BRUSH – A brush is a tool for applying ink or other liquid pigment to a surface. Fine brushes for drawing have been made from a variety of animal hairs including tail hairs from ermine, mink, or red sable (considered the best) and the softer and less resilient tails hairs of the squirrel (erroneously called camel hair). In recent times, hardy polyester filaments have replaced some or all of the animal hairs of a brush. To form a brush, the root end of the animal hairs were tied together and inserted into the hollow center of a quill or a shaft of wood. In the first half of the nineteenth century, metal ferrules began to secure the brush hairs to a wooden handle. Asian cultures mounted the hairs in bamboo, without ferrules. Drawing brushes are normally pointed, i.e., conical in shape. Even in the early Renaissance, artists let specialists make their brushes. In past centuries, English writers often referred to an artist’s brush as a “pencil.”
A good brush holds a quantity of the liquid, releases it continuously, and springs back into shape after a stroke. A line made with a tapered brush can go from surprisingly thin, and difficult-to-distinguish from a pen line, to rather thick with the same stroke. Brushstrokes usually have a tell-tale swelling and attenuation—the result of gradually lowering and raising the brush.
The Chinese and Japanese preferred the brush above all other drawing media and have developed a tradition of technical facility and visual sensitivity to brush drawing. The brush is perfectly suited to reproduce the thin tapering leaves of plants like bamboo. Expressive brush lines of a Chinese drawing are often matched by the artful, brush-made calligraphy on the same sheet.
Ancient Greek painters drew the very fine outlines of their figures on vases with a brush.
Carpaccio and other late-fifteenth-century Venetian artists frequently made brush drawings with regular, ordered, and precise lines. Many artists of the time also used a brush to apply white heightening to metalpoint or ink drawings on colored papers. Rembrandt sometimes drew with sweeping brush strokes of ink, and Goya often wielded a brush in the manner of a painter. Brush in hand, Fragonard displayed unbelievable sensitivity to light and air in nature.
Since the sixteenth century, artists have used a brush to create value contrasts with a wash, which usually means covering an area with diluted and transparent ink.
CHALK – Chalk is an impure mineral excavated from the earth and ready for drawing without processing of any kind. Normally, chalk was cut into sticks and inserted into a holder by the draftsman. The colored earth is essentially a pigment mixed with very refined clay. It is not easy to find deposits of such material because the chalk must be uniform enough for consistent color and texture, dense and cohesive enough to be cut, but also soft and friable enough to make a mark on paper. Giorgio Vasari said that natural red chalk came from Germany. Writers in the seventeenth century said there were deposits in Italy, Spain, France, and Flanders. Black chalk was more easily found.
Natural chalks make lines that are usually not as dark as charcoal. Chalk lines are neater and not as broken as charcoal lines because chalks are not as crumbly. Unlike metalpoint, increased pressure on the chalk can produce a darker line. Chalk lines can be broad and soft in contrast with metalpoint and pen lines although a stick of chalk can also be sharpened to a fine point for a thin line. A chalk line has a transparency to it that allows the light of the paper to show through. Even though it is nearly impossible to erase chalk lines, they can be rubbed and blended to create subtle effects of modeling.
In contrast to metalpoint and pen, chalk allowed artist to sketch more freely and broadly. The adoption of chalk in the Renaissance mirrored the contemporary transition from tempera to oil paints, which enabled artists to paint in a broader manner and with more atmosphere. In the sixteenth century the use of chalk spread from Italy to other countries.
European artists from the late fifteenth to the nineteenth century have traditionally drawn with red and with black chalk, sometimes in combination with white chalk.
Natural red chalk—perhaps, historically, the most important of the three—has a warm and vital color which adds liveliness to any drawing, especially drawings of the human figure. The French call it sanguine (blood-red). The red hue derives from iron oxide, which occurs in the form of the mineral hematite (iron ore). The hematite has to be diffused with fine clay in order to be soft enough for drawing; most deposits of hematite are hard and brittle and thus useless. Different deposits produce different kinds of red. Natural red chalk is usually a pale blood-red, but the red can also be warm, cool, or neutral (that is, red-orange, red-violet, or red-brown).
