Water-colour painting is notoriously difficult, so much depends on directness and speed, and certainly of intention. Tentative or fumbling touches are disastrous, for they cannot be obliterated easily. The best landscapes in this medium are not only those finished on the spot, under the influence of a great enthusiasm for manifest beauty, which lends courage to the weak, and decision to the hesitant. Many of the old masters water-colour painted from notes, with enthusiasm either unabated or renewed. It is hard to assume the same degree of concentration in the studio, but not impossible.
the most admirable method is that by which each wash of colour, large or small, is never disturbed. It admits of practically no overpainting, sponging or scrubbing. the colour stays where it is put. Such perfection of technique is rarely achieved by the most experienced painter. Some manipulation is nearly always needed - whether a trifling reduction of tone, or a superimposition of another wash of colour to strengthen the first.
A direct wash dries with a surface bloom, considered a desirable thing, and indeed is beautiful to the initiated. Bloom may be seen in the blot of ink that has dried unnoticed. The free use of a very full brush in water-colour is described as the blot method, or the blottesque, a term improvised by Ruskin and now authorized by virtue of its inclusion in the dictionary. It will be observed that a blot dries with a dark edge, due to the raising of the paper beneath it, like a blister, and to the subsequent flow of pigment to the lower levels, that is, to its edges. The blottesque does not demand an invariable and indiscriminate, but a judicious, employment of accented edges, and while it may display the charming qualities of water-colour to the best advantage, it is not the only method. I recall an old men, whose ruddy, bearded face, and rusty clothes, were familiar in the small cathedral town in England where I lived. He painted street scenes, and would occupy the same stand for quite two months. His deliberations were protracted, but he never was uncertain. Naughty little boys would kick at his easel en passant, and throw things at him from ambush. He would spend a day over one red brick in a wall, reproducing its stains and its textures, but his love for detail did not explain his long-drawn dalliance with it. He painted in the faintest tones, so that an intense colour might represent the accumulated residuum of forty washes. Strange to say he achieved luminosity in colour instead of the opaque and teased effects that might be expected.
At the other extreme is a very popular and high-priced water-colourist who deals in bloom and breadth. His paintings consist of beautiful washes so obviously considered, so excessively mannered, that the spontaneity they were intended to indicate is utterly lost.
Another disciple of wash and bloom, on the other side of the Atlantic, is so unmannered and free that he fails in expression completely. He was nothing whatever but bloom and wash, the latter so summary and amorphous, that it suggests whatever you wish, like the leaves in a tea-cup.
It is remarkable how very individual technique becomes in water-colour. Every man of personality finally arrives at a method peculiarly his won, as unique as his own finger-print. When technique is obtrusive it becomes mere mannerism, a conscious striving for effect. It is only a means to an end - the manner of putting paint to paper. It hardly embraces the expressive side of painting.
I have imposed my manner upon many in the course of teaching, not from malice per pense, but in the hope that each pupil will gradually build up a manner of his won, that expresses his ego and not mine.
Some painters, as well as some statesmen, have weak intellects and are everlasting imitators, not artistic. A painter may be an abandoned mimic, at school he copies his teachers, which is only right, but he copies in turn every artist in town, which is not. He may do you that honour. After suffering a Nash complex, he graduates as a disciple of Cezanne, insofar as are concerned his lapses as a draughtsman. He will pass forty, and not paint anything he can truly call his own.
Wet Paper -
The technique of the companion of one summer's day might be described profitably. He takes a large, half-imperial sheet of water-colour board, and, as a preliminary, drops it in the lake to soak thoroughly. There was no pen or pencil work, no tentative lines in charcoal; the frenzy of creation was upon him - it brooked no delay. He attacked the wet board furiously with a big sable brush, and floated colour upon it with mighty sweeps, the large areas first, such as the cool expanse of sky, but with an eye for cool and warm tones, especially in masses of foliage. As the paper dries he turns to the modelling of smaller spaces, and finally introduces sharp accents, such as the dark inner bark of a silver birch, the shadows at its roots, and flecks of colour to suggest leaves against the sky or orange lichen on the rocks. In a few minutes he has produced a fine landscape - broad, a trifle amorphous perhaps, but tender and true.
This method is most satisfactory on a dull day, when tones tend towards flatness. But at the lake the sun is nearly always shining, creating sharp shadows, sparkling lights, and a definite divergence between cool and warm colours. The atmosphere also tends to define the whole landscape with a clarity and a strength unknown in damper climates. Distances that would be blue elsewhere, here retain their local colours, and the blues are driven to a more distant horizon. there is little or no haze to suggest mystery and breadth, but Mr. Brigden, who has sketched with me also, seizes upon the suspicion, and with it, invests his landscapes with a glamour that adds much to their beauty.
A London critic once claimed that certain Canadian paintings ‘make no pretence at atmosphere'. Perhaps he was an office boy, and not a real live critic at all, for his conception of landscape was so obviously influenced by the precincts of London, and its fogs. The proper relation of tones is a most important thing, and much more subtle here.
Canadian air, being clear and dry, adds other difficulties to the practice of water-colour. That is why my friend had only a few minutes for his sketch. In more humid climes he might have had the whole summer. The dry method is the most serviceable, whereby a sketch is built up with contiguous patches of colour, like tessalae in a mosaic, and never afterwards disturbed. The analogy is faulty in that the touches vary considerably in size - one may be a wash representing an expanse of sky, or a sheet of water, another a leaf, and the large majority of them are gradated. It is difficult, however, to paint with the infallible exactitude this ideal method demands, to complete a sketch without correction. More generally interior forms, textures, and some detail, is painted over a preliminary wash of colour that has dried, but as carefully and as little as possible. The majority of subjects demand this treatment. I dislike retouching a sky and hesitate to undertake such an important operal on as the modelling of form by overpainting.
