Friday 27 December 2013

Jombert's drawing treatise

by Lala Ragimov 

This is my quick translation of excerpts of Jombert's Methode pour apprendre le dessein , 1755.  If you see mistakes or have comments, please write below or send me a message.

The book is a compilation of extremely detailed drawing advice by different authors (I could recognise Goeree, de Piles, de Lairesse and Bosse, maybe there are others as well). 
It contains illustrations by/after Cochin, Audran, Le Brun, etc.  An earlier edition has a completely different set of illustrations, some by Abraham Bosse (download here)

Charles-Nicholas Cochin's illustration in Jombert

Of different ways to shade a drawing. 

(borrowed from Goeree - L.R.)
Up to now we have spoken about the outline or contour, now we will explain about shading.
Shading can be done in three ways:
-hatching (en hachant) simply with the chalk, like in prints; that which is bad taste and is almost not practiced except for those who are learning how to engrave;
- graining (en grainant) rubbing the crayon on the paper to prepare the masses of shadows and then hatching on top to form them and stop them: this manner is called "grainer" because this rubbing makes the grain of the paper appear.
- stomping (en estompant) that which is done melting the lights with the darks by the means of a rolled piece of paper with the tip with which one lightly rubs the drawing after it is shaded with the crayon:
this rolled paper is called an estompe.  It could be done with chamois leather rolled that way, or one can even take powder of sanguine or other chalk with the tip of the estompe and make the tints for shading as one does with a brush: then one retouches it stronger with a chalk.

 Polenich after Charles Le Brun
(illustration used by Jombert)

Way of shading by hatching with a chalk.

The manner of shading by hatching is done with lines or hatch-marks which one redoubles ones on top of others in different directions until one gives the necessary force to the shadow, taking care not to cross them too much which makes the drawing hard and bad taste.
That is why one should avoid crossing the lines at right angles but rather to put the second layer diagonally which creates spaces between lines that that look like lozenges (not squares).
I will not enter into more detail here, on the manner to arrange the hatch-marks see le Traité de la Gravure à l'eau forte et au burin of which a new edition came out some years ago.
One needs to be able to hatch in all directions without having to turn the paper every time, and always with a thick crayon, even for the delicate hatch-marks which one puts in the lights, supposing always that one is drawing big, which is necessary if one wants to make progress in this art.  Thus one needs to get used
to a thick chalk and to sharpen it as little as possible.  There are even masters who don't permit their students to sharpen their chalks except one time.  This method is good and not that difficult because as the chalk thickens and its point blunts, it forms angles with which one may mark the most delicate lines.
When one hatches all the shadows with chalk on white paper, it is necessary to take care of the paper that serves for the lights, especially when you use sanguine because it cannot be completely erased with the bread, and it always leaves spots on the paper.  Black chalk dirties the paper less and is less greasy than sanguine.

Manner of drawing by graining.

After having finished your sketch by going over the traces of the first outline with chalk, you "grain" with a lot of force and prepare the drawing throughout: but before shading it completely make sure that your outline is exactly like the original.
Because you want to draw in good taste don't arrange big lines (tailles) and beautiful hatching slavishly except where necessary, because if the drawing is only grained it will seem drawn too softly, obliging you to hatch certain places
 to make half-shadows and to stop the shadows with more firmness: but you need to do that without affectation and that the resulting mix is a fat and soft (velvety) (moelleux) paste.  To draw in a "fatter" manner you put the darkest touches into the thickness of the shadow sufficient to prevent the traits to cut too hard with what is near it and that they hit the main force in the middle.
You should avoid making areas of shadow too thin and too parallel.  Notice also that the nature is never perfectly round, but that one finds it composed of many angles and planes (méplats), but that one shouldn't overemphasize making the contours angular similar to rocks.  This defect would be even worse than drawing too round: one should find the right mean between these two ways of drawing.

A note by Jombert: Planes is a term peculiar to painting.  The human body is not all round but is composed of surfaces that are flat and rounded only at the edges, one needs to make those different surfaces felt in the drawing.  Une manìere meplatte is that which makes the planes felt, une manìere ronde is the one that ignores nature. (borrowed from Goeree - L.R.)

