Sketching for children

  • What is it, and why is it called a cartoon?

    While the word cartoon usually refers to an animation or a funny drawing, in an art historical context it can also refer to a full-scale preparatory drawing for a fresco, oil painting or a tapestry. The word we use today comes from the Italian cartone, which simply means a large sheet of paper or card.

    Who invented it?

    In his Waterloo cartoon, Daniel Maclise RA was drawing on a medium with its origins in Renaissance fresco painting. While Maclise copied his cartoon by eye (as did Raphael in The Sacrifice at Lystra; pictured) there were other scaling techniques which had been around for thousands of years. “Squaring up”, a method still used by artists today, was developed by the Egyptians at least 5,000 years ago. More on this below…

    How does it work?

    During the Renaissance, artists transferred their designs to the wall or canvas by making pin pricks along the outlines of a drawing and then rubbing powder or dust across the back of the sheet to create a mirror image of the composition. This procedure – known as “pricking” or “pouncing” – often damaged the paper and many cartoons do not survive as a result. However, there are some fine examples of this technique, such as Raphael’s Young man asleep on the ground (1504; pictured). The pin pricks can be seen clearly along the outlines of the drawing.

  • Raphael, Young man asleep on the ground

    Raphael,Young man asleep on the ground, c.1504.

    Young man asleep on the ground between two female figures: cartoon for the painting ‘An Allegory’ or ‘Vision of a Knight’ in National Gallery, London; pen and brown ink, pricked for transfer, black chalk residue on verso.

    18.2 21.4cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

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