Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 28, 2016

Rules and Regulations

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:10 pm

A friend recently commented after seeing a recent show that I place things in the centre of the picture too much. This of course produced an intense wave of paranoia and I went home and nervously checked my paintings! It was with some relief I found that though some did, largely they were free of this cardinal sin. However it did get me to thinking I should write something on the subject. So when considering how to tackle this post I thought I would check on paintings by the greats and see how they manoeuvred around this fearsome “Bermuda Triangle” zone that every canvas inevitably has. I thought I could post some paintings with those criss-crossy lines that art historians draw on paintings to explain the compositional ins and outs of cunning composition. This would have the added advantage of making me look more erudite than a well known epoxy glue as an added bonus.

Well there won’t be any clever diagrams… the giants of painting appear in fact to be very fond of the middle ground. I found so many examples of blatant centre invasion that I had to take a step back and consider the whole thing from scratch. Why do we landscape painters advise each other to be careful not the divide the canvas with the horizon halfway? I have done so to other painters myself, in my best irritatingly patronising manner, quite a few times. In the spirit of due diligence for this post I looked at Constable and Turner, both considered pretty nifty in the landscape department. I have to say I was taken aback, Constable loved the halfway horizon, Turner less so but plenty of examples there too.

By now I was in rat smelling mode. Who had told me of the prohibition? How had I come across the idea that the middle ground was toxic? Riffling through my old “how to paint a masterpiece in ten minutes with no boring learning hard stuff” books, I found they were very fond of raising the dread of the centre. They also were really enamoured of “the rule of thirds”. Back to the masterpieces of yore and it didn’t take long to realise that none of them gave a rat’s fundament to the idea of thirds. In looking I found a fair few criss-cross diagrams by officially clever people. I then took the same painting and did different criss-crossies… rather confusingly my amateur ones seemed to line up just as well as the professional ones! Its rather like ley lines it seems a telling property of ancient sites, but then it was found that similar lines could be drawn through the locations of telephone boxes! Things do line up but the fact isn’t necessarily significant

Another that cropped up frequently was the “Golden Mean” or phi. I had had a previous encounter with this so called magical proportion. Many years ago I had been asked to make a computer 3d model of a Nautilus shell whose spiral is the poster boy for the spiral produced by the golden section. It was to illustrate a TV program on the subject. There was to be a little animation of the spiral flying over and mapping to the shell. However on getting lots of photo ref of the beasty I found the spirals were entirely different! On talking to the producer and he suggested I cheat the shell to fit… I declined to cheat and I never heard more. Baffled I researched the whole thing further and found that the whole damn thing was myth. Irritatingly it was one I was rather fond of and had naively bought into.

I won’t go into it too much but the prime examples just don’t fly. The parthenon does it fit? Well no only with a bit of a stretch, the great pyramid well not quite the angle is a bit off. Both these cultures were superb geometers and would I reckon have got it bang on. Euclid hardly mentions it for heavens sake, if it was so important surely he would have given it more than a line. It does exist in Islamic culture, but they are very keen on Pentagons which is where phi originates. Other cultures, Chinese, Aztec etc never seem to have noticed this all conquering principle. I then found anguished articles by famous mathematicians debunking the whole thing and then getting cross that everyone went on believing the story anyhow! A fate due to be meted out to me over this peroration I feel sure.

Where do these rules come from? The rule of thirds it would seem puts in its first appearance in a book by John Thomas Smith in 1797 called “Remarks on Rural Scenery”.

I quote:

“Rule of thirds”, (if I may be allowed so to call it)…, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two : Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives.”

The person keen on banning “equal division” in a  composition seems to be Joshua Reynolds. Bafflingly he seems to have ignored it for the most part when painting his own pictures!

You will not be surprised to find that the thirds scenario is also somewhat absent in most  well known artist’s paintings… It is easy of course to find things on the thirds or the middles, there after all has to be something there… or not there as the case may be!

So why are we so keen on these so called rules? Well firstly they are easy to remember, and even easier to trot out, as I have not infrequently done myself. Beneath that I think we have a built in yearning for order and underlying meaning to make sense of this confusing world. We love binary choices, this is bad that is good, this black that is white. It allows us to feel we have a handle on this confusing and infinitely gradated existence we share. One thing I became convinced of in researching this trope is that such things only bother artists. Other viewers don’t notice and I what is more I suspect artists only notice because these dodgy rules have crept in to their beliefs without proper examination!

