The Importance of Thinking as Applied to Drawing - Why Japanese Soldiers easily Learn to Handle complicated Mechanism - The "All Drawing is an Egg" Theory

In this paper I will endeavour to show the importance of deliberate thinking as applied to drawing; and the educational value, apart from art, arising from it.

More par-ticularly I will deal with thinking as applied to outline - i.e., the finding andestablish-ing of the form of boundaries of spaces or masses with a line. In this respect anyone who really wishes to learn to draw must be his own severest critic.

Very often among would-be votaries of art we hear a lot of loose talk about their feelings, and many try to make this an excuse for woolgathering and fumbled handling. The expression of emotion in drawing is the hallmark of an artist, but the power to express it, presupposing natural ability, only comes after much experience and practice.

Sketching with the help of light guiding lines

Sketching with the help of light guiding lines

The student should first of all learn to control line, and not let the line control him. To do this he must study to see clearly what he wants to do, then to set it down accurately and with precision.

In nature, of course, there is no actual line, merely one space or mass brought up against another, and thus relieved by colour or tone; usually either dark against light, or vice versa.

This enclosing of spaces with a line in imitation of some natural form is one oftheearliest instincts of a child, and probably was one of the first means of developing the power of ob-servation and reasoning in primi-tive man. Possibly at first the object was merely to recall the appearance of something seen (usually an animal) and to convey it to others. From this, through hieroglyphics (or picture writing), to the shorthand we call script, the signs of which can be tabulated and memorised, and so to the conveying of abstract ideas from one to another in print was but a matter of time.

The use of ovals to build up the outline of the figure, a method apt to produce a bumpy effect

The use of ovals to build up the outline of the figure, a method apt to produce a bumpy effect

Blocking in a figure by means of squares and straight lines, a method apt to give a mechanical and lifeless effect

Blocking in a figure by means of squares and straight lines, a method apt to give a mechanical and lifeless effect

As an instance of how closely primitive education of the hand and eye may be bound up with the most recent results of modern science, I may mention that I have heard a celebrated English general say that, having expressed astonishment at the way Japanese troops, otherwise almost mediaeval in their stage of development, accustomed themselves to the handling of the most complicated mechanism of modern artillery and other engines of war, he was told by an officer of their staff that they attributed it to the fact that every Japanese soldier could write his language.

He went on to say that Japanese writing, which is a form of ideograph, was so difficult that it took five years to acquire it; and as a training for the hand and eye comprised a liberal education in itself, giving the otherwise ignorant soldier a power of understanding construction and a delicacy of handling that was remarkable, and could be explained in no other way.

If, then, we allow that education is the development of the mind by the activities of our environment, so we find that drawing can become one of the most valuable of these activities, and the more clearly we think out the process of putting our observations graphically on paper, the better will we understand them ourselves, and convey our impressions to others. Shortly, good drawing means clear thinking.

There are various methods of setting about the drawing of an outline, and I think it well to give here the more important of them, with some-of the objections that have been offered against each; for as in one must take what one needs when one can find- it, any of them may help beginner forward at some stage of Ml development.

Perhaps the method most commonly in use is to sketch in the main mass or masses of the object with faint guiding lines, and a few vertical and horizontal lines are often ruled on the paper to the eye in judging these. At the same time the student should endeavour to get the whole of the object he wishes to draw comfortably within the boundaries of the paper. This is an important consideration always, because on this setting in the paper depends the intensity, or; turesqueness, of the vision he wish to convey. So it is well to practise it from the first.

The guiding lines will help the eye to find the exact outline wanted, which is then placed over them with as precise a line the artist can command; finally, the guiding lines can be rubbed out and the real outline remains to be strengthened or inked in as desired. This is a perfectly safe method. The chief objection urged against it is that it may lead to a great deal of tentativeness and timidity, with the accompanying result of feebleness of expression.

Some, again - among them have been some very distinguished painters - believe that all drawing depends on variations of the oval, or, as they say, "all drawing is an egg." They profess that this is the way nature herself works. With these ovals they build up the skeleton of the mass, and then work on the outline much as in the previous case.

