Friday, May 29, 2015

GJ Book Club: Speed on Mass Drawing

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 9: Mass Drawing: Practical," from Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number. There's a lot of content here, so let's dive in!

1. Painting is drawing.
In this chapter, Harold Speed demonstrates his conception of monochrome painting as a form of drawing. He calls it "mass drawing," and unlike line drawing, there's a greater attention to shape, value, and edges.

2. Most objects can be reduced broadly into three tone masses, the lights (including the high lights, the half tones, and the shadows.
Speed's demonstration follows a process where he maps out the shapes in charcoal (sealed with shellac), then scrubs a thin layer of tone overall equal to the halftone.
a. Blocking out shapes, b. middle tone 'scrumbled' over the whole
Then the lights are painted into the wet halftone later. "Gradations are got by thinner paint, which is mixed with the wet middle tone of the ground."

c. Addition of the darks, d. finished work
Note the swatches of paint used at lower left. He's using raw umber and white. "Don't use much medium," he advises. This method is also discussed by Norman Rockwell in "Norman Rockwell Illustrator," where he calls it "painting into the soup."

3. The use of charcoal to the neglect of line drawing often gets the student into a sloppy manner of work, and is not so good a training to the eye and hand in a clear, definite statement.
I found this statement interesting. He seems to be suggesting that the monochrome painting leads to better results in students than the classic tonal charcoal study. But he admits that this particular method of painting into the halftone value isn't always useful for full-color painting because it can pollute the shadows. He'll get into color painting in later chapters (and in his next book), but basically he advises mixing up separate middle tone values for lights and shadows.

4. Try always to do as much as possible with one stroke of the brush.
This important statement leads off a discussion of the variable strokes and edges provided by various kinds of brushes. The brush adds the ability to place a definite shape, but also to feather the edges on the sides of the stroke. In addition, because of the amount of paint on the brush, it can leave a lighter (or darker) stroke relative to the value of the wet halftone layer.

5. Brush shapes.
Speed's chart shows rounds, flats, and filberts at the bottom, but the one in the third row he calls "Class C" seems to be a flat with rounded corners. Does anyone know whether that type of brush is still being made these days? From left to right are definite thick-paint strokes to feathery thin strokes.

6. How to fix errors, how to check accuracy.
He advises something like sight-size, namely setting the work next to the subject and comparing. He also suggests a "black glass," which is a "Lorraine mirror" mentioned in an earlier post of GurneyJourney. He discusses why the setting-out drawing must be accurately measured, but also urges students to be willing to "lose the drawing" under the paint. "It is often necessary when a painting is nearly right to destroy the whole thing in order to accomplish the apparently little that still divides it from what you conceive it to be."

7. Nothing is so characteristic of bad modelling as "gross roundness." 
"The surface of a sphere is the surface with the least character," he says. This is an extension of the earlier discussion about the aesthetic importance of retaining some straight lines and planes, the sense of the partially carved block.

8. Study from Life:

Blocking out the spaces occupied by masses.
Note: This is not a 'line drawing' but rather a map of masses.

Middle tone applied overall and lights placed.
Shadows added.

Completed head.
9. Importance of anatomy and cautions about overstating it.
Speed ends with a discussion of the importance of anatomical knowledge, but cautions against "overstepping the modesty of nature." He says, "Never let anatomical knowledge tempt you into exaggerated statements of internal structure, unless such exaggeration helps the particular thing you wish to express." When I worked with Frank Frazetta on Fire and Ice, he was always making this point, complaining about figure work that was overly musclebound.

10. Painting across vs. along the form.
Here he continues the point made in the previous chapter, but specifically talking about the brush.

11. Keep the lights separate from the shadows, let the half tone paper always come as a buffer state between them.
This is an essential point, extremely important in outdoor work under the full sun. In figure work indoors, mass drawing can also be done with red and white chalk on a tone paper where the paper equals the halftone value of the form.
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
3. Free online edition.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club on Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
New GJ Facebook page, credit Jenna Berry


jeffkunze said...

Thank you for your notes James!
One question about scrumbling. Is it a thinned out wash over the whole area, and then you us a cloth or something to lighten certain spots or do you more or less paint the wash heavier or lighter in certain areas? I just ask because you said ''scrumbled' over the whole" but there are lighter areas in the image and it's not just darker where the initial drawing was.


James Gurney said...

Jeff, good question. He called it "scrumbling," which is a non-standard term as far as I know. Maybe he meant to combine scumbling with scrubbing. But anyway, I believe he would have you use a minimum of medium, and you might even have to "shorten" the white be draining some of the oil out of it on absorbent paper. No rubbing, and no oily liquidy washes.

Sesco said...

6. "...lose the drawing..." I encountered this in books by the Presidential portraitist Howard Sanden, who was taught at the NYC Art Students League; He'll get the eyes perfect in monochrome, but loses the drawing when applying color. When I first encountered it, I thought to myself, "This seems foolish, or inefficient at best." Obviously, if you're a successful portraitist, who am I to second-guess. The process must work on some level. And although there is nothing wrong with practicing your memory --perhaps someone will tell me it's even preferable to practice your memory-- and I know it is perhaps critical to en plein air painting, it seems redundant. But as much experience as you have James, in multiple media, I wonder if you utilize this technique or if you could tell us the more preferential or efficient ways of avoiding 'losing the drawing'?