The purists among critics and painters would have us believe that an observance of the English tradition strictly precludes the employment of body-colour (that is, the addition of white to all pigments to give them body, or opacity), of paste, ox-gall, sponge or scraper, or pen. or charcoal, but such have always been used, and have contributed interesting effects to water-colour.
The possibilities of the paste medium are extensive. Cotman alone seems to have used it seriously. There is nothing mysterious about it, though the results are different. The brush is dipped into starch or flour paste as well as into water and pigment, and a very full brush is used. Paste delays drying, and thus affords better opportunities for the manipulation of pigment. Instead of the bloom of the blot, there results a depth and brilliance comparable with that obtained with oil blazes, and a texture, capable of infinite control that may be utilized with great advantage.
Some day some landscape painter will thoroughly investigate this medium and I am convinced that he will deem his labour justified.
Body Colour -
Painting with pure colour into a wet ground of Chinese white, and painting throughout with body-colour, are more consistent methods than patching a transparent water-colour with gouache. The last may be expedient as times and if employed with discretion may be quite satisfactory. Gouache painting had had, and has, many apologists, including Ruskin, who expressed the opinion that the greatest things that are to be done in art must be done in dead colour. Of body-colour he wrote, ‘it is just as legitimate as oil painting, being, so far as handling is concerned, the same process, only without its uncleanliness, its unwholesomeness, or its inconvenience.'
While the method of juxtaposing blots of transparent colour on dry paper should be the basis of the sketcher's technique, hi will discover that there are effects in nature which the chalky opacity of body-colour alone will reproduce, foreground textures that paste and pigment together will represent most agreeably, and that the definition of form and detail, such as is necessary in an architectural study, is most readily rendered with a pen.
These expedients enlarge the capacity of water-colour; they have definite uses, and are not at variance with tradition. But they must not be overworked or abused. It is a pity that purist ideals obsess practically all water-colourists to-day.
Swans - Use of Body Colour
One autumn I made a sketch of an artificial pond seen through the pendulous branches and thinning leaves of a weeping birch. It was a dull day, and the high lights were the forms of two swans in the foreground. The water reflected the gray copse on the further shore, and a little of the gray sky in long ripples. A very sentimental subject. It is reproduced on another page. Had I attempted to paint this scene with transparent pigments I should still be there. As it happened I had finished in an hour and a half.
I can hear one unpleasant drawing teacher I once knew objecting offhand that the use of body-colour here was pure laziness. It was not. The minute rendering of so much detail might, in certain circumstances, produce, as Reynolds put it, the labourious affects of idleness. ‘There is nothing in our art', he said, ‘which enforces such continual exertion and circumspection as an attention to the general effect of the whole. It requires the painter's entire mind; whereas the parts may be finished by nice touches while his mind is engaged upon other matters; he may even hear a play or novel read without much disturbance. The artist who flatters his own indolence will continually find himself evading this active exertion.'
The landscape painter must be quick to catch the effect. Time and tide wait for no man, nor clouds, nor the sun nor the wind. There was imminent danger of the clouds passing when I was painting in the park, and I was obliged to employ the quickest method for fear the effect of humid grayness was ruined. As a matter of fact the sun came out a few minutes after I had finished, and I spent the rest of the day in making pencil sketches of white-tailed deer.
I have painted several landscapes over a charcoal foundation. The subject was worked up fully in charcoal, the sky rubbed smooth, and spirited accents introduced in the foreground. This may be fixed, but that is not essential, in fact I prefer the free ground, for while it remains undisturbed by a wash delicately laid on, it may be lifted in the course of painting and replaced with pure colour. Very interesting gray effects may be produced by this method.
Painting by artificial light -
It has been freely stated that Rembrandt painted in the daytime and made etchings at night, but the most casual acquaintance with his work would indicate that the converse would be as reasonably accurate an assertion. It is nonsense, but serves to predicate the prevalent idea that painting by artificial light is inadvisable because certain colours are affected thereby, losing intensity and thus destroying the chromatic balance of the picture. It should be born in mind in this connection, that pictures now are viewed and enjoyed almost exclusively at night, which is surely a good and sufficient reason for night painting.
David Cox considered that ‘lamplight is broader in effect and often better and more pure in the colour of the tints.' He contrived to satisfy the conditions imposed by both natural and artificial light by painting pictures at night and applying the finishing touches in the morning.
Reynolds advocated the method. He said, ‘I am much inclined to believe that it is a practice very advantageous and improving to an artist, for by this means he will acquire a new and a higher perception of what is beautiful in nature. By candle-light not only objects appear more beautiful, but from their being in a greater breadth of light and shadow, as well as having a greater breadth and uniformity of colour, nature appears in a higher style; and even the flesh seems to take a higher and richer tone of colour.' Titian and Correggio surely used candlelight, and ‘Guercino formed his manner on its conception.'
There comes before me a vision of Michaelangelo in his old age, labouriously chiselling at a block of marble, a candle in his cap, thus passing the sleepless hours of the night.
Night painting, apart from its advantages, is an indication of enthusiasm for art, which an eitht-hour day could never comprehend. Gainsborough's love for painting led him to pursue its practice far into the night. He could not amuse himself so agreeably in the evenings by any other means. \\Many landscape painters have coloured their sketches by the light of a candle, but their memories are stored with the effects they depict, and they know what they have to do.
Turner coloured his sketches by the light of a candle, but his memory was stored with the effects he depicted, and all of them glowed with the light of day.
Painting should occupy the student in the long evenings. He should never be deterred by the fallacy that colours cannot be seen properly at night.
