Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What Were They Thinking--Houses

The Conch Shell House, Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
This home was built with a mixture of recycled, found, and traditional materials.
Whoever said architects don't have a sense of humor? I don't know, maybe nobody. I only know that I would strongly disputed such a blanket criticism. Then again, maybe they're just crazy...or their clients are. In any case, perfect examples of such lunacy, whatever it's source, can literally be found all over the world. It must be a pandemic. Take the strange creation above. At first glance, it appears to be some sea creature washed ashore. Yet, it has a certain alien beauty that is all the more evident in the video at the bottom.
ICD Itke Research Pavilion, Stuttgart, Germany. Though not actually
a house, I couldn't resist using it as an example of the work of a
mad architectural "genius."
The German creation (above) also tends to remind me of a sea creature--a beached whale, having gorged itself on marine ova of some sort. Of course, the most acclaimed architects in the whole world are those commissioned by the gang at Disney. And though virtually everything the create is either retro, whimsical, or otherworldly. Disney's theme park "Toon town" domestic abodes (below), designed for each of their highly-paid "movie star" characters, have a tendency toward all three of these elements. Are the Disney architects required to be crazy? No, but it helps.

The Disney rodent residences (I'm not sure precisely what genus of creature Goofy might be), never had it so good until old Walter Elias made them box office stars.
Perhaps taking his inspiration from Disney, or maybe Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, the owner of what's come to be known by the locals as the "Spaceship House" in rural Tennessee, appears to have been his own architect and builder. Maybe he returned, having been kidnapped by aliens. Let's hope the neighbors don't mind the daily "close encounters."
The Spaceship House. Notice the out-of-context colonial street light in the front yard.
If the examples of architectural humor (above) seem strange, they also seem strangely beautiful in their own contextual element. However, that can't be claimed for what I've labeled the "just too weird" practical jokes below. When architects begin designing ships out of water and beehives with balconies simply to attract attention to themselves (and attract tourists), then what they create is no long architecture but an affront to the aesthetic sensibilities and personal lifestyles of those living nearby. We have a word for such works--eyesores.

It's no longer simply "good, clean fun" ala Disney, but
anti-social impudence.
Of course, architects must share the blame for "over-the-top" neighborhood travesties of good taste with owners--those with more dollars than sense. As artists, architects should offer their clients guidance, not squelching honest creative expression, but also not allowing themselves to become conduits and facilitators of bad taste, seemingly motivated only be their clients' urge to do little more than anger others living nearby. The domestic monsters below are prime examples of prime real estate being turned into communal liabilities.

"Oh, that's right, you live out there by the house with the stupid grin." When does Postmodern cross the line into silliness?
On a street in Sopot, Poland, stand two nearly identical buildings (below) known locally as the Crooked houses or the "cuddling" houses, depending upon how you feel about anthropomorphic architecture. They raise the question most succinctly: Should architects strive to inject an element of humor, even craziness, into their works? Should they try to "warm" them by giving them human traits. Remember, Bartholdi's Liberty Enlightening the World (the Statue of Liberty) standing on Ellis Island in New York Harbor, is actually little more than an (inspirational) sculptural, lighthouse, in effect, a "building" shaped like a woman. Though Bartholdi was no architect, in order to insure his enlightening "lighthouse" was structurally sound, he did employ a famous French engineer--Gustave Eiffel.

The Crooked (or cuddling) House,  designed by architect, Szotynscy Zaleski, Sopot, Poland.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at some of
the outlandish interiors which architects, their clients, and interior designing
co-conspirators have created.

Here's a sneak peak. Does anyone really
need a red carpet to get into bed?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sir William Dargie

