Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Subway Sketching & Perspective

Here's a quick one from the subway last night- just wanted to make some notes for myself about the process for this drawing.
  • Draw the frame quickly to establish the plane of vision. Do your best to approximate the proportions of the scene you're trying to catch, but understand you'll probably have to change it later. Lately I've been finding it useful to do this for everything I sketch, since it reinforces the direction of view and thus the perspective. It also seems like good practice for composition.
  • Establish the center of view- most importantly the horizon line. For me it seems to be a great benchmark since you can usually tell fairly accurately if something is at, above, or below your own eye level. This seems to be particularly true of people- maybe there's some evolutionary advantage to being able to tell if someone is taller or shorter than you. Sometimes I get tricked if I try to gauge their height by looking at their figure, but once I ask myself if their eyes are higher or lower than mine it becomes obvious. The same can be used for landmarks in the environment.
  • Establish a vertical that will serve as your major "unit" for division. This will determine the scale of everything in your drawing, and how much will fit within the frame you've established. In this image, it was the edge of the subway door near the man. It seemed to be about twice the height of the seated man, which would allow me to get the whole corner of the subway car, which is what I was after.
  • The vertical line in the step above seemed to have two approximately equal units above and below the horizon line , which helps to form the basis of a rough perspective grid. The line of the seats and the bottom of the overhead light should have equal (but inverted) angles in relation to the horizon line, and define the right vanishing point. The bottom of the seat defines the other vanishing point, and is reinforced by the the far wall.
  • After this, the perspective grid is established and most everything is division. The most useful thing seems to be judging if something more than halfway or less than halfway between something else. On the subway, it almost never seems to be exactly halfway. The nice thing here is that even if your grid is inaccurate or intentionally from a different angle, as long as you divide the space from your initial big unit and continue to think in three dimensions it should end up working.
  • There's occasional addition if you need to extend the big unit, but you have to set yourself up for division as soon as possible- once you add a couple things in a row it's easy to lose the relationships between everything and just focus on the particular element you're drawing at the moment. I often think of making another unit out on my big perspective grid- even if it goes off the page, and then dividing from there.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Few Notes From Workshop with Sam

Last week I took a painting workshop with Sam. It was a very interesting experience since it's been over a year since I'd taken a class with him.

I have to say I'm still baffled by his approach to drawing. I took classes with him for four years and I'm still not positive I could explain his approach to drawing to someone. That being said, I have learned a lot in terms of drawing from him, but I've mostly been exploring other approaches to his, so the workshop was a bit of a challenge- particularly because of his tendency to refuse to break anything down to principles or methods.

The biggest thing for him when drawing is to stay concerned at all times with "the whole". This includes the frame of the canvas, but is also concerned with the whole figure as one mass. I find there's always a great tension between the 2D design of the canvas and the 3D design of the subject. Some teachers pick one side or the other as a clear starting point, others start somewhere in the middle. Sam, however, does not have a clear starting point, other than to mark the top & bottom of the subject on the canvas. After that you begin with the general mass of the figure, as if it's a blob of clay. Now, which lines or tones or marks you're supposed to use are things that Sam will never, ever tell you. It's one of the most frustrating things about studying with him- he'll often tell you what to do, but will never tell you how to do it. I overheard another student without much experience in painting ask him how he mixes color, and his response was "You know, I have some feeling about the color". I understand where he's coming from, but a beginner needs at least something concrete to go on- like the little footsteps on the ground for ballroom dancing. However, it needs to be presented in a way that makes it clear that simply executing those footsteps properly does not directly result in the foxtrot. It's merely a tool to communicate a portion of something as vastly complicated as a dance.

That being said, there was a great moment during the workshop where he picked on me for being too timid. He said to make a decision about the color and put it down confidently, and if it's wrong, correct it. I had been sort of timidly trying out a million combinations of mixtures in an attempt to get it right. The line on this kind of thing is so fine, but it's something I've found critical to my general understanding of the Russian impressionist method of painting ("color field")- you try with all your might to get the color right the first time, but you understand that it will not be correct in isolation. You need to hone in on the color slowly as a field, knocking it this way or that using optical mixing & opponent color theory.

