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 Posts and pages on topics related to technical art history, Lala Ragimov

 1400s-1700s drawing treatises online
 Jombert's drawing treatise (excerpt translation)
 Copying a Rubens drawing (materials, techniques)
  Copying a Rubens painting (materials, techniques)
 Preparing to draw (from 1400s-1700s treatises)
 Hatching and shading (from 1400s-1700s treatises)

 Painting materials of Rubens; bibliography
 Renaissance woodcut tools 
 Image gallery: my copies and reconstructions
 Inspired by Rubens (Getty Museum page)  
 Roger de Piles on drawing technique, my translation (see below) 

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Roger de Piles on Drawing Technique

     My lightly abridged translation of pages about drawing technique (pp 9-33) from the 1684 book Les premiers élémens de la peinture pratique (French original HERE).  I haven't found an English version, so I made one.  I will be glad if you contact me with corrections or comments.  Thanks to Vincent Raffier for his suggestions.  
Lala Ragimov

roger de piles illustration

p 8 (p 32 pdf)

Chapitre V
About different ways to draw.

It is not enough to trace the proportions of the human body with lines called contours,
p 9
they also need be shown with relief enclosed in these contours, something created with the help of lights and shadows given to the parts.  These lights and shadows can be produced in several ways, and that is what is usually called "drawing".

Usually drawing is reduced into three types: that done with chalk/crayon, with pen and with wash.

Chalk is the easiest to control and more suitable for carefully finished drawings and so is good for beginners; it is convenient because it can be erased by rubbing it lightly with the soft part of a bread loaf, this way the work can be easily corrected or changed.
To improve and to acquire good style one needs to first copy chalk drawings that were done carefuly and boldly at the same time.

Good chalks (crayons) contribute to the pleasure of drawing. Usually three types of stone are used: one is red and is called sanguine, another black and the third is graphite. It is best to chose the tender and soft ones, you can buy them prepared ready to use. Once you have chosen them well, you should take care not to put them in a place where it is too dry, as in a pocket. When the heat dries them, one cannot use them without moistening them from time to time with saliva which is very inconvenient.

The Pen (quill) suits better, it seems, to those who draw with ease than to those who are just starting, because all its strokes are strong and cannot be erased.
Nevertheless there are those who believe that it is good to start with it because it makes you more careful about what you do and where you place your lines, not having the possibility to erase them: but most of the masters don't share this view. To learn to control the pen well there is nothing better than copying the prints of the Carracci, and to create with the pen all the contours and hatch-marks that the burin has made: because one needs to be very advanced to profit from their pen drawings, they are made with spirit and marvellous taste.

The Wash is done with a liquid which one uses with a brush to give the shadows necessary for your drawing. One mixes more or less water into this liquid according to whether one wants to give more or less force to the places one touches. It is for that one needs to have
clean water nearby in which you can unload your brush to the degree you will judge necessary, in any case you are completely free to go over your shadows as much as you like to make them stronger and darker.

This way of drawing is much faster and more economical than others: but it is not as suitable to create careful finish. It suits great Painters who want to bring to light an idea for a great work, and who want to make what one calls a sketch (esquisse).

It is not that you shouldn't draw in this manner if you don't have great ability: one can very well use all these ways, whichever one will want and like more, for entertainment and for a change. It is possible to even mix these three ways if you want, because one can see many
washed drawings retouched with the pen or chalk on top.

You could wash with more colours, all sorts of liquids are good for this, as long as they are dark enough and can make sufficiently dark shadows. But the liquids one takes usually are those made of China ink, of Bistre and of Indigo: because those three come in a form of a stone and are easily dissolved in a bit of water. The indigo is the most difficult to dissolve and so is not used much. China ink is made in China, the real kind is rare but counterfeited ones from Holland are easy to find and some say they are better than the real thing.
Indigo comes from the Indies, and the bistre is made of condensed soot, dissolved and dried.

Chapitre VI
What should be the first aim of those who start drawing.

Those who begin to draw have to do three things: the first is to get the eye used to accurate judgement, the second to acquire facility of execution and to "break in" your hand, and the third is to develop good taste.