Historic Styles in water-colour -
The daily food and nourishment of the mind of an artist is found in the great works of his predecessors. Reynolds
The first water-colours that will repay consideration - the topographic drawings of the eighteenth century - were produced for the use of engravers. The subject was outlined with a reed pen, and tinted, or stained, with washes of colour. This technique has persisted to this day. Since the war it has enjoyed a sudden popularity, and has been adopted with amazing unanimity and enthusiasm by younger artists, many of whom declare, with the omniscience of youth, that it is the only true style. Its continuity is established by the work of Samuel Prout (1783 - 1852), whose subjects were largely architectural - tumble-down cottages, and streets containing relics of by-gone days, which were considered picturesque at that time solely on account of their antiquity - and were worked up from large pencil-drawings made on the spot. He coloured his drawings at his convenience, and elaborated them with a reed pen, using brown ink for the foreground, and blue for the distances (a concession to tone). He introduced figures - a deserted street is a pathetic sight - copying them from his sketch-book.
The use of sketch-book cannot be too strongly urged. It should be carried consistently and used frequently. Thus the sketcher will become alert in sensing scenes of interest, and skilled in recording them, and will steadily amass a quantity of material of immense value.
The technique of the stained drawing was described by Edward Dayes, who was Girtin's teacher in his ‘Instructions for Drawing and Colouring Landscapes', quoted in Hugh Stokes' ‘Girtin and Ronington'. The outline having been completed, ‘The first and most easy way is to make all the shadows and middle-tints with Prussian Blue and a brown Indian ink; the clouds being sketched in, and, as light as possible, the student begins with the elementary part of the sky, laying it with Prussian Blue, rather tender, so as to leave himself the power of going over it once or twice afterwards, or as often as may be necessary; then, with the blue and a little Indian ink, lay in the lightest shades of the clouds, then the distance, if remote, with the same colour, rather stranger. Next proceed to the middle ground, leaving out the blue in coming forward, and lastly work up the foreground with brown Indian ink only. This operation may be repeated until the whole is sufficiently strong, marking the dark parts of the foreground as dark as the ink will make it - that is to say, the touches of the shadow in shade. Great care must be taken to leave out the blue gradually as the objects come forward, otherwise it will have a bad effect. Attention must also be given to the middle tints so that they are not marked too strong, which would make it, when coloured, look hard. The same gray colour, or aerial tint, may be first washed over every terrestrial part of the drawing required to be kept down - that is, before colouring - as colour laid over the gray will, of course, not be so light as when the paper is without it. The shadows and middle tints being worked up to a sufficient degree of power, colouring will be the next operation. This must be done by beginning in the distant parts, coming on stronger and stronger, colouring light and middle tint to the foreground, and lastly retouch the darker parts of the foreground with Vandyck brown. Great caution will be required not to disturb the shadows with colour, otherwise the harmony of the whole will be destroyed, or, at any rate, not to do more than gently to colour the reflections.'
Girtin used a reed pen to accent objects in the foreground, but not in the conventional manner of the topographer. He reversed the process, and used his pen at the last, over the colour. The pencil-line, with which he began a water-colour, merely indicated the position and perhaps the area of the principal parts. He did not outline form with his pencil; nor did he necessarily commit himself to the lines he drew. They are often visibly abandoned.
The effects Girtin produced by ‘wiping out' intrigued his contemporaries, who sought to imitate them. Some thought that the method was that of ‘stopping out' instead of wiping out, and colourmen sold a preparation called ‘Girtin's Stopping-out Mixture'. Actually the method consisted of painting with clean water over the area of dry pigment required to be removed, and rubbing with bread, clean rag, or soft eraser, when nearly dry. Thus the softened underpainting comes away easily and cleanly.
Peter De Wint, according to Mr. A. W. Rich, came nearer to painting perfect pictures than any man who ever lived. He developed Girtin's style. In his day many more pigments were in use. None of these painters, however, enjoyed the advantages of moist colours put up in pans or tubes. They were obliged to use hard cakes of pigment, which had to be rubbed in water on a porcelain slab, and the indigo bag. They were known officially as draughtsmen, not as artists, and few of them escaped the fate of teaching for a living. Their paintings sold for very small sums. Cox sold some of his sketches for seven shillings each; Prout's went for a guinea.
The veneration with which Claude and Richard Wilson were regarded by the landscape painters of that period - the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries - is astonishing in view of the fact that the former expounded the conventionalism of the classical school, and the latter strove to free themselves from its shackles. They saw in these masters the expressions of genius, and were carried on the wave of progress unconscious of defection. Constable copied Claude assiduously, but he spoke of Turner when he described a picture as the most complete work of genius he ever saw.
Turner stands apart, an unrelated master, a supreme individualist. He was not essentially a water-colourist, and his influence on the art, if it ever existed, is impossible to measure. His knowledge of visible nature, however, was amazing, and his energy and industry exemplary. He bequeathed nineteen thousand sketches in water-colour to the nation, and in these, it is said, he never repeated himself. There is an element in his work, the index of genius, that defies analysis.
Turner's early water-colours were topographic, tight and circumstantial. He studies with Girtin and Dr. Munro's house, copying Cozens and Gainsborough. Of one picture by Cozens Turner said that it had taught him all he knew. This, however, was more likely an expression of enthusiasm than a statement of fact, for Turner is also credited with the statement that Van de Velde made him a painter.
Turner was never a slave to technique. He used any method at all that would serve his immediate purpose. Constable said that he seemed to paint in tinted steam, ‘so evanescent and so airy', which is probably as much as anyone knew of his methods, for he was reticent and secret regarding them. He is said to have used both tobacco juice and beer as liquid pigments - hardly a mere academic proceeding than using steam. Probably he made a larger use of wet paper painting than any of his contemporaries.
