Drawing Basics: Sargent in Black and White

Drawing by John Singer Sargent

In the fall 2006 issue of Drawing, we explored John Singer Sargent's brilliant drawings. Here, we offer an excerpt from the article that discusses Sargent's use of light and dark values.

by Mark G. Mitchell

”I think the chief characteristic of a Sargent drawing is his massing of light and dark values to show the effects of light,” Texas painter and instructor Phillip Wade says. “What I find very interesting is there is a style that’s exactly the same style that you see in his paintings. When he painted, he massed the darks and lights in; when he did the charcoals and even the graphite works, he did the same thing. He basically massed the lights and shadows to get the dramatic effect he wanted.

“When I teach, I notice that there’s a disassociation between drawing and painting,” continues Wade, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia, and The University of Texas M.F.A. program, in Austin. “The students do these very loose paintings with slushy, broad strokes. Then they get out their pencils to make sketches and get fussy in their drawing. Sargent put the charcoal down with broad, confident strokes exactly how he made his broad, confident strokes with a brush; so stylistically the thing looks like a painting. With Sargent, it’s about how the final painting might look—as opposed to, for example, Matisse, where the line is more the statement.

“But the other kind of drawing Sargent did, in many of the preparatory studies, was different,” Wade concludes. “There was loops and swirls and squiggles. There was a woman in a living room with elegant furniture. It’s a kind of artist’s shorthand that doesn’t have the feeling of labor, as he came to grips with the subject. It’s the kind of drawing that most artists do, but his you can actually frame. You want to cut them out of the sketchbooks and put them on a wall.”


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2 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Sargent in Black and White

  1. Wonderful comments on Sargent by Mark Mitchell. I want to see more photo examples of these drawing techniques by Sargent. I hope there are some in my fall issue of Drawing.