Tom Hart said...

On Point #2: I'm glad that you pointed out that the swatches at the bottom are the colors he used for that step. I missed that in the text. Also, maybe I missed this point as well (I don't have the book with me as I write), but I don't recall him mentioning the addition of the background tone, which in the second step doesn't match the swatch color. The effect of the background tone is really significant in the way it affects the perception of the other tones.

James Gurney said...

Tom, yes, that background tone as I understand it is the raw umber scrubbed on thinly enough to let the primed canvas color lighten it up. Speed mentions that in the reproduction, that first toned step looks darker than it should, but of course that tone stays the same in every step.

Sesco, yes, losing the drawing is just part of the process. It's not wasted time. You could dig back to the drawing if you needed to, using a rag, or you could make a photocopy of the drawing to have as reference on the side. But often the brush and paint discover a reading of the form that surpasses what you saw in the drawing stage, so it's a good thing to cover it up. Note that many painters of the past, from Bouguereau to Cornwell, used an India ink reinforced underdrawing, which gave a pretty definite line.

Crooner Dean said...

James, does this approach lend itself to working in gouache? watercolor? or a combination? A tube of Payne's grey watercolor and of white gouache are handy in my drawing kit, and I'm a little hesitant to get into oil just yet.

James Gurney said...

Dean, not really because gouache doesn't stay wet long enough, and drybrushing wouldn't get you smooth enough transitions. It's a good exercise to get familiar with oil, but if you don't want to bother with that, you might try the charcoal on tone paper idea.

Another related oil exercise is "scumbling the lights," which I talked about on a previous post:

James Gurney said...

Dean, not really because gouache doesn't stay wet long enough, and drybrushing wouldn't get you smooth enough transitions. It's a good exercise to get familiar with oil, but if you don't want to bother with that, you might try the charcoal on tone paper idea.

Another related oil exercise is "scumbling the lights," which I talked about on a previous post:

Crooner Dean said...

James, that's good to know about gouache drying too fast for smooth enough transitions. Once I decide what solvent I should pick up for brush care, I'll be good to go with trying out oil, and the scumbling the lights post covers some options. Thanks again for the tip on charcoal and white chalk on tone paper, as it's a most direct approach for quick studies. It strikes me that people who do things well have the right tools, and know how to use them. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Number 5: Rosemary and co made a flat with rounded corners at the request of David Shevlino. I wonder if it would make the same marks as in the sample from the author. Here's a link to Rosemary and co's page where the brush is illustrated. What do you think?

Christoffer Gertz Bech said...

It is worth noting that Solomon J. Solomon describes a similar way of painting in monochrome - painting lights and shadows into a halftone. Solomon also recommends it as a first step for a finished painting, adding colour afterwards by glazing and scumbling.

I've found that it is a really delightful way of painting for me. The way the paint mixes with the wet layer gives a very 'hands-on' feeling of form and gradations, and the fact that the paint is wet forces me to stop before things get too over-worked.

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Unknown said...

Mr. Gi-
Similer to ‘Sketchbookblue’ (in the last chapter), except for layouts, transfers, and thumbnails, my sketches always tend toward the tonal: all shadows and smudges and smears. I have to really make an effort to develop the ‘line’ aspect over (or rather under) the mass and play down the shadows. This always results in a much stronger and more interesting drawing, but it doesn’t come natural to me, I really want to ‘paint’ those mass tones w my pencil! I try to think of the line as the skeleton, or scaffolding, upon which to ‘paint’ the masses. It’s hard for me to ‘see’ the line out there in the real world, everything out there, to me, looks tonal or textured or colored or shaped. I find I really have to ‘impose’ the line into the drawing as a kind of interpretation of what my mind sees thru my eye.
In an earlier chapter, Speed refers to Michelangelo’s drawings as good examples of the ‘line approach,’ and Degas as an example of mass. I would agree, but add that Michelangelo’s fresco paintings, especially on the Vatican ceiling, are literally masterful examples of the ‘mass’ approach, and Degas’ sketches and drawings, while strongly influenced by the new-fangled photograph, are exquisite in their linear vocabulary. I don’t think it is simply just the medium, either pencil or paint, but ones skills that makes the difference.

5.) Brush Shapes
I am also curious about Speed’s class C brushes. If he didn’t have Filberts as class D, I would say most of my old, worn-down Filberts would do, but I think ‘Karin’ might be on to something. Or maybe Winsor Newton’s ‘double-thick filberts’ might fit the bill

At any rate, the only other ‘round-flats’ I am familiar with are stencil brushes (round and flat) or water-color ‘Mop’ brushes (flattish, but softly rounded). As for the stippling and scumbling techniques, decorative artists will sometimes use a ‘Flogger,’ ‘Cat-Tongue,’ ‘Domed-glazing,’ or ‘Varnish-brushes’ for special effects. I even keep several make-up brushes in my kit.

Thanks for guiding us though the Book Club, James. I am really learning a lot from you and your posse. -RQ

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