Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ingres, Line weight and value suppression

Above is an Ingres pencil portrait of Madame Victor Baltard. I will make a few observations on it tonight. Bullets please:
  1. This is a line and not a mass drawing. The values of the clothing, for instance are completely left out. This is not transposed from nature in the same way that a visual draftsman might work. It is abstracted deliberately into a reduced description of its boundary's in space and the most salient lines of its construction.
  2. If you were making a study for an academic painting, a colored drawing built up in glazes, this is the information you would want on your canvas before the brush began it's work.
  3. The darks are concentrated about the heads with the remainder scattered as accents about the drawing.
  4. The modeling, even in the heads is suppressed. There are no cast shadows and the darks are selectively used to express the forms like the eyes and the lips rather than the larger shadow structure of the light on the forms. Ingres is drawing the forms and not what he saw before him in light and shadow. He has extracted the forms from the appearance of light on the model. This is the opposite of impressionist drawing. It is a classical way of perceiving the drawing.
  • Notice at 1 how soft the modeling (representation of the form through shadow or halftone) is. The plane formed by the side of the face is a different value, but it is suppressed so that it is just enough to tell the story of the plane change there. It is very subtle and understated. This is true of all the modelling of the face. Ingres has deliberately done this to keep the big shape of the face rather than chopping that up with darks. Also this soft focus gives a delicate look to the drawing and that is elegant and refined. Particularly he has avoided covering the face of this lovely woman with big dark areas indicating the structure of the head. He still has the structure in their but he has expressed it by outline and hinting at the different values out in the open spaces of the illuminated forms.
  • At 2 and 3 notice how he has expressed the major axises of the head which I have shown by a construction line through the eyes and the mouth. If he didn't put the lines I have added in as he began the drawing, later to erase them, he certainly had them on the paper mentally.
Here are some remarks on line weight, that is the strength of the line Ingres has used to express and accent the forms. Some of this is done to explain what we are seeing and some of it is done to obtain an elegant and varied variety of line. Most of this variety is had simply by his pressure on the pencil as he drew.
  • At 1 is a very soft line, the equivalent of a lost edge we might find in a painting. Notice at the top of this line where the fabric would be shadowed by her fancy collar the line is darkened. That shows that the form is in shadow, but still keeps this in the vernacular of line rather than having a shaded area here.
  • At 2, where the cape turns in direction Ingres has used a darker line, as it is the bottom of something, he has made it darker, the bottom of that form is in the shadow as it faces the ground away from the light source.
  • At 3, he has trotted out an even darker line. Almost all of the lines representing the sleeves are darker representing that that portion of her garb is made of a different darker material that takes the light differently. Rather than put a dark value out in the open space of it's form he has implied its entire value merely through variations in the outlines that describe it.That is very economical use of darks. Pencil is best as a line medium so he has made the lines do the description that a in mass drawing would have done within the boundarys of the form by dark modeling.
  • 4, points out soft lines probably made with the side of the pencil point representing modeling on the folded surface of the cape, again very carefully understated. This is intended to be as much a line drawing as it can be, and lots of modeling destroys that intention by making it more of a mass drawing. Expression of the shadows and modeling is always subordinated to expression through the use of an incise line.
  • 5, points to a dark accent that represents a place where the cloth goes into a fold and into the shadow created by that. Also this accent makes the illuminated portions look brighter. It is impossible to make something really look bright with out the contrast of a few strong darks. Again this also adds to his line variety.
  • 6, there is no six.
I will return and do more analysis of the drawing chops of Ingres tomorrow.


tom martino said...

Thanks, Stape; your careful analysis and description of the Ingres drawing was really an eye-opener for me. As painters, perhaps most of us have the tendency to dismiss line drawings as an inferior mode of expression, but you have helped me better appreciate the subtlety of this master of drawing.

billspaintingmn said...

I commented first thing this morning, were'd it go?
Great post on drawing Stape.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, line drawing has suffered in recent years, so many of us, myself included are mass drawing guys. But I am charmed by Ingres drawings.They are so elegant.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was informed the link from facebook was broken so I recopied the blog on to a new page and reposted it. I did read your comment but it didn't survive the transfer. Sorry.