Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Beauty of Forms.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Detail. Water-based clay.

There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may -  light, shade and perspective will always make it beautiful. (John Constable)

Light reveals form - which is a beautiful thing - that can be infinite in its variety, owing to its orientation to light and the viewpoint of the beholder.

In a drawing, the draftsman fixes the source of light and the viewpoint of the beholder to a single moment in time, in essence, selecting a moment from the infinite for each new drawing. But the sculptor, creating in the round, is able to offer infinite variety in a single work. Both the sculptor and the draftsman offer infinite variety: the sculptor in a single work, the draftsman in many.

Note the variety in the photos of my clay torso study above. Each is taken from a different viewpoint and orientation to the light source. A draftsman could create many different drawings from the photos, while the sculptor creates one work with infinite variety.

As men have done since the beginning of time, I become lost when pondering the infinite, the possibilities for beauty being endless. The artist's job is to embrace one of these moments of beauty from among the infinite variety available and endeavour to convey it to others so that they can see form as the artist sees form. The degree to which the artist succeeds is dependent upon their ability to clearly render, not only the form, but the essence of the form which is beyond verbal definition and is the crux of the artist.

                                    The Beauty of Forms.

                             That I am blessed to bear witness
                             To the beauty of forms
                             Amid these common aspects of daily life;
                             But, oh, how it consumes me,
                             Like a flame,
                             As I struggle to release it,
                             Burning me
                             From the inside out.

                                                      (Michael Whynot, 2012)


Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Lure of Anatomy.

Leonardo Da Vinci. A skull sectioned, 1489.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Anatomy of the shoulder and neck.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Muscles of the shoulder.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Anatomy of the shoulder and neck.

Raphael. Study for Adam. Black chalk, 1509.

Michael Whynot. Study of Arm and Shoulder, 2012.

Michael Whynot. Study of Legs, 2012.

Human anatomy is seductive for the draftsman. Its study seems to hold the promise of superior drawing ability, much as a Michelangelo, Raphael, or Da Vinci possessed. But this is a path upon which the draftsman can swiftly become disoriented and lost amid the bones, muscles and tendons. He can spend years learning the latin nomenclature, origins and insertions of muscles; all the while, their drawing abilities languish.

So, can the draftsman improve their drawing ability with the study of anatomy? Yes, I believe they can. If it is studied properly and at the appropriate time.

The study of anatomy will not teach the draftsman how to draw. Otherwise all doctors, nurses and physio therapists would be master draftsmen, which is not the case. You must know how to draw first. You must be able to describe form and bring line to life on a two dimensional surface.

What the study of anatomy will teach you is to understand that which you are seeing. The amount of information available when observing the human form is immense and overwhelming; much more than the draftsman can or should use. The study of anatomy teaches you to understand which information is important, allowing you to simplify and clarify your drawings so that they don't become overworked and lifeless. Good draftsmanship is a matter of seeing and selecting those elements which advance the drawing of which you have conceived.

Notice the wonderful attention to detail and the intricate line-work that Da Vinci rendered in his studies of anatomy which elevated those drawings to true works of art. And see how Raphael has obviously studied anatomy but used it selectively with his beautiful, lively line in the Study for Adam.

I've also included two of my own figure studies done in red chalk.

Learn anatomy with care, but learn to see with abandon, and your line may, one day, transcend simple knowledge to achieve a life of its own. At the end of the day, anatomy is nothing more than five pounds of dust without the grace of the human soul. Endeavour to draw that which gives anatomy meaning: learn to draw the human soul.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Contemplating the Tragedy in Connecticut.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit 'round it and pluck blackberries.
                               (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Like most of the world, I have been contemplating the events of this past week in Connecticut - crying a little, questioning a lot, trying to see a purpose and failing; at least for now. At the end of the day, this is a blog about beauty and, this week, I struggled to see any.

We, as a species, need beauty. It sustains us; it insulates us from the crudeness of reality; it reminds us that there is something more than the frantic come day, go day of existance. Beauty is all around us, but who has the time to see it? Art's purpose is to expose the moment; all those beautiful moments that we overlook in the face of living our daily lives. And, what higher purpose is there than to show the world that which they cannot see, but which they so desperately need.

Beauty of forms; of cadences; of melodies; of virtue; all those lost moments. Endeavor to capture them, make a difference in the world; change someone.

