Line and Form (1900)
by Walter Crane
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse




First published, medium 8vo, 1900.

Reprinted, crown 8vo, 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914.




In the original of this work, most pages are headed by a topic phrase so that a topic can be located quickly by riffling the pages of the book. In this etext, the same topic phrases can be found right-aligned above the paragraph that begins that topic. Thus a topic can be found by scrolling the text and scanning the right margin.

The original of this work is copiously illustrated. Although this etext cannot include the figures, it does include their caption as lines like the following:

Here f002 is a numeric label for the figure. Because an etext of this type does not have page numbers, in references to a figure in the List of Illustrations and in the Index these figure labels are used instead of page number. In the body text, references to figures by page number have been supplemented with the figure labels.

The illustrations f006, f007, f008 and f016 do not have captions in the original and descriptive captions have been added.

The caret is used to indicate superscripts, for example ED^wd^ indicates ED followed by a small superscript "wd".

Two minor typographical errors were corrected: "thing" to "think" on page 10 and "intregal" to "integral" on page 197.


As in the case of "The Bases of Design," to which this is intended to form a companion volume, the substance of the following chapters on Line and Form originally formed a series of lectures delivered to the students of the Manchester Municipal School of Art.

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.

WALTER CRANE. Kensington, July, 1900.



Origin and Function of Outline—Silhouette—Definition of Boundaries by—Power of Characterization by—Formation of Letters—Methods of Drawing in Line—The Progressive Method—The Calligraphic Method—The Tentative Method—The Japanese Direct Brush Method—The Oval Method— The Rectangular Method—Quality of Line—Linear Expression of Movement—Textures—Emotion—Scale of Linear Expression 1


The Language of Line—Dialects—Comparison of the Style of Various Artists in Line—Scale of Degrees in Line—Picture Writing—Relation of Line to Form—Two Paths—The Graphic Purpose—Aspect—The Ornamental Purpose—Typical Treatment or Convention—Rhythm—Linear Plans in Pattern Designing—Wall-paper Design—Controlling Forms—Memory—Evolution in Design—Variety in Unity— Counterbalance—Linear Logic—Recurring Line and Form—Principle of Radiation—Range and Use of Line 23


Of the Choice and Use of Line—Degree and Emphasis—Influence of the Photograph—The Value of Emphasis—The Technical Influence—The Artistic Purpose—Influence of Material and Tools—Brushwork— Charcoal—Pencil—Pen 51


Of the Choice of Form—Elementary Forms—Space-filling—Grouping— Analogies of Form—Typical Forms of Ornament—Ornamental Units— Equivalents in Form—Quantities in Design—Contrast—Value of Variations of Similar or Allied Forms—Use of the Human Figure and Animal Forms in Ornamental Design 73


Of the Influence of Controlling Lines, Boundaries Spaces, and Plans in Designing—Origin of Geometric Decorative Spaces and Panels in Architecture—Value of Recurring Line—Tradition—Extension— Adaptability—Geometric Structural Plans—Frieze and Field— Ceiling Decoration—Co-operative Relation 108


Of the Fundamental Essentials of Design: Line, Form, Space—Principles of Structural and Ornamental Line in Organic Forms—Form and Mass in Foliage—Roofs—The Mediaeval City—Organic and Accidental Beauty—Composition: Formal and Informal—Power of Linear Expression—Relation of Masses and Lines—Principles of Harmonious Composition 138


Of the Relief of Form—Three Methods—Contrast—Light and Shade, and Modelling—The Use of Contrast and Planes in Pattern Designing—Decorative Relief—Simple Linear Contrast—Relief by Linear Shading—Different Emphasis in relieving Form by Shading Lines—Relief by means of Light and Shade alone without Outline—Photographic Projection—Relief by different Planes and Contrasts of Concave and Convex Surfaces in Architectural Mouldings—Modelled Relief— Decorative Use of Light and Shade, and different Planes in Modelling and Carving—Egyptian System of Relief Sculpture—Greek and Gothic Architectural Sculpture, influenced by Structural and Ornamental Feeling—Sculptural Tombs, Medals, Coins, Gems—Florentine Fifteenth-century Reliefs—Desiderio di Settignano 165


Of the Expression of Relief in Line-drawing—Graphic Aim and Ornamental Aim—Superficial Appearance and Constructive Reality—Accidents and Essentials—Representation and Suggestion of Natural Form in Design—The Outward Vision and the Inner Vision 204


Of the Adaptation of Line and Form in Design, in various materials and methods—Mural Decoration—Fresco-work of the Italian Painters— Modern Mural Work—Mural Spacing and Pattern Plans—Scale—The Skirting—The Dado—Field of the Wall—The Frieze—Panelling— Tapestry—Textile Design—Persian Carpets—Effect of Texture on Colour—Prints—Wall-paper—Stained Glass 224


Of the Expression and Relief of Line and Form by Colour—Effect of same Colour upon different Grounds—Radiation of Colour—White Outline to clear Colours—Quality of Tints relieved upon other Tints— Complementaries—Harmony—The Colour Sense—Colour Proportions— Importance of Pure Tints—Tones and Planes—The Tone of Time— Pattern and Picture—A Pattern not necessarily a Picture, but a Picture in principle a Pattern—Chiaroscuro—Examples of Pattern-work and Picture-work—Picture-patterns and Pattern-pictures 256



The Origin of Outline f002

Silhouettes f003

Coast and Mountain Lines—Gulf of Nauplia f004

Proportions of Roman Capital Letters and of lower-case f005a German text. From Durer's "Geometrica"

The Progressive Method of Drawing in Line f006a

The Calligraphic Method f007a

The Tentative Method f007b

The Oval and Rectangular Methods f008

Lines of Characterization in the Form and Feature of f009 Flowers: Lily and Poppy

Silhouette of Beech Leaves and Line Rendering of the same f010a

Lines of Movement f010b

Effect of Wind upon Trees f011

Line Arrangement in ribbed Sea-sand f012

Lines of different Textures, Structures, and Services f013

Lines of Exaltation and Rejoicing in Unison. The Morning f014 Stars, after William Blake

Lines of Grief and Dejection: Designs from Flaxman's Homer f015

Landscape f016

Scale of various Degrees of Linear Weight and Emphasis f017

Curvilinear Scale of Direction f018

Rectangular Scale of Direction f018

Picture Writing f019

Olive Branch, from Nature f020

Olive Branch, simplified in Decorative Treatment f021

Study of Horned Poppy f022

Adaptation of Horned Poppy in Design: Vertical Panel for f023 Needlework

Question and Answer in Line f024, f025

Diagram showing the Use of a Geometric Basis in Designing a f026 Repeating Pattern

Use of Controlling Boundaries in Designing Sprays f027

Method of Testing a Repeating Pattern f028

Sketch to show how a Pattern of Diverse Elements may be f029 harmonized by Unity of Inclosing and Intermediary Lines

The Principle of Counterbalance in different Systems of f030 Design

Border Units and Border Motive f031

Recurring Line and Form in Border Motives f032

Radiating Principle of Line in Natural Form f033

Radiating Lines of the Pectoral Muscles and Ribs f034

Vaulting of Chapter House, Westminster f035

Lines of Characterization of Feathers and Shells f036

Pen Drawing of Fruit f037

Effect of different Emphasis in Treatment of the same f038, f039 Designs

Effect of different Emphasis in the Drawing of Landscape f040

Example of Page Treatment to show Ornamental Relation f041a between Text and Pictures

Suggestion for a Carpet Pattern and Abstract Treatment of f041b the same on Point Paper as detail of Brussels Carpet

Brush Forms f042

Direct Brush Expression of Animal Form f043

Japanese Drawing of a Bird. From "The Hundred Birds of Bari" f044

Elementary Geometrical Forms f045a

Use of the same Forms in Architecture f045b

Poppy-heads f046

Apple cut to show Position of Seeds f047

Cube and Sphere in Architectural Ornament f048a

Filling of Square Space f049a

Filling of Circular Space f049b

Inlay Design: Pattern Units and Motives f050

Grouping of Allied Forms: Composition of Curves f051a

Grouping of Allied Forms: Composition of Angles f051b

Still-life Group illustrative of Wood-engraving f052

Japanese Diagonal Pattern f053

Treatment of Fruit and Leaf Forms: Corresponding Curvature f054

Correspondence in General Contour between Leaf and Tree f055a

Some Analogies in Form f055b

Tree of Typical Pattern Forms, Units and Systems f056

Sketches to show Use of Counterbalance, Quantity, and f057 Equivalents in Designing

