STUDENTS of drawing often foolishly handicap themselves right at the start by attempting to produce sketches that show marked original-ity or individuality. Such students seem to be of the erroneous opinion that unless their work is so unusual in presentation as to appear almost freakish, it is not good. They therefore sacrifice truth in order to create drawings with a technique so peculiar and predominant as to detract from the subject of the sketch itself. In some types of decorative drawing a conspicuous method of technique is not wholly bad, but for architectural purposes anything that lessens the interest in the architecture itself is unsatisfactory.
It is not to be understood by this that work should not show a certain individuality; it should and will, for it is impossible for one to practice drawing for any length of time without developing certain original mannerisms. This is most desirable, for it would be unfortunate indeed if all pencil artists were to draw in exactly the same way, producing work of monotonous similarity. But there is no danger of this. Just as most of us acquire a certain characteristic style of penmanship which our friends are able to distinguish as ours at a glance, we are also sure to attain a style of drawing having a character exclusively its own.
To be sure many draftsmen do draw in very much the same way and this is perfectly natural and proper, for we are all influenced by the work which we see others do, and we all share, also, the definite limitations which our medium imposes upon us. It will be found, however, that drawings which seem very similar in technique at first glance, reveal individual differences on closer inspection, even though done by men with similar training and experience. Have no fear then of losing your own individuality, even though you frequently study or copy the work of master draftsmen.
In order to profit to the greatest extent by the experience of others, collect as many reproductions of excellent pencil drawings as possible. By carefully analyzing and comparing these, studying the composition, the values of light and dark, the methods of technique, the representation of details and the like, you will obtain many ideas applicable to your own work. Do not, however, attempt to imitate the style of any one man, as this will deaden your initiative and be unfair to him as well. Select, instead, from the drawings of many individuals the suggestions that appeal to you personally, and apply these, with any changes that may suggest themselves, to your own work.
It is surprising what a variety of ideas such an analysis and comparison of many drawings will reveal. If we consider the width of line used we shall find that some drawings are entirely made up of very fine lines, others of broad lines, and still others of solid mass shading. In some, two or more of these types of lines will be found combined. If we look at the kinds of lines we shall learn that some sketches consist wholly of sharp, crisp strokes; others of soft "woolly" lines; some show strokes almost mechanically perfect in contrast with others having lines made with the greatest freedom. If we consider the values of light and dark we shall see that certain drawings are left almost white, others rather gray, and some quite black. Most drawings, however, combine the white, gray and black, as all of these are usually necessary to properly represent the values existing in the object to be drawn.
Considering the great variety of work to be found, it is no small wonder that the student should be in doubt often as to the best way of treating a given subject. In such an emergency our good friend Common Sense is perhaps the best teacher. Decide first of all just what the purpose of the drawing is to be. Some drawings best meet the requirements if left in outline only. Others demand careful shading of every part. For a quick sketch the roughest sort of line is often just the thing, whereas a fully rendered drawing sometimes requires that every stroke be painstakingly made. For most architectural purposes firm, sharp strokes are better than rough, "woolly" ones, for firm strokes seem to best represent solid or smooth materials. Soft, yielding materials might perhaps be better suggested by rough, soft lines or tones.
Architectural pencil sketches are often shown to the client in conjunction with the instrumentally drawn plans and naturally harmonize better with these plans if sharp and clean-cut. The student should not take this to mean that such sketches should appear too mechanical, for the fact is that the average draftsman uses far too little freedom in his freehand work. It is sometimes difficult for him to remember that he should not draw every brick and stone, every modillion and dentil, but that he should learn rather to suggest and indicate these things in a clear, "snappy" way.
It is in learning how to thus suggest detail that perhaps the greatest benefit can be gained through the study of good pencil reproductions. It should be remembered, however, that such reproductions have as a rule been reduced in size considerably from the original drawings, and the student should take this into account. Many reproductions show drawings apparently made with very fine lines, while in reality the lines were several times as large as the reproductions suggest. Needless to say it is a foolish waste of time to attempt to cover large areas of paper with fine lines when broad ones answer as well, yet many draftsmen get the habit, possibly because they are accustomed to working with a sharp point, of making more tiny lines than are necessary. Partly for this reason it is unwise for the student to devote too much time to copy work from plates. When working from nature or the photograph there is far less tendency to fall into finicky ways. On the other hand, some students make drawings so sketchily and carelessly that they fail to meet the usual architectural requirements.