The visual language of drawing has evolved tremendously over the past few centuries. An almost magical trick happens within our cerebrum when we view a flat surface on which marks have been inscribed. Looking at a portrait drawing particularly a master drawing of exquisite lines and tones we immediately see past the markings of chalk and engage in a visual and emotional dialogue. The more masterful the drawing the more we engage it.
Rubens, in particular, had an immense effect on van Gogh who earnestly plunged into his studies by copying the paintings and drawings of Rubens. Copying master works is the surest and most efficient method of learning how to draw. Having an intimate knowledge of a master’s working method and visual language strengthens and deepens both the technical and emotional resonance of your own work.
The drawing pictured above of Ruben’s portrait of his first wife Isabella Brant (1591-1626) is drawn in red, black and white chalk on a pale brown washed clay-coated paper.
Rubens brought out the warm flesh tones of the face and ears with a red chalk and heightened the darks with black. The highlights are delicately stroked in with white.
Earlier in this lesson I spoke of drawing as a visual language in many instances within this drawing Rubens spoke with what we might consider as Elizabethan English. The treatment of the hair, for example, is much different than how artists today would render hair.
Most beginning artists treat hair as individual strands; today we block in the major locks of hair and suggest a few stray hairs. In Ruben’s time hair was suggested with line. This of course does not detract from Rubens but merely illustrates that the language of drawing has changed.