Durer was a goldsmith by trade, his father taught him to draw. Etchings and wood engravings formed a strong foundation for careful mark making, a skill that shone through in his paintings. This study of the Hare is a great example.
Albrecht Durer 'Hare' 1502
Durer lightly sketched the image and under painted with some brown washes, the texture was than meticulously built up with a variety of light and dark brushstrokes in watercolor and gouache (opaque form of watercolour).
This'' study'' received the Artists hologram – a mark of his approval and a testament of his ideals that are expressed in the following quote.
"one man may sketch something with his pen on half a sheet of paper in one day, or may cut it into a tiny piece of wood with his little iron, and it turns out to be better and more artistic than another's work at which its author labours with the utmost diligence for a whole year."
‘’As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.’’
Leonardo Da Vinci.
Perhaps nobody more than Da vinci knew the anatomy of man and animal. Quite often drawings and studies would be done from memory or quick studies of life backed by an encyclopedic knowledge of muscle, bone and their dynamics. There was not a single muscle or bone that effected the surface form, that either artist didn’t know and hadn’t drawn repeatedly.
According to Robert Hale, knowledge of the human form made it very easy to achieve a comprehensive ability in drawing animals, Analogies between animals (namely mammals) are so numerous that knowledge of one becomes a stepping stone into a knowledge of many others.
I highly recommend this book by Hale together with Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters.
The studies that I have seen of Michelangelo or Raphael, Rembrandt et el. have always demonstrated a fluidity of line in its use to depict form and movement in the most fleeting way.
The tone is also formed from the adroit line work. Line and tone becoming one highly efficient and expertly applied mark that celebrates an intimate knowledge of the subject.
It's worth remembering that access to an elephant would have been very limited to Rembrandt and it's visits to Amsterdam would have been few and far between, so much of this brief sketch would have been very ad hoc.
This brings me back to Durer who drafted this Rhino on the strength of detailed descriptions.
What a fabulous result!
Antonio Pisanello shown below is another great example.. In his drawing of MULE at the Louvre, you can see how the artist has studied the tracts and direction of the hair in great detail and by following this direction with his hatching, the illusion of extreme detail is given.
This drawing is done in pen and is a fine illustration of the power of line when used well.
The artist has taken great interest in the differing textures of hair, leather, metal and braid without making it look fussy.
The line-work looks more meticulous at first glance but actually the hatching and mark making is more of a suggestion of texture that does enough to convince us of a high level of detail.