Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Drawing, suppresion of values in the light

Thank God for www.artrenewal.org

Above I have presented a detail of a William Bouguereau. I know we are talking about drawing but as I said in a preceding post. a painting is really a drawing in color. Particularly an academic paintiing like this which is made from a careful drawing transferred to the canvas. Bouguereau, ( pronounced Bouguereau ) was an absolutely splendid draftsman. Lets examine this head. He has defined the shadow edge, our "bed bug line", and softly turned the form in the shadow with restrained reflected light . Over on the light side of the head the half tones are so suppressed that they are barely perceptible. Although the half tones are suppressed, the planes of the head go around just fine.This gives an elegance and a "clean" look that takes this thing up from worksmanlike representation to fine art. It looks good. That's the idea.

Here's the same thing going on in this head by Henry Raeburn, the eighteenth century Scottish portrait painter. Notice how broadly seen and simple the shadow side of the face is. The "bed bug" line is right there, softened in some places and sharp where the bone of the skull is close to the surface. Notice also the simplicity of the kerchief at his throat. The values in that are suppressed as well, keeping it in its proper place in the picture rather than calling attention away from the head. Every thing in a painting must be subordinated to the larger image.

I have stressed before that it is difficult to place too much emphasis on what the painting actually looks like. The art is in the appearance of the painting. That may seem really obvious to you, but we live in an era where we often hear art lauded for what it says about society, or how it pushes the envelope or defies our preconceived bourgeois notions, etc. I think it good to remind you that," what it looks like" is where the art lives.

Over expression of the halftones in the light creates a problem called over modeling and causes a dirty look in a painting. It is the result of trying so hard to get the form that the "BIG LOOK" is lost. Lets talk about the "big look" idea for a little bit here. Imagine I have a model set up before me in the studio, while were at it in fact, lets imagine her about nineteen, breathtakingly beautiful and unbelievably naive. We'll call her Muffy for the sake of this exercise.

Now when we look at Muffy in her entirety she looks one way, but when we look at some individual part of Muffy she looks a different way. In order to paint Muffy
well, we must paint each part of her as it looks when we are looking at all of her. We want to paint her hand the way it looks when we are looking at her head. I know that sounds like zen but here's why its important. Looking just at the shadow for instance and not seeing it in comparison to the light causes us to overstate the reflected lights, and of course staring at the lights causes us to overstate the halftones .This also causes us to over "detail" each individual part of Muffy, giving not one large vision of compliant loveliness but a patchwork of separate and unrelated examinations. Our representation of the fetching and cooperative Muffy becomes PIECEMEAL. Rather than one big image on the canvas we have half a dozen, each calling out for our attention. We have made a group of disparate an unrelated parts hooked together, rather than nice Muffy. What we have lost is the most important quality a painting can have;


Unity of effect is that quality, which all great art possesses, be it a painting, a Hiroshige woodblock print, a Richardsonian Romanesque public library, a piece of Attic red figured ware or a Goddard-Townsend kneehole desk. The thing holds together. It is one cohesive statement and not a handful of conflicting and individual parts . If I can teach you only one thing. Learn this.


Mary Bullock said...

HI Stape: My goodness I have got so much to catch up on - but first let me say that Bouguereau is one of my favorite artists. I will have to go back and read all the posts I have missed - Mary

Stapleton Kearns said...

Welcome back Mary;

You will have some reading to do as I have written a lot since you have been away.

kasman said...

Your "unity of effect" quote is wonderful, maybe the best thing you have written. It cuts to the core. I will give it much thought and now I will go into the basement and destroy all of my paintings that do not comply with this concept. I'm not joking. Thank you.