A way to shade by stomping

Sweetening (blending) what one has hatched before by rubbing with an estompe.  If the paper is white, all the half-shadows are done
p 66
by the estompe alone, rubbing lightly because it's charged enough with the colour.  And one should reserve (menager) the white of the paper for the lights.
Sanguine is stomped like black chalk on white or grey paper, but stomped sanguine is not as pleasant-looking as black chalk.  If the paper is grey it's heightened with chalk white; but you cannot stomp it.  Finally one gives force to the greatest shadows by hatching on top, but with little or no stomping.|...|

|...| There are people who give force to their sanguine drawings by retouching them with a bit of black chalk, especially when they don't have dark sanguine: others make flesh-tones with red chalk and the draperies with black chalk to make their drawings more pleasant-looking by the variety of colour.

 Gérard Audran (reused by Jombert) 

About pen drawings

It seems that the pen suits people who draw well more than to beginners,
because once put down it can't be erased.  There are nonetheless those who believe that it's good for beginners to make them pay more attention, but few people think this way because the habit of the pen leads to a hard and dry style of drawing.  For learning it nothing is better than copying good prints where the burin is beautiful and where there is no confusion about hatch-marks, such as prints of Carraccis, Melan and Le Clerc.  This manner of drawing is the best for those who want to practice engraving.
For drawing with a pen plumes of the crow or goose are usually taken, because they are harder and make a neater lin on paper.  The best are the tips of wings, those of right wing, those where the side of the longest barbs looks at the thumb are the best in the hand for drawing or writing.  One should always chose the lightest and thinnest ones: lightest because they cut (split) easier, and thinnest because they will be easiest to cut for thin lines. The oldest are the best as long as they stayed in a dry place. Crow quills are the best for
drawing the landscape.  Swan quills are only good for thick lines.  Drawings done entirely with ink are only used for architecture.

Flowers and plants should be shaded with delicate and careful hatch-marks in the direction of the growth of their leaves
Cochin (?), illustration, Jombert

My related posts:
English translations of drawing treatises (Goeree, de Piles, Jombert)

© Lala Ragimov - when citing my translation, please make sure to write my name next to the quote 

Sunday 24 November 2013

Drawing treatises online

my related posts:

This is a directory of free downloadable 1400s-1700s drawing instruction books I arranged in two groups:
Treatises - textbooks with detailed instructions and information about materials, techniques, and theory of drawing. Many contain illustrations and examples for copying.
Drawing books, anatomies, books of proportion - richly illustrated books without detailed descriptions of technique.
Drawing books usually have no text and teach through images to be copied by the student in the order of growing complexity.  Books of proportion, anatomy, etc. contain text related to those specific topics in addition to numerous images. 

These books are a window into art education of the time, so they are fascinating to study for anyone who wants to understand old master drawings better, and for anyone trying to copy or assimilate this style.
I keep adding to the list, so if you have any corrections or suggestions for more sources, please comment below or send me an email.

de Lairesse, 1701, GRI, pdf here


(Italian, Dutch, Flemish, French, English, German, Spanish, each in chronological order)

Italian Treatises
(Cennini and Armenini providing most information about technique and tools):

* Cennini, Cennino 1370-1440. Il libro dell'arte. Early 1400s
            Italian, 1859 e-book; liberliber pdf; html
            English, (tr. Thompson 1933), html
* Alberti, Leon Battista 1404-1472. De pictura. 1435
            Latin and Italian, html
            Italian transl.: 1547 e-book; wikisource html
* Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519. Trattato della pittura. 1510s, first published 1651 (info)
            English, French, Italian, books, manuscripts, images
            Italian, Wikisource html, pdf
* Vasari, Giorgio 1511-1574.  Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori. 1550
            Italian, html
            English translation (of parts of Vite), Vasari on technique. 1907  e-book
* Lomazzo, Giovanni Paolo 1538-1600. Trattato dell'arte de la pittura.
           Italian, e-books: 1584, 1585, 1590
           English (tr. Haydock, 1598): e-book
* Armenini, Giovanni Battista 1530-1609. De veri precetti della pittura.
           Italian, e-book, 1586
* Baldinucci, Filippo 1624-1697 Vocabolario toscano dell'arte del disegno. (an arts dictionary)
           Italian, e-books 1681, 1809

Dutch / Flemish Treatises 
(Goeree and de Lairesse provide the most detailed technical instructions)

*Van Mander, Karel 1548-1606. Het schilder-boeck. 1604
            Dutch, html
*Rubens, Peter Paul 1577-1640 and others (after). Theorie de la figure humaine.
            French, e-book 1773
* Passe, Crispijn van de (d. 1670).  La prima-[quinta] parte della luce del dipingere et disegnare.
            Italian, Dutch, French, German, e-book, 1643

