Rembrandt Says Don’t Take It Slow

18 Oct 2012

Straight from the master's mouth, er, hand. Study Rembrandt's drawing techniques and you'll find short strokes and quick crosshatching that the artist used to get to the heart of every visual impression he wanted to depict.

The Three Trees by Rembrandt, 1643, etching with burin drypoint in black ink on cream laid paper, 8 x 11.
The Three Trees by Rembrandt, 1643, etching with burin
drypoint in black ink on cream laid paper, 8 x 11.

But Rembrandt was not a quick sketcher just for the sake of speed. According to Rembrandt expert Jakob Rosenberg, the artist combined "brevity with suggestiveness ... the result of sensitive selection, with an emphasis upon significant features and an appeal to the spectator's imagination."

This can certainly be seen in Rembrandt's use of line. After sketching an outline, Rembrandt would go quickly into establishing masses with shading marks. He deftly used a light touch and took advantage of the surface texture of his drawing to create airy cast shadows and halftones.

Old Man Seated in an Armchair, Full Length by Rembrandt, ca. 1631, red and black chalk, 9 x 6¼.
Old Man Seated in an Armchair, Full Length
by Rembrandt, ca. 1631, red and black chalk, 9 x 6¼.
Adapted from an article by Joseph C. Skrapits.

He would also use line to visually connect figure to environment to atmosphere, joining them all in a narrative sense that is quite modern. Old Man Seated in an Armchair shows how the artist's buildup of crosshatched line allowed for subtle layers of shading and a visual merging of everything depicted-the figure's beard blends into his chest, the blanket he is wrapped in blends with his legs, his legs with the chair legs, the chair with the cast shadows behind the figure, and so on.

When it came to drawing shadows and the darkest darks, the marks of the artist are quite vigorous. He put down such heavy shading strokes that the grain of the paper is often undetectable, but the objects never lose their volume because Rembrandt was so skillful at bringing back in the midtones and highlights.

Drawing magazine is a top source for a deep and lasting understanding of drawing past and present. With an emphasis on learning all we can from the Old Masters, like Rembrandt, as well as contemporary draftsmen, Drawing delivers technical demonstrations and meaningful methods with every issue, which is why a subscription to Drawing comes highly recommended. Enjoy! 

P.S. For more on Rembrandt's speed-driven draftsmanship, check out our exclusive article, Rembrandt's Shorthand Drawing Style by Joseph C. Skrapits.

 

 


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