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Archive for the ‘Life drawing’ Category

Pieter Lastman (1583-1633) is most famous, arguably, as having been the teacher of Rembrandt (1606-1663). Rembrandt was brought up Protestant, Lastman was Catholic. This is noteworthy because it shows that even in religiously torn Holland, people—artists, at least—still managed to respect each other.

The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century involved a lot of violence, for example, the destruction of stained glass windows, tapestries, paintings and statues in Catholic churches so that these stripped down buildings could then be converted to Protestant houses of worship. Holland became officially Protestant with Catholics being restricted to worshipping in private homes. How did this religious turmoil affect art and artists?  Drastically.   Painters, sculptors and craftsmen lost their primary client, the Catholic Church.

To work as an artist (to teach and to sell your work) you had to be a member of the Guild of St. Luke.  They met regularly and discussed art and business.  You can imagine these discussions when the big client was no longer there.  Paintings with religious themes were no longer being ordered.

Well, what about the genre called history painting? That was still popular. All the more so, since the shipping industry was booming, merchants were getting rich, built themselves huge houses and, ta-tah, needed paintings for their expansive walls. Given the religious-political climate, these had to lean towards the secular.

History painting gave the artist the opportunity to present edifying tableaus with figures, both clad and not-so-much, congregating in idyllic landscapes.  This required some acquaintance with Greek and biblical mythology. The owner of such paintings could throw a dinner party and feel cultured.

The Mauritshuis in The Hague recently acquired the Lastman painting we’re looking at here.  Their website offers a nice entry into the painting:

https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/explore/the-collection/pieter-lastman/

What fascinates me about this painting is the composition.  (No surprise to the reader who has followed this blog for even only a short time).

Shall we?

I’ve asked a couple of people what they see as the most prominent thing in this painting.  One said, the man on the left in that long red coat.  The other said, the huge man on the right, striking that showy pose on that too-small horse.  I agreed with them.  My attention was also drawn to these large figures – but only momentarily.   Then my focus landed in the middle and got stuck there.

Look! Lastman put a white circle smack-dab into the middle of his painting.  What was he thinking?!

If he had made that headband brown it would not stand out.  If he wanted it white but had made the background figure’s tunic light, then there would be no white circle to command our attention.  What was he thinking?

Not only is the white circle exactly in the middle, two diagonal lines (pink 3 and 4) lead directly to it.  Lastman contorts the figure along line 3 so that the leg line leads our eye directly to the white circle.  On the other side, along line 4, the woman’s garment is forced up to conform to a line that leads to the white circle. And then it leads along the dog’s paws, perfectly.

What was he thinking?

The picture purports to illustrate John the Baptist preaching.  There he is.  You look at him because, well, because you’re supposed to.  The title of the painting tells you to.  Then your eye wanders to the more colorful, theatrical characters in the crowd and then, wham, there’s the circle in the middle.

This is not a photo.  Did he work at this carefully, deliberately constructed composition to create an effect in our minds?  But what would that be? Why would he want us to keep coming back to that white circle in the middle? Maybe he didn’t think about that.  Maybe it was a joke. Maybe he was jaded and cynical.

The painting measures only 24” x 36.” Twenty-seven people, a horse (or three) and a dog are crammed into that small frame. Maybe, as the article on the Mauritshuis page says, he wanted to show how well he could draw anatomy in difficult poses and from different angles. Maybe that was good enough. It was a living. The nouveau riches bought it.

His pupil, Rembrandt, created paintings with mystery and depth.  We stand before them, fall silent, are drawn into them. They pose questions that we cannot answer. They silence us. And we come back to Rembrandt’s paintings, drawings and etchings over and over, to be silenced.  We never say, maybe he was jaded and cynical.

More paintings by Lastman:

https://www.google.com/search?q=pieter+lastman&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=uVlE-pYGwlWo8M%253A%252CjZbTIFugtDKwJM%252C%252Fm%252F07hgdr&usg=AI4_-kSDtwmzQCXWf1jxlBs5IvYZWq-qjg&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiH1ZiRvbTgAhURTawKHe3RBkEQ_h0wDnoECAUQDg#imgrc=y5URQBjXaAGrAM

For paintings by Rembrandt, try:

https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=dytiXJnbKOrF_QbVi4mQCA&q=rembrandt+paintings&oq=rembrandt&gs_l=psy-ab.1.2.35i39j46i39j0l4j0i131j0i67.2927.4915..8996…0.0..0.179.1357.0j10……0….1..gws-wiz…..0..46j46i131j46i67.jqZ9b3kqCm8

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16novfigurestudies

In these figure studies the line searches its way through the body and along its contours.  Sometimes it gets lost or disoriented and in some passages it appears to be celebrating some assurance.  This is a sensitive, inspiring page because it reflects how the mind works: in and out of certainty.  In art-making the claim that you know what you’re doing is suspect. Images that come only out of know-how are always lifeless and feel unauthentic.  What we mean by “authentic” is hard to analyze, but the recognition is unmistakable.