* Goeree, Willem 1635-1711
 Inleydingh tot de practijck der al-gemeene schilder-konst, waer in neffens de heerlijckheyt en nuttigheydt der selve, kortelijck wert aengewesen
            Dutch, e-book, 1670 ( Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht)
Anweisung zu der allgemeinen Reiß- und Zeichen-Kunst.  
            German transl., e-books: 1669, 1677(GDZ, with links to ToC headings)
Anweisung zu der Practic oder Handlung der allgemeinen Mahler-Kunst.
            German transl., e-books: 1677 (GDZ), 1678
Anweisung zu der Mahler-Kunst.
            German transl., e-book 1756, 1750 (high res.)
Natuurlyk en schilderkonstig ontwerp der menschkunde leerende niet alleen de kennis van de gestalte . tot de teykenkunde, schilderkunde . toepassen, maar ook hoe sich een...
            Dutch, e-book, 1683
Inleyding tot de praktyk der algemeene schilderkonst.
            Dutch, e-books: 1704, 1705
An Introduction to the General Art of Drawing
            English, html 1674 (my transcript) NEW

* de Lairesse, Gerard 1640-1711.  Grondlegginge ter teekenkonst : zynde een korte en zeekere weg om door middel van de geometrie of meetkunde, de teeken-konst volkomen te leeren. 
           Dutch, e-book 1701
           French translation, 1787, e-book
           English translation, 1764, e-book NEW    

French Treatises

* du Fresnoy, Charles Alphonse 1611-1668. De arte graphica. 
          French tr. by de Piles 1668
          English tr. by Dryden 1695, tr. by William Mason 1783
* Bosse, Abraham 1602-1676. Traicté des manieres de graver en taille douce sur l'airin. Par le Moyen des Eauxs Fortes, & des Vernix Durs & Mols. Ensemble de la façon d'en Imprimer les Planches, & d'en Construire la Presse, & autres choses concernans lesdits Arts. Par A. Bosse, Graveur en Taille Douce. Paris, 1645
(This is a printmaking treatise, but Jombert advised it to drawing students wanting detailed advice on hatching)
          French, e-book, 1645
* de Piles, Roger 1635-1709. Les premiers élémens de la peinture pratique.
          French, e-book 1684
          English, my own translation of pp 9-33
          French, e-book, expanded posthumous edition 1766
* Jombert, Charles-Antoine 1712-1784.
Nouvelle Methode pour apprendre a dessiner sans maitre. 
          French, e-book, 1740
Methode pour apprendre le dessein.
          French, e-book, 1755
          English, my translation of some excerpts

English Treatises

* Peacham, Henry 1578-1644?. The gentlemans exercise, or, An exquisite practise : as well for drawing all manner of...
         English, Getty e-book, 1634 NEW
* Bate, John. The Mysteryes of Nature and Art.
         English, links to pdf and jpg versions at the end of the page about this 1634 book
* Jenner, Thomas (active 1631-1656). A Book of Drawing, Limning, Washing or Colouring of Maps and Prints: and the Art of Painting, with the Names and Mixtures of Colours used by the Picture-Drawers. Or, The Young-mans Time well Spent.
         English, info and pdf of this 1652 book
* Sanderson, William 1586?-1676.  Graphice, the use of the pen and pensil, or, The most excellent art of painting : in two parts
         English, e-book, 1658
* Ratcliffe, Thomas, Daniel, Thomas (printers) Newman, Dorman, Jones, Richard (booksellers) The excellency of the pen and pencil...
         English, e-books: 1668, 1688
* Browne,  Alexander 1660-1677. (translations and borrowings from other authors) Ars pictoria: or, An academy treating of drawing, painting, limning and etching...
         English, e-book, 1669
* Salmon, William 1644-1713. Polygraphice, or, The arts of drawing, engraving, etching, limning, painting, vernishing, japaning, gilding, &c 
          English, e-books: 1685, 1701