Quantities and Counterchange of Border and Field in Carpet f058 Motives

Sketches to illustrate Value of different Quantities in f058-f061 Persian Rugs

Recurrence and Contrast in Border Motives f062

Use of inclosing Boundaries in Designing Animal Forms in f063a Decorative Pattern

Decorative Spacing of Figures within Geometric Boundaries f063b

Simple Linear Motives and Pattern Bases f064

Use of Intervals in Repeating the same Ornamental Units f065

Designs of Floral, Human, and Animal Forms, governed by f066 Shape of inclosing Boundary

The Parthenon: Sketch to show Spaces used for Decorative f067 Sculpture in Greek Architecture

The Tower of the Winds, Athens f068

Sketch of part of the Arch of Constantine to show spaces for f069 Decorative Sculpture in Roman Architecture

Byzantine (Mosaic) Treatment of Architectural Structural f070 Features: Apse, S. Vitale, Ravenna

Detail of Canopy of Tomb of Gervaise-Alard, Winchelsea f071

Walberswick Church: West Door f072

Miserere in St. David's Cathedral f073

Recessed Panel from the Tomb of Bishop John Morgan, St. f074 David's Cathedral

Corbel from Bishop Vaughan's Chapel, St. David's Cathedral f075

Gothic Tile Pattern, St. David's Cathedral f076

Surface Pattern Motives derived from Lines of Structure f077a

Repeating Patterns built upon Square and Circular Bases f077b

Plan of a Drop Repeat f078

Sketch Designs to show Relation between Frieze and Field in f079 Wall-paper

Principles of Structural and Ornamental Line in Natural f080 Forms

Radiating, Recurring and Counterbalancing Lines in the f081a Structure of the Skeleton and the Muscles

General Principles of Line and Form in the Branching and f081b Foliage Masses of Trees

Principles of Structure in Foliage Masses f082

Albert Durer: Detail from "The Prodigal Son" f083

Albert Durer: St. Anthony f084

Roof-lines: Rothenburg f085

St. Margaret Street, Canterbury f086

Figure Designs controlled by Geometric Boundaries f087, f088

Expression of Storm and Calm in Landscape f089

Expression of Repose and Action f090

Controlling Lines of Movement: Movement in a Procession f091a

Lines left by a Watercourse—Lines governing fallen Debris f091b from a Quarry

Relief of Form, (1) by Outline, (2) by Contrast, (3) by f092 Light and Shade

Relief of Form and Line in Pattern Design by means of f093 Contrast and the Use of Planes

Treatment of Mantling (14th-16th centuries) f094a, f094b

Brass of Martin de Visch, Bruges, 1452 f095

Relief in Pattern Design by means of Simple Linear Contrasts f096a

Relief by adding Shading Lines to Outline f097a

Relief by Diagonal Shading f097b

Different Method and different Emphasis in Relieving Form by f098 Shading Lines

Albert Durer's Principle in the Treatment of Drapery: From f099 the Woodcut in the "Life of the Virgin" Series

Albert Durer: Pen-drawing f100

Filippino Lippi: Study of Drapery f101

Raphael: Studies of Drapery f102

Relief by means of Light and Shade alone, in Pen-drawing f103a without Outline

Relief by means of White Line on a Dark Ground and vice f103b versa

Relief in Architectural Mouldings f104

Roman Treatment of Corinthian Order, Forum of Nerva, Rome f105

Egyptian Relief Sculpture: Thebes f106

Greek Relief: Eleusis f107

Egyptian Relief: Denderah f107

Chartres Cathedral: Carving on West Front f108

Chartres Cathedral: Tympanum of Central Door of West Front f109

Medals of the Lords of Mantua, Cesena, and Ferrara, by f110 Vittore Pisano

Treatment of Draped Figure in Black on White Ground and f111a vice versa

Treatment of the same Figure in Light and Shade f111b

The Graphic Principle of the Expression of Form by Light and f112 Shade; with and without Outline

Linear Expression of Features, Feathers and Fur: Notes from f113 Nature

Sketches to illustrate the Graphic and the Decorative f114 Treatment of Draped Figures

Decorative Treatment of Birds f115

Floral Designs upon Typical Inclosing Shapes of Indian and f116 Persian Ornament

Dancing Figure with the Governing Lines of the Movement f117a

Lines of Floral Growth and Structure: Lily and Rose f117b

Coast-lines, Gulf of Nauplia f118a

Lines of Movement in Water, Shallow Stream over Sand f118b

Giotto: Chastity (Lower Church, Assisi) f119

Pinturicchio: Mural Painting (Piccolomini Chapel, Siena) f120

Diagram showing the Principal Fundamental Plans or Systems f121 of Line governing Mural Spacing and Decorative Distribution

Diagram to show how the apparent Depth of a Space is f122 increased by the Use of Vertical Lines, and its apparent Width by the Use of Horizontal Lines

Decorative Spacing of the Wall: Sketches (to half-inch f123 scale) to show different Treatment and Proportions

Figure of Laura, from the Burgundian Tapestries: The f124 Triumphs of Petrarch, in the South Kensington Museum

Pinturicchio: Fresco in the Appartimenti Borgia f125

Portion of Detail of the Holy Carpet of the Mosque of f126 Ardebil: Persian, sixteenth century

Sketch to illustrate Treatment of Borders in a Persian Rug f127

Arras Tapestry: Diagrams to show the Principle of Working f128 and Surface Effect

Contrasting Surfaces in Warp and Weft in Woven Silk Hanging f129

Indian printed Cotton Cover: South Kensington Museum f130

Stained Glass Treatment: Inclosure of Form and Colour by f131 Lead Lines

Sketch to show Effect of the same Colour and Form upon f132 different Coloured Grounds

Principle of the Effect of the Blending or Blurring of f133 Colours at their Edges

Use of Black and White Outline to clear the Edges of f133 Coloured Forms upon different Coloured Grounds

J. Van Eyck: Portrait of J. Arnolfini and his Wife f134

Ver Meer of Delft: Lady at a Spinet f135

Botticelli: The Nativity f136

Holbein: The Ambassadors f137

Botticelli: Madonna and Child f138

Crivelli: The Annunciation f139

Perugino: The Virgin in Adoration with St. Michael and St. f140 Raphael, and Tobias

Titian: Bacchus and Ariadne f141

Madox Brown: Christ Washing St. Peter's Feet f142



Origin and Function of Outline—Silhouette—Definition of Boundaries by—Power of Characterization by—Formation of Letters—Methods of Drawing in Line—The Progressive Method—The Calligraphic Method—The Tentative Method—The Japanese Direct Brush Method—The Oval Method—The Rectangular Method—Quality of Line—Linear Expression of Movement—Textures—Emotion—Scale of Linear Expression.

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 tyro with the pen, learning to write, splotches and scratches, and painfully forms trembling, limping O's and A's, till with practice and habitude, almost unconsciously, the power to form firm letters is acquired.

Writing, after all, is but a simpler form of drawing, and we know that the letters of our alphabet were originally pictures or symbols. The main difference is that writing stops short with the acquisition of the purely useful power of forming letters and words, and is seldom pursued for the sake of its beauty or artistic qualities as formerly; while drawing continually leads on to new difficulties to be conquered, to new subtleties of line, and fresh fascinations in the pursuit of distinction and style.

The practice of forming letters with the pen or brush, from good types, Roman and Gothic, however, would afford very good preliminary practice to a student of line and form. The hand would acquire directness of stroke and touch, while the eye would grow accustomed to good lines of composition and simple constructive forms. The progressive nature of writing—the gradual building up of the forms of the letters—and the necessity of dealing with recurring forms and lines, also, would bear usefully upon after work in actual design. Albert Durer in his "Geometrica" gives methods on which to draw the Roman capitals, and also the black letters, building the former upon the square and its proportions, the thickness of the down strokes being one-eighth of square, the thin strokes being one-sixteenth, and the serifs being turned by circles of one-fourth and one-eighth diameter. The capital O, it will be noted, is formed of two circles struck diagonally.

