Monday, August 30, 2010

When is it ever finished?

This is a common question that many of us have and the answer is somewhat elusive because each of us has our own particular goals for our work. To make it even more complicated an artist may have different purposes for different works so the answer can change depending on the immediate goal. Ultimately, the painting is done whenever it has expressed the message in the way the artist intended it to be understood. It may even mean that a piece will need to be done more than once before you get it right.

Ilya Repin is a shining example of someone who had the diligence to see his vision to it's conclusion. Here are a couple of images of the same theme.

It's interesting to see that even though the first is masterfully done he decided to take up a new canvas and try it again. All the additions and alterations really ad up to something much more amazing that is filled with psychological tension.

Seeing things like this are a reminder to not give up on an idea the first time around. If you really believe in it you should keep going until you've found the solution you are truly looking for.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Optical Illusions and Proportion

Working in a representational manner has always been to some degree about trying to trick the eye. The artist perceives the three dimensional world around them and has to represent this on a two dimensional plane. Most of us refer to this as "realistic" or "representational" art but it has also gone by another term. That term is "illusionism" or "illusionsistic" art. I think this term is appropriate for this topic in more ways than one especially when we consider what can happen in the way we perceive things.

When we begin drawing, most of us start by trying to get down the proportion and shape of what we are trying to represent. As anyone knows who's tried to do this, it can be quite difficult at times.Unfortunately, we can't seem to always be able to directly translate what our eyes are seeing onto the paper and instead things get turned around and muddled in our mind and the drawing starts to look completely wonky. The legs look too short, the head looks too big, basically the proportions are off. But in what way are they off is the real question. Sometimes things that we assume to be right or wrong turn out to be different than what we think they are.

Psychologists have been studying how we perceive visual information for some time now and their findings have turned up some interesting things. Some of these are optical illusions. There are quite a few of these that deal specifically with how we view scale or proportion. One of these is known as the Ebbinghaus Illusion.

In this illusion, two circles of the same size are perceived to be different sizes because of the size of the surrounding objects. This can happen to us while we are drawing. For example, we can think we have drawn a head that is too big compared to the subject when in fact we have drawn the neck, shoulders, or chest too small.

Another example is the Muller-Lyer Illusion where line segments of the same size appear to be of different lengths based on the shapes that are placed at the ends.

It can be extremely useful to remember that these sort of illusions occur and that just because we think we see something doesn't mean that it is so. It's something that should give us pause so that we really stop to try and consider what the actual nature of the problem is. We need to thoroughly check all parts of the drawing before we change or erase something to be sure we are not being fooled by the very illusion we are trying to create.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Process Work

Getting all the elements of a composition to work together is difficult when working completely from life. This is compounded to a much greater degree when you are working on a scene that you cannot necessarily see or find in the world. It is extremely useful in these situations to do various preliminary studies to ensure that the image will come out the way you would like it to.
Here are some of the working drawings and studies done for a painting I did that was recently featured in American Arts Quarterly ( Spring 2010 edition) and can be seen at the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco.
The drawing of the figure was done from life and is graphite on paper. In it I was focusing on the proportions of the figure, the play of light on the forms, and trying to give it the right mood or expression. The perspective study was then done to both invent the environment and understand how the figure would exist in that space. After that, came the oil sketch which was executed from imagination using the drawing and the perspective studies to come up with an image. Then the final image was painted from these studies with the still-life elements set-up in the studio and painted from life into the environment.

The title is “The Lotos Eater” and is 24”X60” oil on linen.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Instructor Work

Here's a few images from some of the artists involved in teaching here.