Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fluffy Little Clouds

A handy way to discuss parts of a drawing is to compare shadow-shapes, and light-shapes to the things they resemble. Much like lying on the ground and watching passing clouds as they morph from a cartoon school bus into a Dr. Seuss tree with a flying saucer in it. Or maybe that's just me. On the fourth Bargue, there aren't too many easily recognized shapes, but there is a sort of giraffe, and some bird-like things.

Here are this morning 's notes on Bargue Four:

Move giraffe's Adam's apple
Straight line under giraffe leg too low
Move pec shadow line up
Fix ghost head under shoulder
Elongate thigh
Move belly line out
Raise giraffe leg
Shorten abs
Change angle of left pec
Move paw away from leg
Point of cloth to change shape
Point on arm moves up, smooth angle

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sometimes I Write Things

The Classicism Rhythm

I'd like to discuss
The artistic schism
'Tween classical
And contemporism

They're sick of David
Or so I hear
Even Rembrandt
And Vermeer

But it's now time
For some criticism
Of that boring

Straight lines are simple
Some would say
In China they know
It's bad feng shui

A canvas of blue
May seem quite wise
'Til it's done already
By great big skies

Stick a fork
In a pile of poo
Put it on a pedestal
And label it food

Rules can be broken
It's said all the time
But until they're mastered
Y'all are wasting our time

Friday, April 12, 2013

Waxing Philosophical

One of the reasons I practice in traditional materials and time-tested techniques is that I want my art to last. I don't want to spend such a significant portion of my time on this planet learning and executing art that will quickly fade or fall apart.

I strive to create art that is not only long lasting in structure, but also in style and subject matter. Styles come and go, and the cycle just gets faster and faster. Tastes differ, they change and evolve. What is novel to one generation is old hat to another. This is fine with fashion. Clothing wears. Now just as fast as the style! This is not my style in art or architecture. And I create art of architecture.

I remember being in my parents' car, driving around the mill towns and cities of Western Mass. The downtowns of Springfield and Holyoke were networks of fascinating brick canyons that channeled the sun's rays capturing vignettes of cherubs or acanthus leaves adorning cornices. The tops of buildings sprouting with intricate chimneys and vents like mushrooms on stumps. This is an area that wasn't hit by the same 1950s urban renewal that happened in larger cities, at least not in the '50s. But my early memories quickly became replaced with seeing many of these buildings torn down, neglected, or unwisely "repurposed."

Now, many New England downtowns have empty expanses or half empty lots with concrete, glass and steel monstrosities that were out of date before they were built, and already dilapidated. The idea of a handsomely designed, quality facade has been replaced with a cheap and seedy theater-in-the-round. What buildings were left are clad with artificial veneers attempting to drag the corpses of so many old Victorian women to a 1960s sweet sixteen party that's been over for 40 years.

What I'm trying to get at, is that urban landscapes are fast losing their appeal for me. Everything is so boxy and plain now. Here are some images of Boston that show what I like. For an example of what I'm not liking, check out this photo on the Flickr page of Marc Belanger:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fourth Bargue

The last of the four Bargue drawings finishes the lessons learned in pencil rendering and completes the transition to truly freehand drawing. Many of the techniques we learn are actually well-crafted crutches we use to bring us to a higher level. Measuring techniques and drawing on cheap paper are sorts of one-time-use tricks that are overcome with greater skills handling pencils. These tricks are also handy just to know.

In Bargue Four, we draw directly on the quality paper, with minimal guide lines, and an emphasis on avoiding direct measurements on the source drawing. Standing back at a fixed distance with arms outstretched, it is possible to compare measurements from the source drawing to the copy. Then, stepping forward, we mark the paper. These are my marks after 6 hours.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Nine Perfect Squares

In music, people practice scales. In photography there is the test strip to assess the shades of a negative. In fine art, we have the value scale. The purpose of the value scale is both for practice and for reference. The scale is nine incremental shades ranging in darkness from the lightest shade achievable with the medium, to the darkest. In this example the paper has a tone so the first shade is already there, with subsequent shades building upon it. Spaces are left between the squares to prevent visual "halos" from making the abutting shades appear lighter where they meet.

