Monday 10 February 2014

Preparing to draw (1400s-1700s)

My related posts:

Supplies and set-up procedures for drawing as described in drawing treatises 1400s-1700s.  
For directions on shading and hatching see this post.

1) Drawing tools 
2) Paper  
3) Body position 
4) Hand position 
5) Setting up lighting 
6) Measuring 

My sources:
Cennini  early 1400s
Leonardo 1510s
Vasari 1550
Armenini 1587
Hilliard 1598-1602
Peacham 1606
Norgate 1620s and 1648
Bates 1634
Bosse 1645
Sanderson 1658
Goeree 1668
de Piles 1684 
Salmon 1701
de Lairesse 1701
Jombert 1740 1755

1) Drawing tools

* All treatises mention charcoal (sallow, vine, etc) -- which is used for the first sketch only, to be incompletely erased and retraced with a more durable material (chalk or pen and ink).  The process of making oiled charcoal for final drawings is also described (Goeree and others).

De Lairesse says that chalk is cleaner and makes neater lines but charcoal is best for beginners.

* It is interesting to see how the attitude to pen and ink drawings changes through time:
Armenini listing drawing techniques puts pen and ink as the first way (for the beginner to learn).  Norgate is a fan of elaborate hatched drawings in pen and ink quoting seeing some by Goltzius, large scale and on canvas. Norgate says he prefers it to all others.  For Sanderson 1658 drawing with the pen follows charcoal drawing and precedes chalk drawing in the learning process. De Piles 1684 says some masters suggest pen and ink to be used by beginners because it makes you think more carefully, but most masters are against that view.  Goeree 1668 and de Lairesse 1701 both say pen and ink are a waste of time for a student, Goeree (repeated in Jombert) notes that it is best for engraving students. Jombert says that he considers it not good for beginners because it cannot be erased and that pen and ink drawings are suitable only for architecture.
Goeree advocates using a reed pen instead of a quill.  Earlier treatises suggest raven quills for refined work and goose and other quills for the rest.

* Goeree mentions both red and black chalk, but notes that black chalk is difficult to find and when found it is usually bad quality.  Red chalk (sanguine) is the preferred medium for de Lairesse and Jombert.  They both see it as a difficult material (because of its greasiness and its difficulty erasing), but also as the most beneficial medium for the student to work with.  Earlier treatises emphasise black chalk more.

* Red, black and white chalk can be used in combination of two or all three (the technique now known as aux trois crayons).  White chalk can be made of "tobacco-pipe clay" rolled to the thickness of a finger or a natural chalk (Goeree), and it requires toned paper to be visible.  Drawing on toned paper is seen as a faster way to draw (since the paper replaces the mid-tone) and requiring more experience. (Goeree, de Lairesse). 

* The British treatises of the 1600s and de Piles mention graphite. Cennini (1400s) and the Norgate-related treatises also mention silver and lead-point on parchment.

* Wash (done with a brush with and bistre or other ink, indigo or another dye, sanguine, or other materials tempered with water) is described in most of these treatises. Hatching is suggested to be used on top of smooth washes (Goeree, Jombert).  A heightening of lead white with gum arabic and water is described by Cennini and Armenini for doing washes on toned paper.

The only real survivor of these media is charcoal made of twigs.  Currently the rest of the drawing media are all manufactured by mixing pigments, clays, chalks, graphite and charcoal powders.  There is genuine black chalk and sanguine for sale only at speciality art supplies stores such as Kremer pigments (black chalk, white chalk) and Zecchi (sanguine, brownish black chalk, etc).  Everyone can make their own silverpoint by going to a jeweller and asking for a piece of silver wire.  

period materials from my collection

2) Paper

* "The marks of good paper are strength and fine and even grain.
For those who draw with a quill the paper only needs to be smooth, and for those who wash it needs to be smooth and strong.", "There are two types on which you can draw: the white and the half-tone. And of the half-tone there are three types: grey, blue, and the one tinted with bistre." (de Piles, 33)

* Good paper for washing should be thick, firm/sturdy (ferma) and of good sizing.  If the size is weak it will drink the shadows producing spots. (Armenini, 55)

Current paper is mostly cellulose, and the expensive rag papers are mostly cotton.  The majority of paper doesn't have the "laid" surface with chain marks and I've never seen paper with felt fibre marks as you see on papers from the Renaissance and Baroque.   Also papers made of linen rags are extremely rare and expensive.  