[Methods of Drawing in Line]

Letters may be taken as the simplest form of definition by means of line. They have been reduced through centuries of use from their primitive hieroglyphic forms to their present arbitrary and fixed types, though even these fixed types are subject to the variation produced by changes of taste and fancy.

But when we come to unformulated nature—to the vast world of complex forms, ever changing their aspect, full of life and movement, trees, flowers, woods and waters, birds, beasts, fishes, the human form—the problem how to represent any of these forms, to express and characterize them by means of so abstract a method as line-drawing, seems at first difficult enough.

But since the growth of perception, like the power of graphic representation, is gradual and partial, though progressive, the eye and the mind are generally first impressed with the salient features and leading characteristics of natural forms, just as the child's first idea of a human form is that of a body with four straight limbs, with a preponderating head. That is the first impression, and it is unhesitatingly recorded in infantine outline.

The first aim, then, in drawing anything in line is to grasp the general truths of form, character, and expression.

[The Progressive Method]

There are various methods of proceeding in getting an outline of any object or figure. To begin with, the student might begin progressively defining the form by a series of stages in this way. Take the profile of a bird, for instance; the form might be gradually built up by the combination of a series of lines:

or take the simpler form of a flask bottle:

or a jar on the same principle:

or, simpler still, a leaf form, putting in the stem first with one stroke (1):

and building the form around it (2, 3).

[The Calligraphic Method]

This might be termed the calligraphic method of drawing; and in this method facility of hand might be further practised by attempting the definition of forms by continuous strokes, or building it up by as few strokes as possible. The simpler types of ornament consisting of meandering and flowing lines can all be produced in this way, i.e., by continuous line, as well as natural forms treated in a certain abstract or conventional way, which adapts them to decoration.

[The Tentative Method]

Another method is to sketch in lightly guide lines for main masses, building a sort of scaffolding of light lines to assist the eye in getting the correct outline in its place, using vertical centre lines for symmetrical forms to get the poise right. This is the method very generally in use, but I think it very desirable to practise direct drawing as well, to acquire certainty of eye and facility of hand; and one must not mind failure at first, as this kind of power and facility is so much a matter of practice.

[The Japanese Direct Brush Method]

The Japanese, who draw with the brush, have accustomed themselves to draw in a direct manner without any preliminary sketching, and the charm of their work is largely owing to that crisp freshness of touch only possible to their direct method. The great object is to establish a perfectly intimate correspondence between eye and hand, so that the latter will record what the former perceives.

Abundant specimens of the freedom and naturalism of the modern school of Japanese artists in this direct brush method may be found in the work of Bari, Hiroshigi, and Hokusai, and in the numerous prints and books of designs from their hands. To all draughtsmen and designers they are most valuable to study for their direct method and simple means of expression of form and fact. Accidental as they frequently seem in composition, the placing of the drawing upon the paper is carefully considered before starting, and this, of course, is always a very important point.

Yet another method of drawing, more especially in relation to the drawing of the human figure and animal forms, I may mention as a help to those who do not feel strong enough for the direct method. At the same time it must be borne in mind that we can accustom ourselves to any method; and the more dependent we become upon a single method, the less facility we shall have for working in any other. But for all that it is desirable to master one method—that is, to be able to draw in line freely in one way or another—and experience and practice alone will enable us to find the method most satisfactory.

[The Oval and Rectangular Methods]

[The Rectangular Method]

This other method is to block in the principal masses of the forms we desire to represent by means of a series of ovals, as shown in the illustration, and when we have got the masses in their proper relations, to proceed to draw in the careful outline of the figure, or whatever it may be, upon this substructure of guiding lines, correcting as we go along. It would be quite possible to work on the same principle, but upon a structure of more or less rectangular masses. The real use of the method is to assist the student to get a grasp of the relation of the masses of a figure and a sense of structure in drawing; whether square or oval blocking in is used may be a matter of choice. It may be said for the oval forms that they resemble the contours of the structure in human and animal forms.

If one had a tendency to round one's forms too much, it would be well to try the rectangular method to correct this, and vice versa.

After a certain facility has been acquired in rendering form by means of line, we shall perceive further capacities of expression in its use, and begin to note how different characteristics of form and natural fact may be expressed by varying the quality of our outline.

If we are drawing a plant or a flower, for instance, we should endeavour to show by the quality of our line the difference between the fine springing curves in the structure of the lily, the solid seed-centre and stiff radiation of the petals of the daisy, and the delicate silky folds of the poppy.

[Quality of Line]

But, as leaves come before flowers, it would be best to begin with leaf forms and try to express the character of oak and beech, lime and chestnut leaves, for instance, by means of outline. Probably at first we shall feel dissatisfied with our outline as not being full enough: it may look meagre in quality and small in definition of form. This probably arises from not allowing enough space—from setting the outline too much within the boundary of the form. To correct this one cannot do better than block in the form of the object we are drawing (leaf, flower, or figure) with a full brush in black silhouette, placing the object against the light or white paper, so that its true boundary may be seen uninterfered with by surface markings or shadows, and, concentrating our attention upon the edge, follow it as carefully as possible with the solid black. Then, if we compare the result with our outline, it will help to show where it has failed; and the practice of thus blocking in with the brush in solid silhouette will tend to encourage a larger style of drawing, since good outline means good perception of mass; and as a general principle in drawing, it may be recommended to place one's outline outside the silhouette boundary of the form rather than within it; that is to say, when the figure or object is relieved in light against dark, as the line in that case defines the edge against the background. When the figure or object appears as dark upon a light ground, however, the outline should be within the silhouette, obviously, or its delicate boundary is lost.

[Linear Expression of Movement]

Another important attribute of line is its power of expressing or suggesting movement. By a law of inseparable association, undulating lines approaching the horizontal, or leading down to it, are connected with the sense of repose; whereas broken curves and rectangular lines always suggest action and unrest, or the resistance to force of some kind.

The recurrence of a series of lines in the same direction in a kind of crescendo or wave-like movement suggests continuous pressure of force in the same direction, as in this series of instantaneous actions of a man bowling, where the line drawn through or touching the highest points in each figure takes the line of the curve of a wave. The wave-line, indeed, may be said not only to suggest movement, but also to describe its direction and force. It is, in fact, the line of movement. The principle may be seen in a simpler way, as Hogarth points out in his "Analysis of Beauty," by observing the line described along a wall by the head of a man walking along the street. Or, as we may see sometimes near the coast, trees exposed to the constant pressure of the wind illustrate this recurrence of lines in the same direction governing their general shape; and as each tree is forced to spread in the direction away from the wind, the effect is that of their being always struggling against its pressure even in the calmest weather; and this is entirely due to our association of wind-movement with this peculiar linear expression.

Flowing water, again, is expressed by certain recurring wave-lines, which remind us of the ancient linear symbols of the zigzag and meander used from the earliest times to express water. In the streams that channel the sands of the sea-shore when the tide recedes we may see beautiful flowing lines, sometimes crossing like a network, and sometimes running into a series of shell-like waves; while the sands themselves are ribbed and channelled and modelled by the recurring movement of the waves, which leave upon them the impress and the expression of their motion (much as in a more delicate medium the air-currents impress the fields of cloud, and give them their characteristic forms).

[Linear Expression of Textures]

Textures and surfaces, too, fall within the range of linear expression. One would naturally use lines of totally different consistency and character to express rough or smooth surfaces: to express the difference of value, for instance, between the ivory-like smoothness of an egg and the scaly surface of a pine-cone, entirely different qualities of line are obviously wanted. The firm-set yet soft feathers of the plumage of a bird must be rendered by a very different touch from the shining scales of a fish. The hair and horns of animals, delicate human features, flowers, the sinuous lines of thin drapery, or the broad massive folds of heavy robes, all demand from the designer and draughtsman in line different kinds of suggestive expression, a translation or rendering of natural fact subordinate to the artistic purpose of his work, and in relation to the material and purpose for which he works.

