| 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
corrections or comments. Thanks to Vincent Raffier for his
8 (p 32 pdf)
is not enough to trace the proportions of the human body with lines
Usually drawing is reduced into three types: that done with chalk/crayon, with pen and with wash.
is the easiest to
control and more suitable for carefully finished drawings and so is
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
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
was stated in the previous chapter, beginners should only imitate
create good taste. In this chapter the question is whether
one should start with a landscape or
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,
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),
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
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
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.
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. <...>
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.
("loose", or literally: "crunched") is one that is not carefully
and is completed with
big strokes. It makes the best effect when seen from
This method is fast, efficient, free and
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.
in that last definition that drawing becomes an instrument one needs to
express one's thought in the most exact and lively way. If
want to use it successfully, make sure that the drawing is not just an
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. <...>
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,
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
which one turns and which one treats differently according
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.
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