Monthly Archives: July 2014
The above drawing is of a student in one of my drawing classes. I usually start my drawing classes with exercises in contour drawing from life. I find it a most useful exercise in teaching students to SEE.
I first learned of contour drawing from a book, The Natural Way to Draw, by Kimon Nicolaides published in 1941. The book has been reprinted several times, and is a standard. Classes in life drawing at the Kansas City Art Institute reinforced this information. Later artists such as Betty Edwards and Gerald Brommer also included this technique in their instruction books. One of the chief drawbacks to learning how to draw is that our left brains have a mental picture of the way something should look, and we resort to that rather than how it really looks. This is shown often when an adult resorts to the “lollipop” trees she drew as a child, even though she sees the tree plainly with sky holes, asymmetrical shapes, and individual clumps of leaves. Symbolism has taken over.
A contour drawing is not an outline, but much more than that. It creates the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface by defining shared edges. Both senses of sight and touch must be used. To do this, the student must draw slowly, pretending that his pencil touches the form as he draws, and he never draws while looking at his paper. I’ve noticed that a lot of beginning students tend to look at their paper more often than at the subject — this defeats the idea of observation, of course.
There are two kinds of contour drawing: Blind and Modified. With blind contour, the student draws continuously, around and within the form, never looking at the paper or stopping. We’ll deal only with Modified, since Blind Contour leads to a lot of distortion. Here are the rules:
1. Look at the subject first and try to hold its form in your mind.
2. Pretend that your pencil is touching the subject at a certain spot. It makes no difference where you start.
3. When you are focused on the subject, begin to draw slowly and firmly, synchronizing the movement of your eye and your hand. Record each bump, change of direction, wrinkle, etc. that you see. Think of your eye as a tiny ant traveling the surface of the form.
4. Don’t talk to yourself, especially critically. Just draw. When you come to edges that meet each other, begin to draw the lines that are within the form. If you’re drawing your hand, for instance, begin to draw the wrinkles, fingernails, knuckles, etc. that are inside the outer edges. Try not to think of the form as what it is (a hand), but only a shape.
4. Never, never draw while looking at your paper. With modified contour, you can come to a stopping place, lift your pencil from the paper, find a new place to start, and then focus back on the form and continue to draw. You do not erase, but simply “restate” (draw other lines over) until the entire form has been drawn.
5. Spend at least 20 minutes on this exercise. Betty Edwards starts her students with their hand as a model, but you can use your feet, shoes, vases, anything that is available as your model. PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
Other art organizations available to Arkansas artists in the central region include the Arkansas League of Artists (ALA)and the Conway League of Artists (CLA).
The web site for the ALA is http://www.arkansasleagueofartists.org. The Mission Statement on the web site reads: “The Arkansas League of Artists is an organization formed to promote fine arts in Arkansas. The League is a growing membership of artists and art enthusiasts who gather to learn from one another by exploring new techniques, working in new mediums and sharing their collective knowledge.” The group meets the last Tuesday of each month except for December at 7:00 PM at the North Little Rock Community Center. Programs include demonstrations and lectures, and each member may bring an original art work to the meetings to be voted on by those attending. Each winning piece is displayed for a month at local banks as “The Artist of the Month.” In addition, several exhibitions are hosted throughout the year. The 5th Annual Juried ALAart show is scheduled for September 12th – December 27th at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in the Arkansas Studies Institute. The organization also awards scholarships to high school students and to the Arkansas Arts Center Museum School.
The Conway League of Artists meets at either the Faulkner County Library in Conway, or the Art on the Green (a local art gallery and studio) the 2nd Wednesday of each month at 7 PM. On the web site at http://www.conwayleagueofartists.org, it is stated that the “Conway League of Artists is about creating visual art. We’re artists of all types: students, teachers, professionals, hobby painters and creatives who just want to learn and talk about art. We have painters, sculptors, potters, photographers, and illustrators… and a wide variety of media.” There are several exhibits held in Conway areas yearly and ongoing displays at banks, the library, and other Conway businesses. The meetings include demonstrations, information, and member voting for the “Art of the Month”.
All four of these Arkansas art organizations are active, involved, and inclusive. Dues range from $20 to $30, and are well worth the price for the degree of encouragement, inspiration, and education derived from membership. If you’re not already a member of one of these groups, think about joining — membership will greatly enhance your creativity and confidence.
The making of art is a solitary profession. It’s not like teaching, where you try to impart the love of learning in impressionable young minds, or working for a company as manager, supervisor, or general flunky. No, you work alone at a table or easel, placing on canvas or paper what is in your mind, your heart, and your soul. Conversation gets in the way of the creative process. So it’s only natural that an artist sometimes craves the presence of other artists for comradeship, inspiration, and/or advice. We take workshops, attend weekly groups, and join art organizations.