Since natural red chalk lacks the value range of charcoal or black chalk, only light modeling is possible. Because red chalk is water soluble, it allows the making of a counterproof—a softer, reversed version of an image transferred by pressing it to another, dampened sheet of paper. When a blood-red chalk is moistened to produce a stronger, darker, more solid line, it produces a cooler hue. Watteau sometimes wet his chalk for accents around the eyes, nose and mouth. By rubbing his natural red chalk lines lightly or smudging them slightly, Guercino increased the warmth of the chalk and made it more red-orange.
Leonardo seems to have been the first to embrace red chalk for studies in the years he worked on the Last Supper. Red chalk was probably the most popular drawing medium in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries although Dutch artists seldom used it Black chalk is carbonaceous shale, about 10-15% carbon diffused with fine clay so that it would be soft enough for drawing. Its color does not fade over time although, because of impurities, it is often a grayish black. Since black chalk is softer than red, it is more suited to broad effects of line and light.
In Italy in the fifteenth century, artists made underdrawings in faint black chalk to rough out compositions that were subsequently rendered in ink or metalpoint. By the middle of the same century, they also made cartoons with broad strokes of black chalk, and a few Italian artists produced studies of heads in black chalk—perhaps as supplements to their cartoon drawings. Italian artists began using black chalk for studies of the nude only in the last years of the fifteenth century. Luca Signorelli is usually credited with being the first to do so. Michelangelo used mostly black chalk except during the period of the Sistine ceiling. Northern artists from Dürer to van Dyck used black chalk for portraits, and in the seventeenth century the Dutch artists van Goyen and Ruisdael made landscape studies, black chalk in hand.
Natural white chalk comes from either calcium carbonate or from soapstone, a kind of talc like tailor’s chalk. It was used primarily for highlights in modeling—a process called heightening—and normally requires a colored paper to be effective.
Several artists are known for using white chalk in combination with other naturally colored chalks, especially black and red—a technique usually called aux trois crayons. The artists include François Clouet, Peter Paul Rubens, and especially Watteau—the supreme master in the use of combined colors. Watteau usually would not mix strokes of different color but place them side by side, and thus each colored stroke was fresh and unadulterated. He sometimes substituted a lush fabricated black chalk for a natural one.
By 1800 natural red and black chalks were used less and less, probably because the supply of satisfactory material was diminishing. What was available was deteriorating in quality. Even in the eighteenth century artists complained that the natural red chalk they could get was too hard or too gritty or mixed with foreign material and unrefined clay. When the quality and availability of natural chalk began to decline in the eighteenth century, the earth pigments were ground into a powder, mixed with pulverized clay and a small amount of binder into a paste, then rolled into sticks of varying hardness and color when dried. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, when fabricating red chalk, manufacturers gradually substituted a synthesized iron oxide produced by chemical means in the factory in place of natural hematite.
Chalk in drawings by nineteenth‑century master are almost always made from fabricated material. When rubbed or moistened, these chalks do not change color.
CHARCOAL – Charcoal is a stick of brownish black pigment (about 80% carbon) made by slowly burning wood sealed in an airtight vessel or kiln. The lack of air chars the wood, which in an open fire would turn to ash. To produce a consistent stick of charcoal, even-textured woods like maple or willow must be used. The middle ages thought that grape vines made the best charcoal sticks. Slow heating and slow cooling produce soft charcoals. In modern times, manufacturers produce charcoal sticks in a range of hardness and softness and a variety of blacks. Charcoal’s color does not fade or change in light.