23rd Battalion at El Alamein, October 1942, William Dargie
What happens when the same artist wins the top prize in a national art competition seven out of eleven consecutive years? Calls for reform? Boycotts? Blaring newspaper headlines? Endless derogatory comments from art critics and the public alike? Riots in the streets? All hell breaks loose? Yeah, pretty much...more or less. That was the case in 1952 when the news broke that the Australian portrait artist, Sir William Dargie had taken home top honors (again) in the Archibald Prize competition sponsored annually by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. One newspaper reported: "Apropos of records, enter Bill Dargie in 1952 for a seventh win with a portrait of Essington Lewis. A mini-riot ensued. For young and emerging artists, restless for the new, the Dargie near-monopoly was becoming a scandal." Another writer added, "The win prompted an art students' demonstration. The students [about 40], most of whom refused to give their names, marched around the gallery, were photographed in front of Dargie's portrait, gave three cheers for Picasso...then left."
Yellow Couch, William Dargie
Okay, it wasn't quite a riot, more of a tussle. It wasn't the money. The prize of 539 British pounds sterling amounted to about $2,470. It wasn't the artist. By that time William A. Dargie was probably the best, and certainly the best-paid, portrait artist, not just in Australia, but in all the British Empire (above). He was also something of an artist/war hero (top). It wasn't the portrait itself that was such an outrage, though it was a rather traditional, stodgy-looking, fat, old man named Essington Lewis. He had made his fortune during the war manufacturing and selling arms of all types, shapes, and sizes, from hand guns to tanks and torpedoes. No, it was the Gallery and the Board of Trustees which came to feel the brunt of the art world's protest. A headline screamed: "'Don't Hang Dargie--Hang the Trustees!"
Just above, Dargie poses with a print of the 1954 portrait he painted of Queen Elizabeth II commemorating the first visit to Australia of a reigning British monarch.
William Dargie was born in 1912 in Footscray, Victoria (now a neighborhood in Melbourne), the eldest son of Andrew and Adelaide Dargie. The young artist picked up art training wherever he could find it, mostly from individuals and small technical schools in the Melbourne area. When the war came, he enlisted only to be dragged from the tranches and made a "war artist." His 23rd Battalion at El Alamein (top) dates from 1942. In fact, it's said Dargie got word that he'd won his first Archibald Prize in 1941 while digging ditches in North Africa. His wife had entered a portrait he'd done before the war of Sir James Elder, a Director of the National Bank of Australia. (The Archibald competition is limited to portraits of famous Australians by Australian artists.)
1952 was not the end of Dargie's Archibald winning streak. He won an eighth time in 1956 for his portrait of Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira.
Following his 1941 win, during and after the war, William Dargie went on to win the Archibald Prize in 1942, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1952, and 1956. By 1956, the reaction was not so much outrage but boredom--ho hum, Dargie won again. What else is new? His portrait of fellow artist Albert Namatjira (above) Dargie considered his best, though like virtually all of his earlier winning entries, he was beset by criticism that his work was empty, tired, and outdated.
It's little wonder Dargie did a second version (the now famous "wattle painting" of the queen. The first attempt resulted in one of the worst royal likenesses I've ever seen, adding years to her visage. (Golden Wattle is he national flower of Australia and was the decorative motif for the queen's dress in Dargie's portrait.)
Dargie's greatest critical success came in 1954 when the newly crown Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to Australia. The young queen was so enamored with Dargie's official portrait, commissioned by the wealthy industrialist, James P. Beveridge, she ordered a personal copy of her own. Dargie had become concerned that the official portrait might be damaged or lost during transit to and from Australia. He commenced work on a copy, to be shipped separately, in the hope that at least one version would arrive safely. This "spare" was painted upside down at the London home of his hosts, the Hamilton Fairley family. Dargie employed this seemingly odd move in an attempt to view the portrait as a series of colors and forms thus eliminating the natural desire to improve on the original. Doing so prevented embellishment and created a truly identical copy. The painted provenance, and the circumstances of the replica’s creation, are attested to by the artist with the inscription on the reverse, which reads:


