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.

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