For, he who recognizes beauty in any form, may recognize beauty in all its forms. Please, see the splendor; aspire to help those see it, who need to see it most.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Fearful Symmetry: Contrapposto, The Legacy of the Greeks, Part 2.

Michelangelo. David, 1501-1504.
Greek. Marble statue of a Kouros (youth), ca, 590-580 B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Greek. Marble statue of Kritios boy, ca, 5th century B.C. 
Greek. Hermes Carrying the Infant Dionysus, (Praxiteles?) ca. 350 B.C.

Symmetry of form is beautiful, but static; boring. Variety of form conveys life, a sense of movement. Contrapposto (Italian: opposite, counterpose) may be viewed as a flaw in symmetry; the life inherent in the form. Without these flaws the form is perfect, but dead. Within the flaws lies the gesture which imbues form with life. To my mind, contropposto is the balance achieved between beauty of form (symmetry) and variety of form (asymmetry).

The Greeks discovered this in the 5th century B.C. and the Italians rediscovered it during the renaissance. Note how the Greek depiction of the human form evolved over three centuries, from static to dynamic, and the beautiful interpretation of the concept in the hands of Michelangelo nearly two thousand years later.

Perfection is a wondrous state to strive for, but a fearsome state to attain. Perfection of form lacks grace (for want of a less ambiguous word), which I define as a pleasing arrangement of forms in a moment of balance.

Observe how the human form regains balance once it abandons symmetry. The weight shifts to one foot, putting that leg into tension, while the opposite leg is relaxed. The hips tilt in one plane, the torso in the opposite plane, and the head in the opposite plane, yet again.

Balance is maintained and a beautiful, graceful serpentine line flows through the body, from head to toe, uniting the forms. Symmetry, perfection, is lost, but grace is attained.

The Greeks did not invent contrapposto, nature did that. But they were the first to depict it in works of art and even now, two and a half millennia later, we cannot help but gaze upon them with inexplicable awe and wonder.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Pursuing Gesture: The Legacy of the Greeks. Part one.

Greek, 2nd century B.C. Torso of Satyr.
Michelangelo. A Battle Scene, c. 1504
Raphael. Men Fighting (1504?).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini. David, 1624.
Frank Frazetta. Mid-20th century.
Patricia Hannaway
Patricia Hannaway.
Michael Whynot. Thirty second gesture drawing, 2012.
Michael Whynot. Fifteen minute torso study, 2012.

I have touched upon gesture in a previous post, but I find myself returning to it again and again, the eternal moth to the flame, since it lies at the heart of everything I find beautiful in art.

Gesture is not new, nor is it limited to a single time period. Great artists, since antiquity, have been capturing it, imbuing form with life.

Sometime around 480-450 B.C., Greek art began to evolve. Up until that point there was an unnatural lifelessness inherent in their sculpture and painting. It was hard and cold and lacked what we now refer to as gesture. But once the Greeks were able to overcome the initial stiffness of their early work (see the beautiful, 2nd century B.C., Torso of a Satyr, above), the vitality of the gesture has flowed down the ages, from the Greeks to the Romans, from Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini, to modern artists.

Frank Frazetta was able to capture the essence of movement in a few perceptively placed ink strokes. Long time animator, Patricia Hannaway, has a lovely, expressive touch with line and light. Lastly, I have included a thirty second gesture drawing and a fifteen minute torso study of my own.

Life moves quickly, so the artist's eye must move quicker still; must notice even more. Gesture neither begins nor ends, but is in a constant state of flux. What a wonderful ability: to pluck life from between God's own fingers and shape it into material form, the grace of which others might now behold and wonder that they had never before noticed such beauty.

Life unravels too quickly, too quickly altogether. Art offers us a respite, a chance to breathe and experience the wonder of existence; art is a nightlight shinning at 3:00 in the morning.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hands and Feet: Drawing Beauty and Complexity

Michael Whynot. Hand Study, c. 2012.

Michael Whynot. Foot Study, c. 2012.

Michael Whynot. Study of Feet, c. 2012.

"The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." Leonardo Da Vinci

Nothing strikes greater fear in the heart of the novice draftsman than the prospect of drawing the human foot or hand. And, in fairness, they are somewhat more difficult to draw well than the rest of the body, owing to their beautiful complexity of form.

