“Deer”, after Sargent

Pencil master copy of John Singer Sargent’s “Deer” drawing.
8”x5” original, drawn in a Fabriano Ecoqua sketchbook with a Blackwing Pearl pencil.

I purchased another wagonized course, ”How I Crosshatch 3”, but before I embark on it I’m going to do some more study of John Singer Sargent’s pencil work. I’ve been wanting to do so for some time time now and it will give me a diversion in my learning that will be focused on pencil sketching. The crosshatching course has a section on pencil which I plan to refer too often as I immerse myself in Sargent’s work.

This Sargent drawing, “Deer”, I have always admired because of his delicate treatment of it. My version isn’t as delicate as his, but his drawing was a lot larger than mine. Thus his pencil lines seem thinner and lighter. Sometimes, when studying another artist’s work, we fail to realize the importance of the original size in figuring out why our own version appears different in some way. It can make a significant difference, to the point of becoming discouraging, if one doesn’t keep it in mind. Sargent usually painted his portraits life size, even his charcoal portraits. His plein aire watercolors were usually on quarter sheets of watercolor paper. That’s 11” x 15”, much larger than the small Moleskine sketchbooks and such we’ve all grown used to, and the format he used on this drawing.

Downsizing someone’s work to fit our commonly used, small formats usually adds to the challenge when attempting a master copy. You can get all the shapes, values and colors correct and, for the most part, it will look very close to the master. But the particulars, like line weight and value, will be different because the same size point on the pencil was used in the master AND in the smaller copy. That makes your hatching and crosshatching appear heavier and less delicate than in the master. As long as one realizes this, one can reason that future works might require a larger sheet of paper or perhaps a harder pencil. Or, perhaps a very fine mechanical pencil might be in order to replicate the delicacy in a smaller format.

Regardless, it’s a pertinent thought, if one is studying another’s style and technique, to work at the same scale they did in order to unlock the full realization of what they did. Of course in this drawing, I did not do so. But, at least I know why the delicacy that Sargent achieved wasn’t present in my version. My drawing is acceptable to me and I’m happy with it, but had I done it ”full scale” so to speak, I probably would have been able to get that delicacy I admire so much in Sargent’s drawing. Next time I will attempt to remedy this sort of thing without resorting to a larger format. But the primary lesson learned here is, in my own drawings, where I want a delicate result, I should use an 11”x15” sheet if I want to achieve the rich delicacy Sargent often lays down.

So it’s true my friends. Size does matter.😉 (Sorry. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass me by.)

John Singer Sargent’s original drawing of “Deer”. c. 1872-1874, pencil on paper, 15-1/8” x 11-5/8”.
Currently owned by the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.