Sometimes he tinted white paper gray before commencing his painting, lifting the tint for lighter passages, modelling with a sponge, or scraping out the highlights. Many of his water-colours were carried nearly to completion on wet paper, the colours melting one into the other, manipulated in a manner possible only on paper in that condition.
Turner frequently had three or four water-colours in hand at once, when working form sketches in his studio. He outlined the main features of the composition, immersed the paper in water (contained in a bucket handily placed near his chair) and immediately carried the colour as far as he could. When the first began to dry he started the second, and so with the third, resoaking, painting, and drying them in order.
He filled many sketch books, often with pencil drawings only, adding colour afterwards, summarily, or with a degree of finish. But he frequently set up his easel and completed a sketch on the spot.
‘Crossing the Brook' is an interesting example of the influence of the school of classical landscape, which for many years had a strangle-hold on English art. It is only necessary to mention that Samuel Palmer, who was a devoted slave to its traditions, died only in 1881. The early water-colourists were victims of the prevailing taste, with the possible exception of Paul Sandby (1725 - 1799), who is sometimes called the father of English water-colour painting. ;He evaded the restrictions imposed by the classical tradition and went straight to nature. But the greatest by far were John Cozens and Thomas Girtin, men by common consent possessing genius of the very highest order, who did a great deal towards broadening the appeal of landscape. Constable completed its emancipation, while Cotman, his contemporary, whose importance only now is being recognised, added the blandishment of patern.
Girtin made the first big step in water-colour, abandoning line for tone but Cotman, who was only seven years his junior, leapt so far forward that he was completely out of sight of his contemporaries, and only within the last ten or twenty years has his work been estimated at its true worth. As A water-colourist Cotman has no peer. Turner's reputation was well established by Ruskin, and has not increased, but Cotman's fame is still expanding. He was overlooked by Ruskin, which is only another proof of the latter's fallibility. Cotm,an is the supreme master. It is unfortunate that creative artists seem to need encouragement and approbation. Cotman felt the lack of it, and it is said that he died broken-hearted on that account. He was a painter's painter. Turner admired his work if Ruskin did not, but his friends other than artists, simply did not understand. As a matter of fact it was only in the seventies that the public became aware of the beauties of pattern, and Cotman was essentially a patternist. At that time the Japanese print was becoming popular, and Whistler was disturbing the critics with fragile and delicate arrangements and symphonies revealing no hint of the heave basic balance demanded by British tradition.
Cotman probably never saw an oriental print. His own sense of fitness and beauty involved a due regard for pattern - his earliest efforts show it and this, combined with the fgact that he was a landscape painter, and that he lived when he did, was his misfortune. Gainsborough's reputation owed nothing to his landscapes; Crome was known only in Norwich; Girtin and Turner worked for engravers as topographers, and were so regarded; Constable and his first successes in France. Practically all the water-colourists were obliged to teach, and the large majority of their pupils naturally were those in need of occupation or a hobby, mostly women. Landscape in art was not yet popular. Burne Jones expressed the prevailing feeling, at an even later date, when he said that he liked landscape well enough over a man's shoulder, or under a man's arm. Such were the conditions. The Public showed no interest in Cotman's paintings. He tried to please, painting potboilers, portraits and historical works. He tried to curb his idealism, and strove for the obvious. Devoid of sentiment, nature to him was a store-house of ideas for design, a source of inspiration. He did inot impress pattern upon nature by the falsification of form, or by an illogical use of chiaroscuro - he found it there, and applied it to the space he had to fill. Proper placement is exemplified in everything he die.
Cotman's handling was as distinguished as his composition. He is the student's authority for sponging, scraping, and paste-painting. Scraping with a sharp knife, or a razor, is not necessarily restricted to the removal of dry pigment for the achievement of highlights. Some of Cotman's drawings sparkle with widely distributed scrapes - a whole sky in some cases, and sometimes more. The knife is a legitimate, almost an indispensable part of our equipment. Nothing else will lend vitality to a dull or woolly drawing so readily, or suggest to sheen of sun on water, or an effulgence of light anywhere. The admixture of paste with water-colour retards the drying of the pigment, and consequently makes its manipulation a little easier, and it also lends the appearance of solidity, associated only with the oil medium, without the sacrifice of transparency. It is astonishing that the paste medium has not been adopted more generally.
No contemporary art shows Cotman's influence, but to-day it is he who inspires emulation among the more thoughtful painters. His best work, unequalled in the history of water-colour, embodies the British tradition.
David Cox -
David Cox merits our attention equally with Cotman, for he should be canonized as the patron saint of sketchers. While Cotman represents the impersonal dignity of genius on a high unattainable plane, Farmer David meets us on terms of intimacy, modest, friendly and good-humoured. Not only sketchers, but all who love nature, must love him. He painted English landscape and the Welsh mountains under all conditions, but liked best cool harmonies of gray, the nascent freshness of rain and dew.
He was a teacher like Cotman, and published a treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect which is still quoted. There is much to be said for the methods of teaching in vogue and at that time. Beginners were compelled to perfect their technique before attempting original expression, and to do so, copied good drawings. Both artists made hundreds of drawings for this purpose. Cox insisted that conception should be complete before painting was begun; that outlines should be clean and decided, tints laid on directly and luminously, and planes judiciously observed. He held that truth of effect is greater than truth in detail, and that a selective attitude towards nature should be adopted.
His own out-door studies were often frankly realistic. He recommended the use of a large brush. ‘Don't spare the colour', he said. ‘Use plenty of colour and dab at it.'