In drawing with charcoal, particles from the stick break off and get caught in the hollows of a textured paper. The particles do not stick to the tops of the fibers and thus are easily removed with feathers or wads of bread. Soft sticks of charcoal can make fairly thick, dark, textured lines, while the side of the stick can create broad tonal passages that are rich and velvety. Charcoal encourages artists to draw spontaneously and incautiously in big gestures, changing and replacing lines with ease. The boldness of charcoal also makes it suitable for working on a large scale. Since it smudges easily, charcoal can be rubbed to create blurred lines and value contrasts. And since the light, dry particles of charcoal have nothing to bind them to a support, a charcoal drawing must be secured with a fixative to preserve it. Artists have soaked charcoal in linseed or olive oil to produce a more intensely black line and to bind the charcoal to the support.
Cave‑dwelling men and women discovered artist’s charcoal when they rubbed burnt sticks on the rock wall. The freedom and impermanence of charcoal made it popular for underdrawings, especially for mural compositions in antiquity and the middle ages. In the Renaissance, chalk cartoons replaced that use. In the late nineteenth century, artists rediscovered charcoal for figure studies and for dramatic chiaroscuro effects. By 1848, the Salon in Paris began cataloging separately the charcoal drawings on exhibition.
CRAYON – The word signifies to most Americans the colored waxy drawing sticks made for children. The main ingredient in these crayons is paraffin. They are seldom employed as an artist’s medium, however, because their pigments are not always permanent and because they are not very flexible to use: it is nearly impossible to blend the colors of Crayola crayons, the most popular brand. French writers apply the word crayon to all kinds of manufactured drawing sticks—even pastels and fabricated chalk or charcoal have been called crayons.
In 1817, the Conté company, founded by the French engineer Nicolas-Jacques Conté, patented a drawing stick that is known to this day as a conté crayon. The firm compounded pulverized graphite, clay, and carbon black with perhaps a small amount of organic binder. In the nineteenth century conté crayons were available in three or four degrees of hardness, in red, black, and white, and in round or square sticks or encased in wood like a pencil.
The crayons produced darker, bolder, glossier lines than natural chalk, and their lines are harder to erase or stump than chalk. Seurat used a black conté crayon on a textured paper to produce rich value contrasts.
Goya and Van Gogh, George Bellows and Käthe Kollwitz used a lithographic (litho) crayon to draw on paper. Originally invented for drawing on stone in the lithographic printing process, a litho crayon is a mixture of lampblack and tallow, soap, and wax. On paper, it produces a deep, rich and somewhat glossy line.
GRAPHITE – Graphite is a crystalized form of carbon. Around 1560 a lode of high quality graphite was discovered at Burrowdale, Cumberland (Cumbria), England. By the end of the century, the ore was being cut into thin square sticks and encased in a cylinder of wood to form a pencil. Only then did its potential as a drawing medium take hold, yet in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, artists used graphite mainly for underdrawings. Although other sources of the mineral were known, English graphite was always considered the best. Because graphite lines resembled lines made by a lead metalpoint, graphite pencils were often erroneously called lead pencils.
When war between England and France shut off the supply of good graphite from England, the French inventor Nicolas-Jacques Conté mixed purified and pulverized French graphite with clay, heated and pressed the mix into thin shafts, and sheathed the fabricated graphite in wood. He patented his invention, the modern pencil, in 1795. By adjusting the manufacturing process, he was able to market a range of hard or soft, light or dark, and course or fine pencils in black, red, white, and bistre. The graphite pencil could now become a versatile and very popular drawing tool.
Graphite produces a gray-black mark that has a slight sheen to it—black chalk is duller and blacker. A line of friable graphite usually has more texture to it than a metalpoint line. In marking a sheet of paper, graphite deposits bits of mineral on the paper, the amount deposited depends on the pressure applied. Unlike most other drawing media, graphite can be erased. The texture and the range of values of graphite make it appropriate for modeling. Graphite may be sharpened to a fine point for thin lines, beveled into a chisel-like point for lines of variable thickness, or used on its side for broad strokes. Nevertheless, it tends to be a reserved medium since it seldom lends itself to bold effects.
