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Pencil Sketching – Was Jack McDonogh Australia's Best Teacher?

Jack McDonogh (1916-1994) believed that it an essential part of being an aspiring artist was the ability to draw scenes in pencil before painting them in watercolour, oil color, or any other medium. Jack believed in the importance of practice as he used to say "practice, practice – forever practice" as he believed that there was no such thing as an instant artist.

Sketching the Australian landscape presents a challenge as there are certain fundamental rules that must be followed. Jack believed that there were many ways to sketch with a pencil and his methods were just one way that worked well for him. Some of the fundamentals that Jack covered in his book "An Introduction To Pencil Sketching" included; composition, perspective, geometric solids, architectural details and sketching the element of a landscape. Jack developed an easy to follow step by step approach to teaching his students.

Jack believed that perspective was probably the most important aspect of drawing landscapes. You may be able to draw well but this will be under a drawing that is poorly composed. Jack believed that all drawings have a center of interest eg a shed or a gum tree. Jack believed that it was best not to place the center of interest in the center of your picture. It is best placed just off center to either the left or right. Jack believed that it was also necessary to avoid symmetrical arrangements of the items in the drawing both in their quantity and size. Imbalance is the desired outcome for the composition rather than balance and symmetry.

Jack believed that in order to become a competent sketcher you must gain a basic knowledge of perspective. He believed that an incorrect perspective in your drawings was the sign of a poor artist. Before you start drawing it is important to establish the vanishing point. To help find the vanishing points for your sketch Jack recommended the use of "angle sticks". The angle sticks you can make yourself by cutting two thin strips of plywood each one measuring 30cm x 1.5cm (two wooden rulers are also good). Using a small nut and bolt join the two sticks 5cms from the ends. Using a wing nut allows you to tighten the sticks so you can easily position the angle of the sticks.

Jack used the sticks by holding the sticks with an out stretched arm in the horizontal position and at right angle to your line of vision. Keeping one stick on the horizontal position move the other stick until it lines up with the part of the subject you are drawing to show the angle of the vanishing line. Becoming proficient with the use of these sticks will give you a good indication of where the vanishing lines are and allow you to find them quickly. Then by holding the sticks near the paper you are sketching on you can transfer the angles onto your drawing.

Jack recommended his students practice drawing geometric shapes. He believed the ability to draw them easily would be a great help in drawing buildings. He recommended his students draw a; rectangular prism, square prism, triangular prism, square pyramid, cone, cylinder and cube. By combining these shapes can assist you to draw buildings.

Jack believed that it was very important to put straight into action what the reader was learning from his book. Jack wants you start sketching straight away, so he recommends you start to draw simple items that you find around the house eg a box of matches, a spoon, banana, etc. Starting on small simple items is best as they are easier and quicker to draw. Once you have mastered these items you can progress onto larger and more complex items.

Jack had another useful tool to develop the students drawing skills. This tip involves the use of a 35cm square sheet of glass (with smoothed edges and duct tape along all the edges to avoid cuts) and either a felt tip pen of a piece of chalk. Place two (kitchen style) chairs three meters apart. Sit on one chair and place the other at an angle to you. Place the sheet of glass on your knee and keeping your head in a fixed position, with the melt tip pen trace the outline of the chair onto the glass. Now put the glass tracing to one side and from the same position make a freehand sketch of the same chair. Next compare the two drawings to see if your sketch resembles the glass tracing. The glass tracing will be perfect in its perspective and proportions so it can be used to check your freehand drawing. The glass can then be cleaned off with a cleaning agent and used over and over again.

If Jack was not Australia's leading teacher of pencil sketching I certainly believe he was among the first to publish a step by step book and no doubt one artist that has influenced many of today's leading Australian artists.



Source by Richard D Williams