Cox made no use of the pen. He made a preliminary drawing with pencil, and in the process of painting would draw also with the brush point. His method was that of building up tones with a constant repetition of touches until the correct intensity and elaboration was produced. His brush was spontaneous and free.
Cox paper is in common use now. It is a Scotch wrapping paper, which pleased him mightily, and enabled him ‘to get power at once.' Warm gray in tone soft and absorbent, it is spotted unevenly with brown specks, which give an interesting texture capable of being used to advantage, though disfiguring in a sky. Cox was asked once what he did with them in the latter case. He replied, ‘Oh, I just put wings to them, and they fly away as birds. ‘It is reasonably suggested that he sized this paper before using it.
Cox sometimes used body-=colour, but more frequently scraped when he wished to interpolate small passages of light in a dark mass. He obtained sparkling effects by leaving specks of paper bare of pigment.
I shall be finished when I shall have done all that I believe required to satisfy art. Michaelangelo.
It is difficult for an artist to determine exactly when he has done enough to a painting. Thewre is always a temptation to improve and amplify, and a reluctance to abandon a work of art that is imperfect; for no painting is ever perfect, and no one knows that better than he who painted it. Even Turner was always hankering for the sketches he had parted with, to finish them. While sincerity and over-anxiety can spoil a picture, through superfluous elaboration and unnecessary correction, the carelessness that would leave it in an unfinished state is even more reprehensible.
Summary and loose methods of painting were never so common as now. There is danger any way.
If, however, the ideal quality of wholeness, or unity, in which no part of a painting has any individual interest, except in relation to the whole, or as a contribution to the general effect, is kept in mind throughout its production over-elaboration cannot harm it much, indeed there is less temptation to resort to it.
Technical polish represented by stippling, the softening of hard edges, correcting with patches of body-colour, should never be necessary. It is better to leave a slightly imperfect wash which possesses original bloom, than to change it by correction to a mere precipitation of pigment, worried dull and niggled.
The standard of scale, the key-note, and the chief organ of sentiment. Constable
Some very interesting observations on skies are noted in Sir Alfred East's Landscape Painting, but he wrote of the oil medium, and his habit when sketching, of leaving the sky untouched until something suitable appeared,; is not often possible in water-colour, more especially when that and other parts have to be welded in wet colour. It is natural in water-colour moreover, to start at the top, so that the pigment may be manipulated as it flows downward.
Skies are often neglected, and few painters succeed with them as well as they might. Constable appreciated their value in Landscape more perhaps than any other man. He wrote, ‘That landscape painter who does not make skies a very material part of his work, neglects to avail himself of one of his greatest aids. Certainly if the sky is obtrusive, as mine are, it is bad, but if it is evaded as mine are not, it is worse.' Only observation can teach anything about the tremendous variety and the evanescent beauty of the sky. Water-colour is perhaps the most difficult medium in which to paint it.
It is a great mistake for a sketcher to hold as an ideal the completion of a picture on each excursion. A far more profitable proceeding is to fill a sketch book occasionally with studies of skies. They should always be marked with the time of day, the way of the wind, and the geographical direction.
Sky in a picture should echo the sentiment expressed in the landscape, as well as form an essential factor in the design. To paint a sky just because it happens to shine behind the scene you have elected to paint is useless, and, if there is any reason in design, illogical too. Clouds submit to arrangement more readily than other parts in landscape, but the lazy-minded painter will, I suppose, always copy them, for design involves effort. A shy must be introduced for better reasons than that it is factual or pretty. Mr Carmichael's work affords much information in this connection and should be studied.
Clear skies present their own difficulties in their gradations, change of hue, and the scintillations of the strata immediately above the horizon. A gray mist, filtering the rays of an invisible sun, is vastly different from a mist of rain in effect, though the colour seems the same. The latter might be represented by a wash of dead colour, a mixture of cobalt and light red, perhaps, and the former by the separate application of cobalt, rose madder and yellow ochre, and their fusion in the general flow of pigment downwards. That process is sometimes called mixing on the paper, or dropping colour into a wet wash. The result is a sparkling gray, in which the three pure colours are incorporated and yet distinct. It is a wet process and corresponds to colour division in oil.
A clear sky may be treated in the same manner, blue predominating at the top, and all three colours fusing into gray at the horizon. The gradations and changes of colour between the fathomless blue of the zenith, and the clear tones of the lower sky, are represented in painting, though in nature the extent of the gradation is too vast to be contained within the limited range of vision possible in art.
The sky has its planes and distances, which may be differentiated in cloud forms, but frequently it is made to look like a wall instead of a dome of illimitable extent, the clouds like paper silhouettes, instead of volumetric masses of vapour. The same amount of perspective should be used in skies as in landscapes.
There is no rule by which skies can be painted, and it is difficult however it is done. Sometimes I start at the top and paint the parts together, going back before any part is dry, and lifting superfluous colour from the bright clouds to correct and elaborate the modelling. If the clouds are few, I might ignore them, and paint the whole sky in its proper tones, returning to pick out the cloud forms with a sponge brush.
The clouds may be drawn first - the method really depends upon their character - and the blue of the sky around them, or each individual colour may be kept to itself with no attempt at fusion. The best skies technically, are those wherein hard and soft edges have been perceived and distinguished, the former on dry paper, the latter by wet fusion with contiguous colour.
A patched sky in water-colour is a painful sight. Whatever technique is adopted, it should correspond with that of the landscape.
Mr. Brigden's skies are never neglected, and are rarely unsuccessful. They establish the mood of the scene, and are always well painted.
