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.