Saturday, July 30, 2011

Drawing Process 1

I was just in NYC to meet an old friend/mentor, and get his advice on the book I'm writing.  He pointed out that finished renderings, drawings and paintings were nice for inspiration, but a bit more process would be nice.

He was right, and so without any more delay, a bit of process.  Unfortunately, I'm not in a verbose state of mind (am I ever?), so just a few notes will be attached.

The general lines have already been finalized on toned pastel paper, working from a photo.  No tracing allowed, I'm trying to force myself to "see".  The bright and shadowed areas are then roughed in using white and black Prismacolor pencils.

Most of life is filled with polishing.  Not the most entertaining work, but excellent for training the eye to see in detail. The same color pencils are used to develop the form.  I was especially interested in capturing the reflected lighting on the right, and the pattern of muscles under the skin on the lower back.  It is interesting that I prefer black and white nudes to color nudes.  My sense of color seems to be oriented toward buildings and landscape rather then skin tone.  I imagine a psychiatrist would have something to say about that.

Next, a sketch (again from a photo) of the nave of Ely Cathedral.  This was more of a exercise in laying out a complex bit of architecture, and less a study of shape and form.  Above is the layout; some of it is fairly straightforward, but the lantern is a bear being an octagon with supporting piers.

Here I've moved into some of the light and dark.  Still trying to clarify the lantern and supporting walls.

And finally, I've pretty much given up on detailing the lantern, and turned instead to the foreground finials. 

I am not happy with the result, but it does show the process, and how you don't always end up with the result you were hoping for.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kismet and Computers

Here is a shot of my watercolor palette.  It looked interesting; an accidental abstract painting, if you will.

Here is a photo from a few years ago, which I took without realizing the curious shadow shape.  An accidental confluence of tree, fence, light and me.

My kid brother (at our age that will give him a chuckle) lives out by a river, with plenty of undeveloped land.  I was tramping around his woods last winter and shot this old truss bridge.  I painted this on a computer tablet, using that photo, which, with its contrast of green, rust and winter grays, was irresistible.  A bit of luck that I hardly noticed when I was photographing it.

Finally, here is a pastel sketch that just fell together: a bit of kismet...
Kismet comes from the Urdu word for fate, destiny or luck.  It is the sea we swim in whether we like it or not.  No matter how much we try to control our future, and guarantee our happiness, things happen.  In its most benevolent form it is the good catastrophe, "eucatastrophe" being Tolkien's word, that finds us alive after the deadly storm or fire.

The images above are mini forms of kismet.  Chance encounters with beauty.  I wasn't looking for or working toward a specific idea of beauty, but it surprised me as I was just living.  In ink stains, photographs, or sketches, kismet can easily find you, but computers seem to be another thing.

Computers seem to be the epitome of cold logic, and the last place you might look for a chance encounter with kismet.  In computer rendering the shape, form, color and material are unambiguous and as close to simple reality as you can get, as in rendered chair below.

However, if you give the computer a chance, interesting things can happen.  The building design below was in an unfinished state when the rendering was run as a test.  The effect was such a curious mix of reality and plastic model, that I have kept it as a favorite ever since.

Another model (below) started as a very simple part of an otherwise excruciatingly complex design.  It was actually rather boring, until a lighting test caught the material and window wedges just right, producing enchantment.

Sometimes the model is just waiting for the right angle and light to seduce you.  A simple spiral stairs can be interesting architecturally while leaving a visual "blah".  Sometimes the staircase can come together as a complex design.  And, then there are times when the design  and the three dimensional reality can be overwhelmed by the abstract dance that makes it art.

And that is why I have optimism for a future with computers; it won't be what we want or expect, but it will include things to delight and beautify.

As Sherlock Holmes said in The Adventure of the Naval Treaty...
"Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

War and Architecture

I ran across an Eisenhower quote: "Plans are nothing: planning is everything."  Being into military history it reminded me of the very old maxim, "no plan survives contact with the enemy," which goes back at least to Clausewitz, and was restated recently by Colin Powell.

It states the reality of almost every complex, real world problem: that every move you make to "solve" a problem reconfigures the situation so that you have to rethink your solution.  The enemy always has a say in the direction things are going to proceed.  Indeed, the whole world tends to reconfigure with every step we take.  No wonder the future is such a strange place, even though humans haven't changed much in the whole of recorded history.

Helmuth von Moltke, the military counterpart to Bismarck's political genius, was a master at planning, and re-planning, as a military campaign developed.  His successes against Austria (1866) and France (1870) paved the way for German unity, and led tangentially to the world wars.  His genius was the ability to plan in detail the movements of large armies (feeding, clothing, arming, transporting, organizing, etc.), without letting the massive plans control his sense of purpose.  When the plan didn't produce the exact result he expected, he re-planned using the new set of facts.

Anyone who has worked as an architect can see the similarities.  A large building is a complex thing involving materials from around the world, and a wide range of skills.  There are multiple "clients", and often a host of "enemies" who want to change or stop the project.

A good architect serves as a field marshal who coordinates the various specialists and generals, keeping the movement going toward an ultimate goal.  It might take time, effort, negotiation and detours, but the ultimate goal must be kept in mind.  Any one design cannot become the goal.  The best architects tend to be good at negotiating and coordinating: they could easily have made a name in diplomacy.

I don't think I could have made a good architect.  I have always been impatient of changes and talk.  If I have a vision in my head I want to get it down on paper immediately.  My aunt would understand: "talk is cheap", and "get it done right, do it yourself."  It is the ethic of the frontier, not the diplomat, but humans need both skills.