[Linear Expression of Emotion]

Then, again, when we come to the expression of ideas—of thought and sentiment—we find in line an abstract but direct medium for their illustration; and this again, too, by means of that law of inseparable association which connects the idea of praise or aspiration and ascension, for instance, with long lines inclining towards the severe vertical, as when we draw a figure with upraised hands; while the feeling might be increased if led up to or re-echoed by other groups and objects in the composition, forming a kind of vertical crescendo on the same principle which we were considering in regard to the expression of lateral movement. Few things in design are finer or more elevated in feeling than William Blake's design of the Morning Stars singing together, in the series of the Book of Job, yet it is little more than a vertical arrangement of figures with uplifted and intercrossing arms. The linear plan gives the main impetus to the expressiveness of the design, and is the basis of the beauty, which culminates in the rapture of the fresh youthful faces.

[Scale of Linear Expression]

Bowed and bent lines tending downwards, on the other hand, convey the opposite ideas of dejection and despair. This is illustrated in these figures of Flaxman's, who was a great master of style in outline.

[Capacity of Line]

We seem here to discover a kind of scale of linear expression—the two extremes at either end: the horizontal and the vertical, with every degree and modulation between them; the undulating curve giving way to the springing energetic spiral, the meandering, flowing line sinking to the horizontal: or the sharp opposition and thrust of rectangular, the nervous resistance of broken curves, the flame-like, triumphant, ascending verticals. Truly the designer may find a great range of expression within the dominion of pure line. Line is, indeed, as I have before termed it, a language, a most sensitive and vigorous speech of many dialects; which can adapt itself to all purposes, and is, indeed, indispensable to all the provinces of design in line. Line may be regarded simply as a means of record, a method of registering the facts of nature, of graphically portraying the characteristics of plants and animals, or the features of humanity: the smooth features of youth, the rugged lines of age. It is capable of this, and more also, since it can appeal to our emotions and evoke our passionate and poetic sympathies with both the life of humanity and wild nature, as in the hands of the great masters it lifts us to the heavens or bows us down to earth: we may stand on the sea-shore and see the movement of the falling waves, the fierce energy of the storm and its rolling armament of clouds, glittering with the sudden zigzag of the lightning; or we may sink into the profound calm of a summer day, when the mountains, defined only by their edges, wrapped in soft planes of mist, seem to recline upon the level meadows like Titans and dream of the golden age.


The Language of Line—Dialects—Comparison of the Style of various Artists in Line—Scale of Degrees in Line—Picture Writing—Relation of Line to Form—Two Paths—The Graphic Purpose—Aspect—The Ornamental Purpose—Typical Treatment or Convention—Rhythm—Linear Plans in Pattern Designing—Wall-paper Design—Controlling Forms—Memory—Evolution in Design—Variety in Unity—Counterbalance—Linear Logic—Recurring Line and Form—Principle of Radiation—Range and Use of Line.

I spoke of Line as a Language, and gave some illustrations of its power and range of expression, showing that line is capable not only of recording natural fact and defining character, but also of conveying the idea of movement and force, of action and repose; and, further, of appealing to our emotions and thoughts by variations and changes in its direction, the degree of its emphasis, and other qualities.


Yet every designer and draughtsman uses line in a different way, and of a different quality, according to his preference, habit, training, or personality. The endless variations which result I should—to pursue the analogy of speech further—term dialects. We might collect abundant examples of these from the work of line-designers since the world began, or compare the methods of any of the popular illustrators of to-day to find constant variations and individual differences occurring even among those which might be said, under the influence of a prevailing mode, to be variations of one type.

Compare a Greek vase-painter's delicate brush line-drawing with the bold pen-line of Albert Durer (to get a contrast in historic style). Compare (to take two masters of different schools, but of the same country) the line-treatment of Mantegna with the line-treatment of Raphael; or, to take another jump, compare the line-work of Blake and Flaxman; or, to take a modern instance, and to come to our own contemporary artists, compare a drawing by Burne-Jones and one by Phil May.

We might construct a sort of scale of the degrees and qualities of line.

There is, for instance, outline of every degree of boldness or fineness, from the strong black half-inch outline and upwards used in mosaic-work and stained-glass leading; the outline of the pattern designer for block-printing; the outline of the pen draughtsman for process-work or woodcut; and so on, down to the hair-line of the drypoint etcher.

[Scale of Degrees in Line]

There are the qualities of line in different degrees of firmness, roughness, raggedness, or smooth and flowing. There are the degrees of direction of line, curvilinear or angular. On the angular side all variations from the perpendicular and horizontal, or rectangle, within which we may find all these degrees, and on the curvilinear side, all the variations from spiral to circle: so that we might say that the rectangle was the cradle of all angular variations of line, while the semicircle was the cradle of all curvilinear variations. (See the diagrams on p. 26.[f018])

Every artist, sooner or later, by means of his selective adaptive sense, finds a method in the use of line to suit his own personality—to suit his own individual aim in artistic expression—and in course of time it becomes a characteristic manner, by which his work is instantly known, like a friend's handwriting.

Now what determines this choice, this personal selection, over and above necessities of method and material, it would be difficult to say, unless we had more minute knowledge of the natural history of a human being than we are likely to possess. We can only say that from practice are evolved certain methods or principles, consciously or unconsciously; and it is only these general methods or principles that can be explained and tested for the benefit of those essaying to follow the arduous and difficult path of art.

[Relation of Line to Form]

At the outset we see that we need a means of definition in drawing, just as a child needs a word to express a thing it wants. Line, at the point of the pencil, pen, or brush, places this possibility of definition within our reach; but before we can grasp it we need some knowledge, however rudimentary, of its inseparable companion, Form.

I recall two innocent and entertaining methods from the traditions of the nursery, which appeal at once in a curious way to both the oral and graphic senses, and unite story and picture in one. These are illustrated on p. 28.[f019] By such devices a child learns to associate line and form, unconsciously and step by step defining form in the use of, or pursuit of, line.

It would be very entertaining and agreeable if we could carry the principle further, and get a passable study from the antique, for instance, by a similar process. In line-drawing we may, however, always tell some story or fact, or character, phase, or idea.

[The Graphic Purpose]

But supposing we have mounted our steed Form, and taken our bridle Line in hand, and have started riding at large in the vast domain of nature, with the primary object of finding and hunting down truth at last; we soon perceive that there are so many truths, or rather that truth, even of natural fact, has so many sides, that it is difficult to make up our mind which one to pursue. Thought, however, will soon discover that in this pursuit of truth we strike a road that naturally divides itself, or branches out, into two main paths distinct in aim. These two paths in art have been called by many names; they occasionally cross each other, or overlap, and are sometimes blended, or even confused; but it will be useful for our present purpose to keep them very distinct. I will term them, for convenience:

1. The Graphic Purpose. (Accidental form.) 2. The Ornamental Purpose. (Typical form.)

Our use of line will largely depend upon which of these two it is our object to pursue. Now when we look at anything with intent to draw—say a leafy bough as it grows in the sunshine—we see great complexity of form and surface-lighting. The leaves, perhaps, take all manner of variations of the typical form, and are set at all sorts of angles. In making a rapid sketch with the object of getting the appearance of the bough, we naturally dwell upon these accidents and superficial facts. At the same time, with nothing but line to express them, we are compelled to use a kind of convention, though our aim be purely naturalistic, to get a faithful portrait of the bough.

We must make our line as descriptive as possible, defining the main forms boldly, and blocking in broadly the main masses of form and light and shade. We are now aiming at the general look of the thing. We are striving to grasp the facts of Aspect. We are concerned with the purely graphic purpose, to make a picture upon paper.

We cannot, however, even under these simple conditions, altogether leave out of account considerations which, strictly speaking, must be termed "decorative." For instance, there is the question of placing the study well upon the paper, a very important point to start with; and then the question of beauty must arise, not only in the selection of our point of view, but in the choice of method, in the treatment of line we adopt; and it does not follow that the most apparently forcible way of getting bold projection by means of black shadows, at the cost of the more delicate characteristics of our subject, is the best. On the contrary, the finest draughtsmanship is always the most subtle and delicate, and one cannot get subtle and delicate draughtsmanship without faithful study and careful constant practice—knowledge of form, in short—and I am afraid there is no short cut to it.