To develop the accuracy of judgement one should never use a compass and transfer the measurements of the parts that you are drawing, but to judge the size
of one part by the size of another and this way to compare their proportion to each other. You should tell yourself, for example "I think this line is as long as the half of that one; or that this distance is equal to that one, or that one is bigger or smaller," and so on. It doesn't mean that when your drawing is finished you cannot use a compass for curiosity, to see if you got everything right. Michelangelo said that one has to have the compass in the eyes.

The ease of execution improves with more work, and work is is one thing that can't be recommended enough in the Arts: all the plans and thoughts are useless without the ability to complete them, and nothing can give more  frustration to the person at work as the obstacles he has in his work.
To apply it to the draughtsman, how can the passion to learn be satisfied if while trying to copy a beautiful figure or head one finds resistance from the hand that didn't have enough exercise and has become rusty from laziness? Apelles didn't want one day to pass without working.

For the taste, if you don't get used to good things from the beginning it will be difficult not to get used to bad ones, which cannot be abandoned without much pain and with which one stays often almost all one's life.

So with a lot of exercise you need to get your eyes to judge, your hand to work with ease, and if those habits concentrate on bad models the taste will unnoticeably get used
to them because that which often enters the mind through the eyes stays there for a long time and makes a strong impression. It is thus extremely important to show beginners only things of good taste, so that drawings that they copy come either from the Antique or from reputable Masters.

Chapitre VII  
With what objects should one start.

As was stated in the previous chapter, beginners should only imitate things that create good taste.  In this chapter the question is whether one should start with a landscape or
animals or human figures, or everything indifferently <...>  
I say that one should start with heads because mistakes of proportion are not as visible in drawings of trees or flowers, but the artist himself can identify his faults when drawing heads. One who draws a head well will draw a flower well. <...>


Chapitre VIII 
That it is better to draw large at first.

Draw big as much as you can especially at first because the hand gets broken in better and becomes bolder, and because the faults and beauty are more visible in big drawings. One who draws large will draw small well,
but those who always draw small often embarrass themselves when they draw large. <...>

Chapitre IX
When one should draw after Nature.

First one should copy well-finished drawings on white paper to understand the whole process, then drawings on different kinds of paper, and after a year of such exercise and having some facility one should draw after Paintings to let oneself go, then return to one's regular exercise, until one is capable of drawing after relief (sculpture),
p 21 
which one should be able to draw well before drawing after Nature.

Chapitre X
That to imitate an original one needs to start by sketching.

Sketching is making appear on paper a light idea of what you want to draw, so that if you make a mistake you can correct it. It makes sense before finishing each part to see if its proportionate to others, and you can't do that unless all the parts are before your eyes: so you should distribute them first each in its place only to know the [position of the main] masses as correctly as possible and with a 
light hand and soft charcoal and with almost invisible lines, so you can easily erase them when you want to fix the contours and finish all details.

For example to imitate the head A, I would draw the sketch B that contains roughly all parts, and after comparing proportions of all parts one with another, and being happy with them, I would erase my sketch with a clean cloth to leave a light trace, and I would then finish the contours and the whole work.

To sketch you need to keep your body straighter and to be a little further from the subject than usual, so that you can see the drawing and the original together without moving your head and compare them.

Chapitre XI  
Advice to help drawing with correct proportions.

There are two easy methods: the first is to proportion one part to another, so your eyes do the job of the compass, carrying and comparing length of width of one thing to another to judge if it is larger or smaller or equal.  The first method is admirable to get the eyes used to accuracy.

The second is to imagine plumb-lines and level lines (or whatever other lines you like that can help you) everywhere to see if one part corresponds to another. <...>


Chapitre XII 
An excellent exercise to profit from your studies.

A good way to improve is to draw something you copied the day before, this time without looking at the original, out of your head, and then to compare your two drawings to see what you have retained. It has three good effects: it imprints the beauty you seek and have studied on your mind, it makes you think more carefully about the original you are copying and thus makes your copy better, and it is the best exercise for your memory which is a necessary skill in any study.

