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Archive for April, 2011

I call this drawing “Beaucoup 119.”  It’s inspired by Hubbart Street Dance Chicago’s performance of “Too Beaucoup,” which I saw at the Harris Theater in March.  The choreography by Sharon Eyal reminded me of swarms of insects moving in twitching groupings that made sense in the grammar of the Locust Language, as spoken by the upper crust of that society.  It was an astonishing performance and, for me, exhausting to watch.  But it stuck in the mind. Two or three days later it came back to me and I understood it, though I don’t want to be called upon to write an essay explaining it.  It just hit me in all its frenetic, percussive power.  Perhaps I can claim to understand it visually and kinetically.

This drawing in conté is on ledger paper (acid free), hence the number 119.  Unframed, about 10 x 16; framed, 18 x24.

It is my contribution to the benefit exhibition at the Evanston Art Center, which will open this Sunday afternoon, May 1. Since this is a benefit, all art works will be priced to sell.  And there is much to choose from: drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, pottery.    For more information, go to www.evanstonartcenter.org

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_h-M-IaMBE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3B3xaYV7zQ&NR=1

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I did this small drawing (6×10) yesterday from fast poses, about one to three minutes.  Now, a day later, it reminds me of Matisse’s painting, “Luxe, Calme et Volupté,” 1905.  Not in technique, but in the sense of pleasure that it conveys.   In the Matisse painting, as in my drawing, the nudes are at ease and are loosely sketched, without much fuss about anatomy.

But there’s another connection and that has to do with the pleasure of doing the work.  I can’t speak for Matisse, though he must have enjoyed the freedom of those wild colors in his Fauve years. (“Fauve” means wild beast.)

I’ll speak for myself and the materials I used.  This drawing is done on mat board, specifically 4-ply museum grade mat board.  Now, mat board is not intended to be drawn on; it lacks fiber and sizing.  I think of it as compressed lint.  But, oh, it is luxurious to draw on, if you give it a thin coat of clear acrylic gel. This seals the natural ragediness of the mat board, making it friendlier to the friction of the pencil.  The pencil I used here is the Stabilo-Aquarellable (see post 4.19.11) which loves the mat boards cushy surface.  It sinks in at the slightest pressure, produces a rich velvety line and deposits lots of black stuff for later washes.

When I’m preaching the importance of pleasure in drawing I’m perhaps a bit reactionary, in the sense that our contemporary art tends to the conceptual, the constructed, the engineered, the ironic, the alienated.  That’s fine, I love having my brain tickled.  But the artist’s rapport with the materials themselves has been suppressed, possibly even lost.  You can be sure that the original modernists, like Picasso and Matisse, loved their paints and their charcoal, their brushes and papers, their glops of paint and their drips.  They loved the mess and the physicality.

So, here’s the moral of the story: Draw on any surface that feels good.  I don’t mean your neighbor’s garage door, but neither do I mean to say that the paper or canvas has to come from a sanctified art supply store.   Experiment with supports!  Ditto pencil, pens, markers, brushes, sticks.  Take time to muck about with the materials and find something that—to you– feels like “luxe, calme et volupté.”

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http://www.marciawoodgallery.com/luxe_calme/essay.html

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If you want to create the illusion of roundness in either painting or drawing, you need to study how light plays on a round object.  Here’s the textbook analysis of a sphere being hit by light from the upper left and casting a shadow on the lover right.

You can memorize this image and its labels and refer to it later when you draw as a kind of sacred scripture cast in stone. This really is IT.  Now, as we all know, real life does not conform to holy writ and so it is with spherical objects, vases, bodies and drapery. In real life, specifically still life, some objects are shiny and some are dull and therefore reflect light differently.  This realization amounts to a kind of loss of innocence.  The complexity of light reflections really does make you want to throw up your hands with the drawing pad landing behind the studio sink, but stay with it.  Knowing the textbook case, as shown in the above illustration, will help you see what’s going on no matter how brazenly your object deviates from the norm.