Art organizations serve to support a particular medium or theme and furnish information, exhibit opportunities, and friendship to its members. I belong to every art organization possible: Mid-Southern Watercolorists (Signature membership), the Arkansas League of Artists (Signature membership), the Arkansas Pastel Society (charter member), the Conway League of Artists, and the Pastel Society of the Southwest in Texas (Signature membership) and the Colored Pencil Society of America. If there was a colored pencil society in Arkansas, I would be a member of that group as well! I’ll give you a short overview of each of these Arkansas organizations.
Mid-Southern Watercolorists was organized in 1970 by five Arkansas artists who desired to educate the public about the values of watercolor. Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of every month at 7 PM at the Arkansas Arts Center except during the summer months. An educational program follows a brief business session. Several exhibition opportunities are held during the year as well as workshops and demonstrations that increase expertise in the medium. Members hail from Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Mississippi as well as from Arkansas. The organization holds one juried membership show and a juried open show each year with major awards. I am currently the Regional Advisor for the Pulaski County area.
The Arkansas Pastel Society meets on the first Tuesday of each month (except January, February, and July) at 6 PM in the Education Building of St. Vincent’s Infirmary. It was founded in 2004 by a group of pastel artists who saw the need for a regional society to promote pastels as a medium and as a means of networking with other pastel artists. APS is a member of the International Association of Pastel Societies whose objective is “to celebrate worldwide the expanding presence of dry pastel as a major fine art painting medium,” and to “provide a strong voice for pastel artists and the luminous medium of pastel” (from the APS website). Scholarships are granted to deserving art students, demonstrations and workshops are held periodically, and a National Exhibition as well as member exhibits are held yearly.
(Discussion to be continued on the next post).
Now, how can you use the Fibonacci numbers to make a composition that conforms to the Golden Mean or Golden Section? If you use the correct size for the overall composition, it would be about 10 x 16″ – (1-1.618) – a larger format would be 13 x 21″. In order to break this apart, and position your center of interest in the correct spot, you will need to plot the numbers on a sheet of graph paper the correct size. For instance, using a format 13 x 21″, I measured off a 13 x 13″ square on one side, which left a rectangle of 8 x 13″. From this, I formed an 8 x 8″ square leaving a 5 x 8″ rectangle. Then I measured inside this rectangle a square that is 5 x 5″ leaving a rectangle of 3 x 5″. Inside this rectangle, I formed a 3 x 3″ square, leaving a rectangle of 2 x 3″. Inside this rectangle I measured a 2 x 2″ square, leaving a rectangle of 1 x 2″. This rectangle was divided into two squares 1 x 1″ each. So you see, the sequence from inside out is 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 — the Fibonacci number sequence. Here’s my result–
If you draw a spiral connecting the corners of each square, it looks like the kind of spirals you see in shells, pine cones, flowers, etc. How about that!
The center of interest should be placed in the smallest squares — the largest section should conform to the principle of using the same value with different hues to keep it integrated. Here is a collage I made using this type of composition. It is a poem collage which reads from the inside out: The earth turns round. Faces the sun; A new day is born. Shall I change another’s life today? Shall I reach a goal or realize my life’s mission? Or shall I still live one day at a time, in the hope that the path I follow is His?
I invite you to try a composition in this format and see how you like it!
The Golden mean and Fibonacci numbers have been used since the time of Ancient Greece, especially in the design of the Parthenon. This system might have even been used by the Egyptians in building the pyramids. It has been used by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Seurat, Signac, Hopper, and Mondrian. Even musicians have used it in their works — Mozart, Beethoven (his 5th Symphony), Bach, Schubert, Bartok, Satie, and DeBussy have all been thought to use the divisions. An article in The American Scientist of March/April 1996 points out that many of Mozart’s sonatas can be divided into two parts exactly at the golden section point in almost all cases. The Mathematics Teaching magazine in 1978 points out that Beethoven used the system. It is even thought that Virgil structured the Aeneid in this way.
In architecture, the Golden Mean is a standard proportion for width in relation to height, in first story to second story buildings, in the sizes of windows. Look at any three-story bank building for instance to see the proportion in use. The College of Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University built the new engineering plaza based on the Fibonacci numbers. Plaza designer Jeffry Gordon Smith said, “As a guiding element, we selected the Fibonacci series spiral, or golden mean as the representation of engineering knowledge. ” The United Nations Building in New York is supposedly built on a golden rectangle.
What is most interesting is the way Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper was composed. The scene itself is based on two squares, with Christ in the center. All converging lines lead to the vanishing point on the horizon line, his face. The top of the windows lies at a golden section as do the outer edges of the side windows. Christ’s hands are at the golden section of half the height of the composition. The figures are grouped in threes, in a series of four shapes, with Christ forming the fifth. Application of the Fibonacci numbers includes: 1 table, 1 central figure, 2 side walls, 3 windows and figures grouped in 3’s, 5 groups of figures, 8 wall panels and 8 trestle legs, 13 individual figures.
Realizing how often the Golden Mean and Fibonacci numbers have been used in all forms of art, I tried it myself in writing a poem. I admit the structure is a little different, but here’s what I came up with based on the number of syllables in each line:
NOW YOU TRY IT!