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Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance’

PicassoNudeDrapery
Drapery? Where? You mean those whitish-bluish triangles and trapezoids?
Picasso was twenty-six when he painted this. By the time he was fourteen, he had mastered the skill to create the illusion of drapery or any other illusion he might have felt like creating. There was big money in illusions in the 1890’s. But not for Picasso. With Picasso the illusion-achievements of the Renaissance come to an end. And that means, for one thing, drapery is dead. Finished.
The question is, do you have to master the Renaissance skills of drapery, anatomy and perspective to be an artist? The answer is “no,” but it’s an uncomfortable no. I’m uncomfortable about dismissing the value of drapery drawing/painting for two reasons. One is in the looking: drapery in an image draws the viewer in and focuses the mind like a labyrinth; more on this in the next post. The second reason is in the doing and for similar reasons: drawing drapery develops visual concentration since you are always drawing from the image in your mind; and it focuses the mind, resulting in the kind of high that comes from a)intense concentration on a limited problem and b) repetition of minutiae. This is drawing for the sheer pleasure of drawing, meaning the “high” you get from moving that pencil.

Drapery
This is my pencil drawing of some drapery I set up for a demo in drawing class last week. Students watched over DraperyGreenDemomy shoulders and asked questions. As I was drawing I explained the procedure. This 17”x11” page took about an hour. Without my talking, I estimate it would have taken less than a half hour. It looks so easy and the principles of light-shadow-reflected light are a piece o’cake.
But the doing takes practice. But, hey, it’s not like there’s ever nothing to draw. Look around you. Throw your coat over a chair, leave the dish towel on the kitchen counter, don’t make your bed—drapery drapery everywhere….
In “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the need and result of practice. He has made the 10,000 hour rule famous: to get good at anything takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice. That comes to 3 hours a day.

130207DilbertHoursPractice
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13BoyerLesRondes1This painting (oil on canvas, 40” x 30”) took three class periods to complete, that’s about seven hours.  The artist started by putting down the colors he wanted to work with, reminiscent of the rich sepia and ochers of the Renaissance, he said. Rectilinear shapes fell into place, hinting at the Golden Section. This is not surprising when you have the Renaissance on your mind and one of the recent topics under discussion in the class had been just that, the Golden Section, its history and uses, briefly of course.

13BoyerLesRondes2The working method adopted by the artist, Bruce Boyer, was to sit back from the easel at a distance of about six to eight feet and look at the painting in progress. Then he would get up and quickly add something.  He had discovered, he said, that the painting tells you what to do.

The painting tells you what to do! 

 

Well, how hard can that be!?  Consider this: In the theater, actors will tell you that the hardest thing on stage is to listen.  So it is with painting.  Listen!  This takes tremendous 13BoyerLesRondes3concentration. My students often tell me that after three hours of this work, “I’m ready for a nap.”   It’s hard work.

I’m showing this painting in four stages and without commentary.  I invite you to study the process—the conversation.  Listen!

 

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Next , the completed work. Bravo!

13BoyerLesRondes4

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When Fredéric Bazille (1841-1870) paints his sleeve, he  wants to create the illusion of roundness and therefore he has to show a sliver of reflected light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the engraving of The Death of Mary, Martin Schongauer (1450-1491) stops his burin (engraving tool) before he gets to the edge of the kneeling leg because in order to show  that the calf muscles are round, he has to leave that strip of reflected light.

 

 

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In the Middle Ages, the appreciation of the roundness of flesh is discouraged by the ecclesiastical powers that commission art works.  Therefore, reflected light is out the window, so to speak.  Here in this church fresco from 1164, we get harsh lines outlining some sorrowful faces that enact a didactic story for our instruction.  But, it’s safe to say, not for our enjoyment.

 

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When we skip the dour Dark Ages and let in the fresh air of the pagans, we discover the healthy-body-in-a-healthy-mind culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Though we know of their flesh and drapery loving art primarily through sculptures, some of their frescoes did survive centuries of destruction by warfare and weather.  When we look closely, we can see that they knew about painting reflected light.

We have no name for the artist who painted this languid torso. Whoever he was, he was a student of light and how it plays on round forms.  It’s only through careful observation of direct and reflected light that the illusion of a round form can be created on a flat surface.

This pursuit of light effects on round flesh and clinging and billowing cloth became one of the obsessions of Renaissance painters (the other being perspective).  Creating the illusion of roundness on a flat surface (painting, drawing)  demands much concentration, skill and perseverance; a future post here will take a look at the technical demands. Soon.

In the middle of the 19th century, with the beginnings of Modernism and the influence of Asian art on Western painters, the illusion of roundness lost its allure. That, also, is a topic for a future post.

In the meantime, here’s an idea of how to look at paintings to get the importance of reflected light:  just make an exercise of ignoring all other aspects of the work and zoom in on that sliver of light.  Illuminating!

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

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