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Archive for May, 2012

Up-Side-Down drawing is counter-intuitive. It’s crazy. It’s crazier than you think.

If I ask you, a beginning drawing student, to draw the complex figures in this Caravaggio painting, you’ll give me a blank stare that says “are you kidding!”  Too many bodies, too many limbs, hands, faces…and all that anatomy and all that overlapping…no way.

Now, if I ask you to duplicate this drawing (right), you’ll hesitate, because it’s also a pile of complex anatomical forms. But at least, the clear lines make the prospect approachable.

(I made the drawing while looking at the Caravaggio painting in a book, positioned up-side-down.  I used a marker, without corrections.)

If I turn the drawing up-side-down and ask you to duplicate it, you’ll just think I’m crazy, but you’ll definitely see that this is doable.  The reason is simple:  now you’re not looking at anatomy, you’re looking at lines and funny spaces created by the lines. You’re glad your family isn’t in the room to talk you out of this, as well they might.  You came here to learn how to draw, after all, not put some nonsense on the paper.  You start.  You get into it.  Your mind goes into visual.  Wow, this is wonderful, you can do it.  You turn it over after a half hour.  There it is, something you could not have done drawing right-side-up.  Amazing?  I told you so.

Not only that, the drawing you will do right after this exercise will be easy.  You’ll see so much more clearly than if you hadn’t done that crazy up-side-down thing.

Here’s proof, students’ drawings from that class. These were done from photos of Michelangelo sculptures, Roman heads and magazine clippings.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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I worked with Utrecht marker on gloss paper, very fast.  The twisting of the feet and the weight-bearing shoulder had potential for development, but not in this medium, which does not allow for nuances. In markers, it’s all or nothing.  The figure as a whole can be seen as a diagonal line, not very interesting by itself.  Should I give up on this drawing?  Giving up teaches you nothing.  I prefer to dig in and see how a little nothing can serve as a point of departure for an exploration.  The figure invited some kind of counterpoint.  Earlier in the class I had given a demo on how various markers behave and so I just reached for some of my brighter markers and created a context for this languid,  passive, pretty boring figure.

Notice what happens with the addition of color in the “background.”

1. The abstract, freely invented background affects the way we interpret the figure. The figure, rather crudely drawn if regarded by itself, now can be read as an abstract design, a play on lines.  But it’s still a nude, with all the psychological and existential pull of that motif.

2. Enter the power of color.  The figure is a white empty space and the so-called negative space or “ground” –because of its vivid, stained-glass colors–now pulls our attention.  You get a tug, a dynamic, call it what you like, it’s the experience that counts.  And what you experience, going back and forth between figure and ground, is the whole image. That’s a paradox and when you’re inhabiting that paradox, you have what you can call an aesthetic experience.

This exercise illustrates the tremendous emotional pull of color.  If you put a scribble in pencil on paper, the scribble would have to dance in a most cultivated gesture to affect the viewer.  But if you take a bright marker and scribble any ol’ clumsy mess on the paper, it will have appeal—simply by virtue of the power of color in itself.

This goes a long way towards explaining why drawing classes are small and painting classes pull in a larger registration.  Drawing is harder.  The only tool you have to work with is a black line. Now, do something with that.  This assignment can be rather austere. You have to stick with it to cultivate your hand and eye.  Whereas, with color, the medium itself makes you sigh, ahhh, how beautiful, I love that color.  Add to that the comfort-food gooiness of the paint, and you’re seduced.  It’s deceptive, though.  If you rely on the power of color alone, you’ll produce sentimental stuff and we’ve seen too much of that, haven’t we.  You  do need to draw.  And once you do, you’ll experience the seductive power of the pencil line.  Or the marker line, or charcoal, or pen, or whatever you want to make a mark with.

Back to the drawing board!  Drawing is, so to speak, the bottom line.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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Drapery got interesting about the same time that flesh got interesting.  To paint, that is.  Probably around the middle of the 15th century, when oil painting was invented.  Jan Van Eyck is often credited with this invention, but there’s no proof.  Anyway, oil painting, with its slow drying time, made blending and shading in infinite nuances possible.  Painting flesh and drapery is all about nuances, creating the illusion of roundness with infinite variety.

When I plan on giving a demo on drawing drapery, I bring in some art books to illustrate where we come from (#1 in the class photo):  drapery as rendered in byzantine art, then in 12th century, and then in the 16th and 17th century when drapery came into its own.  In Caravaggio (d.1610)  and Van Dyck  (d.1641) you can see that drapery was a joy to paint and that it serves an important expressive function.  In this Caravaggio tableau, the red drapery at the top is pure invention, ridiculous in a way, if you’re literal minded, but he clearly uses it to add vitality to the dreary scene.

