Lines and Colors art blog

Sanguine Drawing

Sanguine drawing - KM Scott Moore
Most artists who have done much life drawing are familiar with sanguine, usually as a color of conté crayon or colored pencil. Not that many, however, have drawn with real sanquine.

Sanguine (Hematite) is a red-brown iron-oxide chalk, usually mined in Italy. It’s color, particularly when used on cream paper with touches of white, makes it wonderfully suited for figure drawing, and it was a staple tool of the old masters.

Sanguine was used widely before the development of conté or modern drawing crayons, which are made from ground pigments mixed with oil emulsion binders; and it allows for a degree of subtlety and control beyond what those convenience chalks offer, provided you’re prepared to deal with it as a “raw” drawing material.

KM Scott Moore has posted a wonderful short tutorial on titled Renaissance Style Drawing (Sanguine) — A Tutorial (images above), that goes through the basics of sanguine, from purchase to use, with a series of clear photographs. He shows starting a drawing with rough chunks of the material simply hand held; then, looking almost like tiny flint arrowheads, the chipped pieces of sanguine are set into a holder commonly used for uncased chalks and conté and used for detail work and hatching.

I was aware that sanguine, like the more processed chalks, can be smeared and stomped to create smooth tones; what I didn’t know until reading Moore’s article is that the sanguine dust, because it doesn’t have the oily binders found in the processed crayons, can be mixed with water to form a kind of “ink”, and washed on with a brush or even a pen.

Moore purchased his sanguine from Kremer Pigments in NY, now part of Sinopia. Here is their catalog listing for sanguine “lumps”.

The Cennini Catalog from Studio Products offers “reconstituted” sanguine, a powdered form mixed with Gum Tragacanth (a non-oily binder) to make extruded chalks that handle much like the original, but are less expensive.

Rob Howard, founder of Studio Products, has posted this beautiful sanguine drawing, a copy of a drawing by Hyacinthe Rigaud (more info here).

For many other sanguine drawings, see most old master drawings described as “red chalk” prior to the 1600’s.

The word “sanguine” comes from old French and Latin words meaning bloody or blood colored. The association of reddish faces with a courageous or hopeful disposition in European cultures, as well as it’s part in medieval explanations of physiology involving sanguine “humors“, led to the common use of the word to mean cheerful or optimistic.

Which leaves us with a nice double meaning for “sanguine drawing”.

[Link via Danny’s Art Notes]

[Addendum: Apparently, Moore has abandoned the blog that originally supplied the images that accompanied the tutorial and is not actively blogging these days. I don’t know of a replacement or copy of the tutorial mentioned in the post. -Charley (As of June 2010)]


8 responses to “Sanguine Drawing”

  1. thanks for the link back! Nice image, I should do that too 🙂

  2. Hi! I guess I should mention, since I don’t think I made it clear in the article, that the one advantage to the commercial products, such as Conté, is consistency.
    The natural chalk can vary quite a bit in both color and hardness, so it takes a little bit of experimentation to get used to its temperamental qualities.

    Thanks for the mention on your blog!

  3. Great post, Charley, and a reminder of why your site is so popular, ranging as it does from issues of art history and fine art to contemporary design and communication, with technical pieces like this one mixed in for good measure.

    I particularly like that you included notes on the etymology of the word ‘sanguine.’

  4. Thanks, Dan. I do work at keeping an interesting mix.

  5. Yeah – so that’s what sanguine means! I always thought – from context in P. G. Wodehouse novels – that it meant someone was sure about something.

  6. Wow, thanks for sharing this info! Very interesting! I’ve been in a real experimental phase with my art these days, jumping around among many mediums. (I have just a blast with making art, I just want to do EVERYTHING!) Now I have another addition to my list of things with which to play around.

  7. Just to elaborate on the etymology a little, cause I’m a linguistic freak, it comes from the word meaning crimson in colour or ruddy – the colour of the cheeks of amiable people, so sanguine people were generally liked. As well, sanguine is one of the 4 personality types the Greeks believed, and later medieval England. The others include: phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic (and sanguine of course). They’re all associated with a colour, emotion, etc.

  8. Baruch May Avatar
    Baruch May

    Thank you very much for the informative article. Does anyone know where I can purchase a holder for the chips of red chalk as described above: “then, looking almost like tiny flint arrowheads, the chipped pieces of sanguine are set into a holder commonly used for uncased chalks and conté and used for detail work and hatching”?
    Thank you for your kind attention to my request,