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Posts Tagged ‘roundness’

MaggyStillLifeCrop
Round shapes tend to feel comforting and harmonious. But when they’re cropped they move right up to our eyeballs and they become conflicting: harmonious by virtue of the roundness, but also in your face and a little too close for comfort. The black disc at right, representing the bottom of a reclining pot, becomes ominous. This is a good effect in a work of art. We don’t want to be complacent and sweet.
MaggyStillLifeWholeIn the full view of the drawing we get the comfortable view. Oh, look, some pots, well drawn and easily identified. The zig-zag at right indicated drapery in a playful sort of way. Uncropped, this is a fine drawing, but cropped (above) it’s dramatic and, in my sensibility, more powerful.

Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal pencil.

(Images in this blog have shown up pixilated lately.To be fixed.)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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14StillLifeBosMaggyDBecause these boxes are not big (about 8-10 inches long), there was a Stage Set for every student, who 14StillLifeBosMaggyEcould move to get different angles of the thing. During this class, Maggy did two drawings of the same box, from slightly different angles. As in the previous class, she saw forms, this time playing with the repetition of triangles and trapezoids.
Her second drawing is shown here, top. This is fun to look at. It’s witty, in that some things are clearly stated, and some leave you guessing. You can tell 14StillLifeBosMaggyCthat she had worked through some possibilities and was committed to abstraction. Her first drawing of the same motif, at left, is more tentative. I recommend that students plan on doing more than one drawing, where the first one allows you to get your bearing on this subject in front of you and the second one will therefore by drawn with more conviction and daring.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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14StillLifeBoxGabyAOf all the possible ways of displaying still life objects, my favorite is to create a proscenium stage with a small shipping box. I take off all the labels, paint the inside white and assemble a cast of small white bottles, hand-cream jars and other round objects. The whiteness keeps the artist/student focused on shape rather than drifting off into topical colors. (This is how artists used to be trained: from plaster casts of body parts, all white-white-white. )
The box is propped up at eye level to the artist, showing the depth of the box and, therefore, inviting the working out of perspective and deep shadows.
To soften the rectilinearity of the box, I drape a scrap of fabric or ribbon over one side.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it. But it’s actually quite a chunk of universe. Any number of technical and imaginative issues converge here. I’ve talked about all of them in previous posts. What I want to stress here is that this set up invites seeing and playing with abstraction. In this and the following four posts we’ll look at this invitation.

14StillLifeBoxGabyB
One artist /student, using the Stabilo pencil on gloss paper, drew with loose, quick lines that convey great energy and intensity. The round object in the front was actually a sphere, but left Gaby left it looking like a disk, without the shading and reflected light that would have rendered it three-dimensional. Because of its flatness—its self-consciousness as a shape– it invites abstract thinking in the viewer, which then affects how the whole composition is seen. If the still life had been rendered more photographically, the viewer would be judging it on its verisimilitude. But the loose markmaking and that white disk in front take the mind in a different direction, saying, let’s play with shapes, see how the round forms are being repeated here. How liberating!

Our drawing class, a ten-week term at the Evanston Art Center, always starts with three or four sessions with a still life. A still life is the most forgiving subject. It inevitably involves pottery, some plastic fruits and flowers and drapery. All this can be represented faithfully and classically or you can take liberties with how well-crafted that pot is or how plump the pear. And a crumpled piece of cloth is the most forgiving thing of all. Because of the benign disposition of the objects in front of you, you can experiment with and indulge in all sorts of wild drawing techniques, which we call markmaking. This is the time to experiment with drawing tools, papers, and different ways of “leaning into it. “
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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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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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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