Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Variety of Line

In this engraved illustration of a billiard player by Paul Gavarni (1804-1866), there's a wonderful variety of line.

The score is nothing to fifteen, so the player is worried.

Squiggly lines describe the hair. Curving lines follow the
curves of his forehead. Short, staccato lines define the
plane change of his nose. 

Think, straight, parallel vertical lines
and simple outlines define the setting, but
push it back in space.

Relaxed zig-zags describe the repose of the floor.
Thin arcs follow the arc of his shin.

Masters of engraving and pen-and-ink knew the descriptive potential of a simple line. The old-time art instruction books recommended doing exercises of a variety of types of linework to stay in practice. 

Then, when you go into the finish, it takes a deliberation to decide what sort of line best suits the subject and the story. 
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Jim Douglas said...

Jim, do you know if an artist would somehow layout a drawing on the plate before diving in with the engraving tool?

James Gurney said...

Jim, I'm not sure. It was pretty common for the engraver to be a different person from the artist. This one was actually engraved not by Gavarni himself but by someone whose name started Ba... I would guess that Gavarni's drawing was a good deal sketchier or more preliminary, and that a lot of the credit would have to go to the engraver.

Lou said...

Similar to some degree to the Japanese school where "artists" were very rarely carvers and certainly not printers. In this instance you have to assume the engraver knew exactly what they were trying to get soon after they were handed the artists sketch.
I think it would be awesome to see the correspondence between artist and engraver/colorist/lithographer. etc., etc.
I'd like to think that at least the artist handed the technician ("engraver") the scribed plate or even the etched plate and the talented tech took it from there.

Jim Douglas said...

Jim, that's interesting. In an oblique way, the artist/engraver relationship of the past is similar to today's artist/Photoshop relationship. Who deserves credit for the final work? The originator of the concept or the one (or the software program) who carries out the production?

The new movie The Founder, starring Michael Keaton, asks a similar question: Who is the real founder of McDonalds? The McDonalds brothers, who invented the idea of fast food, or Ray Kroc, who built the company into an international success and household name.

Unknown said...

Beautiful engraving. I agree with Lou that Carvani might have scribed the plate himself, before taking it to the engraver. Such a "team effort" is still practiced today, i.e. the graphic novel/comics industry where it's very common that the (main artist )pencil artist hands the finished pencils over to the ink artist, who is doing the outlines and then passes it on to the colourist and also the lettering artist...and they're usually all credited for their work

James Pailly said...

Thanks for sharing this. Line work is something I think I need to work on more. I can turn to this sort of engraving as an example of how to improve.