Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Gesture and Creativity.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Study of battles on horseback and on foot.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Study of battles on horseback and on foot.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Group of riders in the Battle of Anghiari.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Study for the Burlington House cartoon.

Michael Whynot. Gesture Study, 2013.

Michael Whynot. Gesture Study, 2013.

In my last post, I talked about the neglected skill of capturing gesture from life as a foundation for future work. Today, I would like to take gesture one step further and discuss its role in the creative process.

Once the draftsman has a solid grasp on capturing gesture from life, it is a short leap to begin exploring gestures from your imagination. Complex and multi-figure compositions do not always lend themselves to life studies (although individual figures, within the total composition, may do so). The initial design of the composition must emerge from the imagination and is best explored through gesture (see my previous post on nature versus imagination).

Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius, by an standards, and was famous for his use of this brainstorming technique. There are many surviving sheets of his rapid sketches which offer primi pensieri (first ideas) for many of his complex compositions.

I have included three sheets of his battle studies and one study for his Burlington House cartoon. Notice that these are in no way finished drawings - simply quick, explorations of his thoughts made visible on paper.

I have also included two sheets of my own gestures done, this morning, from imagination. They are very loose, done in under 20 seconds per figure. The draftsman should play with them; move them around in space and follow where they lead.

Although the source of creativity is mysterious and complex, drawing appears to focus, direct and enhance this process.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Gesture as Foundation.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, 2013. Red chalk.

Michael Whynot. Gesture for the drawing above.

Michael Whynot. Head Study, 2013. Red chalk.

I'm posting some recent drawings today and I'm going to talk a little about gesture. Gesture is, perhaps, the most neglected of all the fundamental skills a draftsman requires. This may be owing to the fact that it is so deceptively simple. We're basically talking about a stick figure. And any four-year-old can draw these; or so it would seem. And, therein, lies the difficulty. A well done gesture captures the rhythm of the figure (see my previous post on gesture). Within it should be contained all the necessary information needed to complete a figure which is the thrust of the forms; the pose. Once you have that, then a knowledge of form, light and anatomy (see my previous post on anatomy) will carry you the rest of the way.

The figure study, above, was done from the gesture drawing shown below it and was, itself, drawn from life several months ago.

Drawing complete studies from life is indispensable for the draftsman but is not always possible. The ability to capture gesture is a basic skill which must not be neglected. Learn to do it and use it as your foundation upon which to build future work.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Raphael Drawings: A Review

Cover: Raphael. Study of a Horseman c. 1511/1512. Silverpoint and white heightening.

Raphael. Study of a man hanging by his arms c. 1505/1506. Pen and brown ink.

Raphael. The Virgin and Child with Saint Elizabeth? and Two Other Saints c. 1511/1513.
Silverpoint heightened with lead white.

Raphael (and workshop), Madonna dell'impannata, c. 1515.

Raphael. The Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1510. Red chalk.

Raphael. Study of a soldier rushing towards the right, behind him two horsemen,
c. 1515/1516. Red chalk over stylus.

Raphael. Three Nude Men in Attitudes of Terror, c. 1510-1514. Black chalk (charcoal?).

Raphael: Drawings is a new book published by Hirmer Publishers focusing on the collection of the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt, and edited by Joachim Jacoby and Martin Sonnabend. The book looks at Raphael's preparatory drawings which he used to compose many of his large-scale works. Some forty-eight drawings are contained in the book with several of Raphael's most familiar works being represented.

I find these preparatory drawings infinitely more instructive than studying finished paintings or murals. The creative process is more easily visible, the thought processes almost tangible. Raphael's line was sensitive and beautiful and the fact that Raphael, Michelangelo and Da Vinci all lived during the same lifetime and in the some region is remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that being coincidental seems out of the question. The focus placed on the process of drawing that was employed during the renaissance must have played a key role. The creative process itself sprang from their drawings. And their process of apprenticeship and the workshop system perpetuated this knowledge.

If we, as draftsmen, ever hope to attain their level of proficiency again, then the study of their preparatory drawings is the place to embark upon that journey. We are experiencing something of a second renaissance in representational, figurative art in this century, after the dead end of modern art during the twentieth century.

Raphael may have been a genius, as were Michelangelo and Da Vinci, but their processes are contained within their drawings, waiting for us to study them. Who's to say that we can't equal them. I, for one, at least have to try.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Head Study in Profile. March 14

Michael Whynot. Head Study in Profile. Red chalk, 2013.