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Nils Dardel

Black Diana, 1929, Nils Dardel
The period around the turn of the century (1900) is one of the most interesting eras in the whole history of art. In Paris, the art capital of the world at the time, Impressionism had become passé. Post-Impressionism, with all its various permutations, was all the rage. Picasso was about to make his grand entrance from backstage in Barcelona. The smell of the internal combustion engine was starting to replace that of horse manure, and there were almost as many foreigners living in the arty Montmartre and Montparnasse districts as there were Frenchmen. Virtually every stereotype we now hold dear with regards to the city of Paris began, or was well established, at the time. Art students from all over the world were flocking to what were deemed the best art schools in the world. Yet, as exciting as the city was for those budding young men and women, it was a terribly difficult time to be coming of age as an artist. There was simply too much of a good thing--too many struggling artists, too many trends developing, too many styles to choose from, and always...always something new to check out, just coming up over the horizon.
Dardel was a handsome, young man. Judging by his self-portraits and his rollercoaster love life, he was attractive to both men and women.
This was the scene a young artist from Sweden named Nils Dardel faced when he first turned up in Paris around 1910. Born in 1888, he was twenty-two at the time, having already spent two years studying at the Royal Swedish Academy in Stockholm. He was no "babe in the woods," but the Paris art world and social swirl must have seemed all but overwhelming. He very wisely latched onto Henri Matisse as his instructional source and sampled a little bit of everything, from Cubism to Fauvism, Pointillism, and several other "isms" associated with Post-Impressionism. None were a perfect fit for a young painter steeped in Swedish Naturalism. His grandfather, after all, had been the Swedish painter, Fritz von Dardel, adjutant to King Charles XV of Sweden, and member of the Royal Swedish Academy.
Return to the Playgrounds of Youth, 1924, Nils Dardel.
Nils Dardel was what was termed at the time a "dandy," which had a whole different implication from the "fine and dandy" phrase we Americans think of today. At best, it referred to a rather fussy, perhaps somewhat effeminate, upper-class effete. More often, however, it had homosexual or bisexual connotations, which seemed not at all to offend the young socialite artist. Homosexuality was illegal in Sweden at the time but not in Paris, which may account for the fact that Dardel spent most of the next twenty years of his life in and around that city. And even though he married in 1921 and the following year, fathered a daughter, Ingrid (who also became an artist), Dardel had about as many liaisons with other men as other women. The marriage, nonetheless, lasted until 1934.
The Dying Dandy,  1918, Nils Dardel, a man preoccupied
half his life with his own death. 
Dardel suffered from a serious heart problem. He knew he would die fairly young, so he "burned his candle at both ends," which only made matters worse. He was an alcoholic and his romantic relationships with both men and women gave rise to gossip and myths. To this day, much of his art is considered autobiographical. A pale, androgynous central figure in The Dying Dandy (above) from 1918, holds his hand on his heart, surrounded by mourners as though he were Jesus Christ himself. The style is modern. In the second version, the figures and the blue background co-exist on the flat surface. The colors work expressively with the complementary hue of blue and orange, red and green.

The Angler, 1931, Nils Dardel (possibly a self-portrait).
We are fortunate in studying Dardel's art to have a fairly complete chronology of his work. One of his earliest, a self-portrait painted in 1906 when he was only eighteen, marks a starting point steeped in Swedish naturalism (not realism). His The Dying Dandy is from the 19th century's "teen" years while his Return to the Playgrounds of Youth from 1924 and his Black Diana (top), from 1929, represent the Post-Impressionist influences of the 1920s. Dardel's The Angler (above), from 1931, not only indicates a return to the Naturalism of his youth, but is quite likely a self-portrait.

Mexican boy, ca. 1940-43, Nils Dardel
During much of the 1930s, Dardel lived a nomadic life, traveling extensively without ever really settling down. Many of his portraits are of people and places he encountered in his travels. He was known to be self-destructive, and was not much appreciated in his lifetime. His breakthrough in Sweden came simultaneously to the outbreak of World War II in Europe, when Liljevalchs Konsthall displayed a retrospective of Dardel's life and works. In the midst of the war in Europe, Dardel, like many of his friends, came to the United States. But unlike them, Dardel did not gravitate to the New Your art scene but to places such as Cuba, Mexico, and Guatemala, where he drew and painted portraits of the natives (above).

The Waterfalls, 1921, Nils Dardel
Nils Dardel died in New York City in 1943. He was fifty-seven, having lived longer than he ever expected. Today, Dardel's work is worth far more than he ever expected as well. His The Dying Dandy sold at auction in 1984 for a record price of 3.4-million Swedish kronors ($381,174). Four years later, the same painting sold for an astounding 13-million kronors ($1,457,430). More recently, in 2012, Dardel's work, The Waterfall (above) sold for 24-million kronor ($2,803,476), to date, the most expensive modernist Swedish painting ever sold.

