There are few subjects in nature more fascinating to us figurists than rock. Its form attracts us, as there is something tangible to draw. Its colour interests us, because it is subject to great variation, through changes of light upon it; and, in addition to form and colour, the lichen upon the rock delights us. I would say, lichen is the great decorator of nature; it beautifies the clumsiest and most common- place of objects; and if it disturbs form, it removes monotony. Examined closely it will be seen to be one of nature's most beautiful growths. The broad-leafed lichen that grows on the spruce-stem has inspired designers of the fifteenth century, and from it they evolved Gothic detail.
To make rock painting convincing, some method of procedure has to be adopted for working out-of-doors in comfort. To work from hasty sketches is not satisfactory, as those sketches, to be of use, must have more detail in them than would be required in the final work. Then why do the rock twice over? The second edition is sure not to be so fresh as the first. Gainsborough was satisfied (so tradition has it) to paint the rocks he introduced into his landscapes from broken bits of coal out of the handy scuttle. But his landscapes were purely conventional, and in them realism would have been misplaced. Such treatment, however, misses the one great characteristic of rock -- weight.
It is not my purpose here to go into the vexed, and variously interpreted, question of the conventionality in art. 1 will only say that I acknowledge its potency and permanency as a force in art. To paint rock convincingly, however, I fear there is no alternative but to settle down before it, even as the portrait painter has to settle down with his sitter before him. No doubt this method involves some loss of time, as realism in the painting must still wear the mantle of grace -- the effect of light; and every observer knows that effects of light in nature are as fleeting as the expressions on a human face. The painter must have the patience to wait and watch, and not expect to be always doing, though lie may sometimes find it irritating when the wind blows persistently from the wrong quarter. The portrait painter has the advantage of being able to force the return of the one expression he has selected to paint, by means of that powerful engine -- conversation.
But the rock painter, well housed and protected from the inclemency of weather, need grumble but little at having to wait for his effect. There is, moreover, always something to go on with when nature sulks, and is disobliging. There is the preparation for the coming moment of import -- the underlying work, so to speak, which is to receive the final rapid touch when the selected effect suddenly makes its appearance. [130-31]
von Herkomer, Sir Hubert. My School and My Gospel. New York: Doubleday, Page, and Co., 1906.
Last modified 12 January 2005