The manuals

Military Landscape Sketching and Target Indication
by William G Newton, Instructor in the Artist’s Rifles

One artist who felt that it was not enough to entrust military drawing to adventurers or bemused avant garde artists was subaltern William Newton of the Artist’s Rifles. A trainee architect, Newton contended that it was possible to teach a novice how to draw a battle landscape after just one lecture and two days drawing in the field. This was an ambitious programme. By comparison, front-line infantry scouts took up to six weeks to train (Cameron 1916). Newton laid out his ideas in Military Landscape Sketching and Target Indication - a manual published commercially in 1916. In the introduction, Lieutenant Colonel H.A.R. May, commanding officer of the Artist’s Rifles, applauded Newton's system.  

The test of each solution is whether a stranger can with ease and rapidity identify the exact place intended; and tested in this manner the results of his teaching have been most successful and many officers in the trenches have benefited by the care and devotion he has given to his work. (Newton 1916: 6) 

In his opening definition, Newton clarified the function of a military sketch. It 'is a form of report, without the ambiguity of language. It is graphic information. For information clearness is essential, and clearness is attained by two avenues: a) thought, b) draughtsmanship'. (Newton 1916:8). In making this point, Newton distances himself from previous manual writers who opted for heavily annotated sketches, and for a pictorial language rooted in the conventions of maps. However, the real challenge, continues Newton, is how to simplify the visual chaos of a landscape, especially a landscape damaged by battle.  

It is therefore necessary to analyse, to bring order out of chaos. For this purpose there are three main methods of analysis - separation of planes, encircling or framing in, division of a whole into parts. (Newton 1916: 9)  

Possibly the most interesting of these three methods is the first - the separation of planes. Newton suggests that the draughtsman should try to imagine a landscape as a series of horizontal (but not straight) bands that stretch from one side of the paper to the other. It might help, he suggested, to imagine the country as something like the scenery of an outdoor exhibition with each ridge, hill, wood cut out of sheets of wood and laid one behind the other. Having done this, a point can successfully be marked on the drawing, its approximate distance from the viewer clearly indicated by the number and density of horizontal lines representing fields, meadows, tree lines in between the draughtsman and the point.  

Newton's manual is full of such pragmatic advice. He emphasized the draughtsman's duty in guiding the eye to salient points in the landscape by using key devices in the terrain - an isolated chimney, a single red roof amongst black roofs, three silhouetted bushes on a crest line - as so many ‘labels’ that indicate particular targets or tactically vital features. He avoids the tendency of other instructors to construct complex drawing frames, or string and protractor gizmos. (Green 1908: 25) Instead, he argues for clarity of purpose at all times, for always using a sharp pencil and throwing the India rubber away - 'the aim should rather be to do a clear sketch from the first, because in the field opportunities of subsequent polish are limited'. He continues in fine style:  

A line should be as sharp and precise as a word of command. A wavering line which dies away carries no conviction or information because it is the product of a wavering mind. Every line should be put in to express something. Start sharply and finish sharply. Press on the paper. (Newton 1916: 27)  

Such instruction may sound a little severe but it was born from a belief in the superiority of careful observational drawing as a method of study and analysis. Without the rigorous discipline advocated by Newton, military drawing can easily descend into a parody of itself - dull, repetitive diagrams in which trees have been reduced to a formula, producing a rather contrived landscape image that resembles 'nursery wall paper'. This was due in part to the consequence of drawing trees in outline which tends to make them resemble their cartographic equivalent - either bushy topped deciduous or 'Christmas tree' firs. It is also the consequence of drawing in outline alone and so accentuating the top line of trees and buildings with a minimum of shading and colour. The end results, however, had a curious aesthetic appeal and many military drawings began to resemble the arts and crafts style woodcut illustrations that were popular in the first decades of the century. 

Landscape Sketching for Military Purposes 
by Captain A.F.U. Green