Drawing by Gaby Edgerton, Aquarellabe on gloss paper, 11” x 17”

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ElChapoFriendDrawing

This person is powerful, authoritative and in control.  Not because of who she is (we don’t need to know) but because of how she sits.  More important than her pose is how the drawing sits on the page.  It’s the composition that conveys authority: the stable triangle.

The artist/student worked from a photo I had found in The New Yorker.

ElChapoFriend

This woman clearly wants to intimidate us with her stare, her full-frontal symmetry,  the loosely clasped hands ready to attack, the machismo in the spread legs and feet firmly planted for maximum balance.

Despite these theatrics, the photo doesn’t work.  She’s ridiculous. She wants to look tough but, look, she’s a shorty—those platform shoes!

QueenVictoriaLinesI know, Victoria, queen & empress, barely came up to five feet and Alexander, the so called Great, was a runt, but photographers, painters and sculptors had tricks to make them look grand anyway.

That trick is composition. The most authoritative and  stable compositional trick is the triangle. This is nothing new.  If you look at the dozens of madonnas that Rafael painted you will always find him squeezing the figures into a triangle.  Here are two examples.

RafaelMadonna2Lines Raphael3LinesYou can be sure that he started his drawings for the paintings by roughing in a triangle, just as I’ve done here in green.

For our exercise in class, working from that New Yorker photo (magnified on the Xerox machine), the students started with a tall triangle on their page. Way at the top, a short horizontal line marked the chin line.  A little farther down, a horizontal line marked the end of the torso which coincided with the knees.  The assignment then was to fit the sitting figure into that A-frame.

ElChapoFriendLines

In this drawing by Jeanne Mueller you can still see the lines of the A.  I encourage students to minimize erasing and to leave in preliminary outline and guide lines.

The drawing becomes powerful because of the composition.  Compositional thinking will free you from the temptation to obsess about details.  Notice that there’s no need to articulate  those staring eyes.  There’s no need for harsh outlines. The line quality is actually fleeting and open.  Look how asymmetrically the hair is drawn.  We don’t need any literalness or precision.  The power is in the composition.

Take the A-Frame and your drawing won’t derail.

RafaelMadonna1LinesRaphael, 1483-1520

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15Jan2a
In whatever drawing you’re working on, try darkening the outline (=contour) of the shapes arbitrarily. If it’s a figure, darken the outline of the forearm. See how that affects your perception 15Jan2bof depth. Or press your pencil down harder when you’re outlining one side of the face. Immerse yourself in how this feels.
In the drawing shown above, the artist indicates the upper arm with a heavy line, while the forearm is drawn faintly. We immediately get the sense that the upper arm is in shadow and the forearm catches the light. She achieves this effect without classical anatomical drawing, using gradations of shadow and reflected light. But you can see that her coarse use of lines is actually based on an understanding of anatomy.
Drawing by Gaby Edgerton, aquarellable pencil on gloss paper, 17”x11”
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FourNudesSpring15
For these two-minute life studies I worked with aquarellable pencil on gloss paper, 11x 17. Two minutes is enough time to work out some specific anatomical features. Compare these to the one-minute studies at https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/giacometti-and-me/.
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SixNudesSpring15
These are six one-minute poses. I work on gloss paper with a water-soluble pencil. Later (hours or days later), I like to take out the drawing and spend some time clarifying certain anatomical features, especially hands, and then giving the space between the figures some depth, very often blurring contours with a shred of damp paper towel. I’ve done this many times before with these pages of one-minute poses. I like the way the figures appear to emerge from and disappear into a mysterious atmosphere, as sort of mist. But today, on a whim, I flipped the drawing horizontally (in Photoshop)and this allowed me to see something new. Yes, they were appearing and disappearing in

SixNudesSpring15Flip

this mist, but now for the first time I saw how stressed these bodies are. They seem to be struggling. Their environment, this “mist,” seems to be grating against them. I didn’t see this in my original drawing.  Now that I’ve seen it in the left-right flip, I can also see it in the original.
I’m reminded of Giacometti’s drawings, whose figures are as brittle as their unaccommodating environment. In the sculptures, the environment has worn them down to a mere determined, persevering existence.

Giacometti1
In my drawing, the poses themselves may be exceptionally torqued and therefore they’ve inspired this existentialist interpretation. I’ll try to be on the lookout in future drawings. In any case, the Giacometti3left-right flip has once again demonstrated its usefulness.
Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966.
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TwoStudies
If I’d wanted to, I could have made an academically correct drawing with the proportions of the figure corresponding to what I actually saw. But I chose not to. More often than not, I choose to distort a little, trading anatomical correctness for statuesque drama. In this pose, about twelve minutes, I dramatized the figure to make it look as if seen from below, like a statue on a pedestal. The feet are big and the head is small. In other words, I foreshortened the figure. Why? It’s fun to see if you can achieve a certain effect by breaking the academic rules.
Then, during a seated pose, I got fascinated by the hands and the neck. I zoomed in for anatomical correctness. I repented, ha.
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