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Archive for the ‘Negative space’ Category

At first glance you may see a slap dash watercolor sketch, maybe a preparation for a painting.

Look again.  Take time to look.  Stay with it.

Two things will happen. One, you notice that he works with a very limited palette: blue, green and sepia with a touch of yellow.  Two, the white of the paper showing through serves to define shapes.

To see how brilliant this painting is, let’s mess with it.  Let’s imagine some passer-by looked over his shoulder and suggested he “cheer it up” by adding some bright colors.  Why not put in some flowers?  Like this…

Doesn’t work.  It’s a contemporary cliché to say bright colors cheer things up.  “ Brighten things up,” we say.  By demanding attention, bright colors spoil the overall effect and break up the composition.

Now, what about the composition.  It’s quite rigorous, actually.

Far from being a surface of daubs, this painting hangs together by calculated geometry.

Go back to the top and look at Sargent’s painting again.  Squint a little and eliminate the two figures and their straight-edged objects: books, easel, stool, and palette.  Now the waterfall and the foliage are hardly discernible and the painting really is a mess of daubs.

Watercolor is the most demanding painting medium.  You have to plan way ahead because corrections will gum up your surface.  To make the painting luminous—the desired effect—the white of the paper has to stay pristine.  Meaning, no corrections!

And negative space!  Notice how the painter’s right shoulder is indicated indirectly, by having the background push against its contour.  Ditto the book of the friend.  Find other examples.

This painting , btw, is from 1914.

John Singer Sargent,  1856-1925

Related posts about Sargent:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/john-singer-sargents-hands/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/the-pleasure-of-plein-air-painting-and-john-singer-sargent-again/

 

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

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PinesLake1

If the concept of negative space eludes you or you don’t quite see what the big deal about it is, consider this painting.  Notice how the lake pushes against the pine trees.  I don’t mean the actual lake, of course.  I mean the surface on the painting that represents the lake.

Notice how this technique flattens the 3-dimensional landscape into a 2-dimensional surface.  That sounds so banal, doesn’t it, and the word “flatten” sounds so blah.

But the visual thrill of this technique is undeniable.  Even after you have it figured out, your mind loves playing this game:  now it’s foreground, now it’s background.

PinesLake2

Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) excelled at this.  I’m grateful to him for making the modern way of seeing so accessible.

Why am I bringing up Fairfield Porter now?  Because of a bit of junk mail.  When I got the L.L.Bean catalog in the mail yesterday, I immediately thought of Porter.  At first glance I thought L.L.Bean, an East coast company,  was using one of his paintings on their cover. Was this a passage from a Fairfield Porter landscape?

LLBeanCatalog

Porter was born in Winnetka, Illinois.  He moved to the East coast to attend Harvard, then stayed and became a celebrated East coast painter. His influence in this painting on the catalog cover is undeniable.

Could the artist be from the East coast?  I looked for the fine print on the inside cover.  Yes.  The artist is Anne Ireland and the L.L.Bean cover painting, inspired by the Maine coast, is titled “Changing Weather.”

Moral of the story: 1) see if you can switch negative space to positive and 2) notice how interesting your junk mail is.

 

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

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Hoya1

Same plant.  More daring.

I call this view of the plant more daring because it’s not centered.

When the object of your gaze is not centered, you’re likely think it is…

not traditional

unbalanced

incomplete

unexpected

surprising

edgy

engaging

modern

Which of these stands out because it contains all the others?

If you say “modern” you might be running a gallery or ready to start one.

If you say “engaging”  your insight goes to the heart of the matter. Because the drawing is incomplete, unbalanced, surprising, etc, you sit up and pay attention. The viewer is challenged to participate in completing the view of the plant.  The art experience becomes a conversation.  That’s how we as moderns relate to art.

This drawing also says “incomplete.”  We see it as a work in progress.  That’s how we experience conversations when we’re in them.

For that reason we want to see the marks on paper as just that, marks on paper.  We can see that more marks may come.  Therefore we want to see the paper as paper with all the sense of potential that that implies: show the unmarked edges when you mat it.   See above.

The sharp edge of the mat, announcing this drawing is finished, conveys a misleading  feeling.  Do you agree?

Hoya1CleanMat

See also:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/16/just-a-plant/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/and-now-a-message-from-the-mat/

Drawing by Sunja Kim.  Graphite on paper, 18”x 12”

 

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

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Hoya2

You have a plant in your house.  Draw it.

It’s so ordinary.  And so interesting.

The light reflects differently from the leaves. Some leaves appear very dark; some almost vanish in the intense light.

Pay attention to the spaces between the leaves:  the distinction between positive and negative space evaporates.

You’re seeing shapes. Sit still in your quarantine room and see this play of shapes in front of you. Dark, light, dark, light.

