There is no pretension to an exhaustive treatment of a subject it would be difficult enough to exhaust, and it is dealt with in a way intended to bear rather upon the practical work of an art school, and to be suggestive and helpful to those face to face with the current problems of drawing and design.
These have been approached from a personal point of view, as the results of conclusions arrived at in the course of a busy working life which has left but few intervals for the elaboration of theories apart from practice, and such as they are, these papers are now offered to the wider circle of students and workers in the arts of design as from one of themselves.
They were illustrated largely by means of rough sketching in line before my student audience, as well as by photographs and drawings. The rough diagrams have been re-drawn, and the other illustrations reproduced, so that both line and tone blocks are used, uniformity being sacrificed to fidelity.
Outline, one might say, is the Alpha and Omega of Art. It is the earliest mode of expression among primitive peoples, as it is with the individual child, and it has been cultivated for its power of characterization and expression, and as an ultimate test of draughtsmanship, by the most accomplished artists of all time.
The old fanciful story of its origin in the work of a lover who traced in charcoal the boundary of the shadow of the head of his sweetheart as cast upon the wall by the sun, and thus obtained the first profile portrait, is probably more true in substance than in fact, but it certainly illustrates the function of outline as the definition of the boundaries of form.
As children we probably perceive forms in nature defined as flat shapes of colour relieved upon other colours, or flat fields of light on dark, as a white horse is defined upon the green grass of a field, or a black figure upon a background of snow.
Definition of Boundaries
To define the boundaries of such forms becomes the main object in early attempts at artistic expression. The attention is caught by the edges—the shape of the silhouette which remains the paramount means of distinction of form when details and secondary characteristics are lost; as the outlines of mountains remain, or are even more clearly seen, when distance subdues the details of their structure, and evening mists throw them into flat planes one behind the other, and leave nothing but the delicate lines of their edges to tell their character. We feel the beauty and simplicity of such effects in nature. We feel that the mind, through the eye resting upon these quiet planes and delicate lines, receives a sense of repose and poetic suggestion which is lost in the bright noontide, with all its wealth of glittering detail, sharp cut in light and shade. There is no doubt that this typical power of outline and the value of simplicity of mass were perceived by the ancients, notably the Ancient Egyptians and the Greeks, who both, in their own ways, in their art show a wonderful power of characterization by means of line and mass, and a delicate sense of the ornamental value and quality of line.
Formation of Letters
Regarding line—the use of outline from the point of view of its value as a means of definition of form and fact—its power is really only limited by the power of draughtsmanship at the command of the artist. From the archaic potters' primitive figures or the rudimentary attempts of children at human or animal forms up to the most refined outlines of a Greek vase-painter, or say the artist of the Dream of Poliphilus, the difference is one of degree.
The Fairies seven, who loved the land—that they the child might bless,
Yet one old Fairy they left out, in pure forgetfulness.
And at the feast, the dishes fair were of the reddest gold;
But when the Fairy came, not one for her, so bad and old,
Angry was she, because her place and dish had been forgot,
And angry things she muttered long, and kept her anger hot.
Until the Fairy godmothers their gifts and wishes gave:
She waited long to spoil the gifts, and her revenge to have.
One gave the Princess goodness, and one gave her beauty rare;
One gave her sweetest singing voice; one, gracious mien and air; One, skill in dancing; one, all cleverness; and then the crone Came forth, and muttered, angry still, and good gift gave she none;
But said, that in the future years the Princess young should die,
By pricking of a spindle-point—ah, woeful prophecy!
But now, a kind young Fairy, who had waited to the last,
Stepped forth, and said, “No, she shall sleep till a hundred years are past;
And then she shall be wakened by a King's son—truth I tell—
And he will take her for his wife, and all will yet be well.”
In vain in all her father's Court the spinning-wheel's forbid
In vain in all the country-side the spindles sharp are hid;
For in a lonely turret high, and up a winding stair,
There lives an ancient woman who still turns her wheel with care.
The Princess found her out one day, and tried to learn to spin;
Alas! the spindle pricked her hand—the charm had entered in!
And down she falls in death-like sleep: they lay her on her bed,
And all around her sink to rest—a palace of the dead!
A hundred years pass—still they sleep, and all around the place
A wood of thorns has risen up—no path a man can trace.
At last, a King's son, in the hunt, asked how long it had stood,
And what old towers were those he saw above the ancient wood.