German Treatises

* Fürst, Paul  Theoria Artis Pictoriae. A text with a compilation of prints from Italian drawing books
           German, with an informative introduction (2009), 1656, pdf (Heidelberg University)
* Preissler, Johann Daniel.  Die durch Theorie erfundene Practic, oder Gründlich-verfasste Reguln, derer man sich als einer Anleitung zu berühmter Künstlere Zeichen-Wercken bestens bedienen kan..
           German, four Volumes 1761-1663 e-books (Heidelberg University)
* Herzberg, Friedrich.  Anleitung zum gründlichen Unterricht in der Handzeichungskunst für Anfänger.
           German, e-book 1780 (Getty) NEW

Spanish Treatises

* Pacheco, Francisco. Arte de la pintura.
           Spanish, e-book, 1649

Jombert, 1740

* * *

Drawing books, Anatomies, Proportion books, etc.:

* For anatomy books see THIS great resource (Historical Anatomies)
   also see Tortebat, François. Traité d'anatomie appliquée aux beaux-arts. 1667-8 ("full view")

* rer, Albrecht 1471-1528.   
Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion. 1528 jpgs
Della simmetria dei corpi humani, Libri Quattro. e-book 1594 

* Palma il Giovane, Jacopo 1544-1628.
Regole per imparar a disegnare i corpi humani diuise in doi libri delineati dal famoso pittor Giacomo Palma,, jpgs
Principi del disegno/ Principles of drawing , jpgs

* Fialetti, Odoardo 1573-1638.  
Tutte le parti del corpo hvmano diuiso in piu pezzi. e-book 1608
Il vero modo et ordine per dissegnar tutte le parti et membra del corpo humano. e-book 1608

* Cousin, Jehan le Jeune 1522-1593.   
Livre de pourtraiture jpgs 1608,
La vraye science de la pourtraicture, e-book 1671

* after Carracci (prints by Luca Ciamberlano, etc) Scvola perfetta per imparare a disegnare tutto il corpo humano / cauata dallo studio, e disegni de Caracci.  (1600-1630)
Getty Research Institute e-book  NEW
British Museum - individual jpgs

* after Guercino (prints by Olivero Gatti c 1620, Francesco Curti 1635-40) drawing book pages (parts of the face, body parts, figures, heads), British Museum - jpgs

* de Ribera, Jusepe. 1622 etchings, Harvard jpgs

* Bracelli, G. B. 1624, not a real drawing book, but does demonstrate figure construction basics in a fun way, so I imagine it could have been used by students, here

* after Rubens 1577-1640.
Drawing book sheets from 1630. British Museum, jpgs;
de Ganay manuscript jpgs 1600s (after 1640) - write "de Ganay" in image search

* della Bella, Stefano.   
I principii del disegno. 1640s. British Museum jpgs , 1824 ed. (see description), GRI, e-book  NEW
Recueil de diverses pieces Servant à l'Art de portraiture. 1645-50. British Museum jpgs 
Diverses testes et figures. 1650 British Museum jpgs
Livre pour apprendre a dessiner. 1647-52. British Museum jpgs

* Bloemaert, Abraham (after), Frederik. Het Tekenboek. 1650-56,
Getty Research Institute e-book NEW; British Museum jpgs

* Fuller, Isaak.  Un libro da designiare. Publisher Peter Stent 1654 British Museum jpgs

* Pesne, Jean, 1623-1700; Audran; PoussinLivre pour aprendre à désigner avec les proportions des parties qui ont esté choisie dans les ouvrages de N. Poussin. 1680 pdf

* Jabach, Everhard  1618-1695. Recueil de 283. estampes gravées à l'eau forte par les plus habiles peintres du tems, d'apres les desseins des grands maitres, que possedoit autrefois M. Jabach et qui depuis on passé au cabinet du roy.  e-book

* Testelin, Henri, 1616-1695 Sentimens des plus habiles peintres du tems, sur la pratique de la peinture et sculpture : recueillis & mis en tables de preceptes, avec six discours academiques, extraits des conferences tenuës en l'Academie Royale desdits arts ... par Henry Testelin, peintre du roi, professeur & secretaire en ladite Academie.  e-book, 1680

* Audran, Girard 1640-1703.  Les proportions du corps humain : mesurées sur les plus belles figures de l'antiquité 1683

* Le Clerc, Sébastien 1637-1714.  Pricipes de dessein / Divers habillemens des anciens grecs et romains  1700

* van Somer, Paul.  Figurae variae. 1675-1714 drawing book prints jpgs British Museum

* Le Brun, Charles 1619-1690.
Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner les passions: proposée dans une conférence sur l'expression générale et particulière. e-book 1702
(after le Brun) Caracteres des passions, sur le desseins de C. le Brun e-book 1750

