Of Designs And Working Drawings

The drawings which most deeply interest the workman are working

drawings--just the last to be appreciated by the public, because they

are the last to be understood. The most admired of show drawings are to

us craftsmen comparatively without interest. We recognise the

"competition" drawing at once; we see how it was made in order to secure

the commission, not with a view to its effect in execution (which is the

true and
only end of a design), and we do not wonder at the failure of

competitions in general. For the man who cares least, if even he knows

at all, how a design will appear in execution is the most likely to

perpetrate a prettiness which may gain the favour of the inexpert, with

whom the selection is likely to rest.

The general public, and all in fact who are technically ignorant on the

subject, need to be warned that the most attractive and what are called

"taking" drawings are just those which are least likely to be

designs--still less bona fide working drawings. The real workman has

not the time, even if he had the inclination, to "finish up" his

drawings to the point that is generally considered pleasing; the

inventive spirit has not the patience. We have each of us the failings

complementary to our faculties, and vice versa; and you will usually

find--certainly it is my experience--that the makers of very

elaborately finished drawings seldom do anything but what we have often

seen before; and that men of any individuality, actual designers that is

to say, have a way of considering a drawing finished as soon as ever it

expresses what they mean.

You may take it, then, as a general rule that highly finished and

elaborate drawings are got up for show, "finished for exhibition" as

they say (in compliance with the supposed requirements of an exhibition

rather than with a view to practical purposes), and that drawings

completed only so far as is necessary, precise in their details,

disfigured by notes in writing, sections, and so on, are at least

genuine workaday designs.

If you ask what a design should be like--well, like a design. It is

altogether a different thing from a picture; it is almost the reverse of

it. Practically no man has, as I said, the leisure, even if he had the

ability, to make an effective finished picture of a thing yet to be

carried out--perhaps not to be carried out. This last is a most

serious consideration for him, and may have a sad effect upon his work.

The artist who could afford thus to give himself away gratis would

certainly not do so; the man who might be willing to do it could not;

for if he has "got no work to do"--that is at least presumptive evidence

that he is not precisely a master of his craft.

The design that looks like a picture is likely to be at best a

reminiscence of something done before; and the more often it has been

done the more likely it is to be pictorially successful--and by so much

the less is it, strictly speaking, a design.

This applies especially to designs on a small scale, such as are

usually submitted to catch the rare commission. To imitate in a

full-sized cartoon the texture of material, the casualty of reflected

light, and other such accidents of effect, is sheer nonsense, and no

practical workman would think of such a thing. A painter put to the

uncongenial task of decorative design might be excused for attempting to

make his productions pass muster by workmanship excellent in itself,

although not in the least to the point: one does what one can, or what

one must; and if a man has a faculty he needs must show it. Only, the

perfection of painting will not, for all that, make design.

In the first small sketch-design, everything need not of course be

expressed; but it should be indicated--for the purpose is simply to

explain the scheme proposed: so much of pictorial representation as may

be necessary to that is desirable, and no more. It should be in the

nature of a diagram, specific enough to illustrate the idea and how it

is to be worked out. It ought by strict rights to commit one definitely

to a certain method of execution, as a written specification would; and

may often with advantage be helped out by written notes, which explain

more definitely than any pictorial rendering just how this is to be

wrought, that cast, the other chased, and so on, as the case may be.

Whatever the method of expression the artist may adopt, he should be

perfectly clear in his own mind how his design is to be worked out; and

he ought to make it clear also to any one with sufficient technical

knowledge to understand a drawing.

In the first sketch for a window, for example, he need not show every

lead and every piece of glass; but there should be no possible mistake

as to how it is to be glazed, or which is "painted" glass and which is

"mosaic." To omit the necessary bars in a sketch for glass seems to me a

weak concession to the prejudice of the public. One may have to

concede such points sometimes; but the concession is due less to

necessity than to the--what shall we call it?--not perhaps exactly the

cowardice, but at all events the timidity, of the artist.

In a full-sized working drawing or cartoon everything material to the

design should be expressed, and that as definitely as possible. In a

cartoon for glass (to take again the same example) every lead-line

should be shown, as well as the saddle bars; to omit them is about as

excusable as it would be to leave out the sections from a design for

cabinet work. It is contended sometimes that such details are not

necessary, that the artist can bear all that in mind. Doubtless he can,

more or less; but I am inclined to believe more strongly in the less.

At any rate he will much more certainly have them in view whilst he

keeps them visibly before his eyes. One thing that deters him is the

fear of offending the client, who will not believe, when he sees leads

and bars in a drawing, how little they are likely to assert themselves

in the glass.

Very much the same thing applies to designs and working drawings

generally. A thorough craftsman never suggests a form or colour without

realising in his own mind how he will be able to get such form or colour

in the actual work; and in his working drawing he explains that fully,

making allowance even for some not impossible dulness of apprehension on

the part of the executant. Thus, if a pattern is to be woven he

indicates the cards to be employed, he arranges what parts are

"single," what "double," as the weavers call it, what changes in the

shuttle are proposed, and by the crossing of which threads certain

intermediate tints are to be obtained.

Or again, if the design is for wall-paper printing, he arranges not only

for the blocks, but the order in which they shall be printed; and

provides for possible printing in "flock," or for the printing of one

transparent colour over another, so as to get more colours than there

are blocks used, and so on.

In either case, too, he shows quite plainly the limits of each colour,

not so much seeking the softness of effect which is his ultimate aim, as

the precision which will enable the block or card cutter to see at a

glance what he means,--even at the risk of a certain hardness in his

drawing; for the drawing is in itself of no account; it is only the

means to an end; and his end is the stuff, the paper, or whatever it

may be, in execution.

A workman intent on his design will sacrifice his drawing to it--harden

it, as I said, for the sake of emphasis, annotate it, patch it, cut it

up into pieces to prove it, if need be do anything to make his meaning

clear to the workman who comes after him. It is as a rule only the

dilettante who is dainty about preserving his drawings.

To an artist very much in repute there may be some temptation to be

careful of his designs, and to elaborate them (himself, or by the hands

of his assistants), because, so finished, they have a commercial value

as drawings--but this is at best pot-boiling; and the only men who are

subject to this temptation are just those who might be proof against it.

Men of such rank that even their working drawings are in demand have no

very urgent need to work for the pot; and the working drawings of men

to whom pounds and shillings must needs be a real consideration are not

sought after.

In the case of very smart and highly finished drawings by comparatively

unknown designers--of ninety-nine out of a hundred, that is to say, or

nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand perhaps--elaboration

implies either that, having little to say, a man fills up his time in

saying it at unnecessary length, or that he is working for exhibition.

And why not work for exhibition? it may be asked. There is a simple

answer to that: The exhibition pitch is in much too high a key, and in

the long run it will ruin the faculty of the workman who adopts it.

It is only fair to admit that an exhibition of fragmentary and

unfinished drawings, soiled, tattered, and torn, as they almost

invariably come from the workshop or factory, would make a very poor

show--which may be an argument against exhibiting them at all. Certainly

it is a reason for mending, cleaning, and mounting them, and putting

them in some sort of frame (for what is not worth the pains of making

presentable is not worth showing), but that is a very different thing

from working designs up to picture pitch.

When all is said, designs, if exhibited, appeal primarily to designers.

We all want to see each other's work, and especially each other's way

of working; but it should not be altogether uninteresting to the

intelligent amateur to see what working drawings are, and to compare

them with the kind of specious competition drawings by which he is so

apt to be misled.