Trees and Some Notes on Colour -
The varied treatment of foliage indicates very clearly the degree of convention that bound the artist at different periods. The Dutchman van der Heyden drew every visible leaf carefully and lovingly; Gainsborough none. Cozens began with an outline, either pencil or pen, and broadly defined the principal masses, and the lines of radiation. a wash of colour was followed by the elaboration of detail. the result was a freely-drawn, and well massed leafy tree. Others symbolized their leaf clusters by using lines in the shape of loops, zig-zags, or ovals, like calligraphic exercise, or dots to represent individual leaves. Zig-zags became popular, and the drawings of trees was conventionalized to the extent that one kind of tree could not be distinguished from another. But the fact that such conventionalism was not confined to the water-colourist is not sufficiently emphasized. The blame is laid unjustly upon the topographical draughtsman. Gainsborough's trees were of this type, all of the same genus. He did not paint beech trees, willows or oaks, but composite trees that looked like all, but like none in particular.
Cotman's trees still satisfy the eye; his manner of simplifying the foliage seems just and veridical. Mr. Brigden's Ontario elms have much of their grace, being massed broadly and invested with dignity and substance by simple and direct means.
There is a danger in water-colour of presenting trees as flat silhouettes instead of rounded forms with an appreciable girth. Foliage beyond a certain distance has a thin aura of gray, a transitional tone which suggests the presence of receding planes, or the sides of the mass. In water-colour the practice of painting the green tree and its background together wetly, by softening its edges, indicates this quality sufficiently well, and with a proper rendering of shadow expresses its volume.
When the sky is seen through small holes in the foliage the gray aura must not be forgotten. Such spots are much darker than the broad areas of sky beyond.
When the trees are nearer and the sun shines through the apertures, images of the sun are cast on the ground below. Seen in perspective, these sun-spots become ovals. many of them may be fused together, but nowhere will be seen a sharp angle or a point.
In the Transvaal we used sheets of corrugated iron very extensively for temporary building. Bullets often penetrated them, leaving clean round holes. I lived for a while in a hut constructed of this material; its walls had been well peppered. Sitting within doors, when the light was right, I could see inverted miniature images, on the wall, of the scene without. I owned a natural camera obscura. I quote this to show what light penetrating a small orifice can do.
While on the subject of light and shade, it may be as well to observe here that all cast shadows are not purple, neither are they always cool in tone. There was a time following the recognition of impressionism when all sunshiny landscapes were painted in purples and yellows - complementary colours each designed to enhance the value of the other. In strong sunlight it is the lights that are opaque and the shadows transparent and sensitive. The warm sunlight is reflected back into the shadow. In painting trees the cool and warm shadows must be recognised and properly rendered.
It is never advisable to follow recipes for mixing colours, but there are greens in profusion, difficult to perceive and to match. While experiment is the best informant, the student may appreciate a little guidance. Girtin, who used a full palette for his time, mixed gamboge, indigo and burnt sienna for greens varied with yellow lake, brown and pink. For green shadows he mixed indigo with burnt sienna. Indigo and gamboge have since been banished in disgrace - they are fugitive, and have gone from the early water-colours too, but there are an immense number of pigments left, and newly invented pigments such as Girtin never dreamed of.
As a general rule, the most brilliant greens are obtained by mixing the yellow most inclined to green, and a blue with the same tendency - aureolin and cyanine blue for example. The pure and delicate greens of the distance demand purer constituents, such as cobalt and yellow ochre. In the distance none but the purist primary colours should be used - cobalt or French ultra-marine, yellow ochre, lemon yell (cadmium), and cadmium red would suffice. Green shadows near at hand may be made of cyanine blue and burnt sienna, or with French ultramarine and sienna, black and yellow, black and viridian, or raw umber and blues of different kinds.
Lemon cadmium and cobalt, or cyanine blue, give a green of the emerald type.
For clear cloud shadows mix cobalt and light red; for a dull gray add yellow ochre to the mixture. A still purer gray is composed of cobalt, cadmium red, and yellow ochre, blended on the paper. Experiment willl discover numberless varieties of gray.
A live, intense brown such as that of the deepest tone of a tree-trunk in shadow is obtained by first painting with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, using a full brush, and then dropping burnt sienna into the wet touches immediately.
The growth and branching of trees is best studied in the winter. Lateral branches are easily drawn, but those which lean towards you require more careful study. No amount of language will give a student the skill of foreshorten them; he needs the tree, which I cannot provide. Continued practice, and a spirit of humility, will enable him to accomplish anything. He must look at his pictures with a dispassionate eye, not with a fond one like that of a mother. He must look for faults in his own, for graces in another's work.
‘Tis not in the mortals to command success.
If an artist ever succeeds in expressing his emotions completely, and to his permanent satisfaction, it is safe to say that his conceit exceeds his intelligence. But no true artist ever did, or ever will. The beauties of conception are always superior to those of expression.
Cezanne's attitude was most commendable. he felt so much dissatisfaction with his sketches that he often flung them into hedges or ditches, but he was equally uncomplimentary over the work of another rebel, Gauguin. he said to him, ‘Honestly, your painting is mad.'
Some drawings are better than others. Some are utterly spoiled. ‘some are left half-finished; others are barely begun, or ruined by over-anxiety or too much labour, teased and worried. I keep them all. For one thing, I am incapable of noble gestures like Cezanne's. I find a use sometimes even for the worst drawing. Spoiled drawings in colour eke out the pencil drawings in my sketch books, as a supply of themes for studio pictures, for trifles like small prints, back-grounds for figures, Christmas cards, stage settings. But their chief use is to mortify one's conceit, to show how thoroughly incompetent it is possible to be, and to shame one into better ways.