Drawing book illustration, 1600-1630
Luca Ciamberlano after Agostino Carracci (British Museum)

3) How and where do I sit when drawing?  How should I place the drawing board?

 * Goeree says that the drawing board should not lie flat before you, but that you should put it in your lap and elevate it with your knees (so you don't see your drawing foreshortened).  You should fold the drawing paper five or six times on the drawing board.  In a life drawing studio Goeree suggests to sit on a stool or on the floor or in any way that is convenient.  When drawing after a drawing, print or painting set them vertically in front of you at a distance at which you can see the whole piece in one glance.  For drawing sculpture Goeree borrows from Leonardo the advice to sit three times as far away from the model as the model is high and to keep your eyes on the same level as the model.

This is slightly different from modern instruction since in a regular drawing class the students are either told to work at an easel or a "horse" (both of which do the job of placing the picture vertically in front of the student rather than flat and foreshortened. The sensation of drawing on a "horse" and in your lap is very different.

Bloemaert, Het Tekenboek (Getty, e-book)

4) How do I hold the chalk (pencil, pen) when drawing?  

* Cennini suggests tying a piece of charcoal to a reed or a stick which provides the distance that helps when composing.  Armenini says to set it into a brass holder (cannella di ottone).

* You should hold the pencil (or pen) further from the tip than when you write and not as vertical (Goeree, repeated in Salmon). 

*  You should hatch with a chalk by holding and turning it in such a way that you don't have to sharpen it frequently. (Goeree, repeated in Jombert and Salmon)

* De Lairesse says to keep the chalk or charcoal between the thumb and the index finger resting it on the slightly curved middle finger.

This is consistent with modern instruction. 

From Crispijn van de Passe, 1643,
download book here (Getty Research Institute) 

5) When drawing from life, where should the light sources be?

* When drawing from life Cennini and most other authors recommend light falling from the left side.  If the lighting cannot be controlled by the artist and there are several light sources, Cennini suggests to follow the effects of the dominant light.  (Cennini, Chapters VIII, IX)

* Leonardo da Vinci (repeated and elaborated in Goeree and Hilliard) gives very detailed advice on arranging the lighting (high and large window, northern light, morning or evening light, a sheet of paper over the light source to produce more diffused shadows when the daylight or candlelight is too direct, etc.)

This differs from current mainstream instruction in the fact that several spotlights are used simultaneously to light a model, creating a chaos of shadows that the students are supposed to follow faithfully.  Only in scientific illustration classes and books the classical left-front-top light is advised as being the most practical and producing the clearest and most three-dimensional-looking result.

A man using his porte-crayon to check the vertical allignment of parts and/or to measure.
Note the low chairs and foot rests to keep knees high.
Jacobus Johannes Lauwers, Rijksmuseum, full painting here

6) Measuring 

Many treatises downplay measuring tools and cite the famous Michelangelo saying that the compass should be in the eye and not in the hands.  Sanderson says to learn first to draw heads from prints with a compass and ruler. Many English treatises mention the use of a compass to check your finished piece and compare it with the drawing or print you copied, but not to use it in the process of drawing. De Lairesse mentions using a compass when just beginning to draw simple shapes, then repeating the exercise without one.

* Almost all treatises speak of pausing to look carefully at your original before starting to draw and of judging the distances between parts by eye (Goeree, De Lairesse, etc).  Authors from Cennini to Goeree also suggest leaving your finished or almost finished drawing for some time and coming back to it in order to see mistakes better.