To that end I noticed a pattern for mixing paint which seemed to help- choose a triad of colors to approach the color of a given field with and mix each to the proper value. Always touch the paint using a tiny touch of the brush to the canvas to judge the value since it will shift from the palette. Then adjust the hues of each slightly by intermixing the other value-corrected members of the triad. Then approach the color of the field using all three colors of the triad, adjusting each constantly on the palette using the other parts of the triad, and also on the canvas using optical mixing to control hue and chroma.

There's a bit of voodoo that happens here which I haven't been able to break down. First, I'm not sure how to explain how to pick the initial triad. Most often it's some combination of red, yellow, and blue- but not always. Additionally, I'm not sure how to explain when to use the cool or warm colors for each component of the triad- I couldn't seem to break it down cleanly according to hue, pigment transparency, or anything else. Sometimes I wanted alizarin because it was transparent, and sometimes I wanted alizarin because it was purple-red. If you asked me right now I'd have to say I just have some feeling about it! But I'll try to break it down further because I can't leave that kind of thing alone.

Second, the order of adjusting the color didn't fit nicely with the HVC model. I don't think it's a shortcoming of HVC or this method of painting, but it could be useful to break down the act of attacking a color field down into steps and explaining what's happening and what you're going for in terms of hue, value, and chroma.

A couple other quick notes I wanted to mention- every time I used brown in a mixture or triad it looked 100% out of place. I'm not sure if it's because I wasn't controlling the chroma of the brown properly, or if there's something about the context created by the rest of the pigments that made the brown stick out. Ochre never seemed to cause trouble, and black seemed OK if used carefully. Burnt sienna was right on the line, but raw umber and burnt umber stuck out like a sore thumb. I was interested to read recently in the Munsell Student Guide that brown actually may be recognized by the human visual system as a separate color. I had always assumed it was Crayola's fault.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Meeting With Sam

My old painting teacher Sam asked me if I would build a website for him. I'm not exactly sure he really even understands what a website is or why he wants one, but I agreed to make him one. I had sworn off web design for the rest of my life, but I came out of retirement because I had told him years ago I would make him one if he ever wanted one, and also because it's a great excuse to hang out with him.

We'll meet every couple weeks or so in his studio in Greenpoint. It's a huge loft studio- bigger than most apartments I've seen in NYC- located right on the Newtown Creek that divides Brooklyn and Queens. The walls are covered with his larger paintings, and below each is probably 5 or 6 smaller canvases leaning against the wall- almost all facing the wall to my dismay. In the front of the studio is a shallow wooden loft that he built to hold stretchers and old canvases and all sorts of interesting stuff I can't really get a good look at. In the main area of the loft are several tables with evidence of various art-related construction projects (a partially stretched canvas, nails from a mounted panel that's being disassembled) and several easels ranging from small to gigantic and deluxe to jury-rigged, each with a work-in-progress of some sort on it.

Usually we'll talk about the website for 20 minutes or so, then spend a couple hours talking about art and life. I decided it would be good to write down a bit about my meetings with him because the conversation is always good, because Sam is a great guy and a great teacher, and because though he keeps on trucking like nobody I know at a bit over 80 (I used to be fond of saying he probably wouldn't skip class with a gunshot wound to the stomach), I'm always reminded that he won't be around forever. I don't always agree with everything he says, but I'd like to keep some record of the things we talked about for me to remember. I'll probably leave out most of my commentary for the sake of record.

Tonight we corrected the color on a few images I had shot with my digital camera and browsed through some images that someone else had shot of drawings and sketches he had made in the military before attending the academy. He seemed genuinely shocked that he had done many of the drawings, and insisted with a grin that someone else must have done them. After this I asked him what he was working on. He showed me the beginnings of two compositions about Jesus- the first about the connection between Judas and Jesus, and the second illustrating a biblical scene where Jesus resurrects a man's daughter.

