The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

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Study of Catenary Curves Alexander Macdonald

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    Alexander Macdonald (1847 - 1921)
    Object type
    drawing
    Material and technique
    watercolour over graphite on wove paper
    Dimensions
    443 x 344 mm
    Inscription
    Recto:
    within the diagram, labelled in black ink, centre left, 'R'; and around the circumference of the semi-circle, 'A' to 'G'
    bottom right, in graphite: By A Macdonald (?)
    just below, in graphite: (Ruskin T)
    just below, in graphite (recent): Bell MS B 53

    Verso:
    top left, in graphite: R . 4
    below, in graphite: R 4
    bottom, right of centre, the Ruskin School's stamp
    Provenance

    Presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875; transferred from the Ruskin Drawing School to the Ashmolean Museum, c.1949.

    No. of items
    1
    Accession no.
    WA.RS.RUD.004
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing, Arranged with Reference to the First Series of Examples in the Drawings Schools of the University of Oxford (n.p., [1872]), cat. Rudimentary no. 4

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 4

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogues, Notes and Instructions’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 21, cat. Rudimentary no. 4

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 4

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series 4th ed. (1872)

    R|4} Study of catenary curves. A. Macdonald.

    And now we must go back to our outlines.

    I drew the sides of the shields in figures 6 and 7 by my eye only; yet I know that they obey some certain law, else they would not be beautiful; but I do not know the law, nor is it necessary that I should. We must be able to draw rightly at pleasure; and to obey by instinct laws unknown to us, else we are no draughtsmen. But we must begin by recognising that such laws exist. So we will examine definitely, the aspect of the curve which we shall have to draw by instinct most frequently, the catenary.

    Draw the semicircle A. B. C. with its diameter, at least the size of half a dinner-plate, (Fig. 10, R. 4,) and take any fine metal chain, a common steel one will do, small in the link; and adjust it over the semicircle as at a. b. c., so that you may measure off a piece of it of the same length as the semicircle: (to draw your semicircle with the edge of a large bowl, and stretch the chain all round the edge, and then take half that length, is a short rough way.) Then set your drawing-board as upright as it will stand; pin your paper on it so that the diameter A. B., may be quite level; and pin your semicircle length of chain at its ends, to the points A. and B., so that it may hang down between them. It will hang in the line A. B. D. Trace a pencil line delicately beside it, not disturbing the chain, draw over the pencil with your brush; and you have the first simple relation of the catenary to the circle.

    Next, with the length of the diameter A. B. in Fig. 10, for a radius, draw the semicircle C. D. Figure 11, R. 4, and here in margin divide the whole semicircle into six equal parts by the points E. F., &c. and then fasten one end of your semicircle of chain to the point A. and the other successively to E. F. B. G. H., and draw all the curves it falls into. These will show you the kinds of curve which a rope of given length would fall into from the yard of a vessel, sloped at different angles: of course you might have an infinite number of curves by taking different points in the circle, but these five are enough at present.

    Lastly,—From the two points A. B. in Fig. 10, hang first the semicircle-length of chain, then three-quarters round the circle of chain, and then the whole circle’s length of chain; and on each of these lengths of chain, fasten in the middle any very light pendant: two or three glass beads in a bunch will do, enough to stretch it a little, yet not to pull it nearly straight; and you will get three curves as in R. 5, which will give you a general idea of the look of the catenary under tension.

    Now, I believe that the curves by which I have limited the shields in Figs. 8 and 9, are the halves of catenaries under very slight tension, but I am not sure; all I know is, that they are good curves obeying some subtle law.

    Now, my first object in the course of exercises, which I shall request you to go through, will be to make your eye sensitive to the character of subtle curves of this kind, and to enable your hand to trace them with easy precision.

    In the engraving of the woolly rush, R. 226, you may not at first perceive that the curves are subtle at all. But the difference between this entirely well-done piece of work and a vulgar botanical drawing, depends primarily on the draughtsman’s fine sense of truth in curvature: and when you see the outline alone, R. 276, you will probably recognize, even now, the value of this quality; but it would be vain for you to attempt to follow lines of this degree of refinement at first; and the exercises through which I shall lead you up to them will not, I hope, be uninteresting. The simplest elements of curvilinear design are, of course, to be found in good writing, and in the modes of ornamentation derived from it, and you cannot possibly learn to draw good curves more quickly than by attentively copying a few pieces of illuminator’s penmanship.

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 5th ed. (1873)

    R|4} Study of catenary curves. A. Macdonald.

    And now we must go back to our outlines.

    I drew the sides of the shields in figures 6 and 7 by my eye only; yet I know that they obey some certain law, else they would not be beautiful; but I do not know the law, nor is it necessary that I should. We must be able to draw rightly at pleasure; and to obey by instinct laws unknown to us, else we are no draughtsmen. But we must begin by recognising that such laws exist. So we will examine definitely, the aspect of the curve which we shall have to draw by instinct most frequently, the catenary.

    Draw the semicircle A. B. C. with its diameter, at least the size of half a dinner-plate, (Fig. 10, R. 4,) and take any fine metal chain, a common steel one will do, small in the link; and adjust it over the semicircle as at a. b. c., so that you may measure off a piece of it of the same length as the semicircle: (to draw your semicircle with the edge of a large bowl, and stretch the chain all round the edge, and then take half that length, is a short rough way.) Then set your drawing-board as upright as it will stand; pin your paper on it so that the diameter A. B., may be quite level; and pin your semicircle length of chain at its ends, to the points A. and B., so that it may hang down between them. It will hang in the line A. B. D. Trace a pencil line delicately beside it, not disturbing the chain, draw over the pencil with your brush; and you have the first simple relation of the catenary to the circle.

    Next, with the length of the diameter A. B. in Fig. 10, for a radius, draw the semicircle C. D. Figure 11, R. 4, and here in margin divide the whole semicircle into six equal parts by the points E. F., &c. and then fasten one end of your semicircle of chain to the point A. and the other successively to E. F. B. G. H., and draw all the curves it falls into. These will show you the kinds of curve which a rope of given length would fall into from the yard of a vessel, sloped at different angles: of course you might have an infinite number of curves by taking different points in the circle, but these five are enough at present.

    Lastly,—From the two points A. B. in Fig. 10, hang first the semicircle-length of chain, then three-quarters round the circle of chain, and then the whole circle’s length of chain; and on each of these lengths of chain, fasten in the middle any very light pendant: two or three glass beads in a bunch will do, enough to stretch it a little, yet not to pull it nearly straight; and you will get three curves as in R. 5, which will give you a general idea of the look of the catenary under tension.

    Now, I believe that the curves by which I have limited the shields in Figs. 8 and 9, are the halves of catenaries under very slight tension, but I am not sure; all I know is, that they are good curves obeying some subtle law.

    Now, my first object in the course of exercises, which I shall request you to go through, will be to make your eye sensitive to the character of subtle curves of this kind, and to enable your hand to trace them with easy precision.

    In the engraving of the woolly rush, R. 226, you may not at first perceive that the curves are subtle at all. But the difference between this entirely well-done piece of work and a vulgar botanical drawing, depends primarily on the draughtsman’s fine sense of truth in curvature: and when you see the outline alone, R. 276, you will probably recognize, even now, the value of this quality; but it would be vain for you to attempt to follow lines of this degree of refinement at first; and the exercises through which I shall lead you up to them will not, I hope, be uninteresting. The simplest elements of curvilinear design are, of course, to be found in good writing, and in the modes of ornamentation derived from it, and you cannot possibly learn to draw good curves more quickly than by attentively copying a few pieces of illuminator’s penmanship.

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