Figures in Landscape -
Claude used to say that he made no charge for figures in landscape. Yet his temples are inhabited, people walk his groves, and rest under his plane trees. He was bound to introduce figures, for they are the proper complement of artificial scenery, that is, of the of the classical or pastoral type, or of any other landscape save the remote, the untamed, or the unhabitable wilderness. Figures are not always essential; in fact, the modern tendency is to leave them out, [whether or no.] In modern exhibitions one sees pictures of streets that suggest such titles as, ‘The Deserted Village', or ‘Sunday Morning', pictures of pastures where no animals graze, and of parks apparently avoided by humanity.
The introduction of figures inappropriate to a scene is as bad. I remember a painting that was praised extravagantly a few years ago - a tender landscape with a village and a church in the middle distance, but across the sky, and into the foreground, a number of charming volant babies disported themselves, while a gentleman in black, firmly fixed to earth, a very circumspect and modern gentleman, watched them. The idea was so engaging, so well conceived and expressed, that these discordant elements seemed inevitably probable, the anachronismatical babies entered for the time into modern life, and criticism was disarmed.
The best advice in the matter, excluding fantasy, is that given Constable by Antiquity Smith; ‘Do
not set about inventing figures for a landscape taken from nature; for you cannot remain an hour in any spot solitary, without the appearance of some living thing that will in all probability accord better with the scene and time of day than will any invention of your own.'
Figures are important aids in composition; they will provide the maximum amount of interest in relation to space. Regarded in this light, their proper placement is assured, but added without thought, fortuitously, they may easily be redundant.
The little figures in Cox's water-colours are alive, appropriated and exactly placed but it will be remarked that their backs are nearly always turned towards the spectator. His critics said that this posture was necessary because he could not draw faces, but Cox had a better reason. The psychological effect of a figure turning away from a scene, and facing the spectator would tend to lessen its importance, and diminish its beauty, whereas one gazing in a specified direction tends to encourage others to do the same, and does not provide a superfluous point. The posture and employment of a figure is as important as its position. It is sufficient to depict a young lady peering rapturously at a tree-top to suggest a nightingale, or a group of archers craning their necks in unison, to express the flight of an arrow.
Mr Brigden occasionally introduces figures in his pastoral scenes, but when he depicts the wild beauty of the north shore only a rare angler or voyageur ever appears. The Canadian forests and lakes seem remote from the haunts of man; few human figures are at ease there, or seem appropriate in its transcription.
A landscape painter certainly ought to study anatomically all the objects which he paints ... when he knows his subject he will know not only what to describe, but what to omit; and his skill in leaving out is in all things a great part of knowledge and wisdom. Reynolds.
Before leaving the subject of expression it may be as well to consider the matter of breadth, which was always accounted an admirable quality in painting. Breadth is readily confused with spontaneity or directness of handling, with unity, insofar as it concerns the proper subordination of parts to the effect of the whole, and with the slurring of all detail relevant or otherwise, but breadth is as much a matter of vision as expression. It is easy to detect but hard to define.
Samuel Prout, who was born within five months of Cox, and who lived to the same age, wrote a book entitled ‘Easy Lessons in Landscape Drawing', in which the following passage occurs, ‘Minute and elaborately finished pictures never strongly impress the mind, and are but mere curiosities to gratify persons insensible to higher excellencies. Poetry does not consist of words alone; there must be sentiment and fancy, combination and arrangement.' This at any rate is definite enough, though the matter of size is ignored, and the degree of breadth is left in doubt. A painting two inches long usually needs mor elaboration in proportion than one two feet long, and infinitely more than a six-footer. If the effect of the whole is truthful, then the degree of breadthis right.
To demand breadth and virtuosity, or any other manifestation of knowledge and experience from a young artist is as unreasonable as to expect a baby in arms to run. The master painters, without exception, began their careers by producing tight, detailed, and very objective work. As thy grew older and wiser, their style changed. Zorn was a slick painter in his prime, using an absurdly restricted palette to achieve representation by the means, largely by suggestion. Yet his early work in water-colour was as circumstantial as could be as full of detail as a Birkett Foster, and very tightly handled. I recall a harvest scene by Zorn in which every blade of grass in the foreground was most accurately rendered. Sargent made a few brush strokes suggest even more than Zorn did.
Breadth, as well as other aspects of style, is a matter of growth.
The Cult of Clumsiness -
Never in the history of painting has tradition been more sorely beset than the years immediately preceding and following the great war. Now that cubism, and the subsequent depravities into which art had resolved is as dead as the proverbial doornail, the writers who supported it are still busy with attempts to preserve their several dignities. Articles on such subjects as ‘What Cubism has given to Art' frequently appear in the journals.
What these pseudo-modern schools of painting lent to art is a disregard for good technique, and a contempt for realism. There is now some little danger of the cult of clumsiness prevailing, and this is nowhere more apparent than in prints from wood. Water-colour has not been altogether immune.
To offset the technical mastery of such engravers as Nightingale, Greenwood, and Gordon Craig, there are dozens whose method of engraving seems to involve the maceration of brobdinagian blocks of wood with a pick and shovel, or dynamite. They despise the bullsticker and the lining tool, and their designs are notable for broken lines, formless voids, and clumsy approximations to natural shapes.
To the well-balanced mind such phases or art mean nothing. The true artist and the sane collector never will tolerate insincerity and impudence, but that section of the public which affects vers libre, the Moscow Theatre and jazz, affects also to recognize therein preponderant truths that escape the rest. They see in them, I suppose, a reflection of their own distorted aestheticism. Fortunately they are unwilling as a rule to back their fancy when it comes to buying art of this type, and gradually the savages who fabricate it are bing starved out.
Realism is condemned by those artists whose poverty of technique does not permit them to express it. Only a short while since an exponent of "modernism" told me that "this stuff" was easy, although her parents, her instructors, her friends, and her own common sense had told her she would never make an artist. The cult of clumsiness, however, proved to be her salvation. Her work is frequently lauded.
