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Archive for the ‘literalness’ Category

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In 2002 the photographer Barbara Bordnick published “Searchings. Secret Landscapes of Flowers.”  In this large-format book, the close-up photos of flowers measure 10”x14.” They are astonishing. You know it’s a flower and the flower’s name is given.  At the same time you are obviously looking at something other than a little flower–you’re imagining landscape formations or some atmospheric effect.

Georgia O’Keefe, famous for her huge paintings of flowers said, “If you look, really look at a flower, it becomes your world.”

These flower photos make excellent subjects to work from, to practice drawing fluid lines and the shading of round forms.

Here’s a student work in graphite, about 12”x18.”

FlowerLarge

When the color photo is Xeroxed in black/white, it’s easier for the student to see the tonal values, since part of the work has already been done by eliminating color.

CloseUp3BWdrama600

The book is easy to get online and it’s inexpensive. You can also find some of these flower images at

https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk02oupxlpD-j3izaofSkMqzO847GNQ:1593207610303&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=barbara+bordnick+flowers&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi1j6ntuKDqAhVFOs0KHQzqA2sQ7Al6BAgCEB0&biw=1536&bih=848

SearchingsBarbaraBordnick_

 

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

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This painting by Oskar Kokoschka leads you to guess that the flowers might be Black Eyed Susan, Delphinium and Hedge Rose. But you’re not likely to insist on botanical precision.  The painting tells you right away, at first glance, that this is not about illustration.  You know that walking up to it, so that you could study the flowers at close range with your nose almost touching, will not reward you with botanical details.

The reason you know that is because you recognize it as a modern painting. The closer you look at a modern painting, the less detail you get.

Now look at an 18th century painting. This portrait must have pleased the uniformed sitter because it documented not only his smooth features but also his elevated social class:  he could afford to pay someone to do mind-numbing meticulous work.

Notice that the close-up gives you details, ermmm, submissively fussed-over details.  This, to the modern sensibility, is lifeless.  When you look at this, do you feel…confined?

 

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980).  Blumenstillleben, 1959, oil on canvas, 89cm x 70 cm

Jean Baptist Lampi the Younger. “Daniel Mecséy de Tsoor ( 1759-1823),  oil on canvas 112x91cm.

 

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

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Notice the smooth broad strokes in the objects on the table and in the table edge itself.  This effect is created by using the broad side of a graphite stick, not the tip.  With one well-placed stroke the artist can state the whole shadow of a round form, as in these fruits and a little less so in the cup.  It’s an elegant, classical technique. Notice also, that the contours of the objects are partly given with bold lines (at the bottom) and partly by having the background push against the form (at the top), a contrast that adds drama and three-dimensionality to the form, as we’ve seen earlier.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-mug-and-knife-1/

As for the background, if you review the three drawings we’ve studied so far, you’ll notice that they all have backgrounds that don’t go to the edge of the page and in that sense they make the drawing look unfinished.  You can see that in this drawing, too.

Whether a work is called finished or unfinished is a touchy subject. Who makes that call?  It’s a function of expectation, isn’t it?  Now, why would you expect that dark, agitated markmaking in the background to go to the left edge?  If it did, you would call that finished.  But, this “unfinished” left side has tension and mystery.  I, for one, love the suspense.  It draws me in, as if I were looking over the artist’s shoulders, entering his process.

What about the cup?  As in the previous drawing, the cup is not as convincing as the peaches and pear.  Once again, we’re looking at the ellipse. The cup swings a lively ellipse, but it deviates from your expectation of symmetry.  Can you therefore call it “imperfect,” or even “bad?” What if you just exhaled and allowed yourself to be amused?  As with the “incompletion” in the background, you are invited to enter the process.

Process is a central concept in modern art.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the cup, I invite you to look at the following pottery pieces.

https://www.google.com/search?q=irregular+shaped+pottery&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwi0_LzimbbpAhUN9qwKHeMXAZ0Q2-cCegQIABAA&oq=irregular+shaped+pottery&gs_lcp=CgNpbWcQA1CBpgFYx7kBYO3MAWgAcAB4AIABXYgB2ASSAQE3mAEAoAEBqgELZ3dzLXdpei1pbWc&sclient=img&ei=jbe-XvSBMI3sswXjr4ToCQ&bih=808&biw=1425

Since clay work is so very tactile, it will be easy to empathize with the physicality of its process.  Practice seeing clay that way, then perhaps seeing a drawing in its physicality will become easier.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-2/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-3/

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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A drawing can go through many stages of development. The artist may not aim for mimesis or may not have a particular style in mind at all.  The artist may try one kind of markmaking here and another style  there.  The drawing may develop with a progression from dark to light or various degrees of precision.