[The Ornamental Purpose]

Now supposing we make our study of leaves, not as an end in itself, and for its simple pictorial values or qualities only, but with an ornamental or decorative purpose in view, intending to make use of its form and character in some more or less systematic design or pattern-work—adapted to special methods and materials—intended to decorate a wall-surface or a textile, for instance; we might certainly start with a general sketch of its appearance as before, but we should find that we should want to understand it in its detail; the law of its growth and construction; we should want to dwell upon its typical character and form, the controlling lines of its masses, rather than on its accidental aspects, because it would really be only with these that we could successfully deal in adapting anything in nature to the conditions and limitations of a design. To do this requires as much art as to make a clever graphic sketch, perhaps more; but it is certainly not so easily understood and appreciated, as a rule. Pattern-work is taken so much for granted, except by those technically interested, whereas a graphic sketch may bring the drama of nature, and of human character and incident, before our eyes. It does not require us to stop and think out the less obvious meaning, or trace the invention or grace of line, to appreciate the rhythmic, silent music which the more formalized and abstract decorative design may contain, quite apart from the forms it actually represents.

[Question and Answer in Line]

Here we discover another function of line. For, directly we endeavour to construct a decorative design—that is, a design intended to adorn or to express an object or surface—we find that we must build it upon some sort of a plan, or geometric controlling network or scaffolding, so as to give it unity, rhythm, and coherence—especially so in the case of repeating designs. Even in an isolated panel or picture the necessity of this linear basis will be felt, since one cannot draw a line or define a form without demanding an answer—that is, a corresponding, re-echoing line or mass.

The curve (1. Q) is a proposition or question. It is answered or balanced by the corresponding curve (2. A), and forms the basis for a scroll design.

The five radiating lines (1) are obviously incomplete by themselves, but if we add another four, in reverse order, (2) we get a centred and symmetric motive of an anthemion character.

[Wall-Paper Design]

Take, however, a wall-paper. The problem is to construct a design pleasant to the eye in line, form, colour, and suggestion; which will be interesting in detail, and yet repeat upon a wall-surface without flaw, and without becoming wearisome. Moreover, one which will lend itself to being cut upon wood, if for block-printing, and which may be reproduced with a due regard to economy of means. The designer may have a square of twenty-one inches in which to make his design.

A useful way to begin with is to rule out a sheet of paper into squares, say on the scale of 1-1/2 inch to the foot, and upon this jot down your first ideas of linear arrangement and colour motive, and get the general effect, and test the plan of repeats. When you are satisfied with one, enlarge it to full size, correct and amplify it, and improve it in form and detail. Changes will probably be found necessary in drawing it upon the larger scale, sometimes additions, sometimes omissions. Now in sketching out the general plan, one builds, as before said, upon some basis or plan, however simple, since one cannot put a simple spot, sprig, or spray upon paper intending to repeat, without some system of connection to put them into relation.

[Controlling Forms]

In designing one's sprig, too, the best plan to secure good decorative effect is to see that its general form is inclosed or bounded by an agreeable linear shape, although itself not actually visible. Simple leaf and flower forms are generally the best to use for these controlling boundaries. Sprays designed on this principle may be relied upon for repeating pleasantly and safely when they are placed upon, and connected by, the controlling geometric plan. A good practical test of the truth and completeness of your square repeat is, when the design is done, or even in progress, to cut it into four equal parts (supposing it to be a twenty-one inch square). This will enable you to get the joints true, and also, by altering the position of the squares, to give you a very good idea of the effect of the repeat full size. (See the diagrams on p. 41.[f028])

These things must be considered, of course, merely as practical aids to invention: not by any means as substitutes for it. One cannot give any recipe for designing, and no rules, principles, or methods can supply the place of imagination and fancy. "He who would bring back health from the Indies," says an old proverb, "must take it out with him."

At the same time the imagination can be enfeebled by starvation and neglect. It can be depressed by dull and sordid surroundings. It is apt to grow, like other living things, by what it feeds on, and is stronger for exercise and development.


Memory, too, is an important and serviceable thing in designing, and this, again, can be cultivated to an almost unlimited extent. I mean that selective kind of memory which, by constant and close observation, extracts and stores up the essential serviceable kind of facts for the designer: facts of form, of structure, of movement of figures, expressive lines, momentary or transitory effects of colour—all those rare and precious visual moments which will not wait, and which happen unexpectedly. They should be captured like rare butterflies and carefully stored in the mind's museum of suggestions, as well as, as far as is possible, pinned down in the hieroglyphics of the note-book.

[Evolution in Design]

As regards procedure in working out a design, one generally thinks of some leading feature, some central mass or form or curve—of a figure or a flower, say—and one thinks of its capacity in repeat; and, since one form or line should inevitably suggest or necessitate—as by a kind of logic—another, one adds other forms until the design is complete. For it must never be forgotten that design is a growth which has its own stages of evolution in the mind, answering to the evolution of the living forms of nature—first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Experience teaches us that the most harmonious arrangements of form and line are those in which the leading lines and forms through all sorts of variations, continually recur. We cannot place a number of sharply contrasting and contradictory forms together in design satisfactorily— at least we cannot do so without recourse to other elements to harmonize and to bring them into relation. For instance, we might get a great deal of ornamental variety by means of a number of heraldic devices upon shields, full in themselves of quaintness and contrasts, but brought into harmony by the boundary lines of the shields and the divisions; or, still further, by throwing them upon a background of leaves and stems, the meandering lines and recurring forms of which would answer as a kind of warp upon which to weave the heraldic spots into a connected and harmonious pattern.

[Variety in Unity]

But even in the ornamental treatment of diverse forms, as the mediaeval heraldic designers were well aware, they can be brought into decorative harmony by following a similar principle to the one already laid down in regard to the designing of sprigs and sprays: that is to say, that in designing an animal or figure for heraldry or introduction into a pattern, one should arrange it so that it should fall within the boundary of some geometric or foliated form, square, circular, elliptical or otherwise, as might be desirable. To this, however, I hope to return in a future chapter.


We may here consider another important principle in designing with line and mass, that of counterbalance.

Take any defined space as a panel, tile, or border to be filled with design: you place your principal mass, and instantly feel that it must be balanced by a corresponding mass, or some equivalent. Its place will be determined by the principle upon which the design is built. If on a symmetrical arrangement, you find your centre (say of a panel), and you may either throw the chief weight and mass of the design upon the central feature (as a tree), and balance it by smaller forms or wings each side, or vice versa; or, adopting a diagonal plan, you place your principal mass (say it is a tile) near the top left-hand corner (suppose it is a pomegranate), connecting it with a spiral diagonal line (the stem); the place of the counterbalancing mass (the second pomegranate) is obviously near the bottom right-hand corner of the square. You may then feel the necessity for additional smaller forms, and so add to it (the leaves), completing the design. (See preceding page.)

[Linear Logic]

On the same principle one may design upon various other plans. The exact choice of the distribution of the counterbalancing masses must always be a matter of personal feeling, judgment, and taste, controlled by the perception of certain logical necessities: as it seems to me that designing is a species of linear reasoning,* and might almost be worked in its elementary stages on the principle of the syllogism, consisting of two propositions and a conclusion. A spiral curve is a harmonious line, says the designer: repeat it, reversed, and you prolong the harmony; repeat it again, with variations, and you complete the harmony. Or, harmonious effect is produced by recurring form and line. Here is a circular form; here is a meandering line: combine and repeat them, and you get a logical and harmonious border motive.

[*] I recall here a saying of Sir E. Burne-Jones, that "a bad line can only be answered by a good line."

[Recurring Line and Form]

The everlastingly recurring egg and dart moulding and the volute are instances of the harmonious effect of very simple arrangements of recurring line and form. We also get illustrated in these another linear quality in design—that up-and-down movement which gives a pleasant rhythm to the simplest border, and is of especial consequence in all repeating border and frieze designs. The borders of early, ancient, and classical art might be said to be little besides rhythmical and logical arrangements of line. The same rhythmical principle is found in the designs of the classical frieze in all its varieties, culminating in the rhythmic movement of the great Pan-Athenaic procession in that master-frieze of the Parthenon, which, though full of infinite variety and delicate sculptured detail, is yet controlled by a strictly ornamental motive, and constructed upon the rhythmic recurrence of pure line.