* Huet, Jean-Baptiste 1745–1811. Premier[-dix-huitiéme] cahier de fragmens et de principes de desseins de tous les genres... Getty e-book 1778  NEW

Stefano della Bella, Recueil de diverses pieces Servant à l'art de portraitureBritish Museum


compiled by Lala Ragimov 

Sunday 16 June 2013

Intaglio prints

(for my relief print experiments and a search for renaissance tools see HERE)

My first prints on copper
Drypoint "Disegno e Colore" - my take on a Baroque allegory of the roles of Drawing and Colour where Drawing is usually depicted as a studious old man and Colour as a lively sensuous young woman (an example here by Guercino (the Getty)).

My second print was an etching with drypoint and engraving of a woman thinking.

Amor and Psyche, etching, drypoint, burin.  Rives BFK paper cream.

Here is a photo I took of the freshly etched plate itself (first state) in a bath with the copper gleaming through the smoked hard ground.  Those colours looked delicious...

from HERE

And finally an etching with drypoint, based on Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" carpe diem poem, but with roles reversed

Monday 25 March 2013

Copying a Rubens drawing

My other posts on topics related to technical art history:
  Copying a Rubens painting (materials, techniques)
Inspired by Rubens (Getty Museum page, featuring my work)

(for more photos of my copies and process see this Getty Museum page where I was featured)

Copy after Rubens.  Original HERE

The "Man in Korean Costume" was on display at the Getty at a beautiful exhibition called Looking East: Rubens's Encounter with Asia.  I started copying the drawing to scale directly from the original at the gallery, but soon realised that the details of this piece are so minute they can only be seen with a magnifying glass, so I ended up copying it from the Getty's very helpful zoom view page.  Afterwards I took the drawing back to the gallery, put it side by side with the original, corrected some value relationships, added accents and other details.

1) marking the position of the figure with willow charcoal (mostly removed in step 2)
2) blocking in the main contours and flat areas of shadow with my black chalk substitute
(compressed charcoal) and black chalk
3) finishing the drawing with details, cross-hatching, red chalk and dark accents

The use of willow or vine charcoal for the first few lines of the underdrawing (that was later removed with an eraser made of bread) is historic practice.  The 1634 Third Book of "The Mysteries of Nature and Art" says that when you finish your sketch with ash, sallow or beech charcoal and "you can finde no great fault in it: wipe it over gently with your wing, so that you may perceive the former strokes then with your blacke chalke, or blacke lead plummets; draw it as perfectly, and as curiously as you can" (p104).  The book is downloadable HERE.
A similar procedure is described in Cennini, in Willem Goeree's treatise of 1668, Gerard de Lairesse's treatise of 1701 (in French HERE), and many others (see my Online drawing treatises directory) Rubens, being a genius draughtsman, probably didn't resort to a charcoal underdrawing, but since it's convenient, historic, and doesn't affect the final look, I used it (after writing this blog I heard from Nancy Yocco, a conservator at the Getty who confirmed not noticing traces of charcoal in Rubens drawings she studied).
My real departure from the historic materials in this copy was in the use of a hard compressed charcoal pencil in conjunction with black chalk. 

Types of drawing media used by Rubens and other Baroque artists.
(Elba sanguine from Zecchi and Ural sanguine from Rublevskaya palitra,
French black chalk and Champagne white chalk from Kremer)

Rubens used only black and red chalk in the "Man in Korean Costume".  Examples of his use of more drawing media are the portraits of Isabella Brant and Nicolaas Rubens.  The originals are "aux trois crayons" (black red and white chalk on cream paper) drawings with pen and ink accents. For another one of my aux trois crayons with ink copies see this blog post

Copy after Nicolaas Rubens with a Coral Necklace
Genuine black chalk (French), genuine sanguine (Ural),
Champagne white chalk, pen and bistre ink,
Canson Ingres paper cream.

Copy after the Portrait of Isabella Brant
genuine sanguine (Zecchi), compressed charcoal,
white chalk, pen and ink, Hahnemühle Ingres paper

An aside about genuine black chalk and its modern substitutes:

Black chalk is a luscious medium with a vivid personality and a temper.  With it it's possible to get both a defined line and a fuzzy light hatch-mark depending on the pressure you apply.  It has a cool greyish tone especially important when used in combination with red chalk because it represents all the cool colours while the red chalk takes on the role of all the warm tones.