The hard labour that is essential to accomplishment is, of course, the bugbear to these revolutionists. Their pictorial efforts are efforts at evasion. There are students so full of conceit that they imagine, being heaven-born, that work is unnecessary for them, but no genius ever existed but was sterile without labour. "A painter who is worth his salt:, said Wayman Adams, "is working harder than a cornfield labourer, under the eye of his boss, and when he isn't working he is worrying"
Objective and Subjective Painting -
"Shall painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of facsimile representation?" Blake
Throughout the ages, two oppugnant schools of painting - the realists, or more learnedly, the objectivists, and the idealists, or subjectivists - have enjoyed equal popularity. The former deal in fact, the letter in fancies. The realist considers that a literal transcript from nature is a worthy subject in itself; the idealist clothes it with his own conceits. Natural form must always be the warp and weft out of which pictures of either type are fabricated, but the one inevitably strives of exact, even tangible expression - he has a profound respect for the integrity of form, and the other regards it as only a means to an end. Jackson, the famous portrait painter, said that the whole object and difficulty of art is to unite imagination with nature.
In turner's later oil paintings, at which visitors to the Tate gallery gape uncomprehendingly, form is almost amorphous, there is little in them that may be identified. George Inness impolitely called it informal claptrap. His contemporary, Constable, was a confirmed realist. :He loved form, Turner loved light and colour te best. Cox loved the open heath, Cotman, the refinements of art. Millais was the outstanding realist among the Pre- Raphaelites, and affirmed his principles at the last, when he described his landscapes as literal transcripts. Rossetti was an idealist; yet Millais was incomparably the greater man. Velasquez was a realist too, and he is named by many the supreme painter. The fact is, paintings are judged ultimately by other standards, except in the Orient. Which accounts for the anomalous position of Hokusai, the most famous of Japanese painters, who is denied even a place in the first rank by his own countrymen.
The school of the Ukiyoye (mirror of the passing world) to which Hokusai belonged, was not estimated highly. In fact, realism was in bad repute, and its practice was held to indicate a lack of imagination and a lack of culture. Ukiyoye was the only school concerned with picturing contemporary life, and frankly objective in its aims.
Oriental Landscape -
No study of landscape painting is complete without due regard for Chinese genius in that art. A student of water-colour especially will find immense interest therein. Though, unfortunately, the best examples are mostly inaccessible, there are originals in many of our museums, and some appreciative essays have been published, illustrated with half-tone reproductions, and we have with us large quantities of Japanese prints that reflect Chinese influences.
One of my earliest possessions was a tome, now long out of print, entitled "Landscape in Art" By Josiah Gilbert, who proclaimed that in Raphael all qualities of art find place in more even balance than the world has seen elsewhere, that in Turner Landscape found its highest exponent, and that Chinese art is soulless copying, displaying "the conventionality of an archaic helplessness". It was a poor introduction to the glorious impressionism practised by the schools of the Celestial empire.
Gilbert denied even a love of nature to the Chinese, claiming that in their gardens and parks there is a prevailing tendency towards the artificial. He had read somewhere that one Chinese emperor had tried to lacquer the stems of his trees, and that another provided artificial leaves for his trees in winter. Further reading might have informed him that yet another emperor, Huitsung, was much addicted to landscape painting, and that such masterpieces at his Autumn Landscape, and his Winter Landscape - he might even have seen these by asking his way to the Konchi-in Temple- represent wild inaccessible places, untouched by the hand of man, and uninhabited save by one innocuous hermit.
His estimate, of course, is radically wrong. The Chinese were the first to consider landscape of sufficient interest in itself to form a subject for pictorial art, or to be worthy of the brush of a master of painting. While European painters at the time of the early Renaissance were immerging saints in landscapes that were childishly conceived, badly studied, and very conventional, the Chinese schools of pure landscape had long enjoyed great popularity.
The Dutch painters of the sixteenth century were the first to paint landscape in Europe, but in China Lich I, in the year 200 B.C., made paintings of the Four Great Rivers, and others of the Five Great Peaks. In the twelfth Century A.D. the school boasted its highest achievements under the House of Sung. By that time such early conventions as mountains outlined with gold, and filled in with green, had given way to a very full expression of naturalism, qualified by an exquisite sense of arrangement, and so universally agreeable, that it has influenced all modern art.
While the impressionists of France painted light, those of China regarded idealized form as of paramount importance, and used colour adjunctively. To the latter light, chiaroscuro, and movement, have little relative importance compared with form and arrangement and adequate colour - form rather suggested than perfectly realized.
It is true that, before the full flowering of Chinese genius in landscape, artists were guilty of a repressive conventionalism. For example, sixteen strokes were prescribed for the representation of mountain curvatures, each with a picturesque title". There were wrinkles like hemp fibres, like tangled hemp fibres, like the veins of the lotus leaf, an unravelled rope, a thunder head, bullocks hair, eddying water, scattered brushwood, alum crystals, the face of a human skeleton, as if cut with a large axe, with a small axe, like a horse's teeth, like a folded belt. In the best oriental art there is apparent a perfection of technique that rivale that of the reputed perfect painters of Europe, whether Andrea del Sarto, or the Dutchman Vermeer, and an idealism often surpassing theirs. In such aspects of painting comparison may be justified , if not in others. While we may appreciate and admire Chinese and Japanese graphic art, it does not move us nor impress us so profoundly as our own, which, by birth and understanding, we are better qualified to understand. In its idealism, however, there is a noble quality that may well be studied by all of us with profit. The humility and love of nature which it manifests may be commended to young landscape painters too.