The drawing can be called complete even though it contains visual contradictions.  Let’s look at contradictions.

In the above drawing, the markmaking in A is vibrant and lively. The background to the objects on the table seems to shimmer. In B the markmaking is the opposite, it’s mechanical and tight.  This dense, dark stripe representing the table appears to have been made by a different hand, in a very different mood. The contrast between A and B does not add drama to the image as a whole. Rather, it looks arbitrary and therefore the drawing feels unresolved.

In modern art we often find contrasts, inconsistencies and contradictions that are witty.  Consider the following two examples.

The hand fits perfectly over the face, as when a woman is surprised or embarrassed. But hand and face are from different worlds, different contexts.  So they fit together in one sense, but are mismatched in another.  We smile at this surprising juxtaposition.

 

Collage, a quintessentially modern art form, lends itself very well to creating contradictions and witty juxtaposition.

 

 

It’s easy to play with photographs by collaging together disparate elements.

Place a cassette over a face and, voila, the two holes will read like eyes. As moderns we know that all images, symbols and myths are human inventions and so we chuckle when we see the invention process being made so obvious.

 

 

 

 

Back to the class drawing of the still-life.   This student/artist gives us a very credible rendering of reflected light and deep shadow of the cup at C.  As in the previous drawing, the ellipse is not “swinging” but is drawn slowly and carefully and therefore it falls flat.  Practice. Practice. Practice

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

We will talk some more about this cup and the demanding but swinging ellipse in the next posts.

More at:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/plug-by-the-sea-side/

Aphrodite by seph

Videotape Eyes by Rebecca DiLiberto.

 

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

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Our studio at the Evanston Art Center faces south. Needless to say, we greet an overcast sky with a sigh of relief. On a sunny morning, we pull the shades.

When the shades are pulled, the sun coming through the cracks creates a dramatic pattern on the floor. Now, you can ignore that, seeing it as literally what it is, the sun coming through the cracks.

But you can also go into exercise mode.  You can switch your perceptual apparatus to seeing the whole picture.  Instead of labeling what you see (floor, light, people, easels),  you can flatten what’s hitting your retina.  Yes, flatten.  It’s what you do when you paint an object (three-dimensional) on a canvas (two-dimensional).  You create a composition on a flat surface.

Well, you can also do that as a composition exercise—whenever and wherever you are.  As a further aid, there’s your phone camera. You’re never without it. The camera flattens everything you point at into a two-dimensional composition.  Thank you, Mr. Gates, Mr. Jobs, et.al.  You’re never without the opportunity to see at this more conscious level.

What’s extra wonderful about those light strips on the floor is that they appear as the most striking, most important thing in the composition.  They read as positive space.  Ha, gotcha.  It’s always thrilling when your expectations are overturned.  Negative space reads like positive space.  And people, who normally count as positive space, are relegated to the shadowy part of the background.

You may now slide that insight into the light of day.

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

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The shapes and colors in this painting are so simple and straight forward that your first impulse may be to label what you’re seeing.  What is being depicted here?  What is the artist trying to tell me?  Must be something or else there would be more ambiguity, right?  But notice that your efforts to interpret along these lines (lines !) fail. Granted, someone in class saw a black terrier.  Now suppose you take that suggestion and think of the painting as being a depiction of a black terrier.  Try. This will last you a second and then fizz away.

Imagine these shapes in soft pastel colors.  You can even imagine them outlined in neat bold lines.  What happens in your mind?  Nothing.

The effect of this painting relies on high contrast colors. Because of the high contrast, you expect a statement. Your expectation is not fulfilled. Instead you see blocks of color applied with a pallet knife, leaving raggedy edges.  Therein lies your pleasure in looking at this.

Painting in acylic, 36”x36,” by Janice Fleckman

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

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How can something so wrong be so right?

Because you enjoy looking at this drawing you may not immediately see that the shadows are all wrong. How are the shadows wrong?  Can those horizontal scratches even be called shadows?  No, they’re not shadows in the sense that they help define the roundness of the figures.  Yes, they evoke the idea of a shadow.

When you’re looking at this, the “shadows” trigger in your mind the association to three-dimensionality and that’s so satisfying to you that you don’t look more critically.  You don’t even want to look critically because your mind is seduced by the rhythm of the composition.  Those “shadows” emphasize the rhythm. Rhythm in any work of art is hypnotic.  Your mind likes the hypnotic state.

