Drawing on Toned Paper

Maaltijd ten huize van Simon de Leviet Giorgio Vasari 1544, (detail) Rijks Museum


And then shade the folds with washes of ink; that is, as much water as a nutshell would hold, with two drops of ink in it; and shade with a brush made of minever tails, rather blunt, and almost always dry. And so, according
to the darks, you make the wash blacker in this way with more litde drops of ink. And you may likewise work and shade with colors and with clothlets 2 such as the illuminators use; the colors tempered with gum, or with clear white of egg well beaten and liquefied.

The craftsman’s handbook by Cennini, Cennino, active 15th century; translated by Thompson, Daniel Varney, 1902- ed

Other drawings in light and shade are executed on tinted paper which gives a middle shade; the pen marks the outlines, that is, the contour or profile, and afterwards half-tone or shadow is given with ink mixed with a little water which produces a delicate tint: further, with a fine brush dipped in white lead mixed with gum, the high lights are added. This method is very pictorial, and best shows the scheme of colouring.

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), Vasari on technique; being the introduction to the three arts of design, architecture, sculpture and painting, prefixed to the Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects

Another way was used on tinted sheets of all colors, with some black stones, called pencils. With these one drew, afterwards using white lead to do the lights, which white lead was given in this way [possibly a reference to drawing with brush and washes of ink/color]. Sometimes crayons as big as a writing pen were made, which are made of white lead with a little gum arabic.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), I trattati dell’ oreficeria e della scultura di Benvenuto Cellini

Drawing with ink and white gouache on toned paper

When you have mastered the shading, take a rather blunt brush; and with a wash of ink in a little dish proceed to mark out the course of the dominant folds with this brush; and then proceed to blend the dark part of the fold, following its course. And this wash ought to be practically like water, just a little tinted, and the brush ought to be almost always practically dry. Without trying to hurry, go on shading little by little, always going back with this brush into the darkest areas. Do you know what will come of it? —If this water is just a little tinted, and you shade with enjoyment, and without hurrying, you will get your shadows well blended, just like smoke. Remember always to work with the flat of the brush. When you have gone as far as you can with this shading, take a drop or two of ink and put it into this wash, and mix it up well with this brush. And then in the same way pick out the very bottoms of those folds with this brush, picking out their foundations carefully; always remembering your shading, that is, to divide into three sections: one section, shadow; the next, the color of your ground; the next, with lights put on it.
When you have got this done, take a little white lead well worked up with gum arabic. (I will explain this to you later on, how this gum is to be dissolved and melted; and I will explain about all the temperas.) Ever so little white lead is enough. Have some clear water in a little dish, and moisten this same brush of yours in it; and rub it over this ground white lead in the little dish, especially if this is dried up. Then dress it on the back of your hand or your thumb, shaping and squeezing out this brush, and getting it empty, practically draining it. And begin rubbing the brush flat over and into the areas where the high light and relief are to come; and proceed to go over them many times with your brush, and handle it judiciously.
Then, for the accents of the reliefs, in the greatest prominence, take a pointed brush, and touch in with white lead with the tip of this brush, and crisp up the tops of these high lights. Then proceed to crisp up with a small brush, with straight ink, marking out the folds, the outlines, noses, eyes, and the divisions in the hairs and beards.

I advise you, furthermore, when you get to be more experienced, to try to put on lights perfectly with a wash, just as you do the wash of ink. Take white lead ground with water, and temper it with yolk of egg; and it blends like an ink wash, but it is harder for you to handle, and more experience is needed. All this is known as drawing on tinted paper, and it is the path to lead you to the profession of painting. Follow it constantly as much as you can, for it is the essence of your study. Apply yourself to it enthusiastically, and with great enjoyment and pleasure.

The craftsman’s handbook by Cennini, Cennino, active 15th century; translated by Thompson, Daniel Varney, 1902- ed
Study of Three Skulls (recto); Unknown maker, Southern German, about 1530, Getty Museum Collection

Artwork Examples:

The artist ought first to exercise his hand by copying drawings from the hand of a good master.

A Treatise on Painting by Leonardo, da Vinci, 1452-1519

Of painting. Of the darkness of shadows, or rather, of the brightness of lights. Experienced painters distinguish four values for each color in everything represented — trees, fields, hair, beards, furs. First, a dark foundation, second, a (lighter) stain that follows the shape of the part, third, a lighter and more sharply defined part, and fourth, the high lights that catch the eye more than does the rest of the object. But it seems to me that the variety (of shades) on a continuous surface is infinite and divisible to infinity…

Leonardo on art and the artist by Leonardo, da Vinci, 1452-1519, Dover Publications
Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519) The body of a horse in profile c.1490, Royal Collection Trust

Renaissance Drawings on Toned Paper

Drawing on tinted paper became a popular practice since early days of paper making in Europe. Almost every notable artist between XIV and XVI centuries produced works on tinted papers of different colors with a variety of media: silver-point, ink, chalk or hematite for dark tones; white chalk or white gouache for highlights. A few notable examples for your inspiration:

Let me relate here some things I have learned from Nature. I observed that plane surfaces keep a uniform colour over their whole extent, while the colours of spherical and concave surfaces vary, and here it is lighter, there darker, and elsewhere a kind of in-between colour.

This variation of colour in other than plane surfaces presents some difficulty to not very clever painters. But if, as I explained, the painter has drawn the outlines of the surfaces correctly and determined the border of the illuminated portions, the method of colouring will then be easy.

He will first begin to modify the colour of the surface with white or black, as necessary, applying it like a gentle dew up to the borderline. Then he will go on adding another sprinkling, as it were, on this side of the line, and after this another on this side of it, and then another on this side of this one, so that not only is the part receiving more light tinged with a more distinct colour, but the colour also dissolves progressively like smoke into the areas next to each other.

But you have to remember that no surface should be made so white that you cannot make it a great deal whiter still. Even in representing snow-white clothing you should stop well on this side of the brightest white. For the painter has no other means than white to express the brightest gleams of the most polished surfaces, and only black to represent the deepest shadows of the night. And so in painting white clothes we must take one of the four genera of colours which is bright and clear; and likewise in painting, for instance, a black cloak, we must take the other extreme which is not far from the deepest shadow, such as the colour of the deep and darkening sea. This composition of white and black has such power that, when skilfully carried out, it can express in painting brilliant surfaces of gold and silver and glass. Consequently, those painters who use white immoderately and black carelessly, should be strongly condemned.
I would like white to be purchased more dearly among painters than precious stones. It would be a good thing if white and black were made from those pearls Cleopatra dissolved in vinegar, so that painters would become as mean as possible with
them, for their works would then be both more agreeable and nearer the truth. It is not easy to express how sparing and careful one should be in distributing white in a painting. On this point Zeuxis used to condemn painters because they had no idea what was too much.

On painting by Alberti, Leon Battista, 1404-1472