A recent class, working from the draped model, was an object lesson in the value of establishing a reliable framework.  Where the finer details of the drapery shifted and were lost each time the model moved.  

 With some adjustment throughout the day, the major folds of the drapery remained largely constant.  By prioritizing the dominant or commanding folds the basic structure of the drapery could be drawn, without the confusion which results from chasing the minor folds and more detailed effects.   Towards the end more attention was given to working up a focal point and strengthening the implied lines carrying the eye through the composition. 

 The added complexity of drapery underscored the need to work with a selective eye rather than the usual tendency to make a wholesale inventory and become thoroughly confused in the process.

 Deane G. Keller’s precisely worded suggestion say it all:

“For modeling, the basic objective is to mass in the larger areas of light and shade without the turmoil of inconsequential lesser folds.  Keep the major planes of the figure very much in mind all the while in order to manage the effect of the drapery in support of the rhythms of the figure.”

Assimilating new skills

April 6, 2010

Unlike dance or music training where the student begins their preparation at a young age in a disciplined environment (necessary to prevent injury and lay a foundation for the development of a life’s work), drawing today, is set apart by being a solitary, self guided activity in childhood. 

 Mindful of the need to stretch the varied learners’ approaches and relax their dependence on the use of ‘outline’, it is surprising to find the more able students are often the most reluctant to attempt new strategies, due to considerable investment in their personal method.  They are more attached and thus more limited by their approach.  But it is necessary to work outside the comfort zone to witness the value of assimilating the new skills.   

 Students with drawing skills adapt to linear drawing exercises quite readily but struggle with kinesthetic drawing (eg: where the form is built up tonally as if modeling with clay), and conversely those students without linear skills, grasp these kinesthetic exercises more readily.  If these two approaches are not persuasively imposed, the students will choose one and leave the other undeveloped, effectively crippling their own progress.

Unpacking the Process

February 26, 2010

There are two approaches to setting up a drawing, one which is reliant on measurement and one which uses measurement in support of the drawing.  Where measurement is primary, the work is interrupted by checking every step and the over all flow is impeded.  Where measurement is secondary and the drawing is suggested in a general sense, much as a hypothesis is proposed, the work is more speculative and therefore capable of advancement.

 This freer beginning is easily seen in a discipline/sport such as fencing.  Where the swordsman is unsure of an adversary’s ability, it is usually sensible to have an initial skirmish, getting a feel for the opponent, before attacking and subsequently leaving one’s self open to attack.  In a beginner’s drawing the tendency to ‘attack’ or be too declarative at the outset, frequently undermines the work.  The more experienced draughtsman will avoid hard lines, favouring fluid, uncertain, stray lines which over time coalesce and are emphasized where necessary.

This indefinite approach is effective in capturing authentic character and contributing to the second stage of the drawing process: the framework or construction, when knowledge is integrated with observation to achieve structure and coherence.  Where the freehand stage of the drawing has energy and vigour, the construction stage provides a framework for the ongoing development of the drawing and allows for appraisal and revision.  At this stage measurement makes its contribution in support of the drawing.

Throughout the process it helps to guard against distracting premature attention to detail.  All definitions and refinement contribute to the overview at the same time that they yield definition to the parts.  In this way we are looking for the larger relationships, for the harmony and rhythm of the parts to the whole.  By developing the work in stages we are always increasing (rather than shutting down) the possible range of actions to advance the drawing.

In their presentations both Helen and Robert addressed issues in learning/teaching that I could clearly identify in my practice.  Helen spoke of the declarative versus the procedural as evolutionary stages in learning, and there seems to be a link between this idea and Robert’s thoughts on encouraging ‘follow through’ from the early assessment to the students’ final hand in.  I realise I’m loading these ideas with my own meaning but both have opened up issues that are primary concerns in the teaching of drawing.

 Where the student is encouraged to make adjustments to their work and this piece is subsequently abandoned with the student showing an entirely new work for the final assessment, is familiar territory, and in my area usually the result of the student being naïve of the process.   

 This tendency for students to abandon a drawing rather than adjusting the existing work is a regular occurrence and separates the beginner from the more advanced student.  They only have to rework one drawing to see the power of ‘getting it into working order’.

 In drawing, the failure of a work is usually the result of the beginner starting without a workable overview, they proceed to make an inventory of all visible detail, at the expense of proportion.  Work usually comes to a halt when the out line has been reinforced, effectively shutting down any opportunity for ambiguity.  In this case the student has been too declarative too early, aiming for premature finish. 

 As the resulting drawing is embarrassingly flat, of doubtful proportions and somewhat rigid, the student is understandably keen to abandon the work.  However, if the drawing can be softened (which is why charcoal is the preferred teaching tool) with simple adjustments made by the instructor and provisos imposed, such as develop the framework, avoid detail and address the focal points and implied line (the underlying abstract), the work will be successfully salvaged.     