Compare the above, second, drawing of this motif to the artist’s first version.  Your mind is now functioning differently.  It’s now

examining the figures for literal accuracy.  A drawing tells you how it wants to be looked at.  This drawing wants to be looked at as an illustration.

Now go back to the “shadows” version and you’ll notice that your mind has just switched to a different mode.  Your expectations are different. You’re not looking for an illustration of anatomy here. Instead you’re struck by the total effect.  You’re not analyzing, you’re experiencing the whole.  You’re having an aesthetic experience.

Drawings by Jeanne Mueller

The photo we worked with was taken from a book of old photos called “The Way We Were.”

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

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/a-good-pout-and-strong-shadows/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/scribble-for-life/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/how-it-sits-on-the-page/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/drawing-sculpture/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/ptolemy-in-ulm/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/take-the-a-frame/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/vanitas-flip/

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I16novleanphoto encourage my students to draw the whole figure rather than one anatomical part at a time.  Drawing the whole figure right from the start means scribbling and making quick adjustments when you notice that what you’ve put down on paper doesn’t hang together. Scribbling is messy.  Now, remember when you were in third grade and your teacher encouraged you to be messy?  No, you don’t, of course not.  This veneration of neatness that’s taught so early is hard to overcome.  But you can’t make art worshiping in that shrine.

16novleanclassdemo

The pose in the photo is so dramatic that if you approach it one bit at a time, you’ll inevitably make it stiff. When I introduced this photo in class I first did a demo drawing with everybody standing around me.  It took a couple of minutes and it’s a mess.  But you must admit, it isn’t stiff or boring.  It doesn’t pretend to be finished.  But I hope it conveys the excitement of the artist getting into the process.

Jeanne Mueller worked with the Aquarellable Pencil on gloss paper.

16novleanfinal

This means she was able to change lines and shadings by just swiping the paper with a damp paper towel.  Notice what major changes were made before she arrived at the finished drawing.  Notice also, how the invented background of stripes transforms the drawing from an illustration of a figure into a complete composition.

At right is the earlier, more literal  version of her drawing.20161110_145040

Jeanne Mueller, Aquarellable on gloss paper, 17” x 11”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/how-it-sits-on-the-page/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/drawing-sculpture/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/ptolemy-in-ulm/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/take-the-a-frame/

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

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www.katherinehilden.com

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16janbabel

You want to interpret this, don’t you?  It’s clearly something.  Your first impulse is to see something in the middle that is set on a black background.  It could be a monument with inscriptions.  It could be a building with wobbly sides.  You can keep on guessing, but whatever it is, it’s big.  This interpretation is odd, since there’s nothing in the image to compare it to, that would establish size.

You may even find this “structure” vaguely threatening.  But if your eyes drift to the edges of the painting, all illusion-bets are off.  At the edges you can see that what you’re looking at is paint brushed on a flat surface.  So you sigh with relief.  But then your attention immediately drifts back to “the thing” in the middle and the puzzle starts all over again.

If that weren’t enough, you can clearly see that the thing in the middle is not painted on top of the black, but the black impinges on the thing.  Therefore, you can’t really see this thing as the foreground, as the object of the painting.  Now what?  Can you call the black the foreground?  Oh, but that would be  so counter-intuitive.  Yes, indeed.  There’s no final answer.  That’s why you’re captivated by this painting.

Karen Gerrard, acrylic on canvas, 40” x 30”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/inventing-an-alphabet/

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

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celinefrown

The non plus ultra of drawing is the face. Well, maybe not of Drawing writ large, but almost certainly of drawing students. They approach the face more ferociously than anything else.  It has a way of talking back, you know.

Western Art is full of beautiful faces, meaning idealized faces. It’s hard for us not to be haunted by them: from the Venus de Milo to Botticelli’s Venus to Raphael’s insipid Madonnas to Michelangelo’s pouting Madonnas to Sargent’s celinefrownphotogossamer heiresses.  In the 19th century women started looking more interesting.  Think of Degas and Manet.

Imagine my delight at finding ads for Céline products (handbags, though you’d never guess) where young women, having left the house without running fingers through their shapeless hair and without bothering about makeup, scowl at us.  Take that! Now draw me and don’t make me pretty.

In this drawing by Maggy Shell, notice how powerful the eyes are even though no anatomy is indicated. No eyelid, no iris.  celinefrowneyeThis face & head study goes deeper than mere anatomy.  You understand the anatomy without seeing the face anatomically.  Instead, what intrigues you is the expression. With an uncanny economy of means the artist draws us into the mystery behind the face.

Maggy Shell, Céline Frown, charcoal on paper, ~16” x 14”

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

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

www.katherinehilden.com

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