The Art of Illustration – Suggestions To Be Found In Copper-plate Engraving For Pen Drawing

WHILE the mediaevally inclined among book illustrators have been inspired by the work of the wood-cutter of line, since his work was designed to be printed in the same manner as letterpress, and frequently with it, there is as much or more reason why he should look, not to the wood-cutters but to the engravers on copper as exemplars of strict style, if he must look backwards for inspiration, since the burin naturally yields a line much more in correspondence with our modern steel nib than the line left by the wood-cutter’s knife, and is equally reproducible. It has to be borne in mind always that the wood-cutter had to make two lines always to the draughtsman’s one, and it is remarkable how well he generally managed to preserve the illusion that the draughtsman’s line is the work of the wood-cutter, rather than the white space in which it exists. It is the white and not the black that is the wood-cutter’s work, it being his business to see that the white should touch without impinging upon the black line drawn upon the wood by the artist. It is indeed miraculous with what fidelity his uninspiring task was carried out, since any display of personality on his own part, except in a capacity for devoted self-sacrifice, must prove a fatal impertinence. It remains none the less that the line printed from a wood block is not the

While maintaining Direr’s strictness of style, Sandys contrived to add local colour and a fuller light and shade.

The modern pen draughtsman, therefore, in looking back, while not neglecting the great wood cuts as a basis for the formation of style in drawing, should not neglect a study of the engravings on metal of the same period. There is no reason why the virility of the one should not be combined with the delicacy of the other in due proportion, since modern methods of photographic reproduction can render either or both at once with impartial ease and fidelity, the only restraining considerations for the artist being the appropriateness of their employment, the quality of the paper, and the printing to be expected.

That any humane being can be found to regret the days of the facsimile wood engraver is a wonder, since here is a case where the hand is definitely inferior to the machine. Accuracy was the highest requirement, and it would be as inhumane to desire the mistress of the house with great pains to miscalculate the servants’ wages for the month rather than to get them right by the simple means of a ready-reckoner. And yet many humane people do sigh for everything to be ” hand done,” instead of devoting their energies towards seeing that the machine is properly directed. The risk of the employment of a machine is that things are sometimes made so easy that a habit of entire carelessness is induced, and the machine is blamed for the defects of the man behind it.

The V shaped burin, if used with variations of force, ploughs a line more nearly resembling in its varying thickness that of the pen than does the etched line, and the work of a master of the burin might be studied as a corrective against any tendency towards sloppiness of style. Not being so facile of handling as the pen, economy, precision, and restraint are virtues which the burin imposes, where the pen sometimes runs away with the artist and leads to profusion, indefinition, and haphazard workmanship.