Completing a value scale will hone pencil skills, teaching the artist how to properly render particular shades. Once finished, the value scale can be used to compare shades in a drawing to particular, already realized shades. It is handy to keep the scale next to drawings as a visual aid.

A value scale takes time. A lot of time. At least an hour, if not four. Per square! I have been working on mine on the train, so it's probably harder than it needs to be. But this is wasted time. I like working in challenging conditions because then everything seems easier under ideal conditions. It's been tough to keep it clean, but I haven't yet messed up the pencil work.

The best way to proceed is to do the 9 shade, then the 1, then the 5. This way each can be used as a comparison to the next. Being on a train, I haven't attempted the 1 shade yet. The touch needs to be very light for the 1, and there is no room for error. I began this scale as practice, not thinking i could keep it clean and neat, but its been working out so far. I have a long way to go before it's done. I may have to begin a new one under better conditions.

Here is what I've done thus far:

Monday, April 1, 2013

Drawing From Life

Normally I work from photographs, so the transition to Bargues was for me more a matter of materials than process. I had used some version of measuring or comparison technique with oil painting so learning about pencils, how to hold them, and how to make the appropriate marks on the paper was all new to me. But working from life is a completely different story.

First of all, there's a nude person sitting in the middle of the room. Secondly, it is quite hot and stuffy, which is apparently on account of the nude person sitting in the room. But besides that, it's not recommended that one approaches the model with a measuring tool. It would be awkward, and unless you're drawing a life size version, not very practical.

So the technique involves a method of comparing what one sees from afar and what is on paper. One can compare the proportions of the model's head to arm, for example, and see how that translates to the drawing. A knitting needle can be held up and a finger placed on it to size up a part of the body, then that size can be used to compare to the drawing as well. With time, the eye will be able to see the differences and allow more accurate rendering.

In the corner we make a small "cartoon" that helps outline the basic "gesture" of the pose. These are the lines we begin with, before breaking down the image into finer details, and eventually shading in the shadow shapes like on the Bargues.

Here are my first attempts at using these methods.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Third Bargue

The type of drawing one chooses from among the Bargues should be based on the artist's skills and experience. Since I had drawn two heads, I had experience with "big form modeling" and needed to work more on both shading and smaller forms.

This Bargue is also challenging because there is little relation between the shoulder and the hand so one doesn't have an easy logical line, such as the side of the cheek to follow across the form. It stretches the skills of the artist to be able to see the triangle the arm makes as a greater whole.

This is how a landscape or a pose of the human body can be visually broken down into smaller, but still large chunks, enabling one to quickly and accurately sketch out the scene.

Another thing this Bargue does is stretch the degrees of value in the artist's skill set. The lightest lights and the darkest darks are represented, with everything in between. There are more complex relationships between the values and the shapes they represent.

What is being developed is the ability of the artist to see the shapes, see the value differences, and finally to render them accurately and smoothly. Smoothly turned out to be my biggest challenge.

There is a process we call "filling in holes." When pencil is applied to paper, the rough texture of the paper fibers leaves gaps in the pigment. The pencil, and the eyes of the artist, must be very sharp to reach into the gap and leave more pigment but only in the gap without darkening the rest.

This can be achieved in two different methods, and a combination of the two. I prefer the combination because it appeals to my impatience and to my sense of discipline.

The first method is to make very precise lines of perfect fading tone, parallel to one another yet accurately following the form. Yeah right! The second method is to make multitudinous tiny circles and cross hatching to fill in the tones gradually and carefully.

The benefit of the precise parallel lines is that they better represent form. However, if not executed perfectly this technique can lead to excess "noise" that is difficult to fix. This is when tiny circles and cross hatching come in handy.

Here are the steps of completing this Bargue:

This is the final step before transferring to the nice paper, Stonehenge light gray. All of the shadow shapes have been indicated, along with the outlines of the larger form and the smaller forms within. The shadows have been filled in so that one can compare them with the shapes in the source image, flicking your eyes back and forth to notice the differences, and to fix them.
Post transfer:

Here you can see the "noise" that is caused by imprecise pencil work. The shadow along the forearm, flowing across the muscle resembles TV static more than a shadow:

And this is the finished piece: