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Posts Tagged ‘ellipse’

13CanistersAle

We started the class by practicing the ellipse.  You can’t draw an ellipse, you have to swing it. You practice swinging your hand over the paper and then—keeping that swing—you lower the pencil and there’s your ellipse. You fill a couple of sheets of paper with these practice ellipses and then when you feel you’ve got that swing, you slide your drawing onto your board and you swing those elliptical canister tops into place.

13CanistersAleSliverAlejandra was faced with a still life consisting of ellipse-stressing canisters and some droopy drapery.  But in her drawing nothing is canned and nothing droops.  In her drawing, the drapery looks like oak tree roots and the ellipses seem to fade into memory.  She either found this set up very exiting or boring beyond tolerance, because something in her imagination popped.

Notice how the carefully cropped selection (right) coveys even more tension, drama and mystery than the whole composition (top). We will have more examples of cropping in the following two posts.

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

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13CanistersMaggie

The merit in this drawing lies in the fact that the artist/student, Maggy Shell, went beyond the literal depiction of these still life 13Canistersobjects.  The realistic depiction of the canisters and the drapery is skilled enough, but that’s not what makes this drawing interesting.

What makes it interesting is that there are three distinct motifs: ellipse, chaos and triangle.  The ellipses form a nice rhythm on the top layer.  Under the ellipses comes the chaotic, 13CanistersMaggieAnalysiscloud-like, wafting swoosh of the cloth. (Green) The precision of the ellipses and the indeterminacy of the cloth make for a dramatic contrast, one highlighting the other.  The cloth, furthermore, is ambiguous:  is supports the solid cylinders but at the same time appears to be insubstantial and not supported by anything.  Ambiguity adds tension and tension is a good thing in art.

Enter the triangle, always a provocative shape. (Pink)  Where does this come from?  Two sources: 1) Among the cylinders there was a box with a partially open lid and under the white cloth there was some triangulation of additional fabric.  2) The imagination.

You guessed it, I’m rooting for #2.  The dark triangles at the left and right edges of the drawing are pure invention.  Notice how the triangles, pointing toward the center, focus your attention and keep you IN the composition. And it’s in the center that the geometry of the cylinders meets its opposite, the amorphous drift of drapery.  We have a little drama here. So, of course, we pay attention.  And paying attention is what the whole thing is about.

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

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13AleOmiDraw2Old family photos are great to work from.  They’re usually pretty grainy, which is good because you won’t get interested in details.  Enlarge the photo on a Xerox machine to a comfortable 13AleOmiPhoto8-1/2 x 11.   Pick one from two generations ago or more.  If you can, go back to 1910-1920.  Folks wore hats then and elaborately tailored coats.  Don’t forget the umbrella.  Dressing for the photographer was serious business.  All for you, you know, coming along a century later.  Look at that costume—gives you something to work with.  It has angles and pleats and drapey effects—all zig-zagging from collar to hem for maximum drama.  And then on top, ta-tah, an ellipse just with you in mind, so that you can practice swinging your wrist.

Let me point out just three things that make this drawing by Alejandra exiting:

13AleOmiDraw2numbers

Green: the zigzag line, always energetic in a visual work.

Yellow: here the contour is omitted completely, engaging the viewer, who has to fill in the gap.

Red: the shading of the cuff and the shading of the background mimic one another, adding depth to the drawing.

You can be sure, the photographer back in 1910 also knew what he was doing when he set up this pose. Ma’am, the umbrella just a little bit over, ah,  yes, that’s right, hooooold.  Thank you!

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

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You’ll find a two minute video on YouTube in which I demonstrate how to swing your hand in the air in an elliptical path.  When you do, the ellipse on paper will just follow.  I invite everyone to watch this short video, because it simulates a class room demo where you watch over the shoulder of the instructor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLD9aCjoNWc

Here are the steps:

1. Place your forearm at about a 45 degree angle to your body and adjust the angle of your paper so that its vertical edge is parallel to your forearm.

2. Hold the pencil with fingers not curled in a writing grip, but slightly extended.  Let the pencil rest on your middle finger with your forefinger about an inch-and-a-half from the tip of the pencil.

3. Your hand is high over the paper. Only your pinky is resting lightly on the paper.

4. Gently swing your wrist in the air in an elliptical path.  Feel the pinky brushing over the paper and allow your forearm to move slightly. Find a speed and rhythm that’s comfortable and even.  Draw some ellipses in the air in a continuous movement.

5. Without interrupting the rhythm, lower the pencil to the paper. Then resume the ellipses in the air. Move the paper. After 3 or 4 ellipses in the air, lower the pencil to mark the paper without breaking the rhythm.

6. As you continue practicing, move the paper over and up.   Keep the position of the arm the same.

I love the paradox of this process.  The ellipse on paper–which is real and visible—is the residue of the ellipse in the air, which is an illusion.

I talked about the ellipse in an earlier blog, dated April 19.  I’m returning to the ellipse now because the New York Times has started a 12-week series on the art of drawing by James McMullan.  His second article, September 24, was on the ellipse.  Unfortunately, it is, at best, confusing.  Mr. McMullan offers no real guidance on how to approach the drawing process.  The comments left by readers show that they learned nothing from the article, though there was an abundant outpouring of enthusiasm over the fact that the Times is running a series on—what?—drawing !  I, too,  am delighted that the art of drawing has found space in a newspaper.  Here’s my own comment,  # 83, quoted in the Times:

“It’s wonderful to see that the Times is running a column on drawing. I agree with commentator #32 who laments the fact that most of us are visually illiterate. We should all be drawing! But Mr. McMullan is a poor choice as a teacher. After you’ve imagined the tops of glasses and bowls as so many floating Frisbees, you’re still no closer to learning how to actually move your hand to make an ellipse. I start every one of my new drawing classes with a demonstration of how the hand moves when drawing an ellipse. It’s a smooth, graceful gesture and it needs repeated practice over weeks and months. After students have watched over my shoulder to see the demo, I sit next to them and correct their movements. In my own blog about the art of drawing, https://artamaze.wordpress.com, I gave a lesson about drawing the ellipse (April 19, 2010), in which I used the analogy to the Frisbee– not as a shape because that’s useless–but as a reminder of how the wrist moves when you throw the Frisbee. That’s the real connection!
Mr. McMullan mentions that the hand needs to be loose in drawing the ellipse, but then he shows us ellipses drawn by a very stiff hand. His ellipses are not drawn with any swing at all, but with a scratchy, hesitant line. Mr. McMullan, you are most welcome to attend my drawing class. With empathetic, insightful instruction, you, too, can learn to swing your wrist to draw a lively ellipse.”

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