My aunt has made it into her 80's with a certain impatience, so it can't be such a bad approach.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Edge Lighting

It's the 4th of July weekend, and unfortunately I'm living in a pest house.  My wife and I both have bad summer colds, and since she coughs at night I spent last night in the spare bedroom.  A recent (2008) copy of Anne of Green Gables was on the bed (my daughter, who is on vacation must be rereading it), and the cover illustration caught my eye. 

It was a wonderful painting by Ben Stahl, and is a wonderful example of "edge lighting", or lighting a subject from over the shoulder of the subject.  As you can see it creates a highlighted edge (from above left) that accents the softer reflected light.  The reflected light comes from the opposite direction (below right).

I'm going to avoid commenting on the beautiful sense of color, so as to follow the edge (and get back to bed).  Edge lighting in portraits is not new, but it is relatively rare.  The most obvious example that came to mind was Vermeer: his painting called The Lacemaker is below.  It is not exactly in the category since the subject is looking down, but the drama is the same.

One of my all time favorite paintings, Woman with a Parasol by Monet also takes on the problem/opportunity of looking toward the light (yes, I know he painted several versions; he's Monet after all). He captures a moment of light better than anyone, and probably didn't give a damn about the theory of light and optics.  As Cezanne said:  "Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye."

More recently, during the hay day of illustration, Norman Rockwell used the edge lighting approach more often than anyone I know of.  He used it in one of his most famous paintings Saying Grace, with the subjects  set in front of a window looking out on a bright and busy city street.  Below is one of several illustrations for The Adventures of huckleberry Finn (1968), that use edge lighting.  (Wonderful composition, no?)

End of art history/opinion...

Illustrating the proposed design of a building is much like painting a portrait.  In most cases choosing lighting that comes from the front, 45 degree from front, or from the near side is preferred because it emphasizes the forms clearly.  Every once in a while more drama and less clarity are called for.  Painters, having more leeway in this regard, have used edge lighting for hundreds of years.  Below is Claude Gellee's Disembarkation of Cleopatra at Tarsus, painted in 1642.  Obviously, looking into the sunset was the driving idea here, and the edge lighting was merely a result, but there it is for whatever reason.

But I'm supposed to be talking about architectural illustration...  Damn that ADD!

Eliel Saarinen, being both an architect and a talented artist, regularly rendered his own designs with edge lighting.  He used it on his most famous project in his native Finland, the Helsinki Railway Station (1910), and architectural fantasy designed in 1915.  Below is another famous project, the Parliament House (1908), which shows how he allowed the edge light to strike elements in the foreground, helping to give depth to what could become a flat and dull shadowed facade.

There are other illustrators that used the technique, including Hugh Ferriss and John Wenrich, but I'm at the end of my Sudafed, so I'll just leave with one of my own examples of edge lighting; a detail of my rendering of the Ellington Building.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stone Eagle

The last post on the addictive and coercive qualities of using "machines" in producing "art" was rather depressing for some reason.  So I want to cleanse the mental palette with a simple process watercolor example.  It was based on a photograph taken years ago in a cemetery, and was inspired by the idea that focus can be created with color temperature, and back lighting is an exciting option.

This is not a watercolor "how to" blog, so the basics are...  trace image in pencil on 140lb Arches cold pressed paper.  Wet and stretch onto a plywood board using gunned tape.  Let dry.   Using Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache and a good red sable brush (#3,7, & 10)... begin...

The first wash was aimed at setting the background, and starting the general shading of the back-lit sculpture.

 The Second wash brings the sculpture into a cool tone to contrast with the warm background.  Detailing is started when the wash is dry.

Final washes on the body to define the shapes, accent the contrast, and vary the cool base with some warmth from the background.  Then, final detailing.

Not a big deal, but a nice example of subtle color and value at work.  Maybe something I can apply to an architectural rendering one of these days.

Art without discipline is onanism; discipline without art is boring.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Art Machines

A week ago I noticed an old photo of a nude in the Wall Street Journal, Visualizer section.  The blurb noted that Eugene Delacroix used such photos to practice drawing - even during mass in church.  It reminded me of sketching during long church sermons, and also called to mind the long history of artists using various "machines" to help recreate the world around them
Students in the studio are taught to use the pencil or brush to gauge the size and shape of the model's forms so that the drawing will be accurate.  Various tricks can be used to insure some accuracy in color rendition also.  In the end however, the artist's eye is either good or not so good.  Practice helps tremendously; and then there are the machines.

 There is the transparent plane shown in da Vinci's sketch.

The Camera Obscura, which all artists of a certain age remember as the overhead projector.

Varley's Graphic Telescope, used for landscape and buildings.  (that is Varley, not Vernet, the ancestor of Sherlock Holmes).

Which all reminded me of this self portrait/photo by Maxfield Parrish (found in Coy Ludwig's excellent book on the artist.  The equipment photos above are from Martin Kemp's The Science of Art, which I can't recommend too highly, if you have any interest in a complete survey of the topic.

And the point...

Tools, equipment and machines are part of the business of illustration in general, and architectural illustration especially.  After all, architecture is usually a complex geometry combining different materials, set into a context that itself can be complex and variable.  Any sane illustrator would grab any chance to simplify the process.  In my own time I used photographs, xerox machines, photo enlarging and reducing, and of course computer modeling and rendering.

Still, there is a downside here.  Our machines influence what we create, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  On the margin, where the design process is fast and cheap, the computer can take control of the process.  In architectural illustration fast and cheap is too often the default, and the computer renderings end up looking alike.  If you are only interested in conveying the cold reality of the design, then that works.  If you are looking to create an image that captures something beyond the basics, then you will have to go beyond the default.

And the point...

Get out and do some sketching.  Work from a photo or computer model when you don't have the time.  But again, get out and draw.