The Art of Illustration – ‘Line’ And Lines

THOUGH the pen has its special characteristics and advantages, these should not be strained in order to make a display of ” penmanship ” at the expense of the form expressed. Line, Line, Line, and always Line, as expression of the essential form in the simplest and most direct manner should be the aim of the stylist with the pen, as with any other point.

Theories of lines. Watts and the Intransigeants On one occasion Watts was particularly interesting on the subject of line and largeness of style. He dwelt on the fact that few things in nature are exactly globular or circular—the more exactly it tended towards the smoothly spherical the smaller an object appeared, but that usually even those forms which most tend towards the circular were in nature made up of broken arcs of larger circles. We were walking round the garden at Little Holland House, and to emphasize his point he pulled a nasturtium leaf, which conveyed his idea to a nicety.

Extremes meet sometimes, yet it is remarkable how closely Watts’ theory resembled that of the ” Intransigeants ” as they were at that time known—the group to which Toulouse de L’Hautrec, Gauguin, and van Gogh belonged. These were destined later to belonged.

” Post Impressionists.” When I explained Watts’ theory to A. S. Hartrick, then just back from France, where he had seen much of this group, he told me that one of their tenets was—” All drawing is an Egg,” the theory, as I understood it at the time, containing the idea at its root that all forms take shape, no matter how complicated, from their origin ; as well as its more obvious implications.

” ‘Tis de outline what make turn—what make turn is de outline,” was a favourite saying of Durand at the Graphic ; and it was, I imagine, a rendering of a saying of Ingres, under whom he had, I believe, studied.

No matter how dark a tone is used, or how fine the lines composing it may be, it is essential that the direction of any group of these lines should be carefully considered, and as truly laid as if they were individual outlines. Insensitiveness in this matter may undo much otherwise fine drawing. So far from solidifying it, which is usually their intention, ill-directed lines may flatten a form as with an iron, or crumple it like tin. Qualifying lines should always be considered as a group, otherwise the individual lines may have the effect of a pattern upon the surface rather than suggesting the surface itself.

A very good example of a nice discrimination in this matter is to be seen in the Austin Dobson bookplate by E. A. Abbey, where the value of every line and of the spaces between lines has been calculated with extraordinary nicety, so that lines and spaces of almost equal value appear at will either as a group or as individual lines. This will be better understood if the lines representing the floor boards in the tiny picture upon the wall be compared with the light half tone of the background ; and if the high lights upon the furniture are studied, it will be seen what effect is gained by seeing to it that, small as they are, they are kept unchallenged by equivalent lights near them. These lights might easily have been thrown away if their predominance had not been meticulously safeguarded. The luminosity of the shadow, and the suggestion of texture, are also deserving of careful study , and altogether this little drawing is to be regarded as a miracle of dainty craftsmanship in its particular kind.