[The Principle of Radiation]

Another great linear principle in design is what is known as the radiating principle, which gives vitality and vigour alike to both arrangements of line and delineations of form. It is emphatically and abundantly illustrated in natural forms, from the scallop shell upon the sea-shore to the sun himself that radiates his light upon it. The palm-leaf in all its graceful varieties demonstrates its beauty, its constructive strength combined with extraordinary lightness, which becomes domesticated in that fragile sceptre of social influence and festivity, the fan, and which again spreads its silken, or gossamer, wing as a suggestive field for the designer. We find the principle springing to life again in the fountain jet, and symbolical of life as it has ever been; by means of the same principle applied to construction the Gothic architects raised their beautiful vaults, and emphasized the structural principle and the beauty of recurring line by moulding the edges of their ribs; while we have but to look at the structure of the human frame to find the same principle there also, in the fibres of the muscles, for instance, the radiation of the ribs, and of the fingers and toes.

In truth, as I have said, if there can be said to be one principle more than another, the perception and expression of which gives to an artist's work in design peculiar vitality, it is this principle of radiating line. One may follow it through all stages and forms of drawing and design, and it is equally important in the design of the figure, in the structure of a flower, in the folds of drapery, and alike in the controlling lines of pictorial composition and decorative plan, whether the lines radiate from seen or from hidden centres, which in all kinds of informal design are perhaps the most important.

[Range and Use of Line]

We see, therefore, that line possesses a constructive and controlling function, in addition to its power of graphic expression and decorative definition. It is the beginning and the end of art. By means of its help we guide our first tottering steps in the wide world of design; and, as we gain facility of hand and travel further afield, we discover that we have a key to unlock the wonders of art and nature, a method of conjuring up all forms at will: a sensitive language capable of recording and revealing impressions and beauties of form and structure hidden from the careless eye: a delicate instrument which may catch and perpetuate in imperishable notation unheard harmonies: a staff to lean upon through the journey of life: a candid friend who never deceives us: perchance a divining rod, which may ultimately reveal to us that Beauty and Truth are one—as they certainly are, or ought to be, in the world of art.


Of the Choice and Use of Line—Degree and Emphasis—Influence of the Photograph—The Value of Emphasis—The Technical Influence—The Artistic Purpose—Influence of Material and Tools—Brush-work—Charcoal—Pencil—Pen.

Recognizing the great range and capacity of line as a means of expression, and also the range of choice it presents to the designer and draughtsman, the actual exercise of this choice of line, with a view to the most expressive and effective use in practice, becomes, of course, of the first consequence.

In this matter of choice we are helped by natural bias, by personal character and preferences, for which it would, as I have said, be difficult fully to account; but beyond this a kind of evolution goes on, arising out of actual practice, which controls and is controlled by it. Draw simply a succession of strokes with any point upon paper, and we find that we are gradually led to repeat a particular kind of stroke, a particular degree of line, partly perhaps because it seems to be produced with more ease, and partly because it appears to have the pleasantest effect.

[Choice of Line]

By a kind of "natural selection," therefore, influenced no doubt by many small secondary causes, such as the relation of the particular angle of the hand and pencil-point to the surface—the nature of the point itself and the nature of the surface—we finally arrive at a choice of line. This choice, again, will be liable to constant variation, owing to the nature of the object we are about to draw, or the kind of design we want to make.

[Use of Line]

The kind of line which seems appropriate to representing the delicate edges of a piece of low-relief sculpture, for instance, would require greater force and firmness if we wanted to draw an antique cast in the round, and in strong light and shade. The character of our line should be sympathetic with the character of our subject as far as possible, and sensitive to its differences of character and surface, since it is in this sensitiveness that the expressive power and peculiar virtue of line-drawing consists.

A feather, a lily, a scallop shell, all show as an essential principle of their form and construction the radiating line; but what a different quality of line would be necessary to express the differences of each: for the soft, yet firm, smooth flowing curves of the feather fibres no line would be too delicate; and the lily would demand no less delicacy, and even greater precision and firmness of curve, while a slight waviness, or quiver, in the lines might express the silken or waxy surface of the petals; while a crustier, more rugged, though equally firm line would be wanted to follow the rigid furrows and serrated surface of the shell. The leaves of trees and plants of all kinds, which perhaps afford the best sort of practice in line-drawing at first, present in their varieties of structure, character, and surfaces continual opportunities for the exercise of artistic judgment in the choice and use of line.

The forms and surfaces of fruits, again, are excellent tests of line draughtsmanship, and their study is a good preparation for the more subtle and delicate contours of the human form—the greatest test of all. Here we see firmness of fundamental structure (in the bones) and surface curve (of sinew and muscle), with a mobile and constantly changing surface (of flesh and sensitive skin). To render such characteristics without tending to overdo either the firmness or the mobility, and so to become too rigid on the one hand, or too loose and indefinite on the other, requires extraordinary skill, knowledge, and practice in the use of line. I do not suppose the greatest master ever satisfied himself yet in this direction.

[Degree and Emphasis]

When we have settled upon our quality of line and its degree—thick or thin, bold or fine—we shall be met with the question of emphasis, for upon this the ultimate effect and expression of our drawing or design must largely depend. In the selection of any subject we should naturally be influenced by the attractiveness of particular parts, characters, or qualities it might possess, and we should direct our efforts towards bringing these out, as the things which impress us most. That is the difference between the mind and hand working together harmoniously and the sensitized plate in the photographic camera, which, uncontrolled in any way by human choice (and even under that control as it always is to some extent), mechanically registers the action of the light rays which define the impress of natural forms and scenes through the lens focussed upon the plate. So that, as we often see in a photograph, some unimportant or insignificant detail is reproduced with as much distinctness (or more) as are the leading figures or whatever form the interesting features or the motive of the subject. The picture suffers from want of emphasis, or from emphasis in the wrong place. It is, of course, here that the art of the photographer comes in; and, although he can by careful selection, arrangement, and the regulation of exposure, largely counteract the mechanical tendency, a photograph by its very nature can never take the place of a work of art—the first-hand expression, more or less abstract, of a human mind, or the creative inner vision recorded by a human hand.

[Influence of the Photograph]

Photography does wonders, and for certain qualities of light and shade, and form and effect without colour, no painting or drawing can approach it; but it has the value and interest of science rather than of art. It is invaluable to the student of natural fact, surface effect, and momentary action, and is often in its very failures most interesting and suggestive to artists—who indeed have not been slow to avail themselves of the help of photography in all sorts of ways. Indeed the wonder is, considering its services to art in all directions, how the world could ever have done without it.

But a photograph cannot do everything. It cannot make original designs, and it cannot draw in line. You can design in the solid, and make your groups in the studio or the open air; you can select your point of view, and the photograph will reproduce. You can make your drawing in line, and it will copy it; and we know its sphere of usefulness in this direction is enormous, since it can bring before our eyes the whole range of ancient art.

In short, photography is an excellent servant and friend, but a dangerous master. It may easily beguile us by its seductive reproductions of surface relief and lighting to think more of these qualities than any other, and to endeavour to put them in the wrong places—in places where we want colour planes rather than shadow planes, flatness and repose rather than relief, for instance, as mostly in surface decoration.

But one way of learning the value of emphasis is to draw from a photograph, and it will soon be discovered what a difference in expression is produced by dwelling a little more here, or a little less there.

[The Value of Emphasis]

In designing, the use of emphasis is very important; and it may be said that drawing or designing without emphasis is like reading without stops, while awkward emphasis is like putting your stops in the wrong place.

By a difference in emphasis the same design may be given quite a different effect and expression.

Suppose, for instance, we were designing a vertical pattern of stem, leaves, and fruit in one colour. By throwing the emphasis upon the leaves, as in No. 1, we should gain one kind of effect or decorative expression. By throwing the emphasis upon the fruit, and leaving the leaves in outline, we should get quite a different effect out of the same elements, as in No. 2. While by leaving stem, leaves, and fruit all in outline, and throwing the emphasis upon the ground, we should get, again, a totally distinct kind of effect and expression.

Similar differences of effect and expression, owing to differences of emphasis, might be studied in the drawing and treatment of a head (as in A, B, and C). The possibilities of such variations of emphasis in drawing are practically unlimited and co-extensive with the variations of expression we see in nature herself. The pictorial artist is free to translate or represent them in his work, controlled solely by the conditions and purpose of his work.


