The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Fésole Club Papers: XVI

by W. G. Collingwood.
Volume 5, 1894, pg. 124-126


The experience of the first trial-study of the figure proves, in most cases, that the proportions are a real difficulty, in spite of plumbing, and measuring, and taking one's comfortable time over the outline. It behoves a teacher, therefore, to give all possible helps; and, while repeating for ever the old saying that "drawing does it," to suggest crutches for lame drawing, and stimulants for lazy drawing. In a word, most sketchers seem to want means of self-criticism, other than the mirror. The mirror is a splendid critic, until the model moves; but then it is useless. How then are we to be sure that we have our proportions right?

The instrument we can apply is the Canon. That was the Greek name, and is still the technical name for a series of measurements of the human figure as it ought to be: and in the history of art many things are written about the origin and development of the Canon, or rather the various Canons from time to time in use. For fashion in figures has changed, like fashion in dress: and different ages and nations have preferred their people stout or slim, long-legged or short-legged, and so on, as the case may be; and the art critics of the time have always laboured to explain, on philosophical grounds, how entirely right the last new fashion has been. We, however, need not trouble ourselves with the history, nor with the theory of the Canon; but, discarding the very cumbersome apparatus of the professional figure-draughtman, let us be every man his own Bonomi, and evolve our own Canon for ourselves.

They say the first difficulty is to find a unit; which means that it is no use measuring arms and legs with the two-foot rule, and in inches, because whether a man is five feet tall, or six, his proportions, if they are good, are practically the same. A "foot" was of course originally the length of one's shoe: but as the sketcher rarely sees the model's sole, it is useless to give the Canon in feet. The face is used in some Canons as unit: but, except in the common or studio model with shaven chin or hair that can be tied back, beards and fringes make it difficult to measure the face; for our sketching is of ordinary figure as seen in daily life. The objection to taking the length of the head as unit is almost as great; for hats of incalculable heights interfere. But when you remember that the eyes are half-way between the crown and the chin, you can generally ascertain the size of one-half the head from the other half. A man with a beard and a hat is an unknown quantity, and must remain so: but let him take off his hat, and you can tell at once that his chin should come as far below his eyes as the top of his head comes above them: thence you find the length of his head, and but the length of his head you measure all there is of him.

Here, of course, I am expected to insert a list of proportions, which you might learn by heart, and thenceforward have ready to apply at any moment. But that is not the Fésole Club way. That is too much like the extension student who borrowed her sister's notes, instead of attending the lecture. She puzzled the examiner terribly; but had no cause for pride, for his puzzlement was to discover by what unfortunate exegesis the lecturer had managed to convey such strange notions. Indeed, the only chance is to make one's own observations; then one has pleasure in the gathering, with appetite and good digestion to follow.

Our sketching canon need not be elaborate. The chief measurements needed, in the kind of figures we shall do, are (a) arms, legs, and trunk; (b) the sub-divisions of arms, legs, and trunk at (1) elbow and wrist, (2) knee and heel, (3) collarbone and waist; (c) breaths of head, chest, waist, hips, seen in profile and in face. If you can state roughly how many heads (and halves, thirds, quarters of heads, if need be) go to each of these lengths, you know all that a sketching amateur needs.

The exercise for this month, therefore, will consist in sketches of the figure, standing, in two positions, that is, in face, and in profile. The dress chosen should be such as does not unnecessarily conceal the forms; for example, fashionable shoulders will not suit any canon.

Before making the sketches, not after, take all the measurements just mentioned, and write them down in a neat schedule. Sculptors and portrait painters use wooden callipers or compasses to measure their models. You can make a very efficient tool out of two long brushes tied together at one end with a string, or pinned together with a wire, say a red-hot hairpin run through and twisted round. Measure the size from chin to crown, and mark that on the edge on a piece of paper--the margin of a newspaper will do. Write "head" where you tick off the distance on the paper, and be particular to name each limb or measurement on the scale when you lay it down. Soon you will have on your long strip of paper a complete set of measurements, which you can reduce to heads and fractions, and write down in a short list. Then make your sketches, and let your newly-acquired information warrant the correctness of their proportions. There should be both a female figure and a male, each full-grown--for children are too various in their proportions to be easily reducible to a canon. But it is not the plan of this Club to bind heavy burdens; and one figure, sketched in two attitudes--in face and in profile--will be enough, if it be accompanied by the list of proportions.

For the junior class. As the seniors are going through a little unusually serious exertion this month, I shall enlist the juniors' sympathy by setting them, what they must do sooner or later, as a lesson in rounding and reflected light--the Jam Pot. It should be outlined of its real size, and shaded by laying on colour with a full brush, taking out lights upon the tint before it dries.

Drawings are to be sent by the end of the month to the author, at Lanehead, Coniston, R.S.O., Lancashire.

Typed by happi, July 2018