Pen & Ink

Pen and Ink Drawing Lessons & Techniques





In all modern decorative illustration, and, indeed, in all departments of decorative design, the influences of two very different and distinct points of view are noticeable; the one demanding a realistic, the other a purely conventional art. The logic of the first is, that all good pictorial art is essentially decorative; that of the second, that the decorative subject must be designed in organic relation to the space which it is to occupy, and be so treated that the design will primarily fulfil a purely ornamental function.

That is to say, whatever of dramatic or literary interest the decorative design may possess must be, as it were, woven into it, so that the general effect shall please as instantly, as directly, and as independently of the meaning, as the pattern of an Oriental rug. The former, it will be seen, is an imitative, the latter an inventive art. In the one, the elements of the subject are rendered with all possible naturalism; while, in the other, effects of atmosphere and the accidental play of light and shade are sacrificed to a conventional rendering, by which the design is kept flat upon the paper or wall. One represents the point of view of the painter and the pictorial illustrator; the other that of the designer and the architect. The second, or conventional idea, has now come to be widely accepted as a true basic principle in decorative art.

The idea is not by any means novel; it has always been the fundamental principle of Japanese art; but its genesis was not in Japan. The immediate inspiration of the new Decorative school, as far as it is concerned with the decoration of books, at least, was found in the art of Dürer, Holbein, and the German engravers of the sixteenth century,—interest in which period has been lately so stimulated by the Arts and Crafts movement in England. This movement, which may fairly be regarded as one of the most powerful influences in latter-day art, was begun with the aim of restoring those healthy conditions which obtained before the artist and the craftsman came to be two distinct and very much extranged workers.

The activities of the movement were at first more directly concerned with the art of good book-making, which fructified in the famous Kelmscott Press (an institution which, while necessarily undemocratic, has exerted a tremendous influence on modern printing), and to-day there is scarcely any sphere of industrial art which has not been influenced by the Arts and Crafts impetus.

Criticisms of the School This modern decorative renaissance has a root in sound art principles, which promises for it a vigorous vitality; and perhaps the only serious criticism which has been directed against it is, that it encourages archaic crudities of technique which ignore the high development of the reproductive processes of the present day; and, moreover, that its sympathies tend towards mediæval life and feeling. While such a criticism might reasonably be suggested by the work of some of its individual adherents, it does not touch in the least the essential principles of the school.

Art cannot be said to scout modernity because it refuses to adjust itself to the every caprice of Science. The architect rather despises the mechanically perfect brick (very much to the surprise of the manufacturer); and though the camera can record more than the pencil or the brush, yet the artist is not trying to see more than he ever did before. There are, too, many decorative illustrators who, while very distinctly confessing their indebtedness to old examples; are yet perfectly eclectic and individual, both in the choice and development of motive. Take, for example, the very modern subject of the cyclist by Mr. A. B. Frost, Fig. 61.

There are no archaisms in it whatever. The drawing is as naturalistic and just as careful as if it were designed for a picture. The shadows, too, are cast, giving an effect of strong outdoor light; but the treatment, broad and beautifully simple so as to be reconcilable with the lettering which accompanied it, is well within conventional lines. That the character of the technical treatment is such as to place no tax on the mechanical inventiveness of the processman is not inexcusable archæology.

Fig. 61

A valuable attribute of this conventional art is, that it puts no bounds to the fancy of the designer. It is a figurative language in which he may get away from commonplace statement. What has always seemed to me a very logical employment of convention appears in the Punch cartoons of Sir John Tenniel and Mr. Lindley Sambourne. Even in those cartoons which are devoid of physical caricature (and they are generally free from this), we see at a glance that it is the political and not the personal relations of the personæ that are represented; whereas in the naturalistic cartoons of Puck, for example, one cannot resist the feeling that personalities are being roughly handled.

Relation A chief principle in all decorative design and treatment is that of Relation. If the space to be ornamented be a book-page the design and treatment must be such as to harmonize with the printing. The type must be considered as an element in the design, and, as the effect of a page of type is broad and uniformly flat, the ornament must be made to count as broad and flat likewise. The same principle holds equally in mural decoration. There the design ought to be subordinate to the general effect of the architecture. The wall is not to be considered merely as a convenient place on which to plaster a picture, its structural purpose must be regarded, and this cannot be expressed if the design or treatment be purely pictorial—if vague perspective distances and strong foreground accents be used without symmetry or order, except that order which governs itself alone. In other words, the decoration must be organic.

Fig. 62

Classes of Decorative Design Decorative illustrations may be broadly classified under three heads as follows: First, those wherein the composition and the treatment are both conventional, as, for example, in the ex-libris by Mr. A. G. Jones, Fig. 62. Second, where the composition is naturalistic, and the treatment only is conventional, as in Mr. Frost's design. Third, where the composition is decorative but not conventional, and the treatment is semi-natural, as in the drawing by Mr. Walter Appleton Clark, Fig. 63. (The latter subject is of such a character as to lend itself without convention to a decorative effect; and, although the figure is modeled as in a pictorial illustration, the organic lines are so emphasized throughout as to preserve the decorative character, and the whole keeps its place on the page.) Under this third head would be included those subjects of a pictorial nature whose composition and values are such as to make them reconcilable to a decorative use by means of borders or very defined edges, as in the illustration by Mr. A. Campbell Cross, Fig. 64.

Fig. 63
Fig. 64

The Decorative Outline Another essential characteristic of decorative drawing is the emphasized Outline. This may be heavy or delicate, according to the nature of the subject or individual taste. The designs by Mr. W. Nicholson and Mr. Selwyn Image, for instance, are drawn with a fatness of outline not to be obtained with anything but a brush; while the outlines of M. Boutet de Monvel, marked as they are, are evidently the work of a more than usually fine pen. In each case, however, everything is in keeping with the scale of the outline adopted, so that this always retains its proper emphasis. The decorative outline should never be broken, but should be kept firm, positive, and uniform. It may be heavy, and yet be rich and feeling, as may be seen in the Mucha design, Fig.65. Generally speaking, the line ought not to be made with a nervous stroke, but rather with a slow, deliberate drag. The natural wavering of the hand need occasion no anxiety, and, indeed, it is often more helpful to the line than otherwise.

Fig. 65

Perhaps there is no more difficult thing to do well than to model the figure while still preserving the decorative outline. Several examples of the skilful accomplishment of this problem are illustrated here. Observe, for instance, how in the quaint Dürer-like design by Mr. Howard Pyle, Fig. 66, the edges of the drapery-folds are emphasized in the shadow by keeping them white, and see how wonderfully effective the result is. The same device is also to be noticed in the book-plate design by Mr. A. G. Jones, Fig. 62, as well as in the more conventional treatment of the black figure in the Bradley poster, Fig. 67.

Fig. 66
Fig. 67

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