Posting a five minute head study done in profile from the imagination. The profile can easily look like a paper cutout if you concentrate only on the outside contour of the head. Once again, the draftsman must  endeavour to see the depth in the structure. There is a definite corner where the front of the head meets the side of the head and that corner is two inches nearer to you than the nose; so draw it that way. Model the interior of the features with tone, allowing the light source to reveal the form. If you simply stick an eye in the middle of a contour of the profile and expect to achieve a sense of volume, you will be disappointed with the results.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Overlapping Forms.

Michael Whynot. Figure study, 2013. Red chalk.

Michael Whynot. Figure study, 2013. Red chalk.

Some poses are inherently more challenging to draw than others: namely, any pose where foreshortening and perspective come into play (hint: most of them). Much of the knowledge we learn about proportion goes out the window with these poses. This is where the draftsman's ability to measure comparatively, by eye, comes into play (see my previous post on measuring). And even this can be a challenge, since depth is the most difficult measurement to judge. But describing the forms with a sense of dimensionality or volume can be achieved by a solid understanding of the forms and clarifying which form is in front and which is behind.

Overlapping forms is an aspect of drawing which is easily overlooked by the beginning draftsman. In an academic approach to drawing the figure, he or she is often taught to carefully draw the contour of the figure and, in so doing, they usually combine the contours of separate forms into one with a continuous line, flattening out the drawing and confusing the viewer.

The ability to see how one form fits into another allows the draftsman to emphasize the separation between the two. Taking a constructionist approach to the figure allows the draftsman to understand these forms. From this point there are several ways to clarify the overlapping forms: line weight and sensitivity being the foremost, but also emphasizing the forward form with tone and the use of atmospheric perspective.

The two drawings, above, are from Sunday's life drawing session and were each approximately 20 minutes long. Notice how I try to emphasize the line weight of the forward forms and subdue the weight of line on the forms which pass behind the forward forms. This is a process which takes much practice and must be utilized over every part of the figure (something which I haven't totally achieved on either drawing).

There are many elements to consider in a good drawing- overlapping forms is but one of many- and they must be considered simultaneously and completely internalized, so that they are done without thinking. This is a long process, and one reason why a constructionist approach to drawing the figure takes longer to become proficient in than an academic approach. But the results from a constructionist approach are usually more dimensional and beautiful (beautiful and accurate are not the same thing).

But all of the elements of good drawing stem from proper seeing by the draftsman. And seeing is akin to understanding and visa versa (see my previous post on drawing well). For, if the form is not clear in your mind's eye, it will never be clear in the viewer's eye.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Focus: The Elusive Piece of the Puzzle.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, 2013. Red Chalk.
Michael Whynot. Figure Study, 2013. Red Chalk.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, 2013. Red Chalk.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, 2013. Red Chalk.

During this morning's life drawing session, I began wondering to what extent focus plays in good drawing.

For our purpose, The Free Dictionary defines focus as:
4. Close or narrow attention; concentration.
5. A condition in which something can be clearly apprehended or perceived.
Put simply, the process of bringing our attention to bear upon the subject, to the exclusion of all outside distractions; drawing in the zone (to use a sports analogy). That state of mind in which time slows down and hours can disappear down the rabbit hole of focused concentration.

Once we, as draftsmen, have all the necessary tools in place: the ability to describe form with line and tone; an understanding of gesture and anatomy; an eye trained to measure proportion comparatively, then success or failure rests, ultimately, upon the ability to focus our attention upon the subject.

During last week's session, I lacked focus - I struggled with gesture and proportion; I could not visualize the pose, even though I was staring at it. This week I was able to attain focus; I could have closed my eyes and still seen the form - and my drawings were better for it.

Concentration, focus is elusive. I am uncertain what conditions inhibit or nurture it, but I am certain that, whatever the conditions may be, that they reside within me. The obstacles to good drawing are mental, not physical.

At the end of the day, good drawing demands that the artist be present.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The Serpentine Line.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, 2013. Red chalk.

I marvel at how often the human form can be described, through its underlying gesture, with a simple S curve; a serpentine line which flows through the figure, creating a unity of the forms. The draftsman should search for this line constantly in his drawings. Its use will allow them to relate the whole, as opposed to a mere reporting of the parts.

At times, light itself appears to flow through this twisting channel like water, shimmering atop the upraised forms, creating shadow as the forms turn away. Look for this aspect of light and use it to describe the forms. If you don't see it, then create it, because it is there, subtle though it may be. Never fear to enhance any quality which will bring dimension or clarity to your drawings. The purpose of art was never to copy nature, but to reveal true nature.