1.