The Paranoid, 1925, Nils Dardel.
Look like anyone we know?


Friday, February 17, 2017

Drawing Better (Part 5)

Luncheon on the Grass, 1862, Edouard Manet
For generations, those denigrating the use of photos as artists' source material have preached a negative dogma of almost religious intensity. Quite frankly much of what they preach has some merit. However, in virtually all cases, their objections boil down to the misuse of photos by artists who have never had one ounce of positive training as to the proper use of such input. Yesterday I went into some detail in providing such instruction with my DO list. Beyond that, though, some such instruction can best be conveyed in warning artists as to what they should never (or very seldom ever) do in working from photos, whether projected or otherwise. Herewith is my DON'T list:

A portrait from a flash photo.
Noticed how most facial modeling
(especially the chin) is lost.
 1. Avoid at all costs photos having a single light source emanating from the camera (flash photography) or from directly behind the camera. I've criticized the iconic French painter, Edouard Manet, several times for just this fault. Manet can be excused somewhat in that he was one of the first artist to employ photography as source material. In several of his paintings, his Luncheon on the Grass (top) for instance, we see the detestable flattening of his nude female figure in the foreground resulting from the primitive flash powder frontal lighting of his day. The effect is consistent among all four of Manet's figures but most noticeable in the nude figures. The same fault can be seen in the portrait at right, except it should be noted that even the slightest differences in lighting (left to right) adds subtle contours to the facial features.

Few, if any, artists drawing on location, would add a
parallax effect to their work. Thus, when seen in a painting,
parallax cries out as to the use of a photo as source material.
2. When photographing architecture, especially up close, parallax is a problem. Don't ignore it. The painter should, in all cases, make every effort to keep all vertical lines in his or her work from tilting (usually inward). With some degree of skill, parallax can be corrected in the photo-editing stage. Otherwise, it must be addressed using a straight-edge when the image is projected. Sometimes, when the photo is shot from a distance, correcting architectural verticals is fairly simple or unnecessary. However, with tight interiors or when structures are shot relatively close to the camera, such corrections can be quite extensive, involving not just the edges of buildings but doors and windows as well. You cannot just partially correct this problem. 

The Large Bathers, 1887, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Pointless
action from the early days of painting from photos--
a painted snapshot--19th century paparazzi style.
3. Beware of action photos. Until the invention of photography taught painters how to see and imagine action in their art, virtually all painting was static--posed--often for many long hours. Photography legitimized frozen photography...but not in painting. Only if and when an artist is willing to give up all pretense of traditional art renderings, as in painting sporting activities, are action photos acceptable as painting source material. In painting, frozen action for the sake of action is usually a misuse of photographic sources. Animals and children playing might be considered an exception.

Though this scene is obviously an exaggeration, but it underlines the pitfall of failing to "edit" unnecessary content.
4. Don't overdraw. Photos often capture even the tiniest details of a scene. Unless they're into Photorealism, most painters don't. Just because you can discern details in your projected photo does not mean you must render them. Lighten up...loosen up...leave stuff out, especially if it detracts from the main focal point of the painting or is irrelevant to the overall theme. An exquisitely painted glass of wine in a landscape detracts, rather than enhances the scene. It's nothing more than embellishment. Even if the content is easily discernible in your photo avoid using it simply to "decorate" your scene.

Don't let photographic aesthetics impose on your artist's instincts.
5. Discard photos which are "too perfect." Photographers are often "in love" with symmetrical compositions. Yet painters tend to avoid the formal in favor of the informal (and if they don't, they should). There's nothing wrong with near symmetry. A balanced composition, in terms of masses, is one hallmark of a good painting. The key here is to avoid reproducing picture-making habits predominantly used by photographers and seldom by painters. Here's where a painter having a good photography background really pays off.