He spoke quite a bit about Jesus and Judas- about how without Judas there really wouldn't be Christianity- without him Jesus wouldn't have died on the cross. The composition showed Jesus forgiving Judas and sheltering him. He went on to talk about how the big difference that Jesus made was to bring the focus of life on humanity in contrast to the sternness and relative violence of the Roman and Greek cultures before him.

As per usual, he asked if I had any drawings he could see. I showed him my sketchbook, and explained a bit why I had filled most of it using a non-photo blue pencil, and how I had been experimenting with bending and twisting cubes to make figures. He then made a demonstration about balance and how it relates to composition- changing the size of the subject in relation to the canvas changes the size of the negative space around the subject and including the edges. He said an artist must always be aware of the balance between these two things, and that he has to cultivate some visceral feeling about this balance, and that small changes often had bigger effects on this balance than we imagine. He illustrated this using a little diagram depicting 3 soldiers on one side of a line and 3 on the other. Moving just one soldier to the other side of the line means that one side has double the number of soldiers on the other side.

Afterwards he recalled a story about Tom Sawyer painting a fence, wherein Tom starts out begrudgingly painting the fence, but acts like he enjoys it when he sees some friends approaching. Although Tom finds that actually does begin to enjoy it, it doesn't stop him from successfully tricking his friends into doing the job for him after they see how much he's into it. Sam said that an artist needs to be like Tom Sawyer in the story- that even if he doesn't feel like working if he begins to work on a given day and works long enough he will begin to find joy in it. He then went on to talk about how great musicians can jump right to this point with little to no warning after years and years of training. Sam recounted a show he had seen of Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov played with such feeling even when picking up randomly in the middle of a song in response to a question at a master class. Great musicians have a great power whenever they play- they never play idly or wimpily- they give it everything every time, and as artists we should do no less.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Time Management

Current tactic:

Set a timer
X minutes working, 5 minutes off.

I noticed I tend to be most motivated with the ticking clock at a figure drawing session- gotta get it done before the end of the pose! So I decided to bring that home.

Been experimenting with various times for working- have been starting with 5 minutes on, then increasing by five minutes each time. Despite the somewhat inefficient use of time in the beginning, something about those first ones being short seems to get me going.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Self-Direction Process v1

  1. Get inspired
    1. Blogs
    2. Books
    3. Idea File
  2. Start Small
    1. Feeling first
    2. Technical second
  3. Refine
    1. Retain feeling

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blowing up from a thumbnail:

  • Establish/solidify the viewpoint.
  • If you're losing lines, start a new layer or mark the correct line with another color.
  • Adjust vectors- keep evaluating.
  • Flip horizontal
  • Stay with feeling, provided the construction is happening along with/underneath. If it's necessary to work something out and go formal, dip in only as long as is necessary to figure out the problem and get back to feeling.
  • Find lines of action
  • Thumbnails that are too geometric might not translate especially well. It may take some extra finagling to find your way, and it might be a struggle to inject the feeling afterwards. Don't be afraid to change, but even a geometric thumbnail has some original feeling you need to preserve.
  • Mind your inter-character vectors when thinking about construction & lines of action.
  • Draw the more important vectors in, even if they're invisible.
  • Watch for happy accidents.
  • Don't think it through if you can feel it through.
  • Is there a better line of action?
  • Don't be precious, unless it's about preserving your original feeling.
  • Scribble down your idea. Flesh it out later. Again, watch for happy accidents.
  • Stop to relax.
  • If you end up making lots of corrections when flipping horizontal, don't be afraid to start the next layer using the flipped version- especially if the other side is saturated enough with marks that you can't see the corrections through the layers.
  • Act out the pose if necessary.
  • Recognizing what's off is sometimes better than trying use your brain to analyze or plan it out.
  • Different characters/parts in different colors can help- especially when there's overlap and you need to draw through another character without losing lines.