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Posts Tagged ‘Zig-zag’

13AleOmiDraw2Old family photos are great to work from.  They’re usually pretty grainy, which is good because you won’t get interested in details.  Enlarge the photo on a Xerox machine to a comfortable 13AleOmiPhoto8-1/2 x 11.   Pick one from two generations ago or more.  If you can, go back to 1910-1920.  Folks wore hats then and elaborately tailored coats.  Don’t forget the umbrella.  Dressing for the photographer was serious business.  All for you, you know, coming along a century later.  Look at that costume—gives you something to work with.  It has angles and pleats and drapey effects—all zig-zagging from collar to hem for maximum drama.  And then on top, ta-tah, an ellipse just with you in mind, so that you can practice swinging your wrist.

Let me point out just three things that make this drawing by Alejandra exiting:

13AleOmiDraw2numbers

Green: the zigzag line, always energetic in a visual work.

Yellow: here the contour is omitted completely, engaging the viewer, who has to fill in the gap.

Red: the shading of the cuff and the shading of the background mimic one another, adding depth to the drawing.

You can be sure, the photographer back in 1910 also knew what he was doing when he set up this pose. Ma’am, the umbrella just a little bit over, ah,  yes, that’s right, hooooold.  Thank you!

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This drawing by Linné  D. comes out of the ol’ drapery-with-sphere in a still life setup.

We again have the dynamic of the sphere and the zig-zag discussed in the previous post.  Anyone who followed that discussion can spot it here immediately, though here the zig-zag does not trace the hem of the drapery.  Here the zig-zag is on its own.

This drawing presupposes a new way of seeing.  It does not pretend to document any of the things piled on a table in a drawing class.  The artist’s mind was certainly inspired by what he saw, but he took the leap into abstraction.  And a leap it is.  He didn’t “abstract” the drapery, finding it’s “essence.”  This drawing is not about drapery at all, it seems to me.  It’s about the play of forms on a page.

We have a repetition of shapes, two of them indicated here in green.  The sphere commands the center and all around it are pointing shapes, some in, some out.  Numbers 1 and 4 point out, 3 points in,  the negative space under 3 points up, 2 points out and down.  These shapes push and invade the adjacent space.  All these pointing shapes agitate the atmosphere around our serene, self-centered sphere.  But at the same time the agitation seems harmonious due to the echoing of the shapes.  Quite a feat!  The most astonishing thing about this page, however, is its daring unbalance.  Most of the pencil work is on the left side, indicated by the rectangle at #6.  That’s where we have the density that comes from shading and, in fact, the mighty sphere.  What’s on the right to balance all that?   One line!   The line at #5 commands the space on the right.  It has the authority and force of a lever that might just shake up the whole thing.  Amazing.

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In this table full of drapery, pottery, apples, spheres and the mighty amaryllis (see previous two posts) there was a well-lit part with a red sphere and some zig-zag drapery.  Gabrielle E. chose this passage, outlined in green, at right.

Her drawing shows powerful compositional elements.

1) The sphere at #3 is in the middle and threatens to dominate the whole page, simply because it’s a perfect circle, the most focused geometrical shape we have.  It has only one dimension and traps the eye in its centripetal force. Notice that the artist does not outline it with a continuous line and does not overstate the shading, thereby allowing the eye to escape to other parts of the drawing.

2) The almighty sphere finds its comeuppance in the zig-zag at #2.  The zig-zag, I would argue, holds its own even next to a sphere.  Wow, here we have a pile of stuff that, to the non-artist, must surely look boring, with the juxtaposition of these two dynamite shapes.  Notice, that the zig-zag is clearly, emphatically drawn.

3) Both the sphere and the zig-zag are highlighted by the empty space at #1.  This is a concave form, pushing upward…to the sphere.

4) The last stage of the drawing was putting in #4.  The area at #5 was faintly sketched in and the drawing didn’t know where to go next.  The bottom, with sphere, zig-zag and concave space, was so powerful, that it needed some upward swing.  The bowl in the still life set up on the table was way up and the drawing paper didn’t have that kind of space.  You know, the wonderful thing about drapery is that you can fudge it.  The artist summoned her courage and simply brought the bowl down, along with a bit of triangular drapery.

Now, back to the sphere.  The sphere is the star of the show, but it doesn’t swagger, glitter or make an acceptance speech.  On the bottom of the drawing, it gets the fanfare from the zig-zag and the concave space.  But now, with the bowl at #4 it has an echo because the bowl it also round, only an ellipse, but still in the round family.  The eye, therefore goes back and forth between these two round forms.  For a while…and then we’re back in the force field of zig-zag and concave.  And on and on.  You just want to look at this thing.

