The Conventions of Line Drawing
Of the kindred arts which group themselves under the head of Painting, none is based on such broad conventions as that with which we are immediately concerned—the art of Pen Drawing. In this medium, Nature's variety of color, when not positively ignored, is suggested by means of sharp black lines, of varying thickness, placed more or less closely together upon white paper; while natural form depends primarily for its representation upon arbitrary boundary lines. There is, of course, no authority in Nature for a positive outline: we see objects only by the difference in color of the other objects behind and around them. The technical capacity of the pen and ink medium, however, does not provide a value corresponding to every natural one, so that a broad interpretation has to be adopted which eliminates the less positive values; and, that form may not likewise be sacrificed, the outline becomes necessary, that light objects may stand relieved against light. This outline is the most characteristic, as it is the most indispensable, of the conventions of line drawing. To seek to abolish it only involves a resort to expedients no less artificial, and the results of all such attempts, dependent as they necessarily are upon elaboration of color, and a general indirectness of method, lack some of the best characteristics of pen drawing. More frequently, however, an elaborate color-scheme is merely a straining at the technical limitations of the pen in an effort to render the greatest possible number of values.
It may be worth while to inquire whether excellence in pen drawing consists in thus dispensing with its recognized conventions, or in otherwise taxing the technical resources of the instrument. This involves the question of Style,—of what characteristic pen methods are,—a question which we will briefly consider.
What Constituted "Style",
It is a recognized principle that every medium of art expression should be treated with due regard to its nature and properties. The sculptor varies his technique according as he works in wood, granite, or marble; the painter handles his water-color in quite another manner than that he would employ on an oil-painting of the same subject; and the architect, with the subtle sense of the craftsman, carries this principle to such a fine issue as to impart an individual expression even to particular woods. He knows that what may be an admirable design when executed in brass may be a very bad one in wrought-iron and is sure to be an absurdity in wood. An artistic motive for a silver flagon, too, is likely to prove ugly for pottery or cut-glass, and so on. There is a genius, born of its particular properties, in every medium, which demands individual expression. Observe, therefore, that Art is not satisfied with mere unrelated beauty of form or color. It requires that the result confess some sensible relation to the means by which it has been obtained; and in proportion as it does this, it may claim to possess that individual and distinctive charm which we call "Style." It may be said, therefore, that the technical limitations of particular mediums impose what might properly be called natural conventions..