Saturday, 28 November 2009

Giorgio de Chirico Art: Elements of Drawing and Drafting Pencils

In his Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin, English art critic, artist and social commentator, instructs on the issue of drafting pencils:
The pencil is indeed a very precious instrument after you are master of the pen and brush, for the pencil, cunningly used, is both, and will draw a line with the precision of the one and gradation of the other... I should recommend... keeping only a small memorandum book in the breast-pocket, with its well-cut, sheathed pencil.
Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian surrealist artist, read the Elements of Drawing in his youth and learnt all "these fine things" about drafting pencils and sketching "explained in great acumen and intelligence", as he writes in his memoirs. But De Chirico's first teacher was a young railway employee, a Greek from Trieste, called Mavrudis.

The Elements of Drawing and Giorgio De Chirico

De Chirico lived the first years of his life in the Greek port town of Volos, where his father, a railway engineer, was employed to construct part of Greece's railway network. From about 1896 to 1898, his art teacher was Mavrudis whose teachings left a lasting impression on the 10-year-old artist: "I looked at him and... wondered into a world of dream and fantasy... [and] thought that everything could be portrayed by this extraordinary man's magic pencil".

All the things that Mavrudis explained to him, Giorgio de Chirico found later in the Elements of Drawing. De Chirico's teacher was the first to teach him "the love of clean, beautiful lines, fine contours and well-modelled forms... and the love of good materials: Faber pencils with good points, paper of first quality, Elephant-brand rubbers, which were very soft".

Drafting Pencils

As Ruskin insists in his Elements of Drawing it is important for the artist to keep a consistent point on his writing instrument so that the point can be maintained constantly. In drafting pencils this can be done by cutting back the wood to expose the lead and shaping the lead to a fine point. The process of sharpening one's drafting pencils is described also by Thomas French, Engineering Drawing of 1911. Mavrudis, De Chirico writes,
was the first to teach me how to sharpen pencils in a regular way, cutting round the wood with care and symmetry and not in the slovenly manner of many people, making the point of the pencil look like a big toe deformed by cold.
 And he continues: "If my master Mavrudis were in Rome today he could show the way to all our modernistic 'geniuses' and teach that before being imitators of Cezanne, Picasso, Soutine or Matisse... they would do better to learn how to sharpen their pencils properly".

On Giorgio De Chirico's first years of life in Greece, see Giorgio De Chirico: Trains and Childhood Images, Evaristo de Chirico, Volos and Childhood Images, on Suite101; Also John Ruskin, The Elements of Drawing,  (first published by Smith, Elder & Co., London 1857), Dover Publications, 1971

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