The material currently available (mined in France and sold by Kremer Pigments) is very expensive with some inclusions that don't produce any marks.  I've read many times that the deposits of good black chalk have all been exhausted, but I'm sure they still exist in various parts of the world and are not explored only because there is no demand.

Currently there is no good substitute of black chalk on the market.  Derwent charcoal pencils (Hard) have the same cool grey tone, but are very soft and powdery, very unlike the genuine material.  General's charcoal  HB is similar to the chalk in hardness but is too scratchy and black.  Pierre Noire by Conte is close, but too waxy, Wolf's Carbon B is too black and chronically inexpressive.
If anyone has a good suggestion for a substitute or a place where I may buy or dig up some real black chalk, please let me know!

©Lala Ragimov

My other posts on topics related to technical art history:
Inspired by Rubens (Getty Museum page, featuring my work)

Friday 22 February 2013

Copying a Rubens painting

For information on Rubens technique and a bibliography see my Rubens materials page.

My palette consisted of pigments Rubens often used: lead white, various raw siennas, ochres and umbers, charcoal black, genuine vermilion, Van Dyck brown, chalk (used as extender), lead-tin yellow (type I), madder lake, and some blue verditer (for the white clothing).  Half of the paints were made by me from pigment and cold-pressed linseed oil that I bleached in the sun.

Rubens (original)   "Infanta's Waiting-maid in Brussels", 1623-25.    The Hermitage. (img source - Wikimedia)
Rubens (original, detail)
 "Infanta's Waiting-maid in Brussels", 1623-25.
  The Hermitage.
Lala Ragimov, copy after Rubens

I started by copying a study associated with this painting, an aux trois crayons drawing.

Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens (original)
Red, black, white chalks, pen and ink
Copy after Rubens,
Lala Ragimov

I compared the hatch-mark directions in the drawing to those in the painting (visible through the transparent shadows and half-shadows of the painting) to help guide my underpainting.

The first step was a gessoed panel (calcium carbonate chalk and rabbit skin glue) which I didn't sand enough, so the vertical streaks show up in the final painting (lesson learned).  The diagonal streaks (imitating those in the original) come from the egg-oil emulsion imprimatura the recipe for which was kindly described to me by Charlotte Caspers, artist trained as conservator who worked with Rubens imprimatura reconstructions.  For good information on streaky imprimatura see "Preparation for Painting, the Artist's Choice and its Consequences.", p79.

Some Rubens sketches show the grisaille approach while others exhibit what looks like a "dead-paint" layer, muted local colours in mid and light values.

Peter Paul Rubens,
 "grisaille" approach to an oil sketch

Peter Paul Rubens,
"dead painted" oil sketch showing muted local colours
Getty Museum

 The pale transparent portrait I was copying gave an impression of a grisaille beginning, so I finished the underpainting in raw siennas and umbers with accents in lead white.

Lala Ragimov copy after Peter Paul Rubens, Step 1 Lala Ragimov Copy after Rubens step 1
Step 1
Lala Ragimov after Rubens
Step 1.5...
Lala Ragimov after Rubens

After that I moved to "dead-paint" (doodwerf) stage, adding unsaturated approximations of local colours to be worked up later.  You can observe the dead paint layer on parts of two paintings at the Getty, the Calydonian Boar Hunt and the Return from War.

Lala Ragimov copy after Peter Paul Rubens, Step 2 Lala Ragimov Copy after Rubens
Step 2 face (my take on the dead-paint layer)  Finished copy, detail

The last stage is  adding outlines, final impasto highlights, glazed transparent shadows and dark lines, and finishing the clothes and background (which were done last in Rubens paintings)

For me copying the masters I admire has always been and continues to be the best way to learn.  I would recommend it to beginners and mature artists alike.
1)  I strongly recommend making 1:1 scale copies, because if you scale the brush-strokes up or down you lose a lot of information about the technique.  When Rubens himself made his numerous copies of Titian and others, he made them to scale.  If you are copying inside a museum that has rules about making your canvas bigger or smaller, scale the canvas but not the image.  It needs to remain 1:1 for you to learn about brush sizes, shapes; stiffness or softness of the brush hair; the actual width of lines; quality and thickness of impasto; the scale the artist thought needed to produce an effect; the spirit of the work, etc.  I  believe that it is more informative to copy a detail to scale than the whole work smaller or larger.
2) Works on panel are best to be copied on panel, works on canvas are best on canvas.  Pay attention to the weave of the canvas and observe the correct colour of the priming.  When in doubt about the priming/imprimatura makeup or colour, reading conservation literature will usually help.