The demo is done on the brown paper (#2) with thick charcoal to illustrate how light behaves on a round object.  Then I sit next to individual students and draw along with them, addressing their particular questions and stumbling blocks. One student went from I-don’t-get-it to wow! (Heather’s is the first of the student drawings shown below.)

The still life, a humble pile of white cloth and some drab pottery (#3), inspires the students and challenges them to create a lively illusion of billowing forms.

(Click images for enlargements.)————————————————————————–

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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André Carrilho, in his late 30’s, is a caricaturist of the highest order. He’s Portuguese, lives in Lisbon, where he’s a national treasure.  His work frequently appears in The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.  His daring is breathtaking.  There are no clichés in his work.  Every drawing I’ve ever seen by him has made me jealous:  I wish I had done that.

His work deserves close study, his gestures, his radical departure from anatomy, his mixture of drawing techniques, his psychological insights.

For now I just want to focus on the fact that he frequently dismisses the eye as the carrier of expression.  Rudolph Giuliani, for example (above), doesn’t have any eyes, just a darkish smudge.  To pull this off, you have to be very advanced in your art.  Go to http://www.andrecarrilho.com/ and immerse yourself in this work.  But be warned, you may lose track of time, miss your train, quit your job, and neglect your household chores.

Funny thing about the eye, the “window to the soul.”  That expression probably can be traced to Moroccan bazaars, where haggling over the price of a rug was made easier if you were so close to the other guy that you could see the involuntary twitch in his pupils every time he lied to you.  In general, I think, soul-talk is obfuscation.  The “soul” in art doesn’t just have a window here and there, but is more like a drafty place, a wide open canyon.

Imagine my delight as I’m looking at store mannequins and find that they have no eyes.  Where does this come from?  What happened to “the window to the soul?”   Is Maybelline suing?  Is this inspired by André Carrilho?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  The Art of Caricature is not silly or trivial at all.  It’s the brain’s preferred way of seeing.  Simplify, simplify.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

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I’ll be teaching a 5-week course on The Art of Caricature this summer at the Evanston Art Center.  The class will be held on Thursday evenings from 7 – 9 p.m.,  starting June 14.  Due to an email glitch, the class is not listed in the printed summer catalog, but it will be listed online at www.evanstonartcenter.org

Here’s the blurb:  “For intermediate & advanced portrait artists.  Seeing through the “caricature lens” enables you to heighten your subject’s expression and will develop your personal style. A good caricature is a stronger likeness than a “realistic” portrait or even a photo. As you develop your ability to see in this new light, you can decide to what degree you want to “tweak” the features and still maintain the likeness. The notebooks of some of our great artists (Leonardo, Picasso) reveal that they were, at heart, caricaturists. This course broadens the view of a much-misunderstood art. The class is set-up so that students can see the instructor’s drawing as it emerges, step by step. “

That last part is important.  I tack a long sheet of brown paper on the wall and draw with black markers so that everybody can see.  Every student will have an 8½ x 11 printout of the face we’re working on and I will have the same face taped to my brown drawing paper on the wall.  We go at it.  How do you look at this?  What feature will you push and pull?  How do you enhance the expression? All this, while keeping the likeness.  In fact, the likeness will be enhanced by our pushing and pulling. A good caricature looks more like the person than a photograph.   It’s fascinating.  I will also sit next to individual students and draw along with them.  I provide the copies of the faces but students can also bring in their own choices.  Hmmm, friends and family. Of course, the  class is fun, but it’s also serious work and very challenging.

The number at the Evanston Art Center is 847-475-5300

(To see my caricatures of political and cultural luminaries: http://facefame.wordpress.  You’ll find the above caricatures of John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates  in that blog.

The photos from an actual Art of Caricature class were taken at the Indianapolis Art Center, summer 2010, where I gave a weekend intensive to some very enthusiastic students/artists.)

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

https://artamaze.wordpress.com

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Once again, I talked about the so-called negative space.  I had set up a still life consisting of a white plastic chair, tilted on a little prop, against a red back ground. The assignment was to draw the chair (the so-called positive space) by not drawing it at all, but instead by drawing the non-chair spaces that make it possible for us to see the chair (the so-called negative space).  This works best when the object depicted is symmetrical,  readily identifiable and seen from a weird angle.  One student faced the chair from a symmetrical view and that drawing didn’t work.  But one new student, Alejandra, was positioned so that her view of the chair was askew.  Perfect.  She worked on 18 x 24 paper with pencil.  The page is riveting.  You just want to look at this apparition.  You see the chair by seeing everything that is non-chair.  The brain tingles.  Such a simple exercise, so easy to conceptualize, and yet so hard to “get.”  This is how art works.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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