Jack Witchell at the Beaufort by Stanley SpencerThis 1916 portrait of a Great War comrade, Pte Jack Witchell, done with a medium pencil continually sharpened and honed to the finest of points, shows evidence of Stanley's training at the Slade, and of his adherence to a major influence of his time there, that of the formidable Henry Tonks who was then the Drawing Master (he subsequently became Professor.) What a brood I have raised!, he was to say later of his galaxy of star pupils.
In fully-observed work such as portraits (as opposed to quick on-the-spot reminder sketches or studio compositional test-outs) Tonks' instruction insisted
that his students begin by selecting a specific detail - say a sitter's eye - and render it as perfectly as possible. The student would then move step by step to adjacent detail, rendering each in the same finished way. In this way the portrait was slowly built up stage by stage, rather like unrolling a map.

The method was foreign to many students joining the Slade, especially to the more wealthy dilettante young ladies using the place as a sort of finishing school, who had been taught the more usual technique of beginning with a broad outline and then filling in the required detail. Tonks had no compunction about reducing them to tears if necessary. Even a gifted student like Dorothy Hepworth (who is featured in the webpage on The Dustman or The Lovers) had great difficulty in adapting to Tonks' teaching. But Stanley's native instinct for precision suited perfectly, and he used the method all his life.

One disadvantage of the technique was that the artist needed to size and position his initial detail very accurately, otherwise the finished drawing could sit awkwardly on the paper, or even
run out of space. It is evident in this portrait that Stanley has somewhat misjudged his start detail, and as he worked upwards to Jack's hair met the crease in the page of Jack's pocket autograph album. Undeterred, he simply continued across it, but neverthless still placed his signature way down the page in the bottom right-hand corner.

This drawing is one of the few works to which Stanley appended his signature. He never signed his paintings.