Artists frequently used graphite in the preliminary stage of a work and then went over the sketch with a stronger medium like ink. In the early nineteenth century, Ingres earned a reputation for portrait drawings made with a refined and chaste pencil line. Early in the next century, Picasso made a virtue of the simplicity of an ordinary pencil line in a number of drawings of the nude figure. The economy of his line seems like a modern equivalent of Classical Greek vase painting. In more modern times, Vija Celmins specialized in reproducing a photographic realism in graphite.
HEIGHTENING – Heightening refers to the addition of white to an ink, metalpoint, or red or black chalk drawing to achieve a fuller range of values. For heightening to achieve its effect, the sheet of drawing paper was usually dyed or colored to produce a value mid-way between the dark of the ink or chalk and the light of the white heightening. Artists have typically heightened drawings with strokes of white lead, white chalk, or gouache (body color). Found in every century, the use of heightening became most pronounced in early sixteenth-century chiaroscuro drawings in Germany.
INK – Ink is a pigmented fluid used for drawing or writing. The ink should release itself easily and evenly from a pen or brush and have good value contrast with the sheet. Ink challenges an artist because lines made with it cannot be erased (unless the ink is water-soluble and the surface nearly impervious like papyrus or parchment). Because of the stubbornness and boldness of the medium, artists often make their ink drawings over a preliminary chalk or graphite sketch. Artists often used the same inks manufactured for writing; they more frequently sought out inks specially prepared for drawing. Although black inks were available in the past, most artists before the nineteenth century seem to have employed brown inks. The favorite black inks were carbon black (india ink) and iron gall ink, although the latter eventually turned brown. The brown inks include bistre (bister) and sepia.
India ink Black carbon-based inks go back to ancient times, to ancient Egypt and to ancient China. By the seventeenth century, Europe was importing dried sticks of oriental black carbon ink from China, mistakenly calling it india or indian ink. The black pigment was obtained from wood soot or lampblack (the soot from burning oils or resins) finely ground and combined with a vehicle and a binder—animal glue in China, Korea, and Japan or plant gums elsewhere. Ink made from carbon black does not usually change color or fade.
Pens filled with carbon ink can make crisp, opaque black lines, and brushes dipped in diluted india ink can make smooth and evenly distributed transparent areas of gray tone. Rembrandt and Canaletto used carbon-based ink for gray washes in pen drawings that have now turned brown. Modern india inks contains a waterproofing substance that makes them less suitable for washes. Northern artists in the fifteenth and sixteenth century commonly used carbon inks; their contemporaries in Italy preferred other inks. Goya was one of the first Spanish draftsmen to take advantage of india ink—for the private brush drawings he assembled in albums. It is the most preferred drawing ink in modern times.
Iron gall ink By the late middle ages, writers, and sometimes artists, used a black ink made from the galls that formed when wasps laid their eggs in oak leaves or twigs. Since it was the common ink for writing, artists had a ready supply of it. Crushed and boiled for days, the oak galls release a yellow-brown extract that turns pale purple-gray when mixed with ferrous sulphate. Exposed to air for about a week, the iron gall ink darkens until nearly black. After a number of years, iron gall ink gradually turns brown, although it usually appears more opaque and darker than “naturally” brown inks. Because the ink contains some acid, it corrodes or bites into the surface and attaches to it permanently. Applied too generously, iron gall ink may eat away the support.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, a non-corrosive ink derived from logwood (found in Central America) was very popular. Van Gogh used it both for writing and drawing.
Bistre (bister) Little used for writing and first mentioned in the mid fifteenth century, bistre became a common ink for drawing in the sixteenth century. Brown bistre ink derives from wood soot, readily scraped from the fireplace. Burning different woods produces slightly different colors. Filtered and boiled into a concentrate, it contains its own binder. Warm and never very dark, it is transparent and can create glowing effects of light and color. It is not always easy to determine whether a brown line came from a pen filled with bistre or from a pen filled with iron-gall ink that has changed from black to brown. Certain watercolors used as washes also appear identical to, and can be confused with, bistre.
