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Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

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/

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The student said, “I had fun with it.”

It’s not that he was grinning throughout the class period or that he just dashed this off.  On the contrary, he worked very hard and had to make decisions that required intense concentration.

What, then, does having-fun-with-it mean?  It means that he felt unconstrained in the process from beginning to end.

He did not feel constrained by the need to

–be literal

–illustrate what he saw

–be neat

–be consistent or logical

–please anybody else.

To start with, Linné felt free enough to pick a passage from the still life that would not be readable as drapery although it clearly was that.  Bravo!  He did not see literal drapery, but form.  It’s hard to fake this kind of seeing.  If you fake it, the work will look just that, fake and forced.  It will be lacking wit and you will not enjoy the process.  To see form can take a long time.  Linné has been studying with me for three-and-a-half years and his work has come to reflect an individual sensibility.   When the class saw this drawing there was a gasp of admiration.

And one more lack of constraint needs to be noted.  He did not worry about whether it was finished or not.

The drawing is finished when the artist’s curiosity that set the process in motion has run its course.

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

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Strips of canvas, that’s all I presented to my drawing students.  I stretch my own canvas for my paintings and since the roll is 60 inches wide there’s always a scrap.  It’s beautiful, substantial stuff.  When you crinkle it a bit, it can conjure up a fantastic landscape. Or it can stimulate abstract seeing. Or it can bring out new ways to use the drawing tools for the sheer pleasure of drawing.  Facing drapery in a drawing class can be daunting, but it can also be quite liberating since you’re not obliged to get the proportions right.  You can stretch and compress, edit, omit and relocate folds and crevices to please yourself.  The imagination takes over.  Yeah!

Above, drawing in pencil by Karen G., about 9” x 12”

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In “The Blot and the Diagram,” Kenneth Clarke talked about Leonardo’s intellectual range.  His formidable brain loved to analyze systems (diagrams); but he was also fascinated by chaotic forms (blots).  In his notebooks Leonardo tells us that he often would stop to look at a wall that was water stained, cracked or peeling.   He writes, contemplating such chaotic forms stimulates the imagination.

I think of Leonardo as one of us,  he shared our sensibility, with his insatiable curiosity and courage, his scientific approach; his playfulness; his openness to possibilities; his skepticism; his use of inconsistencies; his caricatures; and for the purpose of this post, his embrace of accidentals.  In this sense, Kenneth Clark says, he anticipated modern art.  About 120 years ago, when paint started dripping on a canvas, it was sometimes allowed to do so.  By the 1940’s dripping paint had come to represent an aesthetic in itself, with Jackson Polack it’s most famous representative.  An aesthetic of chance occurrence was edging out the old aesthetic of control.

If you’ve ever seen Urban Decay Photography, you know that it speaks to the modern sensibility.  At first, it may be shocking (never was to me, though) but then it sinks in and reaches you at a very deep  level of your  life experience. Where the old sensibility measured time teleologically, this new sensibility embraces time– how shall we say—mystically, as an element of constant surprise and potential.  And isn’t that where we live, from one moment of consciousness to the next and to get to the next moment, we have to let the previous moment die.

Decay.  Urban Decay.

What other kind of decay is there?  Well, obviously, rural decay.  But that’s too fast and predictable, since in a season or two the new crop grows out of the compost of the old.  But Urban Decay is slow and it’s not predictable, because it’s about ideas.  What we see crumbling is not just that wall, that arch, that mural, that tracery, that tile floor, etc, but the ideas, values and hierarchies these things once defended.

 

My shot of the CTA tracks at Wabash and Madison (above) has some of that reflection in it.  It has that reference to crumbling urban structures and the reminder that these structures are inventions, as man-made and ephemeral as the ideas and hopes from which they sprang.  But that shot illustrates one other element we find in Urban Decay Photography:  severe composition.  In this case, it’s three horizontal stripes, progressing from narrow at to top, to wider in the middle, to widest at the bottom, creating a progression.

This emphasis on form is what distinguishes Urban Decay Photos.  It is well worth your while to study this genre. Here’s a link, for a start:

http://www.pics-site.com/2010/07/11/urban-decay-photography/

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

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In the December 14th post I described how Beatrice transferred the outlines of her collage to a medium size canvas.  For precision, that’s the way to go.  But not the only way.  Naomi, for example, decided to make the transfer freehand.  Her collage was on 8½ x 11 paper and her canvas measured about 11 x 15. She painted directly without a preliminary drawing on the canvas. In comparing the collage (right)) and the painting, one can see that the collage definitely presents a sense of foreground, middle ground and background but that the painting allows for a much richer sense of depth. For a landscape painter, the techniques of creating the illusion of receding space are essential.  In this regard, a fantasy landscape is an ideal challenge:  the space has to be made convincing even though it is plainly incredible.  In this fantastic landscape we can identify references to real landscapes: trees, mountains, ocean. This makes the task easy, because a big tree has to be in the foreground and a small mountain in the far distance. Not only that, the mountain has to be hazy and soft edged, while the tree has to be sharply delineated.  The willowy orange tree trunks on the right read like something in the distance because they are so much smaller than the black tree in the left foreground, but they are also bigger than the mountain and therefore they simultaneously pull us back into the imaginary world.  The effect tickles the imagination and keeps the eye wandering through this enjoyable illusion.  In the collage the foreground vegetation took the form of crinkled clumps of colorful paper.  In the final work this “vegetation” is masterfully painted to suggest clarity, detail and proximity to the viewer without being painted with any specificity or literalness.  It’s juicy and painterly and thrilling.

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“It’s going to happen sometimes:  Despite all the good habits you’ve developed, the preparation rituals, the organizational tools, the techniques for scratching out pre-ideas and actual ideas, there will come a time when your creativity fails you.”  Twyla Tharp goes on to differentiate between a rut and a groove and how to diagnose the problem you’re facing before you slide into the pit of depression.

A former painting student of mine emailed me recently with the complaint that she’s stuck, can’t do anything on that canvas.  I recommended Twyla Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit,” which guides the artist through the diagnosis of the problem in a very level-headed way.  She asks, is it a failure of skill, of concept, or judgment;  or are you stuck through  repetition or from denial?  Each of these topics is discussed in practical terms and in spirited language, without any glibness.  Then, what can you do to get out of your rut?  I’m resisting the temptation here of quoting particularly pithy sentences because there’s no instant fix. There’s not one quote that will illuminate you and set the juices flowing again.  Art making is basically serious, often painful, and most of the time–difficult.   The book as a whole—and it has to be taken as a whole—is a guide for putting something together, in this case, the creative process.  I recommend that every artist, in whatever medium, make a serious study of “The Creative Habit.”

While we’re on the topic, I’ll make two more recommendations:

Another book, “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, 1993.  118 pages.

And a documentary, “Inspirations” by Michael Apted, 1997.  140 minutes.

For videos on Twyla Tharp, you may want to start with

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atGJkkzVe54&feature=related

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The invention of photography in the 1830’s freed up the imagination. You want a portrait?  You got it.  Takes only a few minutes. No need to pose in front of a painter for hours.  How about a picture of your wonderful garden in bloom.  Ditto.  A few minutes.  The ships in the harbor, the mountains, the cathedral, the cows in the field, we know all that and take it for granted now.  What this means for the painter is that the portrait he paints of you or the landscape she paints of your garden is as much a reflection of the artist as of the object being depicted.  The imagination has, of course, always been at play throughout our history, but since the invention of photography (which can document reality with far greater accuracy) the pictorial imagination has truly come into its own.  I would even say, the imagination is IT.  Our artmaking is about the imagination itself. You can let it run free.  You can turn trees into shrubs, a meadow into a river or a frozen pond, you can turn the blue sky pewter gray—if you think all this will make a better picture.  Who decides what will make it a  better picture?  YOU.

All these developments took place in the imagination of my student Spike S. as he faced a radiantly illuminated October park scene  with a blazing, rotund maple tree. Because the sky is muted in his painting (pastel), the foliage is all the brighter.  The ground, now a mysterious surface of water or ice, recedes visually and in doing so allows the foliage to glow.

Another student, Beatrice K, faced the lake through a tangle of shrubs and trees, only one of them in bright fall colors.  She edited out the confusion.  The painting (oil on canvas) became a serene meditation: sky, lake, beach, rocks, a dead tree trunk and a small tree at the right that appears to be raging at the dying of the October light.

The painting, then, is not a documentation of the arrangements of molecules masquerading as trees, rocks and ground, so much as an independent object that came out of your mood that day.  The word “mood” makes it all sound so facile, doesn’t it.  You  can’t imagine how hard the work of the imagination really is.

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