 These fundamental issues are more easily faced and surmounted in drawing than in the more specialised areas of design.   In drawing, the design process is easily and efficiently rehearsed.

In the last term leading up to the holidays I made some tentative adjustments in the drawing/painting studio.  Although class runs for 2 hours, with sixteen students it can be difficult spending sufficient time with each one. The individual attention works out to 7 ½ minutes each, not including any demonstration time.  Compounding this short duration of personal attention my tendency is to rescue those who are struggling and by doing so neglect the more skilled students. 

The first small intervention has been to enlist the help of two long standing students to address problems in the work of beginners.  Interestingly the benefit of this exercise has been almost entirely for the skilled student.  After helping the beginner adjust the framework of their drawing, the more skilled student returns to their own work more capable of seeing the weakness in their own construction.  The exercise seems to give them enough distance from their work to see it more objectively. 

More recently, I taught a weekend of intensive drawing which was something of a marathon.  Overall the progress was clearly visible, though one of the most capable students struggled to a halt.  In his words: “I just locked up”.  There were a number of contributing factors, but chief among them was my attempt to blend two approaches to drawing: the kinesthetic (feeling your way) and the analytical (construction).  For most students the kinesthetic approach is familiar and the analytical is absorbed more gradually.  But in the case of this particular student, whose understanding of construction was dominating his intuitive response, my exercise plan served only to “lock up” his approach. 

 Had I not been determined to cover such a wide selection of drawing exercises, I might have noticed his struggle earlier, and stuck with the more intuitive exercises, strengthening that angle of his work.

Less than 60 years separates the 2 greek figures but there has been a revolution in thinking. In the Kouros figure the artist has insized or ‘drawn’ the anatomical features onto the form, where Kritos boy is volumetric; his chest inflated with air. In the 2nd image the drawing illustrates the upwards thrust of the ribcage and the downward tilt of the pelvis due to the spinal curves. Where the Kouros figure is quite flat, the Kritos figure articulates through the vertical plane.
Strangely, the step from drawing as insizing to drawing as expressing volume is a threshold area in a draughtsman’s development.

The above drawing on the right is a demonstration by Deane G. Keller


early sculpture

November 12, 2009

egyptian supported figures ( left), greek Kouros free-standing figure (centre) and Kritos boy (right)


last post on canon

November 9, 2009

The canon came to be a body of work revealing the momentum of humanity, our capacity for excellence, not to be a limitation but as something to pass on to the future against which we test our mettle if we dare.  Here in lies the arrogance of thinking we can rewrite the canon. It is written by powerful work and by artists returning to that work to reinvigorate their own, hence the reasoning that being ‘original’ also has something to do with being in touch with our origins not simply being novel or chasing the ever-shifting goal of the avant-garde.  This is not to say the ‘new’ cannot be powerful but at some deep level there is a connection (or ‘dialogue’ to use Helen’s threshold word,) with the resourcefulness of the past. 

The use of conventions does not condemn work to conformity.  Conventions have been handed on because they are useful.  The Mannerist period suffered critically from the view that it is essentially an affectation of style.  But this is the view of non-practitioners, to the practising figurative artist it is seen as a period when the artists had free use of the conventions developed by their forebears.  Draughtsmen and painters assimilated anatomical structure assembling their own mental schema (somewhat elongated in the work of Parmagianino, Pontormo and El Greco) on which to base and manipulate their construction.  Rather than an affectation of style which suggests atrophy, it is a period of the growth, where artists’ mastery of construction skills enabled them to play intuitively and therefore inventively.

looking back

November 5, 2009

As a group I do think we failed to address Joachim’s line of reasoning that “these are just words”, that the jargon, so prevalent in theoretical works, can impede/get in the way of meaning, a courageous stand to take on, in an academic setting. Looking back, it was the ideal time to have questioned the parroting of the educational jargon.

These rarefied buzz words are used as baskets/hold alls of meaning, their ambiguity making for careless application while endowing the user with unfounded competence. Take the word ‘Contextualise’ as an example, its general nature does tend to blur meaning when simpler direct words offer more substance. Say framework or circumstance, have more distinct meanings (at least in a context!).

Jochim also spoke of a reformed education strategy in Denmark where the system intervened to prevent student failure and how the level of student performance had risen to meet that aim. It would be a good idea to examine this and other such instances of successful intervention.

initial contact

November 4, 2009

Robert and Helen,

The origin of the ‘ kanon’ was Polyclitus’s system of proportion for the sculpture Doriphorus.

Anon, bowles