Sepia Sepia is a more opaque brown ink made from the protective “ink” secreted by cuttlefish or squid. Ancient Roman writers mentioned it, but it was virtually unknown in Europe before the nineteenth century—after Jacob Seydelmann in Dresden in the late eighteenth century developed a method of extracting it. Sepia was especially recommended for washes. It looks cooler and darker than bistre, but in practice it was often mixed with other pigments that mask its true nature.
METALPOINT – Metalpoint is a drawing tool made by forming a piece of metal into a stylus. The metal may be gold, copper, tin, lead, or silver. The different metals are cut, beaten, or cast into shafts of various sizes and shapes. The entire shaft might become the tool, or a small shaft might be attached to a larger piece of metal, wrapped in a paper holder, or fitted into a wooden casing, like the modern pencil. In the present day, thin rods of silver or gold can be purchased from jewelers’ supply houses and fitted into a mechanical pencil.
Most of the metals—except lead—will not leave marks unless the drawing surface is made hard and abrasive with a grit. The preparation of the surface not only allows it to catch the metal but also smoothes the surface for the delicate lines of metalpoint. In the past, the grounds were usually white lead and bone dust (calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate), used separately or in combination, sometimes tinted with pigments, and mixed with a binder of skin glue or gum arabic. Cennino Cennini gave elaborate instructions for preparing grounds in his Craftsmans’ Handbook, but in most cases an artist or an apprentice broadly brushed a single layer of ground onto a piece of paper.
All the metalpoints create thin, faint, gray lines that are impossible to erase; the surface can only be scraped clean. Pressure on the metal scarcely increases the width or darkness of the lines; only a blunter point achieves a slightly wider line. Metalpoint drawings have only a limited ability to suggest shading–by increasing the number and closeness of hatching lines.
Each metal is different in character and therefore produces a different stroke. Despite their appearance when in a solid block, each metal initially makes a gray line, usually darker in value than the stylus of silver, tin, or gold might appear. Lead produces a greasy‑looking stroke like that of a medium soft graphite pencil. Some metals change color or value when exposed to air: lead will darken over time, silver will gradually grow brown and darker; copper turns green. Only gold stays much the same.
In general, metalpoint drawings appear soft, subtle, and delicate; each line seems calculated, isolated, and clean. A metalpoint drawing requires precision and restraint—the very opposite of what quick sketching demands. A metalpoint draftsperson must have considerable patience.Although the medium is now rare, the use of metalpoint was common in the late Middle Ages and in the early Renaissance. The Middle Ages often used metal drawing tools to prepare manuscript texts and illustrations. Before copying a text on parchment or vellum, the scribe ruled horizontal guiding lines and margins for the text and other lines for the spacing of the letters. Medieval artists might also work out the manuscript illuminations and decorative initial letters in metalpoint. Artist traced the designs of stained glass windows in metalpoint on a smooth tabletop coated with chalk. Since about 1400 merchants in Italy kept account books with metalpoint, and the practice continued into the seventeenth century. Painters frequently made underdrawings on their panels in metalpoint because metalpoint lines would not smear when painted over.
Boccaccio in his Decamerone praised Giotto’s skill at drawing with a stylus as well as with a pen, and according to Petrarch, Simone Martini (d. 1344) made metalpoint drawings of Laura. Metalpoint became a common drawing tool by 1400. Cennini, whose Craftsman’s Handbook sums up Trecento practice, recommends the discipline of silverpoint drawing to apprentices who worked on prepared wooden panels. The use of metalpoint flourished in late fifteenth-century Florence, perhaps because artists believed it resembled ancient drawing. The Renaissance favored the metal silver, and silverpoint was widely used by artists such as Botticelli and Leonardo in Italy, Petrus Christus and Gerard David in Flanders, and Dürer and Cranach in Germany.
The linear quality of metalpoint suited the taste of the early Renaissance period when artists preferred precisely defined images. The use of metalpoint coincided with the practice of painting in the pale and exacting egg tempera medium, before the widespread use of oil paint.