 

After that it is safer to post an update on life drawing, you can all amuse yourselves looking for golden means and thirds!

 

life drawing, figure

This was a great day where we spent all day working from the model. A real luxury when you are used to life sessions.

life drawing, figure

I find it easier to severely limit the palette on life sketches, it is amazing how the eye fills in the colours that it expects.

 

life drawing, figure drawing

Just two colours here 10 mins I think. Most short poses go into the bin but when by luck they work they are some of my favourite things.

life drawing, figure drawing

I have been trying to do just bits of the figure now and again, I do rather try a little too much to get the whole lot in which doesn’t really matter.

figure drawing, life drawing

One thing I do notice looking through drawings where I have used watercolour is that the ones done with a flat sable work better that those with a round. This probably means I need to do more with the round brush alas!

life drawing, figure drawing

I like to change media, each time you return to a particular medium you seem to see slightly more afresh.

life drawing, figure drawing

Two pastels on a toned paper are almost too seductive in the way you can get a quick précis of the pose and light.

figure drawing, life drawing

Going wild here a whole three pastels! I loved the perspective on this pose. When faced with this sort of problem it is very easy to get the distant body parts too large. It is one of the occasions when I check proportions carefully. Another good trick is to draw the shapes that aren’t body as we have fewer expectations of them.

life drawing, figure drawing

I was only when looking at this one I remembered I had intended to do a few sessions where I just did line. This pose seemed to call for a more definite edge, I must do some just with line as it always does good to reduce your options.

life drawing, figure drawing

Back to the white paper and charcoal pencil. I think my favourite weapon of choice, again for its simplicity.

life drawing, figure drawing

The medium is so good for the quick poses, you can do lines an block in tones very swiftly. I alternate between doing the tones first and then adding lines and visa versa.

life drawing

Usually I like the results of the long poses the least in a session but I was pleased with this one. It is unintuitive but a good idea to allow your toning to cross right over the figures bounds. This sets the figure in space and gives a lost and found unity.

figure drawing, life drawing

Last one and that is the life drawing caught up with. These are always the least popular of my posts but probably my own favourites!

November 29, 2015

The Importance of Drawing

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:21 pm

Looking back over past posts I have not really dealt with drawing. Not techniques more the whys and wherefores. In some ways I write this blog to sort out my own opinions on things. All too often once your words look back at you from the screen you think, “I’m not sure that I really agree with myself!” Indeed reading back there are more than a few of my own posts I would not entirely agree with. Not that I will change them I would not like to develop a reputation for intellectual consistency.

So, drawing, what exactly do I think about it? Firstly I suppose I need to ask: What is drawing? Making a mark on a surface that can be interpreted by others is a fairly catch all definition. This implies an actual transfer via the medium of information from one individual to another. So abstract squiggles and random mark making are out I’m afraid. They may be beautiful but not in my view drawing. So writing is drawing. Not the information contained in the writing but the information that identifies the character. So the individual letters are drawn. Plans and schematics are drawings. Indeed we perhaps need to arrange the types of drawing by what cargo of information they carry.

So a drawing can carry abstract information as letter shapes do. Symbols perform a similar function.

A drawing can carry information about a three dimensional object such as building or a planet as in a map.

Drawings can plan a two dimensional image such as a painting or a poster.

Here of course as with all art subjects we run into boggy ground. Drawing is both a noun and a verb. Is a finished painting a drawing? Certainly drawing is used in its creation. Is that drawing somehow different to the drawing that was used in the same painting’s planning? Are cave paintings drawings? Can finished things be drawings or only the preparatory work?

Perhaps we might say that only preparatory drawings should be given the noun a “drawing”. Does that mean my pen and inks aren’t drawings? There is no doubt in my mind that the meaning for the noun is muddy indeed and I haven’t even mentioned sketches!

So perhaps the verb will be more helpful. Making a mark to convey information. Once that mark is made then it is something else. A painting, a drawing, letter, a plan, all these things can be made by the act. This line of reasoning makes me also feel that the act means making marks that can in general be consistently interpreted by others. So if you were to show the item to a panel of viewers you would get a fair degree of congruency in the replies.

