Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mass Drawing

Many art students find the transition from drawing to painting a bit daunting, because there are so many variables to contend with.

One of the best painting teachers was Harold Speed (1872-1957). A sample of work is shown above. His books on both drawing and painting are among the finest sources of classic art instruction. Speed uses the term “mass drawing” to distinguish it from “outline drawing.”

Mass drawing in monochrome oil paint is one of the transitional steps from drawing to painting. The purpose of mass drawing is to bring students “from simple outlines to approach the full realization of form in all the complexity of light and shade.”

In this demonstration, Speed follows four logical steps:

Step 1. The blocking in of various areas in charcoal.
Step 2. Middletone block-in with lights painted into it
Step 3. Shadows added with dark paint.
Step 4. Refinement and completion.

The Practice and Science of Drawing (still in print), link.
The Science and Practice of Oil Painting, link.
Selection of Speed's Portraits in the National Gallery, link. (thanks, Art4Marc)


Glendon Mellow said...

I think this is still mainly what I do now, but I learned my 2-d oil painting largely from painting tiny 3-d Warhammer minatures.

The idea is the same: Paint an overall colour, use a black wash to sink into crevices, then dry-brush pale tones and white for highlights.

High school we focused on contours, university we focused on mass.

I really want to know what the subject above is looking at.

Unknown said...

Wow, Jim, thanks for posting a full color example of his work. Those are hard to come by aside from a few examples at the National Portrait Gallery UK.
He was a teacher that could really 'walk the walk as well as talk the talk'. It's almost a shame that a Sargent painting (as good as it is) graces the Dover edition of his painting book and not one of his own.

Jonathan Woodward said...

Hi James,

Another great post - been wanting to make that daunting leap into the world of paint for a while now and I think I'm going to use this exercise as my entry point (especially as I'm also a bit afraid of colour!)


Joseph Sapulich said...

Both books by Harold Speed are treasures. The painting demo you included here of his painting stages encompass the teaching of strong tonal value bands needed to paint the human form with emotional impact. Mr. Speed understands the beauty of light and shadow. So much can be learned from the study of this sample. Posts like this make your blog such a strong resource for artists of all experience levels and backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I like this post. A cery good article. :)

Even though by now, I tend to use colors only. The images pop onto the paper or canvas right from my mind. Maybe it´s a bit more lazy when doing it without the proper pencil studies before applying the paint.

innisart said...

Thanks for posting the painting by Speed. His books are great, but the painting book suffers from a lack of color plates, a problem he himself laments in the text. It's nice to see what his work actually looks like.

caynazzo said...

FYI, the book on oils is out of stock at Amazon

Ben Mauro said...

Maybe i missed it, but have you posted anything on painting feathers and fur?

James Gurney said...

You guys are right: the color book is pretty hard to come by. I just have an old photocopy of it.

Ben, no I don't think I've covered feathers and fur, but it's a great topic for a future post.

Art4Marc, thanks for mentioning the NPG database for portraits. He certainly could walk the walk, as you say.

Patrick Dizon said...

Even that line drawing is amazing. It's just made up of shapes.

Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

An excellent painter who is freqently forgotten when the subject of old art instruction books comes up is Solomon J. Solomon. He wrote a very practical book on drawing and painting that was published in 1914. It can be found at the following link:
See also

The method proposed by Solomon J Solomon is very similar to the one followed by Harold Speed in his book on painting. Nevertheless, Solomon's book is to my opinion much more straightforward and offers a wider range of painting techniques.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for mentioning Solomon Solomon and for those great links. His book is another direct link to academic methods.

Unknown said...

James if you want i can send you the entire book by e-mail in word format with all the pictures already in it. It'll save you the time to compile a readable version. Just let me know if you would like this.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, William for offering to send that. Actually, I have a photocopy that I made from a real copy of Solomon's book in a nearby college library.