Though useful, especially in figure drawing, in helping the eye to build up the different parts, the trouble with this theory is that it is apt to develop into mannerism, and leads to a lumpiness of form which often becomes grotesque; for the egg form is put down at all costs, instead of trying to train the eye to appreciate the delicacy and nicety of the curves in nature, as in a drawing by Holbein, say.

Others use a series of squares and straight lines in the same manner. For a long time this was a common practice in most art schools in this country, and is still used in many. It was probably invented to help students who were weak in proportion to test for themselves with a plumb-line measurements of one square against another. The eye does not naturally see in squares and straight lines, however. So the method has a tendency to produce a machine-like and lifeless drawing. It is not to be encouraged as an end, but, as a means, can be made useful in correction to demonstrate by actual measurement errors in proportion. So far, therefore, it is to be recommended.

Hart of a drawing on a Greek vase found in Cyprus, now in the British Museum.

Hart of a drawing on a Greek vase found in Cyprus, now in the British Museum.

' Warrior receiving a helmet."

Reproduced by permission from a beautiful coloured late in " The fomrnal of Hellenic Studies.- Vol. Xli

The oldest of all, that first attempted by a child - so, probably, the most natural - is the direct method; to attempt the definition of form and mass at once, by building up the parts with a continuous stroke, and the fewer strokes the better. This, carried to its logical conclusion, is one of the severest tests of concentration and clear thinking that can be found.

As whatever is put down remains, and must add to or detract from the final effect, drawings so made have a brilliance and vitality that is to be got in no other way. To this method there are no objections except those inherent to the difficulty of performance, especially when applied to the human figure; also the fact that modern conditions of life and fashion, whose object, as a rule, is to conceal or falsify the true form, give few opportunities of displaying its special charm. Although, I suppose, the majority of students are obliged to take their jumps in stages, and so are shy of it, this direct drawing should be practised constantly - on simple objects, at any rate - because as a drill for acquiring precision of hand and eye together this is the finest exercise one can attempt.

Supreme examples in this style may be studied in the drawings on Greek vases, and, in a more primitive form, in Egyptian wall paintings.

On similar lines the Japanese have developed an art of extraordinary perfection, and, with an apparently accidental arrangement of mass and line, produce effects astonishingly true to nature, yet of a deliberate symmetry that might be called the composition of perfect taste. Little books of woodcuts from and by many of their most renowned masters can now be easily obtained, and will be found most valuable for study.

The economy of means used to produce these prints was probably forced on these Japanese artists in their search for a cheap form of expression that could be multiplied; for their painting, as a rule, depends mainly on mass and less on outline, the drawing in that case being with a full brush from within outwards. So true painting.

Fernand Corman, one of the great modern French painters, when making studies for the huge pictures and decorations he painted, was accustomed to Work in a way not unlike the above, except that the aim and process Was reversed.

His method Was as follows. Setting himself at about that distance from the model at which he could see the whole figure and his paper together on the same scale, he drew the figure in very boldly in charcoal or chalk, paying great attention to construction, mass, and movement. Over this drawing he placed a piece of transparent paper - much like what is called "thin o.w." here. On this he commenced drawing again with a hard pencil.

All his proportions having been established and showing faintly through, he now devoted his attention to drawing the outline with the greatest care and completeness, searching the character of the line and studying the hands and feet and their attachments particularly. Next he proceeded to work up the modelling to as far as it could be carried. By this method some of the freshness of a sketch was retained with all the completeness of a finished drawing.

A Japanese study in which the effect is gained by a bold arrange ment of mass and line, of exquisite symmetry and truth to nature

A Japanese study in which the effect is gained by a bold arrange-ment of mass and line, of exquisite symmetry and truth to nature

Also the drawing could be completed in a reasonable time, before the artist or the model became tired or bored, as is often the case with large studies. He recommended it to his pupils, and I personally have found it very useful.

These are the chief methods in use for finding form in the outline; no doubt there are others, but they are all combinations or variations of those given above.