More of my copies can be found here.

©Lala Ragimov
no artwork or text by Lala Ragimov may be reproduced without her permission.

My other posts on topics related to technical art history

Friday 18 January 2013

Unsupervised printmaking experiments

In October I sketched a detail of this Dürer woodcut to scale and carved it on linoleum with a woodcut knife to learn the process and see if I like it.  The carving took longer than I expected, but was surprisingly enjoyable, more meditative than painting.  So here is my first print ever.

freehand copy after "St. Christopher" by Dürer
Lala Ragimov, 2012

My second experiment was an attempt at a chiaroscuro woodcut.  Wood is more fun, I noticed that the grain made me want to stylise and exaggerate while drawing (which gave the figs a sea-creature look). 

Lala Ragimov, 2012
The question I had right away was what were the tools used by Renaissance printmakers and how were they handled, to be able to find similar modern tools to use.  I saw a lot of information online on how to make a Japanese woodblock print but almost none on how to make a Renaissance woodcut, so I looked at these:

"The Renaissance Print: 1470-1550" (1994) by D. Landau and P. Parshall (limited view here)
"Traité historique et pratique de la gravure en bois" (1766) by J.-M. Papillon (free here
"An Introduction to a History of Woodcut" (1935) by A. Hind
"Über die Technik des alten Holzschnittes" (1890) by S. R. Koehler (free here) and his comparison of Japanese and Renaissance techinques here ("Japanese wood-cutting and wood-cut printing", 1894)

  • "The Renaissance Print" lists the tools: a pointed knife (to carve the outlines), and flat and round chisels (to remove remaining wood).  This was deduced from the tool marks on surviving blocks. The wood types most frequently mentioned are pear and boxwood.  The planks were usually covered with a white ground, the drawing was transferred or glued on (or drawn directly on the plank) and carved.  

  • This woodcut (1568) by Jost Amman shows a knife with a slanted cutting edge.  The woodcutter's frilly trousers must be perfect for collecting wood shavings.
Jost Amman Der Formschneider

  •  In his 1766 treatise Papillon advises boxwood, service tree, wild and cultivated pear, apple and cherry.  He suggests pear wood to beginners.  He has an entertaining illustration of historic (2-15) and Asian (1) knives that he criticises as uncomfortable and dangerous.  No.13 is described as the one most frequently seen in old monograms.

Jean-Michel Papillon

  • These are illustrations of his own knife, how to shape it for various needs and how to handle it.  It has a straight cutting edge with a bevel, and a slanted opposite edge (description here).

Jean-Michel Papillon, 1766

  • Koehler shows more shapes redrawn from monograms.  He says most depictions show a straight or a slightly curved cutting edge (the two knives at bottom right).
Koehler 1890

  • For comparison Japanese block prints are made mostly on sakura (wild cherry) wood.  The drawng is pasted on and its outlines are carved with a knife with a slanted cutting edge and one bevel.

A hangi-to woodblock knife
image source David Bull's site

To sum up, it looks like most Renaissance knives had a slanted, curved or straight cutting edge.  Most had a structure that allowed gripping them close to the tip, like a pen (like in Amman's and Papillon's illustrations of the process). 
Modern woodcut knives I've seen (Japanese and Western) need to be held differently because of their longer blades.  So the most similar instrument I can think of is the regular pen-like X-acto knife, which I will try next time.

Bevel questions:

1) It seems (if I understood right) that Papillon carved with the knife bevel facing the print line, but what I read here for Japanese knives is that the bevel side compacts and damages the wood.  Did Papillon not have that problem?  Is it a problem for everyone?

2) I'm curious if there is a more detailed description of a Renaissance woodcut knife and its bevels.  Parshall does say that the knife had one bevel and refers to a picture in "An Introduction to a History of Woodcut" by A. Hind.  I got enthusiastic and found it, but it's only a modern drawing of a generic Japanese-looking tool.  Hind says that the knife had one bevel, on the opposite side to that of a Japanese knife, but he doesn't say why he thinks so, so I feel like it could be a guess. 

from A. Hind, 1935

©Lala Ragimov
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