Rogers vs. Koons--changes not transformative enough.
Cariou vs. Prince--changes significant and transformative.
6. Don't Infringe upon obviously copyright photo images. If you wish to paint from an outstanding photo while contemplating few (if any) changes, ask permission from the photographer and pay for the privilege if necessary. Quite apart from any legal ramifications (except in dealing with large corporations) infringement lawsuits are rare unless the artist is rich and famous. However, as an artist (who likely also has work under copyright) it's the right and moral thing to do. But, having said that, the courts have long ruled that if the artist makes "substantial" transformative changes from the original source, then the work is considered new, and thus becomes the artist's own property. Combining two or more photos (especially the work of different photographers) would easily fulfill the definition of "substantial." On the other hand, cropping a photo and painting only a portion of it, does not. When it comes to changing art media (photo to a painting) the predominant color is gray. For all practical purposes, images shot by photographers who died before this date in 1947 are now in the Public Domain (no longer under copyright).

Choose, edit, project, draw, paint.
That's all there is to it.
As with any such list, this one (and yesterday's, below) are probably incomplete, but hopefully encouraging and informative. Working from photos, much less projected photos, isn't for everyone. Left-brained artists will often find doing so too confining and tedious. Their right-brained counterparts likely have used photos for years (often exclusively) and may want to "bite the bullet" and invest a few hundred dollars in a digital projector for learning and experimental purposes. If they don't like drawing from projected images, the projector, hooked to the right input, will at least make the next Super Bowl a lot more thrilling.

It's cheaper than buying tickets.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Drawing Better (Part 4)

Projected drawing takes no less skill than drawing freehand,
only different skills...and less time.
I intended yesterday to finish this series with a list of do's and don'ts as to drawing with the aid of a digital projector, but got sidetracked to an equally important discourse as to an ideal course of study for a college art student in today's digital era. Lest that happen again (which it could very easily) let me today concentrate first on my DO list:

When shooting a series, especially a panorama, keep
these setting consistent. An ISO (DPI) of 200 or higher
works best for projection drawing.
1. Shoot your own photos (in a series) specifically mindful of using them as source material for a painting so as to have several similar images to choose from. They need not be perfect (you're not selling photos, after all), but they do need to be sharply focused and of relatively high resolution--200 dpi (dots per inch) is adequate, 600 dpi is ideal. Color values matter very little, or not at all, even at the painting stage. (At best they're merely a digital suggestion.) In scanning printed material, always dial the resolution up to 600 dpi (even if it brings to light a printed dot matrix.
The possibilities are endless. Allow your creativity to
flow through the software. Avoid free stuff--as
with most things, you get what you pay for.
2. Concentrate the bulk of your creative endeavor at the computer with whatever photo-editing software you are comfortable using. I can't emphasize that last point enough; you do NOT want a fight with the software when your creativity is at stake. Whether it be cleaning up, cropping, perhaps erasing parts of a single photo, or composing a single image using a dozen different photos, this is the "make or break" stage for your finished painting. Even the best painting skills will not disguise errors and deficiencies allowed to pass unnoticed here.
The back is more important than the front.
My projector is shown above.
3. Choose your digital projector carefully. It's awfully easy to way overpay for more projector power than you need, as well as to waste money buying a "pocket" projector so dim and "touchy" as to be simply unusable (I've done both). Regardless of brands, something in the four-to-six-hundred-dollar range is usually sufficient for most artists. Go for the high end if you plan to use the projector on a daily basis as a TV or computer monitor (as I do). Keep in mind, about half of the cost of a digital projector is for the bulb (their average lifespan usually being around 2000 hours).
Lens to distance ratio chart with projection size
being constant (2 meters).
4. If you work big, you'll need a big room with controlled lighting in which to draw (but not total darkness). Focal length is about fifteen feet for a 100-inch (measured diagonally) image projection. Using an easel upon which to mount your drawing surface allows minute adjustments at both ends (the projector and the easel.) Remember, your projector is merely an output device, you will need a laptop or desktop computer nearby as you draw. If you work with small images (less than 12 inches square), you may wish to rig up a means of mounting your projector above your drawing surface pointing downward much like the old darkroom photo enlarger. Whatever the case, both should be as solid as possible once drawing begins. A smooth wall will suffice in the absence of a good easel, but is somewhat more awkward and tiring to access (there's no place for the knees).
5. Take your time in drawing. Once you begin, maintaining perfect alignment is critical and adjustments are often quite frustrating if something gets jarred even slightly. Watch your feet and legs, being careful not to accidentally move your easel. For best results, do the entire drawing in one sitting (no bathroom breaks). Keep others out of the room to avoid distractions. This stage demands extreme care and concentration. However, in addition to improving accuracy, it eliminates about two-thirds to three-fourths of the traditional drawing time unless you get involved with alignment problems.
6. "Proofread" your drawn image. That is, once you think you're finished drawing, bring up the room lights slightly so that both the drawing and the projection are easily discernible. Then move your body back and forth in front of the projector to check and correct any missing details or errors. If you're drawing includes a lot of straight lines or perspective, by all means use a straight edge to draw those lines, but check at this stage to see if you've used it correctly. Save any shading for later. Projected drawing is great for the main structural details, but for subtleties...not so much.