Metalpoint declined in the sixteenth century when artist wanted drawing tools that were more facile, spontaneous, broader, and bolder. By the seventeenth century metalpoint drawings were rare, although Rembrandt’s famous portrait of his betrothed Saskia in 1633 indicates that the Baroque artist knew to use metalpoint for a drawing of delicacy and charm. Until the nineteenth century metalpoint tools still prepared the design for miniature paintings especially on ivory or parchment. A small‑scale revival of metalpoint occurred in the late nineteenth century, especially in England, alongside increased appreciation for the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. A few well‑know twentieth‑century artists, Otto Dix, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Paul Cadmus, made metalpoint drawings. Josef Albers laid out the lines for his Homage to the Square paintings with a ruler and silverpoint stylus, because the metal line did not smear when painted over.
PAPER – Paper is made by compressing into thin sheets the cellulose fibers of plants such as cotton and linen or, since the nineteenth century, of trees. The basic material is soaked in water, mashed into a pulp, and chemically treated to separate out the cellulose fibers. The mash is then pressed over the mesh of a wire screen to varying degrees of smoothness or roughness. Most paper manufactured since the end of the eighteenth century is called wove paper since the mesh of the wire screen (like a window screen) leaves a faint regular pattern in the paper. Handmade laid paper exhibits a ribbed pattern because rods running across the screen in one direction formed laid lines in the paper in contrast to the chain lines formed by the many more thin wires running perpendicular to the rods. Paper made from rags once lasted much longer than paper made from wood pulp because papermakers added acidic alum to the wood pulp paper as a sizing.
Paper has been the primary support for drawings for the last six centuries. Produced in quantity in mills and factories, it has been a readily available and relatively cheap surface on which to draw. It can be produced in a variety of colors and a variety of textures that make it adaptable to different drawing tools. Lightweight and malleable, it can be easily transported. It requires little room in an artist’s studio or in a collector’s cabinet. Students have learned the fundamentals of art on it; mature artists still explore and create with it.
The Chinese invented paper in the second century— in 105, according to tradition. Islamic peoples in Samarkand learned the secret of papermaking in the eighth century, and the invention arrived in Europe through Islamic Spain in the twelfth century. Paper production in Europe centered on the Italian town of Fabriano where approximately twenty mills were operating as early as 1330. By the early fifteenth century, the use of paper became common in Europe. However, paper was not considered suitable for the fine work of copying manuscripts nor was it thought to be as permanent as parchment for documents.
By the mid 1450s in Mainz, Johannes Guttenberg had perfected printing with moveable type. A printing press appeared in Rome in 1467, and by the 1470s presses were at work everywhere in Italy. The demand for printed books increased paper production tremendously—the raw material needed for paper could be readily expanded whereas the animals needed to produce parchment could not. Initially, paper cost about 80% to 90% less than parchment—it still was not cheap and the quality varied. Yet artists took advantage of the availability of paper, and it soon replaced wooden panels and parchment for drawing. It also allowed artists to transfer their designs to a wall or panel by means of large paper cartoons.
For many centuries, during manufacture or after it, drawing paper was dyed or painted blue, earth red, earth green, or gray. Artists, like Carpaccio or Antoine Watteau, often took advantage of the color of the paper and used it as a middle value. Carpaccio and other Venetian artists of his time made brush drawings on blue paper heightened with lead white. Watteau applied black or red chalk for dark values and white chalk for lighter values on his beige-colored sheets.
PARCHMENT – Parchment is a drawing surface made from the skin of animals such as sheep, goats, or calves. Very fine lambskin or calfskin is called vellum. Since it is not tanned, parchment is not waterproof and can be affected by humidity. Parchment must be primed, or rubbed with pumice, ground bone, or chalk to smooth it and to prepare it for drawing.
The use of parchment as a drawing surface declined rapidly in the second half of fifteenth century with the greater availability of paper. More costly than paper, parchment lends itself to fine detail and high finish. More durable than paper, parchment was selected for model books, which were intended to be passed down between generations in a workshop and for legal documents such as contract drawings. Since it absorbs pigment well, parchment supports rich contrasts of light and dark.