From there it is a small step to grade our results in the success of transferring information with our mark making. So if we draw a girl and our panel only replies that it is a girl we plainly haven’t been as capable as if the panel reports that it was a sad young girl. If we got the report back that it was a sad young girl by using a thousand marks it plainly would not be as efficient as if we got the same result by only using ten. Of course some moods might be conveyed by using many marks in groups, what we call shading or hatching, but perhaps they might be considered as a composite rather than individual marks.

Now to move on to what might make a good drawing. I tentatively might say brevity of means. I think this is best illustrated by the sort of atelier drawing where every nuance of shade is noted down. They are an attempt to convey the full visual experience of seeing a body in tone. However they fail miserably to convey any information about moving or breathing let alone sadness or joy. Despite the claims of the Atelier system of roots back to the past none of the so called old masters draw in such a constipated manner. The 18th 19th century history painters are the ones really to blame.

So how do we learn to draw as best we may? The secret, if such there is, is in training the brain to do most of the work in the background. If we are struggling in placing things, controlling our medium etc then the battle is lost before it has begun. We might manage a creditable drawing of a building or still life, but drawing a person would be a step past that and likely not a success. Many artists I talk to scorn accuracy, to my mind this just means they cannot be bothered with the sometimes frustrating business of learning. The art establishment’s unfounded ideas that such skills are irrelevant don’t help either.

Whether you like it or not the first steps will be tight and more of a graph than a drawing. That is necessary however to train the brain to do all the measuring unconsciously. Inexperienced artists see an experienced draughts person knocking in a figure whilst seeming not to measure, but that is because they have spent so many years measuring that the process has become internalised. The same is true for the assessment of tone etc.

This is why life drawing is so important. It is the mixture of long and short poses that forces us to quickly select the key elements in a pose. At first it seems impossible, but as we practice more and more of the process is taken over by the unconscious. Once that happens then the whole thing becomes more manageable. So the message is predictable I’m afraid, practice, practice, practice!

So a few life drawings to show that I’ve got a long way to go too. However good you get, a good life session will cut you down to size and deflate the ego!

life drawing

15min here I drew deliberately slowly, trying not to make a mark unless I had a purpose for it. It is very easy with life drawing to scribble and hope. Get into the rhythm of, observe, assess, make a mark, observe assess, make a mark etc. You so often see people only occasionally lifting their heads to observe. You should spend longer observing than drawing.

life drawing

In comparison a 3 minute effort. Again I will be pausing between each mark or set of marks.

 

life drawing

More very quick ones. I am using 2 ingredients only here. The flat of the conte for tonal blocks and the end for delineation. You can vary these ingredients but easier to just stick to one or two. Just doing the while thing in tonal blocks without line is a very good exercise.

life drawing

Here all the tonal areas were drawn first and the few key lines added only in the last minute or two of the 15min we had.

 

life drawing

I regularly change medium. Here I have just used tonal areas with no line at all. 20min

life drawing

Here is a 5 min one done the same way. There are only two layers, a dilute first shape then a darker to reinforce and correct.

life drawing

A whole half hour!! I try to start a longer pose in exactly the same way as a shorter one. I then lay repeated layers of observations down on top of each other, each one getting more defined. Whenever you stop a drawing it should look finished. To help with that it is a good idea to do sets of poses where the model just changes pose randomly. Whenever the model changed however long or short the pose was your drawing should look finished.

life drawing

Two 2 minute ones. At first it will seem impossible to get anything worthwhile down in that sort of time. Mostly it won’t be of course and many efforts will go in the bin. What you lose in accuracy you gain in vivacity. These brief splashes say more in my opinion about a living breathing being than any atelier drawing laboured over for a week.

life drawing

Here is one that is perhaps unfinished, I was miles away and not following how the 15 min was passing. I literally jumped when the timer went off! Now though it is incomplete it is not to my mind unfinished.

life drawing

Here is one where I stopped before the end of the pose. It would have been a better drawing if I had stopped earlier! You should always keep an eye out for when a drawing is complete, that will only rarely be when time is called. I often spend the last 5 min doing a lot of looking and very little mark making.

life drawing

Last one, have started to introduce pen. Adding an ingredient like an extra medium always raises new problems.

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