Add the finishing touches to the drawing, then simply apply paint.
7. When finished, break down your drawing setup and get your studio back to normal. Then, with your source material in one hand, a relative hard pencil in the other, add any details to the drawing which you feel you'll need in the painting process. Use a smudge sheet under your fist at this stage and when finished, give your canvas (but not watercolor paper) a light coat of spray fixative to hold everything in place.

How do you get to the Met? Practice; practice.
8. As with all methods of drawing, "practice makes perfect." Start small and simple. If you come up with a usable drawing the first time--GREAT! If not, remember, one of the major motives for drawing (including project drawing) is to learn. Like freehand drawing, trial and error applies to projected drawing as well, though usually not as much of either.

Tomorrow: We get into what NOT to do when drawing from projections.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Truth in advertising.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Drawing Better (Part 3)

The first step for a fine artist.
There's much more to learning to draw using the numerous benefits of a digital projector than simply setting one up on a firm base and aiming it at an easel bearing a painting surface. First of all, there's the matter of input. In computerese there's long been the acronym GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Even in the hands of a skilled artist, drawing on a painting surface (output) is seldom better than the input (often worse, in fact). In effect, the digital projector is just an adjunct to a computer. At the very least, the source material--photo, drawing, rough sketch--must be digitized. Therefore, a college freshman would be well advised to choose photography over painting as a major. In just one year, he or she will learn much more about the basics of fine art from an outstanding photographer than from even the best drawing/painting instructor. In both cases, instruction is important, but learning to paint and draw is only accomplished by doing a LOT of both. Composing and producing fine photography is taught both in a classroom and in the field. Moreover, with digital pho-tography, trial and error is virtually cost free. A freshman photography major can shoot far more images than a student in a traditional drawing class could possible put forth.

Creating and preparing art for reproduction.
Having acquired a good handle on photography, ideally the college art student should switch majors--to graphic design. There the emphasis is on computer imaging. More than just a trend, such skills are the future of art. Take a look at sometime. You'll see there very little work done with a drawing pencil or using traditional painting media. What you will see is an incredible galaxy of creativity generated both by what the artist sees (literally from photos) and what he or she feels (often contrived from photos). Some of it will get painted or printed for hanging on walls. However, regardless of the final media, all such work demands at least a working familiarity with photo-editing software.

Upper image: Twenty students creating nearly identical paintings of the same model?
Lower image: Twenty students, painting from photos, each "doing their own thing."
At that point, art students wanting to become painters should once again switch majors. Only in his or her junior year are they ready for the technical skills and missing links in their art education (painting and sculpture). Drawing should only be done outside of class (due to the technical demands of digital projection). Likewise, the student should resist (if possible) any urging to paint from live models (nude models, in every conceivable pose, are available free of charge on the Internet). By this time, the differences between using such images and simply copying them should be deeply ingrained in the artist's psyche. Ironically, in every figure painting class I ever took, virtually all the students "copied" from the model, all turning out nearly identical painted images. Such classes have little or no relevance to artists today. Any residual learning they might provide can be better covered using good photos guided by instructor input.

