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Posts Tagged ‘Linné’

12LinneHeadOfNude

In the recent posts about The Contour and Leonardo’s sfumato I said that a drawing can be described as “painterly.”  The difference between linear and painterly is this:  a linear style outlines the figure and separates it from the ground; in a painterly work, the figure and the ground flow into one another.  In studying Western art, the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) noticed that the earlier art is linear and then in the 16th century, the line opens up and the image becomes painterly.  You can find the whole theory in his “Principles of Art History,” a book that is surprisingly lively and readable, considering when it was written.

Contemporary art teachers wouldn’t go into that kind of scholarship—and I don’t, in class.  Basically, what we want to get at is, “Hey, everybody—loosen up!”  Easier said than done. The tendency for beginning students (as with our ancestors) is to firmly outline your subject.  Opening up the contour is far from being sloppy.  It involves a whole other way of seeing and thinking. You see the contour and visualize it as you draw, but you don’t state it directly.  This requires tremendous concentration and getting to that ability to concentrate takes practice over time.

12LinneNudeHere, then, is Linné’s recent drawing from a model.  I sometimes blow up my students’ drawings at the Xerox machine so that they can appreciate their own progress.  It’s also helpful to isolate one passage, such as the head, in order to take it out of context.  Cropping your drawing like this helps you focus on the qualities in your drawing, rather than your representational skills.

Learning to draw can often be discouraging, but actually you’re better than you think. You develop not gradually, but in spurts and part of my job is to help you notice that you just made a spurt.

Yeah!

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121108StillLifeHeadGabyOf all the things you can draw, the face will grab you the most.  We must have special wiring in the brain to make us respond so powerfully to faces. A baby, three to six weeks old, will respond with excitement when looking up at a mobile that shows faces.

12Faces2incompleteLinneOne of the reasons we like drawing faces is that they’re emotionally engaging.  The emotion is the fuel that keeps us working at it, but it also gums up our perception of the larger picture.  The tendency—tell me I’m wrong here!—is to overdraw the face, to add too much detail, to want to make it appealing and “perfect.”

So, yes, draw the face.  But, try to see it as  one of the elements in your composition. The whole is greater than…

Here are some examples of how my students have been drawing the Almighty Face, but with a twist—or a line through it, or in shadow.  This is hard to do, emotionally.

12GabyChildManAqua1Look at the little girl sitting on dad’s shoulders. The artist found it hard to pull the hat over that endearing face and then to scribble a shadow over it.  There’s a natural resistance to do that.  But without the shadow, the face would not be tucked in and the hat would not have a convincing brim.

In a still life that included the customary drapery, a silk flower,  a garden hose and a plaster cast of an academic head. Linné restrained himself from overdrawing the head, which  is always a temptation.  This is probably not a 121108StillLifeHeadLinnecompleted drawing, but the battle against the dominance of the head is already evident and it’s admirable.

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Gaby, “Head in Planes.”  Plaster cast of academic head in a still life set up.

Linné, “Liz.”  Two studies of Elizabeth Taylor.

Gaby, “Girl on Dad’s Shoulders.”   Drawn from magazine cover.  Aquarellable Pencil

121108StillLifeHead Linné, “Still Life with Head.”

Click images for enlargements.

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The composition in this drawing is pure delight.  The artist saw the cropping before he started drawing.  There was no deleting, erasing or blocking. Before he started to draw, he took a few minutes to contemplate this pile of stuff I had arranged on the table.  There must have been ten thousand ways to approach this.  Instead of zeroing in on specific objects, he saw this compositional shape, a diamond shape, and let everything else go.

How do you do this?  Well, you have to have a really good day to be able to concentrate like that.

I can’t explain how Linné did this, but let me guess how he came up with the line on the left that chops off a part of that red and blue paper mask. It seems to come from the drapery (1).  He “saw” the line of the drapery as extended downward through the mask.

On the right, instead of thinking “chair” he saw shape.  And the shape is whimsical. The chair was the biggest thing in the still life, but he didn’t see it literally. A triumph of the imagination.  In the drawing, we don’t know what those two scroll-y things represent  (2)  and that’s good, because we don’t get stuck on “chairness.”

Notice that instead of drawing the vertical wood of the chair straight as it is, he curves it. (4)  This mirrors the contour on the left, the drapery-mask line, and completes the diamond shape. The diamond shape of the overall composition is echoed in the wooden  serving dish with pedestal.(3) He plays this visual echoing game throughout the drawing, with the diamond and with other motifs. It’s like poetry that holds your attention with rhymes and a compelling meter.

The two incomplete chair slats on the right (2) break the severity of the diamond’s symmetry.  The carving on the wood echoes  the Nautilus spiral on the sea shell, an entrancing form that, while anchored to the geometry of the diamond composition,  spins us to infinity.

An analysis like this is not what art is about.  Nor am I saying that the artist worked all this out ahead of time.  But I think that a piece like this comes about when the artist is truly looking.  The relationships between these various elements is perceived but probably not verbalized and the choices are not conscious but are seen as necessary and right.  I offer the analysis only as a way of pointing to an entrance.

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In my drawing class, I present demos on various techniques and then stand back to see who will use those techniques and to what degree.  The lesson on shading, for example, will make quite a different impression on different students.  A student takes what he or she can use at that moment—and feels like using.  That is, I think, as it should be.

One student, Gaby, has been using a careful shading technique for drapery studies that fill the page with a compelling presence and at the same time invite associations to anatomical features.  The illusion of three-dimensionality of these round forms is difficult to achieve and requires intense concentration and visualization.

Another student, Linné, working from the same still life set-up (see previous post) avoids the articulation of light-shadow-reflected-light and instead suggests the drapery with his own forceful lines. In some passages of the drawing, he goes into the sheer pleasure of markmaking and simply invents.  Mysterious humanoid forms emerge while at the same time clearly representing drapery.

‘Twas not ever thus.  Individual expression was not tolerated among the Renaissance and Baroque artists who worked with numerous assistants in their spacious workshops.  For example, Raphael (1483-1520) and Rubens (1577-1640) trained their assistants to specialize in certain aspects of a painting like drapery, clouds, water,architectural detail and flesh.  The assistants had to reproduce the master’s technique so faithfully that the whole tableau appeared to have been painted by the same hand–the master’s.  We tend to forget this—and we’re supposed to—when we look at these enormous paintings and frescoes.  Rubens’ paintings celebrating the life of Marie de Medici measure about 14 feet in height.  Raphael’s School of Athens fills a wall in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

Let’s not be overwhelmed by the achievements of these masters and let’s instead give credit to those unnamed assistants.  We moderns, lucky us, can study the techniques of those big guys from the past and then enjoy the freedom to find our own individual approach.

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The difference between an image and a snapshot documentation of an object is that the image triggers questions in your mind that go beyond the factual.  When you look at this drawing you don’t just say, I know the name of that plant.  Yes, it’s a variegated philodendron.  If documentation and naming were the point of this exercise, you would move on.  But you don’t.  You keep looking at this thing.  You don’t really know why.  It’s just that the image—that’s what it is—puzzles you, raises questions that you can’t even articulate.  So here you are, you keep looking.

  • You’ll never be able to answer the question of why that leaf at the lover left is sticking up out of nowhere.  But it’s perfect there.
  • Why is the horizon line that defines the black background on the top pointed instead of straight?  It was probably inspired by the corner of the room, though that was cluttered with easels.  It’s an invention of the artist/student and it’s just right.
  • Why did Linné draw the plant full of leaves on the left and bare-stemmed on the right?  He certainly didn’t see that.  Another invention.

All three inventions create tension and counterpoint.  The viewer is suspended (like a gymnast) by the ropes of these dynamics.  Questions will form in the mind, but their grammar will disintegrate.  That’s how art works.

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When I set up a still life for my drawing class, I look at the placement of the objects from all angles and do some fine tuning to allow for interesting compositions.  But the objects themselves?  Nothing fine-tuned or interesting about them. For this class, I brought in some very stressed, dirty gardening gloves.  What else? An old piece of crockery from the supply shelf and a plastic flower.  These objects don’t come close to the idea of beauty as it has been handed down to us through Western Art.  My modern sensibility is moved to appreciate a fine drawing inspired by—what?—refuse.

As he started to work on this fine drawing, Linné first took the time to look.  This may seem like an obvious first step, but looking, really looking takes practice and discipline.  I’m reminded of Cézanne, who spent a lot of time just looking quietly without working the brushes and paints.

A number of things are impressive about this drawing.  You can study the intensity of the composition by following the color associations at right:  alignments (blue),  repetition of shapes (pink), quadrant division with implied horizon (green). The cropping (yellow) did not come about through erasing or matting, but was planned for in the initial contemplation, a la Cézanne.  That takes an eye!

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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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