PASTEL – Pastels are an almost pure pigment, lightly bound together by a gum into chalk-like stick for drawing. Except for the most saturated hues, a filler or base of pulverized white chalk is usually mixed with the pulverized pigment. Pastels have a fine texture and are dry because they contain no oil. They thus preserve the brilliance of the pigment with no oil to darken them. However they crumble easily and require a grainy paper with some tooth to hold their strokes. The dry pigment on the surface of the paper is very fragile and must be preserved carefully with a fixative that will not affect the matte texture of the pastel. Nevertheless, unlike oil paint, pastel is easy to handle and allows draftsmen and women to express themselves directly in full color. Since pastels require no drying time, an artist can rework a drawing immediately. Colors and values can be blended easily or a variety of colored strokes can be place side by side.
Pastels come in a wide variety of hues and in many tints and shades of those hues. Compared to most oil paintings, however, pastel colors appear more luminous, although frequently they are pale. (Deep darks are quite possible in the medium.) Pastels may have a delicacy, a blurred, velvety quality, even when the artist is attempting a sharp definition of reality. With their considerable range of color and the ease of blending them, artists were often induced to create with this drawing medium works of art that have the appearance of paintings.
The Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci knew about pastels and added touches of yellow and brown pastel to his chalk portrait of Esabelle d’Este (Louvre). His drawing began the trend to use pastels in preparation for painting portraits. In the sixteenth century, Federico Barocci combined a few pastel colors with natural red, white, and black chalks to fashion auxiliary cartoons of the heads in his paintings. Robert de Nanteuil made accomplished pastel portraits as finished works in the mid seventeenth century, as did Joseph Vivien in the early eighteenth. But it was the Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera who first made pastel a popular medium in the early eighteenth century. Carriera not only made the use of pastel fashionable, she also established in her work models of lightness and charm that became standards for the Rococo style.
The late nineteenth century was another great period of pastel drawing. Delacroix, Boudin, and Monet caught fleeting outdoor light and color in pastel landscapes. After 1885 Degas switched from oil paints to pastel to achieve a luminous, richly textured, and richly colored surface. Sometimes he sprayed his pastels with water so he could manipulate the colors with a brush. Degas also applied the colors in layers, one color over another. The layering was made possible by spraying the preliminary layers with a fixative, whose secret Degas never divulged. Unmixed and layered, his pastel colors anticipate the vivid color of early twentieth‑century painting. The Symbolist Odilon Redon explored beyond reality in pastel colors.
PEN – A pen is a drawing instrument with a chamber to hold a supply of ink and a nib that releases the ink gradually when it touches the surface. For centuries, pens were made from quills or reeds whose hollow centers held a small amount of ink. The tips of the reed or quill were cut to points of various sizes and shapes.
Pens with steel tips were introduced only at the end of eighteenth century and first successfully manufactured in quantity in the 1830s. The hard metal tip gives control and accuracy to the pen but may also scratch its way across the paper. Many artists in the nineteenth century still preferred the fluid and flexible quill. The ballpoint pen was invented in Argentina in the late 1930s by the Hungarian László József Biró. Pens based on Biró’s design appeared on the American market in 1945. Low cost and low maintenance, a typical ballpoint pen requires somewhat more pressure to make its mark than a fountain pen or quill but has a seemingly endless and endlessly consistent flow of ink. Yukio Horie invented the felt-tip pen in 1962 for the Tokyo Stationery Company.
Compared to most other drawing tools, pen and ink produce decisive and clear lines. A dark ink against light paper tends to produce lines of bold energy or fluid elegance. Whether the lines of a pen appears thick or thin depends on the size of the point, the angle at which a flattened nib is held, and possibly the pressure applied by the hand. The pen’s versatility suited many different styles. It could easily adapt to an artist’s touch and reflect his or her taste whether the artist required short, precise, regular stokes or fluid and graceful curves, tight knotted lines or virtuoso flourishes.
