Monday, August 11, 2014

Chopped Straw [feedly]

Chopped Straw
// Gurney Journey

Some painters of the nineteenth century had a way of building up tones with crosshatched strokes, which they referred to as "chopped straw."

John Henry Hill, "Plums," Watercolor
The technique gives a fuzzy effect reminiscent of engravings of the period. The term was coined by British art critic John Ruskin, an artist himself, whose advocacy of the patient study of nature inspired artists in both England and the USA. Ruskin wrote:
"If a colour is to be darkened by superimposed portions of another, it is, in many cases, better to lay the uppermost colour in rather vigorous small touches, like finely chopped straw, over the under one, than to lay it on as a tint, for two reasons : the first, that the play of the two colours together is pleasant to the eye ; the second, that much expression of form may be got by wise administration of the upper dark touches."
The Elements of Drawing, page 157

Henry Roderick Newman, "Wild Flowers," 1890, Watercolor, 15x10 inches.
Henry Roderick Newman (American, 1843-1917) admired Ruskin's writings and visited him in England. Newman liked to paint close-up views of flowers and plants in their natural setting. In this one, the textures gradate up to a delicate stippled tone at the top. The effect is quite different from what you would get with overlaid wet washes.

Painters used small overlaid strokes not only for grass-like textures, but for other textures as well. One of the strategies is to vary the color from one set of strokes to another. In this detail from a watercolor by William Trost Richards, the small strokes vary a bit from warm to cool, giving the surfaces some chromatic vibrancy.

Ruskin said, "The use of acquiring this habit of execution is that you may be able, when you begin to colour, to let one hue be seen in minute portions, gleaming between the touches of another." He advised his students to work slowly and delicately, using the point of the pencil or brush "as if you were drawing the down on a butterfly's wing."

Here's some real chopped straw as a point of reference. 

The look wasn't restricted to watercolor painters. Andrew Wyeth used a similar approach in some of his egg temperas. Aaron Draper Shattuck laid down a scrubby earth-toned underpainting in this detail of an oil painting, and then placed green strokes over it.
I learned about this term from the book The New Path: Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelites
Related post: "Small Touches"


Shared via my feedly reader

No comments:

Post a Comment