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.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bernini: Sculpting in Clay

Today I will be reviewing Bernini: Sculpting in Clay, a book recently published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the greatest sculptors in the history of art and, arguably, second only to Michelangelo Buonarroti. He was the father of the baroque style which emphasized motion and drama in sculpture, painting and architecture.

With essays by C.D. Dickerson III, Anthony Sigel, and Ian Wardropper this volume explores Bernini's clay "sketches" or bozzetti as they were known. Richly illustrated, Bernini delves into the working methods of the great sculptor, giving us a glimpse into how many of his iconic marbles evolved from conception through sketches on paper, clay sketches, and life-size clays.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Study for Daniel, ca 1655. Red chalk.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Study for Daniel, ca 1655. Red chalk.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Daniel in the Lion's Den, ca 1655. Terracotta.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Daniel in the Lion's Den, ca. 1655-57. Marble, over life-size.

The illustrations are wonderful, with many detailed photos of the clay bozzetti which allow you to inspect the tool-marks left in the clay and even Bernini's fingerprints. Several x-radiograph photos let you see inside the clays to understand how the structures were formed.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Model for the Fountain of the Moor, ca 1653. Terracotta.

X-radiograph. Note hollowed head and torso, solid shell and base.

Fountain of the Moor, 1653-55. Marble, over life-size. Piazza Navona, Rome.

There is something magical in Bernini's best sculpture, an expressive motion which he was able to translate from drawing, to clay bozzetta, to finished marble; no easy feat, considering how elusive the gesture is at any one of these stages.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, ca. 1647. Terracotta.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, 1647-52. Marble, life-size.

Anyone interested in Bernini, renaissance sculpture, or the working methods of sculptors will enjoy this large, high quality book. A fascinating read.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Life Drawing Session

Michael Whynot c. 2012. Figure Study

Michael Whynot c. 2012. Figure Study
Here are two figure studies from this morning's life drawing session. They were fifteen and twenty minutes in length. The model's poses were very expressive; subtle twists and turns of the major masses made for an interesting couple of hours. Never discount the value of a good model to the quality of your work.