Consider the above page of studies.  This is an 11 x 17 page that I scribbled while sitting next to students in my drawing class. #s 1 and 2 show round objects with the light coming from the upper right.  Notice the reflected light on the left edge and then the core of the shadow a little to the right of that.

The ability to show a gradation of values is key in creating the illusion of roundness.  That’s what the scribbles in #3 are about.  Practice this progression, both from dark to light and from light to dark, with very fast strokes of the pencil. (Review “How to Sharpen Your Pencil,”  post for 11.10.10)

#4 shows the beginning of a still life drawing.  The lines are faint, just to position the objects and the drapery on the page.

With #5 we’re getting serious.  We’re facing the drapery.  Notice how rough this is, but notice also that the darks of the shadow are really dark.  Nothing tentative here.  This is important.  After you have faintly indicated the main directions of the folds, go in for the kill.  Find the courage to put down the darkest part of the shadows.  Oh, no, you cry.  Yes!  Go for it.  Seeing where the shadows are deepest will keep you from getting lost.

In #6 we have a more developed chunk of drapery.  It’s drawn with scratchy lines, nothing fussy here, no tromp-l’oeil  blending. But doesn’t that look like drapery already….you can tell what’s happening, what’s catching the light, what’s tucked in, what’s deep in shadow.  And notice the reflected light in that roll at the bottom.   Without that, no illusion of roundness is going happen.  It’s fun.

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Sunsets and cloud formations often take our breath away.  We stop walking, stop pedaling and stop driving so that we can give in to shameless gaping, all sophistication abandoned.  What we’re looking at are light rays and water vapors.  Light rays bending over the horizon and water vapors clumping in the troposphere, however well we may understand the physics that produce the effects, will still stop us in our tracks.  For centuries, light has been a metaphor in our literature and art for concepts like hope, transcendence and peace.  In the late 18th century, with the rise of Romanticism and then the sense of the Sublime in the early 19th century, light effects and cloud formations became major rock stars on the stage of the poetic imagination.

The Hudson River Valley painters are a great example.  Thomas Moran (1837-1926), for example, painted awe-inspiring landscapes, often of enormous dimensions and involving spectacular cloud formations and light effects.

But a painting of rays and vapors often falls flat.  Think of the sentimental sunset paintings you’ve winced at while strolling through a summer art fair.  You want to say, dude, the 19th century is like so yesterday. We still love the real thing, the sunset, but our notion of painting has taken a sharp turn.  A hundred years of abstraction have taught us that the painting is an artifact. We have come to appreciate the power of composition and we are less likely to be manipulated by the sentimental intentions of Sunday painters.

In walks Elaine C. with her photos of Tahiti.  Breathtaking, if you imagine what it must have been like to be there.  We spread out these wonderful photos and looked in amazement and a little envy.  But the task at hand was to stop gasping and set to work on making a painting!  Lo and behold, in her display of 4 x 6 photos, there was this one, where the clouds and the mountain range had gotten together that magical romantic evening in Tahiti to form the wildest, most dynamic composition possible: the Z.  It’s quite uncanny.  It’s this rigorous geometry that rescues the composition from the sobs and sighs of sentimentality.  The work on this painting (16 x 20) was difficult and time consuming because the artist/student had to reconcile two opposites:  the amorphous, soft form of clouds and the distinct zig-zag of the overall composition.

In the Tahiti photo, the bottom of the frame shows a body of water, but in the painting this sliver becomes  an expanse of green meadow—for the sake of color.  We can do that because we’re painters.

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Artists who work from the figure talk a lot about “gesture.”  When you’re “getting the gesture down,”  you’re talking about putting life into your drawing of the figure.  Life-vitality-movement- dynamic-drama—hey, even attitude.  This is not something that comes later, with a touch here or there.  This vital quality has to be in the very first strokes you put on paper.  In other words, you have to grasp the gist of the pose at a glance.  Psychologists have a word for it: “Gestalt.”  When you see the Gestalt of something, you see the whole thing, you don’t scan bit by bit.  Rather amazing, when you think about it.  We do this all the time, when we recognize a face, for example, or when we recognize a person in the distance by his gait.

