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Archive for the ‘Negative space’ Category

While we were analyzing Bellini’s Madonna of the Trees, someone in the class said, but these paintings were not made to be analyzed, they were made as objects of devotion.  That is true, but as artists we have to analyze how these objects of devotion were constructed.

You can see how strongly this drawing emphasizes the horizontal and vertical axes.  The drawing has conviction because of that.  In a weaker composition the psychological focal points would be the faces.  But here, without that easy emotional appeal, the drawing holds our attention by the force of that vertical and horizontal intersection.

It would be great to see Bellini’s sketches for this painting.  In the Renaissance, preliminary drawings for paintings and frescoes tend to be more energetic than the final product. It’s uncanny. The paintings will  look  16th century and the sketches will look modern.

The last element added in this sketch was the background scribble in the upper left, over the woman’s right shoulder.  I say “background,” but it’s no less important than any other scribble in the drawing.  I think those last lines, without representing anything or being part of the figures, make the drawing complete.

Without them, we would merely have an attempted illustration. With the “background scribble” we have a complete page, where, in the modern sense, positive and negative space are equally worth looking at.

Jeanne Mueller, graphite on paper, ~14” x 12”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/04/22/bellinis-pleasing-tricks/

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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.

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We have some Twachtmans at the Art Institute. They are snowy landscapes, often with a rivulet. Above, “Icebound.” White-white-white.  White in a painting can be daring because it tends to read like “nothing,” like blank canvas.  But that’s exactly what I find so exciting.

Then there’s this Twachtman at the Cincinnati Art Museum, “Springtime.”

 

I gasped. Can you see the brushstrokes suggesting those trees?  Brushstrokes like that don’t “just” happen.  But, of course, they did.  Just.

Twachtman was born in Cincinnati of German immigrant parents, then studied in Munich with Frank Duveneck, born in Covington, Kentucky also of German immigrant parents.

Read all about it!

https://www.wikiart.org/en/john-henry-twachtman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Twachtman

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1940.html

Duveneck was a dynamic teacher and artist. Twachtman found his love of white-white-white by himself.  Here’s Duveneck:

Read about  Duveneck:

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1258.html

http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?m=a&s=tu&aid=391

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

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This is the café in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The desirable spots near the window were all taken and I had to content myself with a small table against a wall. Oh, well. It was not a spot to be seen in but a spot from which to see.  You can practice seeing anywhere.  And behold, here I had a scene with back-lighting.

Back-lighting creates a stark lighting contrast.  It simplifies forms.  Dark-light.  Positive space-negative space.

The first image, above, illustrates a woman sitting on a bar stool, absorbed in her reading.  In the composition she is centrally situated and framed by the window in the background. The picture is about her and invites the viewer to wonder what kind of life she might have and what she would be reading.  The pitcher, more in the foreground, might nudge the interpretation towards trite symbolism.

The second image is more edgy. The woman is not central to the composition

anymore. She now occupies a small area to the left.  Most of the pictorial space, about two-thirds, consists of blocky rectangular planes. The woman is still the psychological focus, but these rectangular shapes not only dominate the pictorial surface but seem to impinge on her presence, with the top layer actually pushing against her face.  This tension and imbalance makes picture #2 more engaging than #1.

Now look what happens in #3.  At the center of the composition we have negative space —that is, nothing. It’s a narrow gap separating the human form from the rectangular.  Almost.  If the gap were uninterrupted, it wouldn’t be so interesting.  But the hand holding the booklet bridges the figure to the rectangular mass on the right. The back-lighting here separates foreground sharply from background, dark from light. Therefore, we are not invited to psychologize about the woman. Instead we’re free to roam through the composition, noticing gradations and transitions, alignments, contrasts and echoes.

The pitcher? Yes, it echoes the shape of the woman, but it doesn’t lead your imagination into the ol’ 19th century odalisque motif. It’s as flat a shape as the cross-section of the bar, thanks to the back-lighting.

And…that sliver of light between the bridge of the nose and the window frame.

My salad came. I slid my little Canon back into my pocket.  My seeing exercise might have taken thirty seconds.  It’s only when I had time to look at these three photos on my computer that I noticed these intricacies.  That’s another exercise in seeing.  Took, oh, better part of an afternoon.  The pleasure of seeing.

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

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17febbluedrip

This is a small painting, buy our class standards, ~20” x 20”.   Not only that, but the composition is rectilinear, which conveys stability. But it packs a punch, doesn’t it!

Notice that it was painted in more than one orientation.  You can see that those horizontal lines at upper left are drips that happened when the canvas was standing on what is now the right side.  And notice that the white does not look like unpainted canvas. It’s the white that makes the blue & yellow-orange so luminous.

Veronica Sax, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 20”

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

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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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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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