The feet can support the figure with a graceful delicacy, sturdy determination, or an awkward shuffle; among the many variations which can reveal the nature of a pose.

And the hands are, perhaps, the most expressive part of the human anatomy, rivalling the face as the most eloquent conveyor of emotion.

Needless to say, the complexity of these two appendages is the major factor in the difficulty encountered in their rendering. The hands, in particular, with the fingers ability to fold in upon themselves, poses unique difficulties.

With understanding of the form, however, the complexity becomes manageable, even if it doesn't totally disappear. In the initial stages of learning to draw the hands and feet, simplification is the key.
Construct the foot with a simple wedge shape, apply perspective, and build the details upon this. Learning to see the simple shapes comprising complex forms can be applied to any part of the anatomy.

When first drawing the hand, draw it with the fingers as a single mass, like a mitten. Once you understand the gesture of the hand as a whole, you can observe the gestures of the individual digits.

And the difficulties encountered in drawing hands and feet often lead draftsmen to invent ways of not drawing them. Ignoring a problem, however, is never the path to improvement. Persistent drawing and understanding of form is the path. Drawing must become an obsession - like a private religion, where line is your God.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Clay Torso Sketch, November 26.

Michael Whynot, 2012. Clay torso study.

Michael Whynot, 2012. Clay torso study.

Michael Whynot, 2012. Clay torso study.

Here is a torso sketch done in water-based clay that I was working on this morning. I spent about one hour on it.

When sketching in water-based clay, there is a limit to how large you can go (this sketch is about 8 1/2 inches tall) and the complexity of the pose, without resorting to an internal armature. As you can see, I had to prop up one side of the figure, as it wanted to collapse under its own weight. Water-based clay is fairly heavy and standing poses and outstretched limbs require an armature to support the weight of the clay.

But, for me, this defeats the purpose of the sketch. I use clay sketches in much the same way as sketches done on paper, to explore variations in a pose. I rarely spend more than an hour on one and there is little detail; the surface is left fairly rough.

A wonderful exercise, though, in understanding form, whether sculpting, drawing or painting.

Life Drawing Session November 25

Michael Whynot, 2012. Figure study. Red chalk, white highlights.
Michael Whynot, 2012. Figure study. Red chalk, white highlights.

Michael Whynot, 2012. Leg study. Red chalk.
Michael Whynot, 2012. Leg study. Red chalk.

Michael Whynot, 2012. Leg study. Red chalk.

Thought I would post a couple of 10 minute figure studies done at yesterdays life drawing session. Also  three leg studies done earlier this month.

Focusing on individual body parts is a great way to learn their form (specially when just starting out), without the added pressure of getting the proportion right for the entire body. The problems remain the same, but on a smaller scale. Try to focus on one problem at a time: gesture, proportion, tone, line weight, how one form fits into another. Don't get overwhelmed. You can put all the pieces together once you have conquered them individually.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sketching In Clay

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Water-based clay.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study, 2012. Water-based clay.

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."  Michelangelo

"Matter, material, is without definition, without beauty; into matter, form is introduced, which is a beautiful and definite thing. Giving form to material is the practice of the artist"  David Summers

The above photos are of a quick (30 minutes) torso study done from the imagination in water-based clay. Sketching in clay, for me, is little different than sketching with pencil on paper. While the end product may appear different to the viewer, the ability to visualize the form in three dimensions is the foundation upon which either manner of sketch must rise.

The process of modelling in clay or describing form in line on paper is a skill that can be learned, but the imaginative faculty is infinitely more complex and may be beyond teaching or learning.

Imagination begets creation. What an intoxicating experience, to imagine form, which does not exist, and, through the act of visualizing it, create that form in charcoal or clay with your own hands, like an inexplicable magic trick, or a sideline in which God might dabble in His spare time: the physical manifestation of thought itself.

Monday, 19 November 2012

To Measure Or Not To Measure

19th century Academic drawing.

Frank Frazetta c. 1975. Pen and ink.

"An artist must have his measuring tools not in the hand, but in the eye." Michelangelo

Reading the above quote from Michelangelo, you can guess where I stand on the issue of measuring in regards to good draftsmanship.

