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Posts Tagged ‘markmaking’

Gainsborough

As some of you know, I recently moved to Indianapolis.  I am now happy to let everyone know that I have recently started a drawing class in nearby Columbus, In.  Columbus is famous for its world class modern architecture with a tourism center kept busy by an international crowd lining up to see those eighty (!!) famous buildings.  This city of 47,000 has a branch of Indiana University but it did not offer a drawing class for the public until—tatah!—I jumped in to fill that vital void.

Our Columbus drawing class meets in the library–designed by I.M. Pei.  The class, called “Drawing as Seeing,” has met only four times so far.  I’ll start by showing the work done in our third class. Ready?

Our topic was “Markmaking,” which is a scribble/shading technique that is as individual and unique as your thumb print.  After a brief demo with students looking over my shoulder, I sent everybody to their seats with a Xerox copy of Thomas Gainsborough’s masterful drawing called “Landscape with Horsemen.”  You can see it at the top of this post.

What happened in class was highly rewarding and led to the discussion of an important topic:  “incompletion” in a work of art.

ShwetaGainsborough

The time allotted for this exercise was only an hour and that proved to be an advantage because it meant that students had to leave with their drawings incomplete.

JudyGainsborough

I held up all the drawings and introduced the idea of Incompletion as a topic in modern art.  I suggested that it’s precisely because these drawings are incomplete that they are so engaging.

MaryGainsborough

Incompletion in a work of art reaches us with evocative power. It engages us—paradoxically, perhaps—more than an image that’s carefully worked out in every detail.

Katlandscape

The next drawing was done by a left-handed student.  I had copied him a mirror image of the original Gainsborough to work from because the left hand moves in a different radius than the right hand.

JustinGainsborough

I reminded students that they had the option of leaving the drawing as is, “incomplete,” or doing more work on it at home.

MaryLandscpe1

In the next class, this teacher was gratified that none of the students had “completed” the drawing.  Every student seems to have gotten the modern bug.

We will get back to this Topic of Incompletion many more times.

We are off to a promising start!

Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gainsborough

Columbus, Indiana https://columbus.in.us/architecture-story/

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StLaurant4

To get a fresh view of your drawing, you can enlarge or reduce it on the Xerox machine. It’s StLaurant1best if you make a drastic change in size. For example, here are some drawings by Gaby Edgerton. She made very small studies, only about 1½ inches high. Then she took them to a duplicating machine and blew them up to about 12” high. I’m showing the enlargements here. Where before, in the tiny drawing, you could only see the general form of the drawing, now in the enlargement you can see the drama of her markmaking. Where the small drawings looked rather delicate, now you can see that the lines are bold and energetic.
Working small can be quite easy. If you see your drawing suddenly large and impressive, you may be encouraged to work with greater daring the next time, whatever size you work in.————-

StLaurant3 StLaurant2
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14StillLifeBoxGabyCHow long does it take to draw a still life like the one in the previous post? Three hours. This does not mean that graphite is being deposited on paper uninterruptedly for three hours. Much of the time is devoted to looking, considering, deciding, trying. The big decision, of course, is when to stop.
I tend to like a work at a very early stage of its development. That’s probably because of my love of abstraction and so a few lines on the page already speak to me. As for the love of incompletion, that’s an attribute of a romantic sensibility. I’m one of those.

14StillLifeBoxGabyEIn this second “stage set” Gaby again produced a fine drawing, this time with more delicate markmaking and with more devoted attention to shading . I’ll show it here in two stages, the one that starts the post being the final one. Final, not only in the sense of three-hours-are-up but also in the sense of “it is resolved.”

What’s particularly effective in the drawing is how the rectillinear edges on the left were worked out to contrast with the round billowing forms on the right.

14StillLifeBoxGabyD
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HolbeinLadyHolbein must have been charming, wise and super-diplomatic.  He drew the ladies of the court of Henry VIII and had to paint the big burly beheading  potentate himself. You remember six-wives Henry, the one who said, “Off with your head, Ann Boleyn!”  Hans Holbein(1497-1543) was a skilled draftsman, but was his hand shaking a little, just a little, when he faced the vain, all-powerful king?

When we draw people, we’re HolbeinHenryVIIIoften constrained by the desire to please them.  Your art gets cramped when you’re focused on anything but your art.  So, off with your head, I’m drawing!  When we have a model, I remind the students that they’re not drawing to please the model but only to struggle with their work, the medium, the concept, the surprises that occur in the working process.  When we don’t have a model, we often work from printed images.  In this case, a student/artist chose a photo of the young Queen Elizabeth, when she visited Chicago in the ‘50’s.  Notice that

13MaggieQueenFourthese drawings are not flattering, but instead explore the potential of the medium to create a page of studies with mood QueenEliz1and character.  The markmaking is scratchy, the contours are blurred, and oh, the drips!  To mood and character, let’s add a touch of irony.  Once you know that The Queen was the model, the page becomes a bit comical, which makes you reflect deeper and that’s a good thing.  When that happens, you’re looking at art.

Maggy  Shell, worked on gloss paper with the Stabilo-All-Aquarellable pencil.———–

13MaggieQueenFive

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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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This was the black lace-up boot on some crumpled up cloth, what artists in their rarified line of work are allowed to call “Still life with boot and drapery.”

So you have this boot in front of you and you think you have to draw it because, well, obviously that’s the object you’ve been given to draw.  A duh moment.

When Maggy had drawn the boot and surrounding drapery, the boot looked good, but the drawing didn’t.  Meaning, the page of her charcoal marks, didn’t “work,” meaning it was not fun to look at.  What was fun to look at, however, was her markmaking.  So,  let’s not give up on this thing.  She played with cropping by placing strips of white paper over her large drawing, trying to find a window that could stand on its own.  Voilá!

This is an invaluable step in your art making and in no way a judgment that the original drawing was a failure.  Look what it contained!  You just had to find it.

Now, this is fun to look at.  “Fun” is a sloppy word, isn’t it, but what it means is that your eye loves the texture and your attention is held by all these alignments and echoes.  Notice, also, that the page falls into quadrants (see also post 6.30) and that the vacancy at upper right (orange) adds tension to the other three quadrants.

Yes, but what IS it?  It’s an image that plays with me.  Why would I want a boot instead!

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Same gloves as before (previous post), same old pot.  But what a different feeling!

While Linné’s drawing holds us with its tense composition, Gaby’s drawing grabs us emotionally.  She places the pot in the middle of the page and the gloves on left and right, giving us a rational anchor in symmetry.  Nice, thank you.  But the drawing quality itself does not make nice.  Her markmaking is frenzied. We can recognize the two objects on either side as gloves, but they might also be agitated organism.  It’s a compelling double-take, given that the glove is an analog of the hand.

Somehow she managed to make the whole thing look monumental (and I can’t quite analyze that effect), making the gloves surreal and spooky.  Notice the urgency of the deep black scribbles on either side of the pot/tower.  There’s something ominous about that background. (Maybe that’s where the illusion of monumentality comes from).

The whole page pulsates.   I keep looking at this page, drawn into its life.

The drawing, about 12” x 14”, was done in Aquarellable Pencil on gloss paper.

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