If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Art Fundamentals

In this post, I will try to list and illustrate the fundamental elements of visual art, in as simple terms as possible, using videos where possible. These two were made by artist Stanley Prokopenko. The first covers:

the basic elements of visual art: Shape, Value, Color, and Edge.

This video covers light and shadow:


Here are some more concepts related to drawing. These concepts apply to painting as well, and are crucial in describing whether an artwork is successful, and what makes it great.

Line Quality & Variety (Druhy Čiar)
One thing young students don't seem to understand is that, while in the digital world, everything is either on or off, a pencil is analog - it's capable of making more than one kind of line (millions, actually). Choosing the kinds of lines that best represent the subject is what makes a drawing great. It usually involves mixing different kinds of lines. Take a look at this, for example, how many kinds of lines can you see?

Sketchbook Page, by Rich Anderson

Contour Lines (Obrysy)
Also called outlines, form the sillhouette of a shape or figure. These are the most intuitive lines in art - they're what beginners always see and draw. Throughout history, contour lines have always been popular:

Contour lines are hard to draw. Students often try to copy comic characters, and wonder why their drawing looks so bad, when it has all the same lines:

Here's why. first, those "simple" comic characters have extremely specific, irregular, organic shapes - the proportions and details are crucial! And, however flat they may appear at first, good comic characters suggest a 3D form, however subtly:

Character Guide Sheet, by Ben Balestreri

Another reason your drawing doesn't look like the professional's is because you're not using the same method. Most comic artists don't just whip out a marker and draw a masterpiece (some do!). Most pencil in a sketch, and then ink over it:

Phoenix, by Eric Canete

Try it! It's easier!

The next step is to start looking for contours of form inside the figure:

Melissa, by Eric Deschamps

Look at the line of her jaw, sloping up toward her ear, and all the lines of her nose and eyes. Look for lines that divide planes. Don't be afraid of ruining your drawing - you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Look for the contours of light, dividing forms into value groups, and combining shapes where they have the same value:

Sketch, by Tom Scheuer (1930-)

Don't be afraid to break up your contour lines to soften them up:

Bull Calf, detail, by Arthur Frost (1851-1928)

Gestural Lines (Náznakové Čiary)
Stanley Prokopenko talks in detail about gesture in his figure drawing tutorials. But, gesture is about more than just drawing people. To quote artist Armando N, "All drawing is gesture drawing." What this means is that, when you draw a furry bear, every line of him should feel like a furry bear. When you draw a portrait, the hair should feel like hair, the eyes should look wet, the nose and ears squishy, the cheeks soft, and the forehead hard. It's not about detail or photo-realism. You can capture these effects in just a few lines. You don't believe me? Take a look at this.

Is it as realistic as a photo? No. But do you feel the weight of the beast, the thick skin, the deep folds in his legs, and the rubbery trunk? Can you feel his floppy ears ready to flap? And, of course, you can tell those are people behind him? This is what gesture is all about - capturing a lot of information in just a few lines. It reminds me of a word created by Stephen Colbert - "truthiness". Your drawing doesn't have to be right, it just has to feel right. Believable. Let's look at some more:

Deer, by Gakusui Ide (1899-1992)

Seated Girl, by Kinman Chan

Shawl, by Nathan Fowkes

How many lines are there in these drawings? Despite the detail, you can count most of the major lines on one hand. Now, many students see these examples and think, hey! I can do that! It's harder than it looks - while they may appear loose and free, they're still incredibly precise, showing a great deal of control. It's something that takes years of practice.

Loose drawing won't work if it's sloppy!

Let's compare two gesture drawings:

I drew this back in highschool. You can see it's people in a bar, but not much else. It's sloppy, and there's not much information present. Now, let's look at a masterpiece:

Sketchbook Detail, by Luke Hollis

While his sketch is also loose, every line is in exactly the right place. The jeans feel like jeans, the jacket like a jacket. Everything about the poses feels natural - the slouching, the arch of the back, the tilt of the head, everything. This is why artists say they can see the difference between a professional and an amateur with one drawn line.

Gesture is just as important in painting and sculpture as in drawing - one of the great problems with painting is how to develop the forms without losing the energy and grace of the gesture. This is why many artists will tell you the gesture has to be right from the start, or the painting won't be a success.

Two Mesquite Trees, by Charles Hawthorne (1872-1930)

Gorge, by Nathan Fowkes

Mark Direction & Modelling (Smer Čiary & Predvadzanie)
An important way to create depth and volume to your drawing is to pay attention to the direction of your marks. You need to learn how to model with a pencil. Now, I don't mean modelling like a runway model:

I mean like how sculptors make models:

Think of the structure of the forms, like how 3D animators break down their models into different planes:

The best examples I've found so far are by Luc Desmarchelier, who does work for animation films:

Do you see how each and every line wraps around the forms? It's the same with people (by James Flagg, 1877-1960):

Hatching (šrafovanie)
These drawings make use of hatching. Hatching is any time you group several small lines together, all with the same shape, thickness, and direction. There are many ways to do it:

Tyler groups most of his hatches in threes, softening up the contours so they don't look too sharp.

Five Young Women, by Gaetano Gandolfi (1734-1802)

This pen & ink sketch is an example of cross-hatching (šrafovanie šikmé), where hatched lines criss-cross, overlapping to build form. Think of it like a chain-link fence wrapping around the forms.

Apollo, by Sasha Gorec

In this drawing, the cross-hatching is so fine and soft you hardly see it.

In this sketch, the hatching is strong, hectic, and patchy, falling apart at the edges, adding to the tension of the work.

Positive & Negative Space

Thinking in terms of positive space (objects and people in front) and negative space (empty areas behind) can help improve your compositions. At the same time, it's a great way to measure proportions. Paul Richards gives an example with this figure drawing. He looks at the areas behind the figure in terms of triangles to help measure the lengths of her arms and legs:

Figure Sketch, by Paul Richards

Positive and Negative space are usually separated through light and dark. See how it makes these trees pop out:

Tree Study, by Eugen Bracht (1842-1921)

Comics artists exaggerate (zveličovať) positive and negative spaces with extreme light and shadow. The effect is very dramatic:

Green Frog Comic Panel, by Eric Canete

Once you start thinking in terms of positive and negative space, all sorts of creative opportunities open up:

Cover: Leage Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Eric Canete

Foreshortening & Perspective

Foreshortening is the effect of things getting bigger as they come closer to you. Look at the hands and feet in this comic. That's foreshortening.

In Yo Face, by Jeff 'Chamba' Cruz

Foreshortening is a result of perspective - seeing things in three dimensional space. Everything you see in real life is foreshortened, but most people have a hard time seeing it. The amount of foreshortening you experience depends on how close an object is to you, and how far away it recedes (ustupovať). Foreshortening is the main way to create the illusion of depth. For further tips, here are some more great videos by Stan Prokopenko:


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