Drawing Basics: In Praise of Sparseness When Drawing

14 Jul 2009

I caught the Whistler exhibition at The Frick last week and was initially concerned about its sizeit hangs in that smallish room in between the place where you pay admission and the hallway to the restroomsbut I suppose at some point during the 40 minutes I spent in there reading every bit of wall text and pondering the small etchings and pastels first one-by-one, then randomly, I realized that this is the kind of show that proves quality beats quantity every time.

Fascinating aspects of James McNeill Whistler's artistic choices practically leaped out at the viewer. For example, standing in the middle of the room, I could look over one shoulder at a very spare etching of a Venetian lagoon, then turn my head 180 degrees and see another etching that uses quite a bit of detail to fully render an ornate doorway. Heidi Rosenau of The Frick Collection graciously sent these photos of the two pieces:

 


Little Lagoon by James McNeill Whistler, 1879–1880, etching and drypoint drawing
Little Lagoon
by James McNeill Whistler, 18791880, etching and drypoint drawing.

 


The Doorway by James McNeill Whistler, 1879–1880, etching and drypoint drawing
The Doorway
by James McNeill Whistler, 18791880, etching and drypoint drawing.

 

It's one thing for an artist to be quite spare, or quite ornate. It's another when an artist has both weapons in his or her arsenal and uses whichever approach best expresses his or her impression of the scene in his drawing. I love that Whistler went to Venice to intensely observe it, and his etchings and pastels show that he developed a well-rounded view of the city, and that his interpretations in his pencil drawings translated eventually to these austere works.

In a way, Ingres moved easily from a sparse commentary to a fully rendered one in a similar fashion. The major difference with Ingres is that these contrasting approaches often showed up in the same drawing. Witness these two typical portraits, in which the heads are rendered and the costume is barely outlined.

 

Princess Letizia Murat by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1813, graphite pencil drawing
Princess Letizia Murat
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1813, graphite pencil drawing, 10 x 6 1/2.
Collection Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

Madeleine Ingres With the Artist by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1830, graphite pencil drawing
Madeleine Ingres With the Artist
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1830, graphite pencil drawing, 7 3/8 x 5 1/4.
Collection National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

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Comments

Leslie99 wrote
on 17 Jul 2009 10:28 AM

Fasinating. I find drawings like that in my sketchbook,where I have concentrated on the part of the subject that interested me  and sketched in the rest for reference. Not really a calculated decision.  Sometimes this has tranferred isself into my paintings and collages. One time I stopped after an underpainting because it said all I needed to say. I wonder if Whistler and Ingres were thinking of the finished piece or just working intuitively?

Blackbird_61 wrote
on 23 Jul 2009 12:42 PM

The Artist "Sara Moon" who was apparently 3 different Artist working for Red Baron Publishing definatley had a strong hand on this Technique.

I believe this image was done by the Origianal and IMHO best Sara Moon. BB.

www.sara-moon.com/.../sm-girl-w-m-leaf.htm

EdTerpening wrote
on 25 Jul 2009 10:32 AM

It's true, these are techniques that build your arsenal.  Luckily, I have a relatively short attention span, so I've been trying different techniques lately, like painting in an very high key, and another using a painting knife instead of a brush.  I'm learning a lot.  

Thanks for sharing this.  There's so much we can learn from The Masters.

johanne7 wrote
on 30 Jul 2009 7:02 AM

I am intrigued by the differences in the sketches as far as the finishing of them.  I realize that I should start with thumbnails more than I have in the past.