Mechanical measuring to very exacting standards is a process now being taught in many art schools and  ateliers. While this is certainly one way of obtaining acceptable results in a reasonable amount of time (months, as opposed to years), I would submit that, for many artists, the practise can become a crutch and will actually hinder their progress in the longer term.

By adhering to a reliance on mechanical measuring, the student will never train their eye. They may never learn to comparatively measure form and distance without their plumb lines and straight edges. And, to my mind, learning to measure proportion by eye is the foundation upon which good draftsmanship is built.

Also, accuracy of measurement is only one aspect of a good drawing and, arguably, not even the most important aspect, but should certainly be accomplished by eye if the draftsman is not to become a prisoner to nature. Drawing from the imagination becomes an impossibility if the draftsman hasn't learnt to measure form by eye.

And, at some point in the drawing process, the artist needs to let go of the impulse to measure everything for accuracy; incessant measuring can stiffen a drawing, threatening your initial gesture and draining it of any freshness it may have had. Better to have a vibrant drawing with subtle, sensitive line that is not perfectly accurate, than a completely accurate drawing, devoid of all life.

I have included two drawings by way of example. The first is an academic figure study from the 19th century and comparable to much of the work currently being produced. The second is a pen and ink drawing by Frank Frazetta, c. 1975 (certainly one of the 20th centuries most underrated draftsmen). While both drawings are accurate, Frazetta drew by eye and often from his imagination; the resulting drawing achieves a dynamic freshness which is lacking in the 19th century study which was likely drawn directly from the model and mechanically measured, resulting in a drawing which is stiff and overworked by comparison.

Accuracy of draftsmanship is certainly an important destination for the artist, but of these two paths to attaining that goal, one can be, for many, a dead end.

A drawing's success is built upon the eye's ability to measure comparatively, one form against another, and the heart's ability not to measure the life out of it.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Act of Drawing Well.

Michelangelo. Studies for Haman, c. 1511-12. Red chalk. The Teyler Museum.

Michelangelo. Studies for Haman, c. 1511-12. Red chalk. The British Museum.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, c. 2012. Collection of the artist.

"The eye cannot see what the mind does not know"  Anonymous.

"The whole essence of good drawing - and of good thinking, perhaps - is to work a subject down to the simplest form possible and still have it believable for what it is meant to be."  Chuck Jones.

"Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form." Degas.

"There is nothing like drawing a thing to make you really see it."  Margaret Atwood.

The act of drawing well takes time; there are no shortcuts, no free lunches. The amount of time this process takes will vary by individual and can happen gradually or suddenly or not at all, but will always involve a fundamental shift in perception.

Nature is populated by an infinite variety of forms - they define our reality. Every moment of every day we interact with them; handle them; embrace them. We humans are engaged in an intimate relationship with forms.

So why is it that when we sit down to draw these forms in all their three-dimensional wonder, that our minds collapse into a two-dimensional perception of sorts? Since we are drawing on a two-dimensional surface, we mistakenly believe that we are locked into only those two dimensions: width and height. We know we cannot draw into the paper, cannot see around and behind a form, trapped as we are in a single point of view. We believe we cannot draw depth, so our mind ignores it.

This is a problem not of visual perception, but of mental perception.

The basis of drawing well is knowledge. Our mind must understand a given form before we can draw it well. You must be able to imagine a three-dimensional form occupying space before you can hope to draw it with any sense of depth or volume.

Ironically, the process of understanding a form involves the drawing of that form over and over again. Each time you draw a given form, you will see in it something new, something that allows you to understand the form a little better. You begin to internalize the form which will, in turn, allow you to draw it even better the next time around, until one fine day...

How many times did Michelangelo draw studies of Haman to achieve the effects displayed in his two studies I have include above? How many studies of torsos and limbs were drawn to coax them into thrusting out into space with such vivid life?

Nature is complex and deceptive, so copying nature without understanding nature, while widely practiced, will never lead to drawing well. Knowledge of form will allow you to select those elements that can simplify and clarify a drawing, bringing emphasis to those aspects of your choosing, which is the true domain of art.

Michelangelo understood form and it elevated his draftsmanship to pinnacles rarely witnessed since.

The act of drawing well is advanced through the act of understanding form, while the act of understanding form is advanced through the act of drawing well. Understanding and drawing, each dependant upon the other, so intertwined that when I examine them closely they appear, to my eye, as one.