And finally, an art student's senior year should be devoted to marketing. This one, single area, is where college trained artist are most deficient. With all these changing of majors, today's college art student would gain a very practical, well-rounded education. What he or she would likely not gain is a BFA. Not following a proscribed course of study (curriculum) is a sure road to academic oblivion. However, unless an art student has in mind to teach, a diploma is only a piece of parchment. The real credentials are to be found in that student's official transcript, detailing the scope and personal effort of his or her college career. In addition to an outstanding portfolio, it's what employers care most about. Likewise, the learning it represents is what matters most to the success of a freelance artist.

Which is more important, a practical art
education or a BFA? 

Tomorrow: practical tips on digital projection drawing.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Drawing Better (Part 2)

The Art of Painting, ca. 1666-68, Jan Vermeer.
Yesterday (the item below) I covered in some detail the three major motives as to why artists produce art. I also discussed the three major sources of inspiration artist rely upon today and the fact that none of them are relevant as to the motives. Artists are thus free to choose whatever type of source material best suits their needs, skills, work habits, and disposition. Among those resources is the use of photos. Artists have been using them for about 150 years now. They have used them in a number of different manners from simply holding the photo in one hand and drawing with the other to collaging them onto their canvases and painting over and around them. Among the ways artists have used photos, especially in the past one-hundred years, is to transfer them to their canvases through the use of some form of optical projector. Actually, this technique predates photography, going back to the development of lens crafting during the 17th century (mostly in northern Europe). The highly respected Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer (above), used a camera obscura almost exclusively in this manner. 

The work of Chicago artist Nathan Walsh--details impossible to capture in a drawing, too fleeting to capture on location. Both take only seconds to capture digitally and less than half the time to transfer to canvas with a projector.

Although the use photos in art is widely accepted today, artists have long been ambivalent about projecting photos as a means of transferring images to canvas or other surfaces. The layman, and probably many artists, quickly ask, "But isn't that tracing?" Yes, it is. But why is tracing such a dirty word as applied to art? Tracing is simply a means of drawing, and as it so happens, a quicker, more accurate means than the guesswork of freehand drawing. Artists have long looked upon freehand drawing as if it were some kind of "magic" art skill--the very definition of an artist. Tracing a projection destroys that illusion. It seems tantamount to plagiarism, even is the artist is working from his or her own photography.
Photorealist, Tjalf Sparnaay, of the Netherlands...
paintings or simply giant photos?
The question which then arises is, "If the artist uses a photo by simply tracing it in pencil or paint, why bother? Why not simply use the photo itself and call it art?" It's a valid question to which any professional photographer would quickly answer, "We do." But being a painter, the key word in the equation is "uses," not "copies." Artists, being artists, are prone to changing the appearance and content of their work as they change the media of presentation. Even the most dedicated Photorealist makes changes from his source photo(s), anything from adding color to combining two or more photos into a single painting. Once more, the Photorealist painter uses the photo, first as a source of inspiration, then tracing the projected photo as a means of obtaining the needed extremes in drawing accuracy, not as the final work of art.

Note: the grid is unneeded.
So, if working from projected drawings saves the Photorealist time and effort while improving accuracy, thus making the artist more efficient, then why shouldn't ALL artists, regardless of style, use such methods to replace traditional time-consuming, error-prone drawing efforts making up the all-important conceptual and preliminary preparations to paint? The most common answer to that lies in the word "traditional." That is to say, it's always been done that way...or perhaps, anything less is "cheating." That way of thinking, my friend, is academic brainwashing, the main purpose of which is to maintain academic cash flow.

Projection drawing requires a good photo, a digital projector, a firm base, a
darkened room, an easel with a drawing board, and a steady hand.
Let me state here and now that in a single day, I can teach a student to draw better and faster (thus more efficiently) using proper projection techniques than he or she can garner in a whole year of traditional college drawing classes. Moreover I've done so with over fifty portrait artists. AND, at the end of the day, their finished works are salable. Of course, good drawing neither begins nor ends with a video projector. Quality comes from both what is projected and what the artist does with the drawing after it is projected. That means good photography to begin with and exceptional painting or drawing skills applied over the projection.

Part 3, tomorrow, will deal with a course of study for artists in the digital age.

Norman Rockwell went to great pains to pose his models,
hire a professional photographer, try many versions, and make changes where he thought best. Can you count the differences between the photo and the painting? All his images were
transferred to his canvases using a slide projector.