* Leonardo (repeated in Goeree and de Lairesse) suggested using a plumb-line as a tool to help seeing the correspondence of parts in the model and to note which parts bear most weight.

* De Lairesse is the only one I've seen who says that you can measure without a compass using your fingers or your charcoal (when drawing from a sculpture, for example, in addition to judging with the naked eye) but he doesn't elaborate on the process, so I suppose the current measuring technique (arm stretched out with locked elbow, pencil in hand with the thumb measuring the length from the tip of the pencil) was not used.

* De Piles suggests thinking of many imaginary lines, horizontal, vertical and others in your model to see better which parts correspond.  De Lairesse also makes use of vertical and horizontal construction lines drawn with charcoal on the sketch.  In addition, when copying a print he mentions a method for beginners of covering up part of it with a piece of paper and copying just that, then moving the paper downward in steps (a more challenging variation of copying by squares, which was also mentioned in most treatises).

* De Lairesse suggests that it is too much to make a beginner copy a print bigger or smaller than the original, and advises 1:1 copies. In lesson twelve (right after starting drawing from the round) he says that it is time that the student starts drawing things bigger or smaller than they are, because it is essential that he exercises to see the proportions well and that his eye serves him for ruler and compass.
I have never seen anything in the old treatises reminding of the current "sight-sizing" trend other than when the objects are traced mechanically with the help of a piece of glass or a net such as are mentioned by Alberti or Dürer.  But tracing was not considered a legitimate way to draw, at least for a student (see de Lairesse and many other authors).

Currently the "classical" measuring is done with a pencil held parallel to the picture plane in an outstretched arm with elbow locked (to minimise distortions).  Measuring is taught much more rigorously and its procedure is much more rigid than what is described in the treatises.

For directions on shading and hatching from the same treatises see this post. 

(for more links to digitised versions of drawing treatises see this page)

Armenini, Giovanni Battista. De veri precetti della pittura. Ravenna, 1587

Bates, John. The Mysteryes of Nature and Art. London, 1634. 

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

Cennini, Cennino. Il libro dell'arte. Late 1300s to ealry 1400s, Italian and English translation

Goeree, Willem Inleydinge tot de Algemeene Teyken-Konst. 1668, 1670 (this German edition scan is readable quality)

Hilliard, Nicholas (1537 (ca.)-1619).  A Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning, by Nicholas Hilliard, together with, A More Compendious Discourse Concerning ye Art of Liming, by Edward Norgate, with a paralel modernized text.  Ed. R.K.R. Thornton and T.G.S. Cain.  Manchester, 1981.
The original manuscript written c. 1598-1602

Jenner, Thomas (fl.1631-1656 bio). 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.  London, 1652.

Jombert, Charles-Antoine. Methode pour apprendre le dessein. Paris, 1755

Leonardo da Vinci. Trattato della pittura. 1510s, first published 1651 (or html, pdf)

Lairesse, Gérard de (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.  Amsterdam, 1701  
in Dutch or its later translation to French HERE.

Norgate, Edward (1580/1 - 1650). Miniatura or the Art of Limning. Ed. J. Muller and J. Murrel.  New Haven and London, 1997.
The original manuscripts date c. 1626-8 and c. 1648.

Peacham, Henry (1576?-1643?). The art of drawing with the pen, and limming in water colours, more exactlie then heretofore taught and englarged: with the true manner of Painting upon glasse, the order of making your furnace, Annealing, etc.  London, 1606

De Piles, Roger (1635-1709) Les premiers élémens de la peinture pratique. Paris, 1684.

Ratcliffe, Thomas; Daniel, Thomas (printers); Newman, Dorman; Jones, Richard (booksellers) The excellency of the pen and pencil... London, 1668, 1688

Sanderson, William 1586?-1676.  Graphice, the use of the pen and pensil, or, The most excellent art of painting : in two parts 1658 

©Lala Ragimov