DOE Lecture: Technique - Ink
Achieving exactitude, accuracy, and precision through vagueness...



"...the light of the sun or the moon, seen in a place from which they are visible and one cannot discern the source of the light;
...a place only partly illuminated by such light; the reflection of such light, and the various material effects derived from it;
...the penetration of such light into places where it becomes uncertain and obstructed, and is not easily made out, as through a cane brake, in a wood, through half-closed shutters, etc., etc.;
...the same light in a place, object, etc., where it does not enter and strike directly, reflected and diffused by some other place or object, etc., where it does strike; a passageway seen from inside or outside, and similarly in a loggia, etc., places where the light mingles, etc., etc., with the shadows, as under a portico, in a high, overhanging loggia, among rocks and gullies, in a valley, on hills seen from the shady side so that their crests are gilded;
...the reflection produced, for example, by a colored pane of glass on those objects on which the rays passing through that glass are reflected;
...all those objects, in a word, that by means of various materials and minimal circumstances come to our sight, hearing, etc., in a way that is uncertain, indistinct, imperfect, incomplete, or out of the ordinary." [Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone, from Calvino, p. 59.]

As Leopardi's poetic descriptions suggest, light is the key-concept in this stage of the studio problem in which students are asked to construct three perspectives of their projects using any form of ink media. The representation of light should be used to give form to these perspectives, which should be constructed from the point of view of the people inhabiting the project. Two views are through windows in the walls: one from the inside looking out, and the other from the outside looking in. The third view should describe the urban context, showing the street and surrounding buildings, as well as the project itself.


To Italo Calvino, exactitude meant three things, the second of which can be applied to the process of representation: "(2) an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images; in Italian we have an adjective that doesn't exist in English, "icastico," from the Greek eikastikos;" [Calvino, p. 55]. In Classical Greek, eikastikos means "able to represent or conjecture: 'to eikastikon' - the faculty of conjecturing." The following figures are intended to illustrate one particularly "incisive" technique of "conjecturing" with ink:

fig. 1: Preparing ink; fig. 2: Correct posture.

fig. 3: First position; fig. 4: brush detail.

fig. 5: Second position; fig. 6: brush detail.

fig. 7: Third position; fig. 8: brush detail.

fig. 9: Brush strokes; fig. 10: Inking a character.

fig. 11: Terms of Painting.

fig. 12: Basic Structure of the Four Main Branches; fig. 13: Establishing the Three Faces of a Rock.

fig. 14: Methods of Drawing Buildings; fig. 15: Methods of Drawing Buildings (cont.).

The upper portion of figure 14 shows a building in a flat area; the lower portion a building on a mountain slope. The upper portion of figure 15 shows a building in the middle of a lake; the lower portion a building placed in dense trees or on a rocky cliff. Other building types include thatched dwellings suitable for villages in summer landscapes, whose windows can be shaded or open to the sun, and buildings placed against steep cliffs at the bends of rivers.
"Doors and windows are like eyes and eyebrows; halls and inner rooms are also like eyes. Eyebrows should be graceful; so likewise walls should curve, encircle, and join. Eyes should not be too prominent; therefore the inner rooms should be spacious and quiet, their emptiness filled with ch'i (the atmosphere of the spirit." [Sze, p. 249].

fig. 16: "Landscape," Tao-Chi (late 17th century).

fig. 17: "Enjoyment of Summer Scenery," Yosa Buson (1771).

"So this is what Leopardi asks of us, that we may savor the beauty of the vague and indefinite! What he requires is a highly exact and meticulous attention to the composition of each image, to the minute definition of details, to the choice of objects, to the lighting and atmosphere, all in order to attain the desired degree of vagueness. Therefore Leopardi, whom I had chosen as the ideal opponent of my argument in favor of exactitude, turns out to be a decisive witness in its favor..." [Calvino, pp. 59-60.]

Accuracy and Precision

"The two words "accuracy" and "precision" are often used carelessly and synonymously. There is, however, a distinction between them which should be clear to the surveyor. Precision implies refinement of measurements or closeness in agreement between several measurements, whereas accuracy implies correctness or freedom from mistakes and from carelessness. Precision is of no significance unless accuracy is also obtained. A line may be measured in two directions to the nearest hundredth of a foot. The two measurements may be 247.62 and 248.63 ft. The hundredths in these recorded measurements indicate precision, but the fact that there is a foot difference shows clearly that a careless mistake has entered into at least one of the measurements. This is an example of a precise measurement that is inaccurate and therefore useless." [Breed, p. 24].

