Archive for November 27th, 2011

In the 19th century and until the middle of the 20th century, art students spent an enormous amount of time drawing from plaster casts. Art schools had store rooms full of life-size replicas of the classics, from Myron’s discus-thrower, to Michelangelo’s Medici Tomb figures.  There were also casts of individual body parts, like eyes and feet.  The art student copied these and tried to achieve a technique with shading so subtle that the drawing looked like a photograph.  We don’t teach that way anymore, for two reasons:  1) photography (invented in the 1830’s) can do it better; and 2) students would refuse, like, this is sooooo booooring and who wants to become, like, a technician anyway.  True, if you spend all your time drawing to create illusions of photos you will, indeed, become a technician.  So, let’s not go there.

In my class room we don’t have plaster casts, but occasionally I give my students the opportunity to draw from photos of sculptures, specifically those of Michelangelo.  Working from photos is easier than working from the three-dimensional sculpture (or plaster cast) because the photo is already two-dimensional.  But it’s also harder because you have to visualize the three-dimensionality of the shape you’re drawing. And that is precisely why the exercise is so good.  You’re not just duplicating dark and light areas as seen on the photo, you have to internalize the shape and then draw from that image in your mind.  The exercise teaches you to see “in the mind’s eye,”  the eye you need to cultivate in order to draw.

Michelangelo’s Medici Madonna

Michelangelo’s Dawn from the Medici tomb

Drawings by Danielle and Linné D.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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