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Archive for October, 2014

PicassoNudeDrapery
Drapery? Where? You mean those whitish-bluish triangles and trapezoids?
Picasso was twenty-six when he painted this. By the time he was fourteen, he had mastered the skill to create the illusion of drapery or any other illusion he might have felt like creating. There was big money in illusions in the 1890’s. But not for Picasso. With Picasso the illusion-achievements of the Renaissance come to an end. And that means, for one thing, drapery is dead. Finished.
The question is, do you have to master the Renaissance skills of drapery, anatomy and perspective to be an artist? The answer is “no,” but it’s an uncomfortable no. I’m uncomfortable about dismissing the value of drapery drawing/painting for two reasons. One is in the looking: drapery in an image draws the viewer in and focuses the mind like a labyrinth; more on this in the next post. The second reason is in the doing and for similar reasons: drawing drapery develops visual concentration since you are always drawing from the image in your mind; and it focuses the mind, resulting in the kind of high that comes from a)intense concentration on a limited problem and b) repetition of minutiae. This is drawing for the sheer pleasure of drawing, meaning the “high” you get from moving that pencil.

Drapery
This is my pencil drawing of some drapery I set up for a demo in drawing class last week. Students watched over DraperyGreenDemomy shoulders and asked questions. As I was drawing I explained the procedure. This 17”x11” page took about an hour. Without my talking, I estimate it would have taken less than a half hour. It looks so easy and the principles of light-shadow-reflected light are a piece o’cake.
But the doing takes practice. But, hey, it’s not like there’s ever nothing to draw. Look around you. Throw your coat over a chair, leave the dish towel on the kitchen counter, don’t make your bed—drapery drapery everywhere….
In “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the need and result of practice. He has made the 10,000 hour rule famous: to get good at anything takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice. That comes to 3 hours a day.

130207DilbertHoursPractice
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ReflectedLightCanYes, why is that? (Continued from previous post.)
The drawing of the cylinder in the class demo was about 2” high. Everybody stood around and watched how I did it and listened to the straight-forward explanation of how this works. It took 2-3 minutes. So quick, so easy. Students love the effect created by the Reflected Light. They understand how the effect is IMG_3988created. Then they set out to draw a still life that’s full of curved shapes that clearly invite practicing the shading illusion that involves reflected light—bowls, pears, drapery—and, look, IMG_3989they don’t bother with reflected light.
Something else happens in their drawings.
Why is that? I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to me. And the drawings they produce are fascinating. These are all interesting drawings and so IMG_3991MODERN! The markmaking in one reminds me of Cézanne. Another student draws as loosely as Matisse. The drawing with the suitcase hinge, playing on the opposition between line and surface, looks like a modern graphic.
The charcoal pencil drawing, below, shows that the IMG_3986artist certainly has the dexterity to play the
Reflected Light trick, but she chooses not to. She skips the hard won technique that reigned supreme for four-hundred years in Western Art and plunks herself down in the art-deco 1920’s, Leger1922right next to Leger. And behold, the pears look like pears and the bowl curves as you expect it to curve.
In a few weeks I’ll do the Reflected Light demo again. There will be oohs and aahs and eye-rolling admiration for Caravaggio. And then what? I won’t be surprised when I stroll through the classroom-studio and see drawings that honor Cézanne, Matisse and Leger. Dyed in the wool moderns, all. How did this happen? Don’t know. But it’s fascinating.

(Fernand Leger, 1881-1955)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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cvggo_dorm
By the middle of the 16th century the Protestant reformers were raging against Catholic dogma and inspiring their followers to ransack old churches, destroying stained glass windows, murals, paintings, statues, tapestries and candelabras. The Catholic hierarchy fought back and stood its ground. The battle of the Counter Reformation was so serious that the pope convened his cardinals intermittently for about twenty years. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) hammered out numerous dogmatic formulations and, interestingly for us, enlisted the Caravaggio-Crucifixion_of_Peter1arts in the fight. They declared that art should illustrate the dogmas and saints of the Catholic faith to the common people in an emotionally intense way.
The cardinals became very specific about how this end was to be achieved. They decreed that religious images were to be clear and dramatic, bodies were to be rendered to appear three-dimensional, physically real, emotionally intense, with vivid color and contrasts between light pauland dark–so as to draw the viewer emotionally into the scene and close to the biblical character being depicted. Appropriate and approved themes were: grandiose visions, ecstasies and conversions, martyrdom and death, intense light, and intense psychological moments.
Since, at the time, the pope and the clergy were the major commissioners of paintings, sculptures and other decorative objects, artists perfected their skills to conform to the church’s taste in art. The artists who opposed the church’s dictates were called the Mannerists, because they worked in the manner of the late Michelangelo, who as he matured (he died in 1564) became a skeptic about the faith he had been raised in. The Council of Trent’s decrees directly opposed the highly individual styles of the Mannerists.
What about Caravaggio? Caravaggio shared the church’s taste for high drama. Death, torture and falling off your horse were subjects he related to personally. To make these scenes emotional he painted the bodies (so much flesh!) and the drapery (so much drapery!) very convincingly, very three-dimensionally.
Well, now, class, how did he achieve these effects?
Everybody in unison: reflected light!
Verrry good. Everybody gets a gold star.

ReflectedLight
I do this demo on how to make a curved surface look convincingly three-dimensional , every term. People look over my shoulder as they unanimously pick out the cylinder that looks good and the one that is drawn wrong. Somebody brings up Caravaggio. Everybody loves Caravaggio, so amazing, and everybody knows that he was a master at reflected light and that reflected light is what did the trick for him.
Below, a passage from “The Death of the Virgin,” showing rims of reflected light, without which the shapes would look flat.

The-Death-of-the-Virgin-(detail)-1605-06Analysis
Now, you would think that all these Caravaggio-lovers would go home and practice drawing round objects, say an egg, a pear or an apple on their kitchen counter, using the reflected light trick. You would be wrong. Why is that?! Why do art students love the illusion created by Reflected Light, but don’t practice how to achieve it?!
(Btw, lest you think Caravaggio was a humble and obedient genuflector, he used a drowned prostitute as a model for the Madonna in this painting. Artists tend to be complicated characters.)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1571-1610
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com
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