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Archive for the ‘Seeing’ Category

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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notblackwhite

Working with a center line, whether vertical or horizontal, challenges the painter. How do you prevent this thing from becoming static?  How do you overcome the invitation to symmetry? How to you create movement?

In this painting the challenge is heightened by the choice of black vs. white. Now look what happens at the dividing line between the two fields. At (2) a large round shape that straddles both fields attracts your attention by virtue of its size, circularity and texture—it’s glued on burlap.  At (1) and (3) lines cross the divide.  These are powerful because the eye finds lines irresistible and traces them wherever they lead.notblackwhiteanalysis

The blue line at (3) gracefully sweeps upward towards the right.  At the light red dot (4) it traces an orbital path.  Because the red rectangles at (6) suggest a stable architectural element (perhaps a window), they add a rational anchor to a universe in which amorphous planes float randomly.  At the same time the red dot perches precariously on one corner (4).  This becomes the focal point of the painting, deeply satisfying and at the same time restless.

But wait, there’s a twist in the plot.  When the artist submitted the painting to the Studio Exhibit she reversed it.  Notice that the focal point in this new orientation is one of those amorphous shapes (5). The effect is edgy.

notblackwhiteshow We are deprived of the satisfaction we found previously in the red dot perched on the corner of the red rectangles. In this orientation, the red dot and the red rectangles are resting on the bottom edge, not going anywhere. They’ve settled, they lack drama.

It’s a brilliant painting.  Buy it.  Hang it, not over your couch, but in front of it. Sit.  Look at it in one orientation, then next week turn it over and look again.  Allow yourself to be unsettled. Get to know your perceptual quirkiness.

The Studio Exhibit at the Evanston Art Center will be up til January 29.

Terry Fohrman, Not Black and White.  Acrylic on canvas, 24” x 48”

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

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16octhead

We say “the whites of their eyes.”  But the highlight on the upper eyelid 16octheadeye(1) is whiter than the white of the eye (2). It’s not easy to give in to this fact.  After all, no one ever said, “don’t shoot until you see the highlight on their upper eyelids.”

This drawing from a photo does not resemble the 16octheadphotomodel, but that doesn’t matter.  Resemblance comes much later.  And in any case, resemblance may not be the goal.  The model/photo serves as inspiration and what happens in the drawing process is more important than likeness.

As you look at this drawing notice how important the shadow cast over the eye ball is for the expression and your conviction that this is a real person.

Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~ 16” x 14”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/eyes-no-eyes/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/2778/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/andre-carrilho-and-the-mythic-window-to-the-soul/

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

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16octconfetti

What’s going on here?  Why is this image intriguing?

There are three elements in this image. The most basic one, if you isolate it, is the round form in yellow, which is near-centered, near-symmetrical, vaguely suggesting something with a head. The second element, the black, by weaving in and out of the first, negates its organic illusion.  The black lines branch off and suggest tree-like growth.

The third element is the specks of color that appear to be floating through the pictorial space.  Your mind wants to simplify them and therefore assumes they are all the same size in that space. Since they are actually of three different sizes (on the canvas) you make sense of them by seeing them as floating in three different planes. The smallest specs, for example, are interpreted as being farthest from the viewer and the large specs are on the plane closest to you as you look at the painting.

If the specks were of fifteen different sizes, or sixty two different sizes, your brain would not be able to organize them and you would, therefore, not perceive spacial depth in the painting.

The painting presents a puzzle, but not a puzzle that you solve.  Once you see how you project your expectations into the painting, you haven’t solved anything.  You’ll still be floating in that space.

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

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

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16openmouthphotoBecause this is an unfamiliar angle, the artist/student thought she’d better tackle it upside-down.  That’s because she didn’t trust herself to draw what’s really there; she would instead be tempted to “correct” the face and make it look more “normal.” Drawing upside-down helps you see shapes as shapes, not as labeled familiar things, and if you just stick to that program, lo and behold, everything will fall into place.

16openmouth

The photo is taken from the Wine Project by Marcos Alberti.

http://www.masmorrastudio.com/wine-project

I highly recommend these photos for students to draw from.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/upside-down-drawing/

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

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/up-side-down-face/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/drawing-on-the-right-side-of-the-brain-by-betty-edwards/

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

Drawing by Mary Petty, graphite on paper, ~ 14 x 11

16openmouthusdphoto 16openmouthusd

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

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16septdanstilllife

Dan Goffman never likes his work. He can see that his drawings are not realistic.

But I’m fascinated by it. Could that be because I’m a modernist.  I respond to composition.  Realism?  Not so much.

Ten years ago Dan Goffman suffered a stroke which resulted in partial paralysis and aphasia.  He’s a historian and author with a long scholarly bibliography. Drawing was suggested as therapy and now he draws every day.  I have his permission to show and talk about his work.  “If I hadn’t had the stroke, I wouldn’t have discovered that I can draw,” he says with wry humor.

20160922_144150What you see in this drawing is far from a depiction of objects on a table.  You throw away the realism check-list and instead your eye wanders through this pattern of shapes, textures and negative spaces.  Of all the things he could have focused on, he chose these shapes from the still life set up on the table. They sit on the page with an uncanny sense of rightness, balance and economy. Any concern about “realism” or more “detail” would have ruined the drawing. Do we need the three-dimensionality of the oranges and that bowl?  No.  The ellipse in the upper right corner is enough.  Notice how your eye briefly rests there and then keeps moving through the composition.

Drawing by Dan Goffman, graphite on paper, 30” x 22”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/reading-a-shape/

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

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

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16septlargedrapepot

Draw a portion of the still life so that your drawing will have a definite shape on the page.  That was the assignment.  I brought in large 20160922_144208textured paper, 30” x 22”, and encouraged everyone to work in charcoal or very soft graphite.

Notice that the pot in reality is big.  Does it have to be drawn big? No.  The pot and the drapery should be drawn in such a way that they sit nicely on the page.  The artist adjusted the size of the pot so that it becomes part of the arc of the composition.

The arc could have been drawn as if floating in space, but the artist suggests some terra firma by putting in a line to indicate a table top.  Notice that the table top line is broken cezanne-sl-applesbehind the pot.  Cézanne plays this game in his paintings all the time. We’re not committed to documenting reality. The goal is to create a lively page.

Drawing by Jeanne Mueller, charcoal on paper, 30” x 22”

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

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