Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sketching at Boring Meetings

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) didn't like to speak up at meetings, so he reached for a pen and some paper instead.

J. S. Sargent, Sketch of Sir David Murray (1849-1933)
and John Seymour Lucas (1849-1923)
Martin Birnbaum, in his recollections about John Singer Sargent, said: "When he felt bored during some of the meetings of the Royal Academy which he was obliged to attend, he would pass the time making sketches of his fellow members, and Sir David Murray collected and preserved a volume of those hasty impressions."

Sargent's pen immediately sought out the essential lines and planes of the face.

Portrait Sketch of Sir Ernest
Albert Waterlow, R. A. (1850 - 1919)
Sometimes he seemed to be looking for a quick tonal statement. 

Caricature Portrait of Mrs. George Mosenthal
Other times he went for a humorous or highly reductive caricature, probably from memory. He even playfully experimented with tessellation and symmetrical ink blots.

Sargent's quick sketches show how he could bring a variety of visual tools to play in stating the essence of a person. Edwin Blashfield called him a "master of masters" and "a mind with a quite outstanding visual outlook." (Source


Jim Douglas said...

Jim, I'm hoping you can help me. I've been searching for a pen nib that can make a wide range of lineweights while (and this is the important part) also allows me to pull AND push it on paper. I can find a dynamic nib but it tugs on the paper whenever I do anything but a downstroke. Can you suggest a versatile nib that can achieve this sort of thing? The fluid strokes and quick hatching I see in these Sargent sketches seem to be made freely in multiple directions. What sort of drawing instrument do you think he used? Any insights you can offer would be much appreciated. Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Jim, I like the Ahab Noodler's flex nib fountain pen, which gives quite a flexible line for a fountain pen.
Sargent may have used a dip pen here, but I'm not sure.

Jim Douglas said...

Thanks for the tip! I just ordered one. Perusing the other Sargent sketches on the Harvard Art Museums website, it looks like Sargent certainly used a dip pen and even a brush when he wanted to lay down a thick line or wash, pushing his contour drawing into a tonal "painting". His "Portrait Sketch of Sir Frederick Alexis Eaton" is a beautiful example of this:

As you said recently, Sargent was a master at "conveying so much with so little." Edgar Degas's sketches are equally elegant. So inspiring.

Riley Woodworth said...

I do this all the time when my professors get loose on a tangent. Awesome to see it is a common pastime through history. You have a great blog, super simple, yet insightful.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Jim Douglas
You can use a fountain pen and a waterbrush. The waterbrush can be used to pick up the pigment from the fountain pen lines and can create quite beautiful tonal washes. Or you can even dip the tip of the waterbrush inside the fountain pen nib and pick up a lot of ink this way to lay down dark washes.

K. Moody said...

Oh Good! I'm glad to see I'm not alone! I take a sketch book and colored pencils with me everywhere I will be sitting for any length of time. Boy-! Does it help with boredness! I even got a clay student hooked on drawing everywhere he goes too. It's so therapeutic and sometimes helps me stay awake. (But not always.)

Unknown said...

I've been wondering, we always hear about Sargent and then we hear about Sorolla and Zorn. Are there any other painters from that time period who had similar bold and impressive painterly styles?

James Gurney said...

Robert, you can also check out Giovanni Boldini, Peder Krøyer, Cecilia Beaux, Philip Alexius de László—and maybe Nicolai Fechin, Haddon Sundblom and Tom Lovell.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

From the Russians, I would add Repin as well. And Serov, although he is of a younger generation ( but then so is Fechin)

Unknown said...

James Gurney and Peter Drubetskoy, thanks for the information. Good suggestions.

Ithili said...

I ran across your videos at the same time as your blog -- looking for different things -- blog while looking for gouache portrait info and then councidentally on YouTube watercolor searches (not sure if my Google overlord had something to do with that -- good work if so). Both Sargeant and Serov cane up. I love how you include these historical artists on your blog in addition to the detailed method informstion. Just got done casein - curious what brushes you use for casein as it seems to be hard on brushes?