It is these conditions and purposes which really control both choice and treatment, and determine the emphasis, and therefore the expression of the work.

No kind of art can be said to be unconditioned, and the simplest and freest of all, the art of the point and the surface, which covers all the graphic art and flat designing, is still subject to certain technical influences, and it may be said that it is very much in so far as these technical influences or conditions are acknowledged and utilized that the work gains in artistic character.

[The Technical Influence]

The draughtsman in line who draws for surface printing, for the book or newspaper, should be able to stand the test of the peculiar conditions; and, so far from attempting to escape them, and seeking something more than they will bear, should welcome them as incentives to a distinct artistic treatment with a value and character of its own, which indeed all the best work has. It is, for instance, important in all design associated with type for surface printing, that there should be a certain harmonious relation between lettering or type and printer's ornament or picture.

A firm and open quality of line, with bright black and white effects, not only has the most attractive decorative effect with type, but lends itself to the processes of reproduction for surface printing best, whether woodcut or one of the numerous forms of so-called automatic photo-engraving, as well as to the conditions of the printing press.

In all design-work which has to be subjected to processes of engraving and printing, clearness and definiteness of line is very necessary. Designs for textile printing of all kinds, for wall-papers, especially, require good firm drawing and definite colour planes. This does not, however, mean hardness of effect. A design should be clear and intelligible without being hard.

For weaving, again, definiteness in pattern designing is very necessary, since the design must be capable of being rendered upon the severe conditions of the point paper, by which it is only possible to produce curves by small successive angles (which sounds like a contradiction in terms). The size of these angles or points, of course, varies very much in the different kinds of textile with which pattern is incorporated, from the fine silk fabric, in which they are almost inappreciable, to carpets of all kinds, where they are emphatic; so that a certain squareness of mass becomes a desirable and characteristic feature in designs for these purposes, and, indeed, I think it should be more or less acknowledged in all textile design, in order to preserve its distinctive beauty and character.

[The Artistic Purpose]

Beauty and character.—In these lies the gist of all design. While the technical conditions, if fully understood, fairly met, and frankly acknowledged, are sure to give character to a design, for whatever purpose, beauty is not so easy to command. It is so delicate a quality, so complex in its elements, a question often of such nice balance and judgment—depending perhaps upon a hair's-breadth difference in the poise of a mass here, or the sweep of a curve there—that we cannot weave technical nets fine enough to catch so sensitive a butterfly. She is indeed a Psyche in art, both seeking and sought, to be finally won only by devotion and love.

This search for beauty—this Psyche of art—is the purely inspiring artistic purpose, as distinct from the technical and useful one, which should, perfectly reconciled and united with it, determine the form of our work.

In drawing or design we may seek particular qualities in line and form either of representation or of ornament. We may desire to dwell upon particular beauties either of object or subject. Say, in drawing from a cast or from natural form of any kind, we desire to dwell upon beauty of line or quality of surface. Well, since it is most difficult, if not impossible, to get everything at once, and nothing without some kind of sacrifice, we shall find that to give prominence to—to bring out—the particular quality in our subject (say beauty of line), it becomes necessary to subordinate other qualities to this. A drawing in pure outline of a figure may be a perfect thing in itself. The moment we begin to superadd shading, or lines expressive of relief of any kind, we introduce another element; we are aiming at another kind of truth or beauty; and unless we have also a distinctly ideal aim in this, we shall mar the simplicity of the outline without gaining any compensating advantage, or really adding to the truth or beauty of the drawing.

In designing, too, unless we can so contrive the essential characteristics of our pattern that they shall be adaptable to the method and material of its production, and make its reproduction quite practicable, it is sure to reappear more or less marred and incomplete. The thing is to discover what kind of character and beauty the method will allow of—whether beauty or quality of line, or surface, or colour, or material; and if to be reproduced in a particular method or material, the design should be thought out in the method or material for which it is destined, rather than as a drawing on paper, and worked out accordingly, using every opportunity to secure the particular kind of beauty naturally belonging to such work in its completed form.

Thus we should naturally think of planes of surface in modelled work, and the delicate play of light and shade, getting our equivalent for colour in the design and contrast of varied surfaces. In stained glass we should think of a pattern in lead lines inclosing one of translucent colour, each being interdependent and united to form a harmonious whole. In textile design we should be influenced by the thought of the difference of use, plan, and purpose of the finished material; as the difference between a rich vertical pattern in silk, velvet, or tapestry, to be broken by folds as in curtains or hangings, and a rich carpet pattern, to be spread upon the unbroken level surface of a floor. The idea of the wall and floor should here influence us as well as the actual technical necessities of the loom. It would be part of the artistic purpose affecting the imagination and artistic motive, and working with the strictly technical conditions.

The mind must project itself, and see with the inner eye the effect of the design as it would appear in actual use, as far as possible. Invention, knowledge, and experience will do the rest.


Keeping, however, to strictly pictorial or graphic conditions—to the art of the point and the surface—with which, as designers and draughtsmen, we are more immediately concerned, we cannot forget certain technical considerations strictly belonging to the varieties of point and of surface, and their relations one to another. The flexible point of the brush, for instance, dipped in ink, or colour, has its own peculiar capacity, its own range of treatment, one might say, its own forms.

The management admits of immense variation of use and touch, and its range of depicting and ornamental power are very great: from the simpler leaf forms, which seem to be almost a reflection or shadow of the moist pointed brush itself, to the elaborate graphic drawing in line or light and shade.

In forming the leaf shape one begins with a light pressure, if at the point, and proceeds to increase it for the middle and broader end. On the same principle of regulation of pressure any brush forms may be built up. It is essential for freedom in working with the brush not to starve or stint it in moisture or colour. For ornamental forms a full brush should be used: otherwise they are apt to look dragged and meagre. For a rich and flowing line also a full brush, however fine, is necessary. It is quite possible, however, to use it with a different aim, and to produce a sort of crumbling line when half dry, and also in colour-work for what is called dragging, by which tone, texture, or quality may be given to parts of a drawing. One should never lose sight, in using the brush as a drawing tool, of its distinctive quality and character, and impart it to all work done by its means.

The direct touch with the full brush—to cultivate this is of enormous advantage to all artists, whatever particular line of art they may follow, since it may be said to be of no less value in design than it is in painting pure and simple. We can all feel the charm of the broad brush washes and emphatic brush touches of a master of water-colour landscape such as De Wint. This is mastery of brush and colour in one direction—tone and effect. A Japanese drawing of a bird or a fish may show it equally in another—character and form. A bit of Oriental porcelain or Persian tile may show the same dexterous charm and full-brush feeling exercised in a strictly decorative direction.

The empire of the brush, if we think of it in all its various forms and directions, is very large; and it commands, in skilled hands, both line and form, in all their varieties, and leaves its impress in all the departments of art, from the humble but dexterous craftsman who puts the line of gold or colour round the edges of our cups and saucers, to the highly skilled and specialized painter of easel pictures—say the academician who writes cheques with his paint-brush!

[Charcoal and Pencil]

Then we have the ordinary varieties of the firm point: charcoal, pencil, pen. Charcoal, being halfway between hard and soft—a sort of halfway house or bridge for one passing from the flexible brush to the firm and hard points of pencil and pen—is first favourite with painters when they take to drawing. Its softness and removability adapts it as a tool for preliminary and preparatory sketching in for all purposes, and both for designer and painter; but it lends itself to both line and tone drawing, or to a mixture of both. It is therefore a very good material for rapid studies (say from the life) and the seizing of any effect of light and shade rapidly, since the masses can be laid in readily, and greater richness and depth can be obtained in shorter time, perhaps, than by any other kind of pencil.

Charcoal is also very serviceable for large cartoon-work, since it is capable of both delicacy and force, and bears working up to any extent. A slight rubbing of the finger gives half tones when wanted, and is often serviceable in giving greater solidity and finish to the work.

Then there is the lead pencil—the point-of-all-work, as it might be called—more generally serviceable than any other, whether for rapid sketches and jottings in the note-book, or careful and detailed drawings, or sketching in for the smaller kinds of design-work. It is also, of course, used for drawings which are afterwards "inked in." I do not think, however, that pen-work done in this way is so free or characteristic as when done direct, or at any rate quite freely, upon a mere scaffolding of preliminary lines, used only to make the plans for the chief masses and forms.

Pencil drawing is capable of being carried to a greater pitch of delicacy and finish, and has a silvery quality all its own. It has not the force or range of charcoal, but in its own technical range it possesses many advantages. Its gray and soft line, however charming in itself, does not fit it for work where sharpness and precision of line and touch are required, as may be said to be the case with all work intended to be reproduced by some process of handicraft or manufacture, except some sorts of photo-engraving or lithography. We must therefore look to another implement to enable us to obtain these qualities, namely, the brush, the use and qualities of which I have already touched upon.

[The Pen]

There remains yet another point of the firm and decisive order, the pen, which enables us to get firmness and sharpness of line and precise definition, as well as considerable range of treatment and freedom of touch.

The pen seems to bear much the same relation to the brush as the lead pencil does to charcoal—not capable of such full and rich effects or such flowing freedom of line, but yet possessing its own beauty and characteristic kinds of expression. Its true province is in comparatively small scale work, and its natural association is with its sister-pen of literature in the domain of book-design and decoration, and black and white drawing for the press. Its varieties are endless, and the ingenuity of manufacturers continually places before us fresh choice of pen-points to work with; but though one occasionally meets with a good steel pen, I have found it too often fails one just when it is sufficiently worn to the right degree of flexibility. One returns to the quill, which can be cut to suit the particular requirements of one's work. For large bold drawing the reed-pen has advantages, and a pleasant rich quality of line.

But with whatever point we may work, the great object is to be perfectly at ease with it in drawing—to thoroughly master its use and capacities, so that in our search for that other command, of line and form, we may feel that we have in our hands a tool upon which we can rely, a trusty spear to bear down the many difficulties and discouragements that beset, like threatening dragons, the path of the art-student.


Of the Choice of Form—Elementary Forms—Space-filling—Grouping— Analogies of Form—Typical Forms of Ornament—Ornamental Units— Equivalents in Form—Quantities in Design—Contrast—Value of Variations of Similar or Allied Forms—Use of the Human Figure and Animal Forms in Ornamental Design.

We were considering the choice and use of Line in the last chapter: its expressive characters and various methods. We now come to the no less important question to the designer and draughtsman—The Choice of Form.

If Line may be said to be the bone and sinew of design, Form is the substance and the flesh, and both are obviously essential to its free life and development.

[Elementary Forms]

The cube and the sphere give us the fundamental elements, or primal types from which are derived the multifarious, ever varying, and complex forms, the products of the forces and conditions of nature, or the necessitous inventiveness of art, just as we may take the square and the circle to be the parents of linear and geometric design.

The cube and the sphere, the ellipse, the cone, and the pyramid, with other comparatively simple forms of solid geometry, present themselves to the student as elementary tests of draughtsmanship—of the power, that is, of representing solid bodies upon a plane surface. Such forms being more simple and regular than any natural forms, they are supposed to reduce the problem of drawing to its simplest conditions. They certainly afford very close tests of correctness of eye, making any fault in perspective or projection at once apparent.

To avoid, however, falling into mechanical ways, and to maintain the interest and give vitality to such studies, the relation of such forms to forms in nature and art should be borne in mind, and no opportunity missed of comparing them, or of seeking out their counterparts, corresponding principles, and variations, as well as their practical bearing, both functional and constructive; as in the case of the typical forms of flowers, buds, and seed-vessels, for instance, where the cone and the funnel, and the spherical, cylindrical, and tubular principles are constantly met with, as essential parts of the characters and organic necessities of the plant: the cone and the funnel mostly in buds and flower-petals for protection and inclosure of the pollen and seed germs, the tube for conducting the juices; the spherical form to resist moisture externally, or to hold it internally, or to avoid friction, and facilitate close storage, as in the case of seeds in pods. The seed-vessel of the poppy, for instance, has a curious little pent-house roof to shield the interstices (like windows in a tower) till the seed is ripe and the time comes for it to be shaken out of the shell or pod. A further practical reason for the prevalence of spherical form in seeds is that they may, when the outer covering or husk perishes, more readily roll out and fall into the interstices of the ground; or when, as in the case of various fruits, such as the apple and orange, the envelope itself is spherical and intended to carry their flat or pointed seeds to the ground, where it falls and rolls when ripe.

The cube and the various multiple forms may be found in crystals and basaltic rocks, as well as in organic nature, as, for instance, in the honeycomb of bees, where choice of form is a constructive necessity: the cube is in every sense of the word the corner-stone in architecture, and without squaring and plumbing no building could be constructed, while the cylindrical and conical principles of form are illustrated in towers and roofs, spires and pinnacles. In architectural ornament and carved decoration the cube and sphere again form the basis, both forming ornaments themselves by mere recurrence and repetition, and also forming constructional bases of ornament.

[Dog-Tooth Ornament]

A very simple but effective form of carved ornament characteristic of early Gothic work is what is known as the dog-tooth. This is formed simply by cutting a cube of stone into a pyramid, depressing the sides, and cutting them into geometric leaves, leaving the sharp angles of the pyramid from the base to the apex standing out in bold relief. In ground-plan this is simply composed geometrically of a rectangle divided diagonally into four equal parts, and by striking four semicircles from the centres of the four sides of the rectangle. Here we get a form of ornament in the flat which appears to have been very widely used, and reappears in the early art of nearly all races so far as I am aware. We find it, for instance, in Assyrian carving and in early Greek decoration, in China and Japan, and in European mediaeval work of all kinds. Its charm perhaps lies in its simplicity of construction yet rich ornamental effect, either as carved work or as a flat painted diaper. It might also be used as the geometric basis of an elaborate repeating wall-pattern over a large surface.

[Filling of Spaces]

When it comes to the choice of form, when we are face to face with a particular problem in design, ornament, or decoration (say, as most frequently happens, it is to fill a panel of a given shape and size), we are bound to consider form in relation to that particular panel, to the subject we propose to treat, and the method by which the design is to be produced, or the object and position for which it is intended. This generally narrows the range of possible choice. Firstly, there is the shape of the panel itself. A well-known exercise for the Teacher's Certificate under the Department of Science and Art is to give a drawing of a plant adapted to design in a square and a circle. Now in the abstract one would be inclined to select for a circular fitting different forms from those one might select for a square filling, since I always consider that the shape of the space must influence the character of the filling in line and form. Still, if the problem is to fill a square and a circle by the same forms, or an adaptation of them, we must rely more and more upon difference of treatment of these forms, and not try to squeeze round forms into rectangular space, or rectangular forms into circular space. In a rose, for instance, it would be possible to dwell on its angular side for the square, and on its curvilinear side for the circle. Anyway, we should seek in the first place a good and appropriate motive.

Supposing the design is for wood inlay, we should have to select forms that would not cause unnecessary difficulty in cutting, since every form in the design would have to be cut out in thin wood and inserted in the corresponding hollow cut in the panel or plank to receive it. Complex or complicated forms would therefore be ruled out, as being not only difficult or impossible to reproduce in the material, but ineffective.

[Inlay Design]

A true feeling for the particular effect and decorative charm of inlaid work should lead us to limit ourselves to comparatively few and simple forms, treating those forms in an emphatic but abstract way, and making use of recurring line and form as far as possible. We might make an effective panel, say, for a casket, or a clock-case, or a floor, by strictly limiting ourselves to very few and simple forms—say, for instance, a stem, a leaf, a berry, or disc, and a bird form, or fruit and leaf forms. It would be possible to build up a design with such elements both pleasant in effect and well adapted to the work. An excellent plan would be to cut out all one's forms with knife or scissors in stiff paper, as a test of the practicability of an inlay design. This is actually done with the working drawing by the inlay cutter.

I once designed an inlaid floor for the centre of a picture gallery. The scale was rather large, and the work was bold. One kept to large, bold, and simple forms—water-lilies and broad leaves, swans, scallop shells, and zigzag borders. Forms which can be readily produced by the brush would generally answer well for inlay, since they would have simple and sweeping boundaries and flat silhouette. And for inlay one is practically designing in black, white, or tinted silhouette. This makes it very good practice for all designers, both for the invention it tends to call out, owing to the limited resources and restriction as to forms, and also as giving facility and readiness in blocking in the masses of pattern.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse