Sunday, January 9, 2011

Principium Of Tractus

In this "There are no rules" world of art, where for every step that one artist says is useless, another artist will claim it to be of the utmost of importance, I have been loath to throw in my two cents of advice.  But I have a whole dresser drawer full of pennies just sitting here, so allow me to toss a couple in the ring and talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: drawing.

I am a firm believer in the old adage that if you can't draw it, you can't paint it.  I mean, if you look at some of history's great artists, we admire their surviving drawings and sketches as well as their painted masterpieces.  So, if a great painter is a great draftsman, then wouldn't it stand to reason that great draftsmen are also great painters?  Not by a long shot!  Drawing and painting are twin arts in the same way concert pianists and church organists are.  If you can play one, you can probably play the other, but they ain't the same thing.  And a good pianist isn't necessarily going to be a good organist, and vice versa.  So, I have seen a ton of artists who can really draw, but yet their paintings don't hold up as well.  Heck, when I first started painting I wasn't nearly as proficient with a brush as I was with a pencil.  (Which isn't saying much...)  However, I have yet to see a really good painter who can't draw well.  That said, in painting, I absolutely believe drawing is key.

Generally speaking, good drawing involves line to show form and value to indicate mass.  But how much knowledge in drawing do you need?  If you want to draw people do you need to go the Michelangelo route and start carving up cadavers?  Do I need to name the lobes of the brain to paint portraits?  I know several artists who can name individual body parts, inside and out with the same fluency as a medical doctor.  But if that was a requirement to draw the human figure, then why don't museums have more artwork done by noted surgeons?  Isn't it enough to observe an object and draw it repeatedly to accurately portray it in charcoal and paint?  Having that scientific knowledge is impressive, but knowing that under that thar flesh lies muscle, and under all that muscle them be bones is just as important.  Knowing where the bones are, and having a good understanding of the muscle groups is enough, if you ask me.  By all means, hang out at the mortuary if you want, but I think hanging out at life drawing class can be just as useful.

OK, what about landscapes and seascapes?  Does it help to be a meteorologist to understand the atmospheric effects you may be observing?  Do you have to know the chemical reaction of photosynthesis in order to draw a tree?  Well, knowing what type of clouds usually appear in a summer sky as opposed to those of a winter day is fairly important, I think.  To understand the difference between the canopy of an Ulmus Americana (elm) tree against a Quercus (oak) tree helps give your landscape a more realistic touch.  Knowing how branches grow is just as important as knowing how muscles work.  Just don't ask me to name the scientific processes involved.

As someone who is self-taught in art, I may be stating these things from the lofty pinnacle of ignorance for all I know.  But I can look at a painting and see if an artist really knew their stuff when it came to drawing, can't you? 

But I can't tell you if they knew they were drawing fingers or phalanges.



Virginia Floyd said...

Ah, Kevin, you're stepping on my toes, here. I can draw some, but not really well. Sometimes I get the drawing right, but other times the ellipses are elusive. Sigh.

Kay said...

A thoughtful post! I am also a firm believer in drawing abilities. I had a figure structure class that was great but knowing the names of muscles and bones was a bit beyond me..if I had that kind of knowledge..I could be making better money at nursing or as a doctor! That is my formula for good drawing...look, look, look. There is no substitution for actually drawing what you see rather than drawing what you know! In other words..we can all draw a stick is a symbol..symbols are easy..beginning artists tend to fall into the symbol trap. They draw an eye that is the symbol of an eye because they quit looking at their model. We all know that people are different but we forget to look for those differences. We get discouraged because our drawing of a tree looks like well a tree but the same as a child's rendering of a tree..a symbol. If we really look at that tree and do some measuring..yes the old artist with their arm out holding the pencil and squinting..we see where things are in relationship with other things. Looking and really seeing is an art in and of itself. It is hard to concentrate but so worth it. And the more you draw the better you get at drawing. Of course the rules of drawing are made to be broken but you are so right..a good drawing makes a better painting. (Forgive my rant!)