Chapitre XIII 
That one should learn to finish drawings before getting used to "croquer." 

croqué drawing  ("loose", or literally: "crunched") is one that is not carefully finished and is completed with big strokes.  It makes the best effect when seen from afar.  This method is fast, efficient, free and 
suited to active, free and impatient minds, but if they cannot forsee the consequences and are only thinking to make free strokes because for these free and fast strokes you need to have previously studied their placement with a lot of care and exactness, which comes from practice of carefully finishing all parts. It is best to do this careful and assiduous study in your youth, in the ardour of beginning, because it is diligent work to which one is not willingly reduced later, when one is not used to it from the start.

p 28

Chapitre XIV
That you should give spirit and character to things you draw, and how to achieve that.

A drawing is esteemed not just for having the right proportions and contours, but also for imitating the character of visible objects, the character being the first effect they have on our eyes. 

It's in that last definition that drawing becomes an instrument one needs to express one's thought in the most exact and lively way.  If you want to use it successfully, make sure that the drawing is not just an imperfect imitation -
since the Colour is missing it is important to supplement this defect with a spirited expression of marks (expression spirituelle de traits) that should differ according to the diversity of objects that one sees in nature, because figures require different handling of the chalk or quill pen than animals and landscapes, and each in its genre has its parts that need to be expressed differently from others to give them spirit and real character.

Only those who have genius find this spirit on their own this and are capable of noticing what it consists of.  All those who have genius, but do not do that because they are not informed and because of lack of careful consideration, have not yet cultivated all their talents. <...>

This spirit has to be based on the nature of the thing. In figures, for example, one can consider two things: the nude and the draperies. The character of the Nude is generally speaking smooth, soft and turning in the round and as a consequence the shadows need to be soft and equal whether you want to finish them or do them but lightly: so the handling that fits them best is to grener (alt. grainer) or to hatch equally, in a way so that in the shadows the colour of the paper doesn't seem at all too unequal or too noticeably unequal.

The draperies the nature of which is to be lively and to have an uncertain shape want to be touched more firmly: They are either wave-like or broken; hatching suits both types very well,
and you should make the movement of the hand conform to the nature of the folds.

The majority of Animals are covered with fur or feathers and it is mainly in these that nature makes appear to our eyes a marvellous diversity both in the whole and in the details of each animal. How many different feathers on a bird and how many strands of fur or wool turning differently on the animals who wear them; so variety is one characteristic of animals, the other characteristic is lightness, because the least wind easily makes it all move. Now this character of variety and lightness can't be better expressed in drawing than with the point of the chalk or with the quill pen which one turns and which one treats differently according
p 32
to the direction in which the feathers or fur of the animal is turning or to the strange and wave-like movement of the arrangement of the hair or strands of wool.

The landscape needs to be drawn delicately: both the masses in the distance, depending on how dark they are, and the leaves that are in front that need to be worked and touched more sharply (pointedly) or more roundedly conforming to the type of the tree that one wants to represent. The diversity and the lightness of the trees one represents is important to spirit and good taste to landscapes. That which one sees cut in wood after Titian are marvellous for the character, they also served as models for the Carracci.

p 33

Chapitre XV
Of the different kinds of Paper.

There are two types on which you can draw: the white and the half-tone. And of the half-tone there are three types: grey, blue, and tinted with bistre.

The grey and blue come from the mills in that colour: but the bistre one is made of white paper which one passes with a sponge or another thing with sooty water loaded more or less depending on whether one wants the paper more or less brown.

One has invented half-tint papers to spare the work with the chalk. This way the colour of the paper serves as a mid-tone that you only need to shade and heighten with chalk. This way is faster than on the white paper: but beginners shouldn't use it early, and when they use it, they need to first take the paper with a feeble tint: because the darker the tint of the paper, the more art one needs to add the white well.

The marks of good paper are strength and fine and even grain.

For those who draw with a quill the paper only needs to be smooth, and for those who wash it needs to be smooth and strong.

© translation by Lala Ragimov, 2013