Quills were taken from the wing feathers of large birds like the goose or swan or from smaller birds like the raven or crow. Because it is soft and pliable, the tip of the quill needs frequent recutting. By the eighteenth century quills were available at stationers’ shops. Cutting the tip of the quill, the artist could prepare a broad, medium, or fine point, slightly slit lengthwise to create nibs. Pressure applied during a stroke will spread the pliant nibs and broaden a line. Soft and light, quills respond readily to the touch to create smooth, flexible lines. Since friction is negligible, a quill glides over the surface, and drawing becomes a process of gently guiding the movement of the floating quill. Thus quills can produce long, twisting, meandering lines. No pressure need be applied, except to spread the nibs for a broader line. A quill creates a line with a slightly more jagged edge than a steel pen, especially since the drawing paper used in earlier centuries had a rougher texture, which a modern steel pen might actually tear.
Reed pens are made from stiff grasses. They may be cut like a quill, but they will not retain a fine point. The fibrous material of a fine reed point rapidly absorbs ink and soon turns mushy. The material is also not as flexible as a quill—it feels like using a stick to draw with one.
Although a reed pen will not scratch or drag across the paper like a steel pen, it does not float like a quill. Nevertheless, it is often difficult to distinguish a relatively narrow reed stroke from a broad quill stroke. A reed pen can produce a solid band of ink when the pen is full, but a partial, flecked, variegated line when the ink is running out. When a broad quill stroke begins to run out of ink, the center of the line becomes lighter.
Reed pens typically produce blunt, relatively short, and rugged strokes—bold lines that have considerable character. Indeed, the main advantage of the reed pen for drawing is its ability to produce broad and powerful strokes. Since a stiff reed pen does not slide easily over the surface, it tends to create rather harsh, angular lines and does not permit the artist to show off in a facile way. Since a reed pen releases its ink more rapidly than a quill, it also tends to make lines that are short and choppy.
Pens cut from a hollow reed were common in the ancient world and preferred by Islamic calligraphers. In the seventh century, St. Isidore of Seville discussed the difference between the reed pen and the quill, which was already supplanting it. Medieval artists used quill pens to form the letters, the ornamentation, and the illuminations of manuscripts. For the most part a line drawn with a reed was too course for medieval manuscripts, and it lacked the adaptability of the quill for drawing. In the Renaissance, the famous humanist scholar Erasmus on occasion affected an antiquarian look by adopting the reed pen. (Hans Holbein the Young painted a portrait of Erasmus writing with a reed pen.) Rembrandt sometimes combined quill and reed pen work, and Van Gogh liked the challenge of the reed pen and revived its use to great advantage. Although Van Gogh started using the reed pen in Holland, he took it up again in southern France, because of the excellent reeds he found there. Stimulated by Van Gogh’s example, Matisse found reeds for drawing in southern France too. In Germany and in the United States George Grosz made many reed pen drawings, often in combination with other media.
WASH – Wash refers to the application of diluted ink to areas of a drawing with a brush. It adds areas of tone usually to a pen drawing but also to chalk or graphite drawings. After the ink is diluted with water to the desired value, it is brushed or flooded onto the surface like watercolor. More or less water produces a darker or lighter wash, sometimes on the same drawing. A smooth application of wash ought to provide a uniform area of value; an irregular application that pools and also thins the ink may create a changeable area of value. Artists often mixed ink with pigments to produce a variety of colored washes.
The light of the paper, showing through the veil of diluted ink, optically mixes with the transparent ink to create areas of translucent values. Since values achieved with wash are smoother than the textured appearance of hatching and cross‑hatching, wash renders atmosphere superbly. In the Baroque era, washes not only modeled solid three‑dimensional masses, they also recorded the subtle lights and darks that flicker across the surface, implying that the light may change at any moment. The artist tried to imagine, not so much the solid forms of the masses, but the movement of light and dark.