Never seen anything like it before. No idea what this thing is called. Words fail you. Who needs words.  You are drawing.

Could it be, that intense focus is our greatest pleasure?

Hoya2

Drawing by Mary Shieldsmith.  Graphite on paper, 18” x 12”

 

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

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You’re visiting your dear friend Chelsea for tea and catching up.  Her house is as interesting and welcoming as always. You love the nuanced color combinations, the witty juxtaposition of antiques and glass-with-chrome and the good jazz coming from the far corner of the bookcase.  Then you notice a new art work.  It’s a still life nicely framed with a generous museum-grade 4” mat.

Two possibilities:

One, you’re taken aback, you don’t know what to say and you try not to stare. You think something has happened to dear Chelsea. She seems like her old self, speaks in complete sentences, with her usual intelligent sense of humor, shows interest in your life, remembers everything and converses as gracefully as always.  But what’s up with that drawing there?  It’s not finished!!!  How could she!  What kind of person frames an unfinished drawing!!  How irresponsible! Uncivilized! Disrespectful!  Better watch her closely.  Has she been drinking? Was she on something all these years you’ve known her and now suddenly she’s gone cold turkey?

Two, you’re thrilled, excited, inspired, uplifted and liberated by this incompletion. You and Chelsea smile quietly. No need for verbalizations, for explanations, for theories or for questions.  It’s all there. Conversation flows, cups tip and click.

Later, alone at home on your computer, you review the last few posts of the artamaze blog. You scroll down at the other drawings of this kitchen still life with peaches, pears and cup.  At the sight of every one of these drawings you jump up and shout out loud, “FRAME THAT!”

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/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-4/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/16/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-5/

 

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

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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.

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In the next few posts we will see drawings by six students. The motif was a still life showing everyday kitchen objects.   We were working from a photo of a famous painting by a famous 18th century French painter– to be introduced after you’ve seen all six student drawings.

I’m showing the drawings first because I would like you to not compare the drawings to anything. Let’s see if we can look at what’s actually there on the paper instead of “what it’s supposed to look like.”

At (1), energetic markmaking.  This area reads as the background and as such is supposed to be “nothing.” But notice that it pulsates, it’s agitated, which injects energy into the whole drawing.  Squint a little and try to imagine the drawing without that “background.” Imagine it white. Blah.  Now imagine it solid, flat black, without the texture of the markmaking. Blah. There, you see.

At (2) the shape of the pear is articulated not by an outline, but by the background pushing against the contour and thereby indicating the shape of the pear.  This is an advanced, a subtle way of seeing. A simple, beginner way of seeing is to draw a heavy line to delineate the object.  What we have here instead is the complexity of seeing the interaction of foreground and background.

The articulation of the round form at (3) is accomplished by a contour line (at the left where it overlaps the pear) and by the background pushing against the upper arch. It’s a simple round form, but if you run your eyes over its perimeter, you’ll perceive it as a complex, three dimensional form.  That’s because it’s not simply, consistently outlined.  If it were, you’d read it as a flat disk.  You can apply this way of seeing to the other round forms in this drawing, too.

The light is coming in from the left. Therefore, on the right side of the objects we see reflected light on the objects and also the deep shadow that the objects cast on the shelf. (4)   Because of this technique these two objects, peach and mug, appear most palpably solid.   This technique of reflected light plus deep shadow was developed by Renaissance painters in the 15th & 16th centuries.  It is an exaggeration of how we perceive real objects in real space, but in pictorial space the effect is dramatic and mesmerizing.

The ellipse (5) is something we practice in just about every class, at the beginning, to get that hand swinging. I say “swinging” because you have to do it fast, otherwise it comes out stiff and lifeless. This takes a lot of practice,  because when you’re working on a drawing you’re likely to be over-cautious and that means, you’ll draw it slowly and therefore, sorry, lifeless. We can see that this ellipse was drawn slowly, but for now let’s encourage more practice and move on to notice how the shadow cast on the inside of the cup makes the three-dimensionality convincing.

And now, the edge of the shelf/table at (6).  Notice that there is a progression of three spaces, from left to right, from short to longer to very long, each indicated with different pencil marks.  This is an invention of the student/artist, not a reproduction of the original 18th century still life. It’s ingenious because it creates movement, like a crescendo in music.  Soft, louder, loudest.  Even though it indicates a plain ol’  table top, a restful horizontal line, it’s not static.  Pure invention! This can happen in beginning students, without suggestions from the instructor.  To me, the instructor, this is deeply moving because it means the student was so absorbed in the drawing process that this effect emerged intuitively—out of intense involvement in the process.

More to come: the ellipse, the concept “still life,” markmaking, positive & negative space, movement in composition, the concepts perfection and not so, incomplete, rhythm…

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/the-ellipse-is-in-your-hand/

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

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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/

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

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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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