If seeing in the Gestalt mode is such a natural part of our everyday perception, what’s the big deal?  Why would we have to make a special study of it in drawing class?  The short answer is, I dunno.  All I can say is that when we start to draw something or somebody we are seduced by details.  This seems to be a universal experience.  The beginning drawing student inevitably wants to draw some detail, like the eye, the lips, the ear, or that luscious waive of hair over the forehead there.  Part of my job as a teacher is to dream up exercises that get the student to see the whole ball-o-wax, to grasp the gist of the gesture.

In drawing class today, we faced this gesture challenge, yet again.  Looking at magazine photos, the student had to get the gist of the pose down in a few sweeping, rough lines.  This involved proportions, of course.  Seeing this way can be disconcerting at first.  It takes practice.

Here’s a page by Karen G.  Notice the literalness in drawing #1. It’s correct, but rather stiff and lifeless.  In #2 she went for the gesture in just  a few lines.  Wow!  It’s all there!  Then, repeating those gestural lines, she developed the drawing further in #3.  The crossed-over leg is too long, anatomically speaking, but it doesn’t matter because the vitality in the figure triumphs over anatomical correctness.

This page, just three drawings,  documents progress in seeing.

Have I mentioned…this takes practice.  But the models to work from are all around you: open a magazine.  See? there’s no excuse.

Below, two more drawings and “models” from today’s class:  Linne D. and Vera C.   Top, a page of  studies I did while sitting next to students and drawing along with them.

Click on images to enlarge.

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The Stabilo pencil is aquarellable.  That means water-soluble.  After I have some lines down, I like to make them bleed by running a water-loaded brush along them.  In that process, the brush will pick up some pigment, allowing me to continue sketching with a very pale wet line.  If I go over or through those wet lines with the Stabilo pencil it will produce a very gritty and unpredictable effect.  This is risky, but therein lies the pleasure of drawing like this.

The paper I use, as mentioned before in this blog, has a gloss finish, meaning the water puddles on the surface without seeping in.  The technique does not allow for erasing, but since the pigment is suspended on the surface, it can be pushed around, up to a point, within limits.

Sometimes I start the drawing with a clean watery brush, sketching out the main thrust of the gesture.  Then, quickly, while these lines are still soppy, I start working with the Stabilo pencil.  The water makes everything unpredictable. The head with braid (left) resulted from this quick, impulsive way of working,   Anatomical accuracy and likeness of the model are, of course, lost.  But instead, we gain what  we might call expressiveness, a sense of urgency and a feeling for the complexity of the human condition.

Top: Ten one-minute poses. Bottom: Foreshortened figure, and Reclining figure. Each, a 10-15 minute pose.

(Click to enlarge)

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John Marin (1870-1954) painted his courageous watercolors in New York and Maine.  I always think of the moders as courageous because they were born into the staid, cluttered, dusty, repressed mores and fearful aesthetics of Victorianism and managed to break the bars of that cage.  They thumbed their noses at stiff conventions and instead duked it out with the energy of the internal combustion engine, the theory of relativity and the adventure of self-awareness.  John Marin rescued watercolor from the lace-fringed hands of genteel ladies and from the “it’s only a preliminary sketch” bin.  In his hands, watercolor becomes wild and impulsive.  His sturdy, rugged watercolor paper looks like a building material and it allows him to drag his wide brush so that the effect is rugged and rushed.  No time for pretty, for making nice.  This new, modern life offered too many possibilities, too many things to explore and understand.  If, while looking at Marin’s watercolors, you start humming George Gershwin, that’s only appropriate.  That hustle-bustle of Fifth and 42nd is right there in Marin’s urgent blobs and dashes.  In his mid-30’s he moved to Main and studied the sea with the same energetic eye.

This Sunday, the 17th, will be the last day to catch the John Marin show at the Art Institute.  I’m going to see this show again, for the third time, in a couple of days.  It’s a Must See. Postpone whatever you need to, but go see the John Marin watercolors…through the glass doors, past the Buddha, on the left….ahhhh….

Shown above:  The Red Sun—Brooklyn Bridge, 1922

http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/3507159-452/story.html

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