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Drawing and Sketching in Pencil
By Arthur L. Guptill
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
UNDOUBTEDLY the ready availability and low cost of the pencil and materials needed for use in conjunction with it are partly responsible for its popularity among artists, while the ease with which it can be carried from place to place and prepared and kept in condition for work are in its favor, also.
But aside from these intrinsic merits of the pencil itself, it has other advantages of a different sort, —for instance its common employment for writing and similar purposes has given us all a certain familiarity with it, so that the beginner, having become accustomed from earliest childhood to these every-day uses to which it is put, finds it a natural and simple matter to learn to hold and manipulate it properly when drawing, which is, of course, highly important as it leaves him free to give his attention to other difficulties less easily avoided.
Yet the advantages we have mentioned, great as they are, seem insignificant when put into comparison with the one leading fact which has given the pencil its place in the world of art,—the fact that it is suitable for any kind of a drawing from the roughest outline sketch or diagram to a complete rendering of an elaborate subject. What other medium is there which responds so readily to any demand made upon it? Sharply pointed it will give us a line as fine and clean-cut as that of the pen ; bluntly pointed it can be used almost as a brush. It will make strokes sufficiently light and delicate or bold and vigorous to suit the most exacting, or tones so smooth that in them no trace of any line can be found. It is responsive to the slightest touch, allowing us to grade at will from light to dark or from dark to light. What other medium will do all this? What other medium permits so great freedom in correcting and erasing at any time during the progress of the work? What medium permits of such rapid manipulation when speed is desired and still proves suitable for the most careful and painstaking study? It should not be supposed that it is only in the making of drawings in light and shade or outline that it is of value, either, for when color is desired there are excellent colored pencils to be had by the use of which wonderful effects are obtainable, either on white paper or on tinted surfaces, —furthermore light washes of water-color can be run over pencil work satisfactorily, charming combinations of such mediums being frequently seen.
Nor should it be forgotten that aside from all these various types of work in which the pencil plays a leading or a most conspicuous part, there are many drawings in which it serves a less prominent but by no means less important one, for it is employed with great frequency in the preparation of drawings to be completed in other mediums;—pen drawings, for example, are almost invariably blocked out in pencil before any ink is applied, while its use is not infrequent for the same preliminary preparation for paintings in wash, water color or oil as well as for making the numerous studies which are usually done before a large or important composition is finally executed. Therefore, even though the student intends to become a painter, pencil facility should prove invaluable to him. In fact, practice with this instrument helps greatly to fit one for work in all other mediums— drawings done in fine line train one for pen-and-ink, broad line shading being more like charcoal or crayon or brush work helps one in the use of these mediums, while pencil shading in mass or full tone prepares one directly for painting in wash or color.
With these various facts before us, it is not difficult to see that the pencil is an instrument which no artist or art student can afford to ignore; especially is it of value to the beginner for as has been pointed out it is hard to find another medium that approaches the pencil in permitting the same speed and accuracy in drawing, coupled with ease in correction. It is unfortunate if the student allows his impatience to attempt work in pen-and-ink or pastel or water-color or oils to cause him to proceed to the use of any of these mediums before he has mastered the pencil, for if he does so he will face unnecessary difficulties.
But if the pencil is valuable to the artist or art student it is absolutely indispensable to the architect and his assistants, for whereas the artist has numerous mediums from which to choose the one best suited to his particular needs or individual taste, the architect has nothing that can take the place of the graphite point for a major portion of his work. What other medium would answer for laying out his accurate plans and elevations and sections, and what else would do for all the various detail drawings which must be carefully made to scale? Yet the pencil serves the architect in other ways than these, for aside from this instrumental work which is hardly within the scope of this volume, many drawings of a free-hand nature are required, such as details of carved stone and wood, ornamental iron, lettered inscriptions and the like, and what is still more important the pencil is particularly valuable for making rendered presentation sketches of the kind submitted to a prospective client to show how a proposed structure will appear when completed, these sketches frequently serving to bring new work into the office. Then, too, the architect finds a knowledge of free-hand perspective sketching of great value in other ways, for he can by means of a few strokes of his pencil make some point clear to his client or express his ideas satisfactorily to his draftsmen, or help his contractors to visualize some matter not readily understood from the working drawings.
The architect's indebtedness to this little instrument which helps him to get work and to execute it is plain then, but if he feels a debt to this constant friend, so indeed should the architectural draftsman or student, for the pencil perhaps offers him more assistance in learning architecture and in advancing in this profession than does any other one thing.
For it is natural that the draftsman who gains proficiency in the use of an instrument so frequently employed by the architect stands in line for promotion, especially if he is able to do all the free-hand work which the average draftsman is so often unqualified to handle.
And even though a man may never reach a point where he stands out among his fellows because of his pencil sketches, he can gain much benefit in many ways by practising sketching during his spare moments. Drawing from photographs or buildings always increases a student's knowledge of architecture, but it does far more than this. It improves his powers of observation and retention, for he is forced to observe in order to draw at all and in drawing he unconsciously assimilates not only knowledge of the buildings drawn, but also a sense of relative proportions and shapes applicable to original problems in design. The more such drawings he makes, too, the greater will be his power to visualize the appearance of a proposed building long before a single study on paper has been made. The ability to thus form in the mind an image of the completed structure is most desirable, but the average draftsman gives so much time to working in elevation or plan only that he is likely to lose sight of the fact that the building is to be finally judged by its appearance in three dimensions and not by the drawings from which it is built. The draftsman who has the power to visualize does not forget this fact and so makes all his drawings with greater intelligence.
There are some men, on the other hand, who are able to see in their minds a building exactly as they wish to erect it, yet they are unable to freely express their ideas on paper. To such men a knowledge of free-hand drawing would be of the greatest benefit. In fact a man who can sketch well is able not only to express his own thoughts on paper but can draw from a description given him by someone else.
Then there are others connected with the architectural profession besides the architect and his draftsmen and designers who find a knowledge of sketching of value, for engineers and construction superintendents can often explain to others or make clear in their own minds certain obscure points in construction by means of quick sketches.
And just as the architect and his assistants find skill in pencil handling advantageous, so do those connected with such professions as interior decoration and landscape architecture, and in much the same way—this is not difficult to see. What is not so commonly understood, however, is that skill in pencil sketching often proves of practical value to the layman, though he may make infrequent use of his accomplishment. There are problems which sometimes come up in the daily life of any person difficult to express or explain by oral or written word but which can be easily made clear by even the crudest sketch.
Does it not seem rather strange, then, when we reflect on these various advantages of skill in sketching, that of all the millions of people in this country using pencils every day, and of the thousands of men in the architectural and similar professions alone who work from morning till night throughout the year with the pencil as their principal tool, that so few ever attempt to make anything but the crudest sort of free-hand sketch and that among those who do seriously try to make finished pencil drawings a still smaller number have the perseverance to reach any real degree of success? For taken all in all there is much of a practical nature to be gained through free-hand pencil work, and in addition to this a great deal of pleasure to be obtained,—in fact, the satisfaction of being able to draw well is worth in itself the time spent in acquiring the necessary knowledge.CHAPTER 2
THE ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT
THERE is nothing, perhaps, which so kindles the interest and enthusiasm of the student as to surround himself with the required drawing materials, while even the experienced man who is accustomed to the everyday use of these accessories can hardly gaze upon a new clean sheet of paper and pencils pointed ready for his hand without an itching to commence, a desire to seize a pencil and be at it, for there is something about such materials to lure one on—to urge one to do his best.
In fact the appeal of all such things is so strong that the beginner is almost sure, unless guided by his instructor, to buy too great a variety and quantity of materials and is inclined to attach too much importance to them, for important as they are (and no man can do good work with poor tools), the truth of the matter is that few and comparatively inexpensive things are needed for such work, and especially for the earlier problems. But these few should be the best of their respective kinds, for the difficulties that beset the beginner are so many and great that it would be a grave mistake for him to handicap himself by using anything of an inferior nature, as even the best materials are none too easily mastered.
If the student has no teacher to aid him in his selection he is usually safe in securing the standard drawing pencils and papers and the like which are carried in stock by reliable dealers in artists' supplies. After a time he will develop a liking for certain kinds for certain purposes and will eventually choose without hesitation the pencil and paper best suited to the subject to be drawn and the sort of drawing to be made. And whether one works with an instructor or without, his personal preferences will become more and more marked from year to year, and the more difficult it will be for him to adapt himself to materials with which he is not perfectly familiar. This unfortunately causes some artists of mature years to heartily condemn everything to which they are unaccustomed, which is hardly fair, for that which is worthless to one may be excellent for another. After the early problems are over, then, it is often well to experiment until a certain familiarity with all the standard materials is gained. Those which are here recommended will do for most of the problems of the beginner while others are discussed in later chapters.
Pencils—Drawing pencils are usually graded from 6B, the softest and blackest, to 9H, the hardest and firmest, with fifteen grades between, or seventeen in all, arranged as follows:—6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H, 9H. Of these the soft pencils are best suited to freehand work, though some papers demand much harder pencils than others. In fact, the choice of pencils depends almost entirely on the character of paper to be used, a smooth, glossy paper demanding a much softer pencil than is needed for work on rough paper which has considerable "tooth." For quick sketches, one soft pencil, perhaps a 2B or B or HB, will sometimes do for the whole drawing, but a carefully finished sketch showing considerable detail may require as many as seven or eight pencils grading all the way from 3B or 2B to 4H or 5H. In such a drawing most of the work would be done with the softer pencils, the harder ones being used for the light, transparent tones and fine detail. A little experimenting will usually show what pencils are best suited to the paper to be used and to the subject to be drawn. The fact that the weather makes a great difference in the pencils required is not usually recognized, but it is true that pencils that are just right on a dry day will prove too hard when the air is damp and the paper filled with moisture. Pencils of different manufacture vary in their grading so it is generally best to use those of one make on a drawing. Cheap pencils seldom prove satisfactory as the lead is variable and often so gritty as to scratch the paper.
Paper—Almost any drawing paper will do, but the choice depends mainly on the size and character of the drawing to be made. For small sketches it is best, as a rule, to use smoother paper than for large work,—in fact it is almost impossible to draw fine detail on extremely rough paper. A glazed paper, however, is seldom desirable as the shiny surface is dulled in an objectionable manner if the eraser is used. Sometimes, however, very crisp, snappy sketches are made on glazed paper, but a soft pencil is required for such work. Extremely rough paper is occasionally satisfactory for a large drawing, but a medium- rough surface is best for general work. Some tracing papers are very good and have the advantage that the sketch can be first blocked out on one sheet and then rendered on a second sheet placed over the first. The drawings by the author illustrating this text were made for the most part on "kid finish" Bristol Board, which has the advantage of being stiff and durable, with a firm surface.
It is often well to have several standard sizes for sketch sheets, one small enough to slip into the pocket, and one or two larger sizes. Drawing paper of the Imperial size of 22 in. x 30 in. can be cut without waste to several convenient proportions, such as 15 in. x 22 in., 11 in. x 15 in. and 7½ in. x 11 in. Some draftsmen prefer to have punched sheets to be used in a standard notebook cover, 8 in. x 10½ in., being satisfactory. The sketch books and pads for sale in all art stores are good for small work.
Erasers—As a rule it is best to avoid the use of erasers so far as possible, as erasing often injures the paper surface, but art gum or a soft white eraser is necessary for removing construction lines and for cleaning the sheet. A fairly hard red or green eraser may be required sometimes for correcting errors, and a soft "kneaded" rubber is very useful in lifting superfluous tone from a portion of a drawing. An erasing shield is an essential if changes are to be made.
Brush—A soft brush is needed for keeping the drawing free from dust as tiny specks often cause spots and streaks as the pencil passes over them. The paper should always be dusted with care after erasing is done.
Boards—It is usually well to fasten the drawing to a board of convenient size with thumb tacks. Be sure that the board is very smooth, for unless it is so or the paper very thick, the grain of the wood may show in the final drawing. When using thin or medium-weight drawing paper it is best to put an extra sheet or two under the drawing to insure a good surface.
Fixatif—Sketches done with soft pencils rub and soil so easily after they are completed that it is customary to spray or "fix" them. An atomizer and bottle of fixatif can be obtained in any art store but the fixatif usually sold tends to turn the drawing slightly yellow and also causes a gloss or shine if too much is applied. A French fixatif made for spraying pastels has the advantage of being more transparent and of causing less shine, but is quite expensive.
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