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Archive for February, 2012

Strips of canvas, that’s all I presented to my drawing students.  I stretch my own canvas for my paintings and since the roll is 60 inches wide there’s always a scrap.  It’s beautiful, substantial stuff.  When you crinkle it a bit, it can conjure up a fantastic landscape. Or it can stimulate abstract seeing. Or it can bring out new ways to use the drawing tools for the sheer pleasure of drawing.  Facing drapery in a drawing class can be daunting, but it can also be quite liberating since you’re not obliged to get the proportions right.  You can stretch and compress, edit, omit and relocate folds and crevices to please yourself.  The imagination takes over.  Yeah!

Above, drawing in pencil by Karen G., about 9” x 12”

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The filmmaker Raúl Ruiz says that in telling a story, the story doesn’t come first.  Nor the concept.  What comes first is an image and then another image and another and out of these images a narrative emerges.  He adds that this is not a principle for everyone but this is his working theory.  (If you haven’t seen any of Ruiz’s films, you may want to start with Klimt, 2006.)

The English philosopher Roger Scruton, whose conservatism is as unappealing to me as his name, has a worthwhile insight into the process of art making:  “Expression is not so much a matter of finding the symbol for a subjective feeling, as of coming to know, through the act of expression, just what the feeling is.  Expression is part of the realization of the inner life, the making intelligible what is otherwise ineffable and confused.  An artist who could already identify the feeling which he sought to express might indeed approach his work in the spirit of a craftsman, applying some body of techniques which tell him what he must do to express that particular feeling.  But then he would not need those techniques, for if he can identify the feeling it is because he has already expressed it. Expression is not, therefore, an activity whose goal can be defined prior to its achievement. “  (The Aesthetics of Architecture, p.7)

Above, a large painting in progress in my Impressions of Landscape class, by Peter H.

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In my drawing class I like to sit next to individual students and draw along with them.  Sometimes students want to be left alone, but most of the time this drawing-along is welcome.  I enjoy this immensely since I love to draw.  I hear (from students) that this practice of mine is rare, that most art teachers don’t do this. Can’t imagine why.  Anyway, here are a couple of recent pages from my drawing-along habit in class.

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It can get hard.

You loved the colors and shapes in your sketch—in this case, a collage—and then it turns out that the painting process throws all sorts of hurdles in your path.

Caryl C. took her inspiration for this painting from a snippet of collage, about three inches long.  She transferred it to a canvas, four feet long.  Anybody who has ever chosen a color swatch for a bedroom wall knows that we react very differently to a small patch of color than we do to the same color in a large area. When 3 inches are expanded to 4 feet, this changed color perception is magnified accordingly. The act of painting is never just a matter of transferring shapes and colors from a small sketch.  Strange things happen when you paint.  The painting can take off on its own, especially as in this case, when it’s abstract.  You can get to an impasse, where you can neither hold on to your initial concept nor see clearly where you’re going.

At this point, you can regain your bearing if you reverse the process:  you sit down with a sketch pad and you sketch the painting in its present stage—as if it were a view out the window or a still life set up on a table.  This time out can help you see it fresh.

Painting is an adventure.  We’ll see where it takes Caryl.  The adventure can take a few hours, or weeks or months. Years.

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This drawing by Linné  D. comes out of the ol’ drapery-with-sphere in a still life setup.

We again have the dynamic of the sphere and the zig-zag discussed in the previous post.  Anyone who followed that discussion can spot it here immediately, though here the zig-zag does not trace the hem of the drapery.  Here the zig-zag is on its own.

This drawing presupposes a new way of seeing.  It does not pretend to document any of the things piled on a table in a drawing class.  The artist’s mind was certainly inspired by what he saw, but he took the leap into abstraction.  And a leap it is.  He didn’t “abstract” the drapery, finding it’s “essence.”  This drawing is not about drapery at all, it seems to me.  It’s about the play of forms on a page.

We have a repetition of shapes, two of them indicated here in green.  The sphere commands the center and all around it are pointing shapes, some in, some out.  Numbers 1 and 4 point out, 3 points in,  the negative space under 3 points up, 2 points out and down.  These shapes push and invade the adjacent space.  All these pointing shapes agitate the atmosphere around our serene, self-centered sphere.  But at the same time the agitation seems harmonious due to the echoing of the shapes.  Quite a feat!  The most astonishing thing about this page, however, is its daring unbalance.  Most of the pencil work is on the left side, indicated by the rectangle at #6.  That’s where we have the density that comes from shading and, in fact, the mighty sphere.  What’s on the right to balance all that?   One line!   The line at #5 commands the space on the right.  It has the authority and force of a lever that might just shake up the whole thing.  Amazing.

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In this table full of drapery, pottery, apples, spheres and the mighty amaryllis (see previous two posts) there was a well-lit part with a red sphere and some zig-zag drapery.  Gabrielle E. chose this passage, outlined in green, at right.

Her drawing shows powerful compositional elements.

1) The sphere at #3 is in the middle and threatens to dominate the whole page, simply because it’s a perfect circle, the most focused geometrical shape we have.  It has only one dimension and traps the eye in its centripetal force. Notice that the artist does not outline it with a continuous line and does not overstate the shading, thereby allowing the eye to escape to other parts of the drawing.

2) The almighty sphere finds its comeuppance in the zig-zag at #2.  The zig-zag, I would argue, holds its own even next to a sphere.  Wow, here we have a pile of stuff that, to the non-artist, must surely look boring, with the juxtaposition of these two dynamite shapes.  Notice, that the zig-zag is clearly, emphatically drawn.

3) Both the sphere and the zig-zag are highlighted by the empty space at #1.  This is a concave form, pushing upward…to the sphere.

4) The last stage of the drawing was putting in #4.  The area at #5 was faintly sketched in and the drawing didn’t know where to go next.  The bottom, with sphere, zig-zag and concave space, was so powerful, that it needed some upward swing.  The bowl in the still life set up on the table was way up and the drawing paper didn’t have that kind of space.  You know, the wonderful thing about drapery is that you can fudge it.  The artist summoned her courage and simply brought the bowl down, along with a bit of triangular drapery.

Now, back to the sphere.  The sphere is the star of the show, but it doesn’t swagger, glitter or make an acceptance speech.  On the bottom of the drawing, it gets the fanfare from the zig-zag and the concave space.  But now, with the bowl at #4 it has an echo because the bowl it also round, only an ellipse, but still in the round family.  The eye, therefore goes back and forth between these two round forms.  For a while…and then we’re back in the force field of zig-zag and concave.  And on and on.  You just want to look at this thing.

By the way, this is a no-fault drawing, done in china marker on fairly high paper (meaning textured)—no erasing possible, no corrections of any kind.  A bravura performance!!

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

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