By the way, this is a no-fault drawing, done in china marker on fairly high paper (meaning textured)—no erasing possible, no corrections of any kind.  A bravura performance!!

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This landscape by Ivan T. originated from a photo he had taken in the Green islands.  In the photo the boats are smaller, more evenly spaced and with more water visible between them.  The houses are smaller because they’re farther in the distance.  The hills are also smaller because they’re very far in the distance.  That’s what he started with.

At the beginning of the class I showed how Cézanne pushed the distant elements of his landscape up in the picture plane. (See previous post.)  Ivan immediately applied this insight to his 24 x 18 painting, which he had started the previous class.  The boats became bigger, crowding the harbor.  The houses became bigger and fewer in number. The houses farther up the hill are not diminished in size, as perspective would dictate and as they appear in the photo.  At this point we suspect that he might be pulling a Cézanne on us.  When we take in the mountains, there’s no doubt:  this is Cézanne country.  The mountains have been pushed up and towards us.  The whole tripartite scene is being pushed forward and crammed into the picture frame.  The composition is made up of three elements: boats, houses and hills. Each of these sections is “in front;” nothing recedes into the distance. This immediacy is made even more tactile by the handling of the paint. The artist painted with a palette knife, thick and loose.  So that we’re looking at boats and at the same time paint itself.  We also get this effect in Cézanne, too, who did not blend, but rather left his individual brush strokes visible.

There’s more to explain the dynamic of this painting: 1) the zig-zag of the overall composition; 2) the golden section; and 3) the cropping of the mountain.

1) The pink lines in this diagram trace the zig-zag of the big forms in the painting.  (See post “Skies Tahiti,” April 22, 2011 ) The masts, rather tame and thin in the photo, are zig-zag and coarse, an invention of the artist.

2) The green line shows the golden section, a topic for a future post.

3) The mountain on the left is brought up to the upper edge of the canvas so that the sky does not go clear across the top of the scene.   This has the effect of bringing the mountain even closer to us.  I’ll talk about that in connection with Caillebotte’s photographic cropping in a future post.  Soon.

And what about that orange house to the right.  And the rhythm created by the windows, which are painted in single slashes of the brush.  It’s an engaging painting.

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Sunsets and cloud formations often take our breath away.  We stop walking, stop pedaling and stop driving so that we can give in to shameless gaping, all sophistication abandoned.  What we’re looking at are light rays and water vapors.  Light rays bending over the horizon and water vapors clumping in the troposphere, however well we may understand the physics that produce the effects, will still stop us in our tracks.  For centuries, light has been a metaphor in our literature and art for concepts like hope, transcendence and peace.  In the late 18th century, with the rise of Romanticism and then the sense of the Sublime in the early 19th century, light effects and cloud formations became major rock stars on the stage of the poetic imagination.

The Hudson River Valley painters are a great example.  Thomas Moran (1837-1926), for example, painted awe-inspiring landscapes, often of enormous dimensions and involving spectacular cloud formations and light effects.

But a painting of rays and vapors often falls flat.  Think of the sentimental sunset paintings you’ve winced at while strolling through a summer art fair.  You want to say, dude, the 19th century is like so yesterday. We still love the real thing, the sunset, but our notion of painting has taken a sharp turn.  A hundred years of abstraction have taught us that the painting is an artifact. We have come to appreciate the power of composition and we are less likely to be manipulated by the sentimental intentions of Sunday painters.

In walks Elaine C. with her photos of Tahiti.  Breathtaking, if you imagine what it must have been like to be there.  We spread out these wonderful photos and looked in amazement and a little envy.  But the task at hand was to stop gasping and set to work on making a painting!  Lo and behold, in her display of 4 x 6 photos, there was this one, where the clouds and the mountain range had gotten together that magical romantic evening in Tahiti to form the wildest, most dynamic composition possible: the Z.  It’s quite uncanny.  It’s this rigorous geometry that rescues the composition from the sobs and sighs of sentimentality.  The work on this painting (16 x 20) was difficult and time consuming because the artist/student had to reconcile two opposites:  the amorphous, soft form of clouds and the distinct zig-zag of the overall composition.

In the Tahiti photo, the bottom of the frame shows a body of water, but in the painting this sliver becomes  an expanse of green meadow—for the sake of color.  We can do that because we’re painters.

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

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