The temptation to draw accurately with pen and ink, because the medium allows if not promotes it, is often an impediment to the process of representation. The following drawings were made with a great deal of precision, but are highly inaccurate, as a comparison with the photographs reveals.

fig. 18: S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, Rome (1653-63), Borromini.

fig. 19: S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, Ink on paper (1980).

fig. 20: S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1665-67), Borromini; fig. 21: S. Carlo, Ink on paper (1980).

fig. 22: S. Pietro, facade (1606-12), Maderno; piazza (1667), Bernini.

fig. 23: S. Pietro, Ink on paper (1980).

St. Peter's (1546-64), Michelangelo Buonarroti; completed (1590), Giacomo della Porta; Main Facade (1606-12), Carlo Maderno; Piazza (designed in 1667), Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Postscript: a non-western example of accuracy and precision in drawing.

Yantras are ritual diagrams used in Tantric initiation and empowerment. There are many types of yantras, but all share the same basic scheme of enclosure, or "walls." In the case of the Shri Yantra, perhaps the most well known yantra, the "dwelling of the deity" is occupied by a pattern of nine interlocking triangles representing the goddess Shri. A comparison of the textual prescriptions for the construction of this yantra with constructed examples provides a useful illustration of the concepts of accuracy and precision in a non-western context.

List of Illustrations

fig. 1: Preparing ink. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 2: Correct posture. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 3: First position. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 4: Brush detail of first position. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 5: Second position. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 6: Brush detail of second position. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 7: Third position. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 8: Brush detail of third position. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 9: Brush strokes. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 10: Inking a character. Han Gul So Yaoi, Bah RuGo Sui Yon (Korea: 1982).

fig. 11: "Other Terms of Painting." Sze, p. 436.

fig. 12: "Basic Structure of the Four Main Branches." Sze, p. 156.

fig. 13: "Establishing the Three Faces of a Rock." Sze, p. 190.

fig. 14: "(top) the houses are suitable for flat areas; (below) buildings rising on the levels of a slope of a mountain. These are two basic patterns." Sze, p. 249.

fig. 15: "(top) a pavilion in the middle of a lake with a small connecting bridge; (below) a structure that may be placed among dense trees or on a rocky cliff." Sze, p. 250.

fig. 16: "Tao-Chi, Landscape, Ch'ing dynasty, late seventeenth century. Album leaf, ink and colors on paper, 9-1/2"x11". C.C. Wang Collection, New York." de la Croix, fig. 12-26.

fig. 17: "Yosa Buson, Enjoyment of Summer Scenery, from The Ten Conveniences and the Ten Enjoyments of Country Life, Tokugawa period, 1771. Album leaves, ink and color on paper, 7" high. Yasunari Kawabata Collection, Kanagawa." de la Croix, fig. 13-27.

fig. 18: "Francesco Borromini. S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, Rome. 1653-63." Janson, fig. 635.

fig. 19: Drawing by the author.

fig. 20: "Rome, facade of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, 1665-67, completed after Borromini's death in 1682; early-twentieth-century photograph." Kostof, Fig. 21.5b.

fig. 21: Drawing by the author.

fig. 22: "Rome, the Piazza S. Pietro during a papal blessing; aerial view looking southwest." Kostof, Fig. 20.2.

fig. 23: Drawing by the author.


Breed, Charles B. Surveying. 1942; 3rd ed., rev. by Alexander J. Bone and Brother B. Austin Barr. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1971.

Calvino, Italo. "Exactitude," from Six Memos for the Next Millenium. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988, pp. 55-80.

de la Croix, Horst and Richard G. Tansey. Gardner's Art through the Ages: Ancient, Medieval, and Non-European Art. 8th ed., New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1986.

Janson, H.W. History of Art. 2nd ed., New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1977.

Kostof, Spiro. A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Sze, Mai-Mai. The Way of Chinese Painting: Its Ideas and Technique. New York: Vintage Books, 1959.

Patrick A. George