Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Master Copy: Guido Reni's Samson

After Guido Reni's "Samson", 1618

After diagramming my wax paper drawing yesterday, I felt inspired today to try drawing an actual person. No models available, but luckily I have a few books with some good figures represented (including my treasured book about Reni, an out of print, hardcover color catalog given to me by my husband this past Christmas).

This sketch took about 2 hours, and I did it entirely with the "movement curve" approach, not even a straight line block-in to start.

I notice I run into the same arc of experience when I draw: I start off, and after a good while I feel like the drawing is going well, and I allow myself to move into more details. Almost immediately I find problems, realize I need to back up to the bigger shapes and gestures... and then I spend just as much time adjusting the major landmarks as I did putting them down on the blank page!

However, once I've wrestled that together I start to understand the pose, and suddenly something shifts and all the various elements start to harmonize. It's a nice feeling.

Patience has been the key to developing my drawing ability. I would like to be able to draw more quickly at some point, though.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Below I've diagrammed some of the steps of my methods for how I constructed this drawing.

I started by making a mark at the top and the bottom, and would not allow my drawing to go above or below these points.

Then I drew a general gesture for the overall tilt of the main pose and a secondary line for establishing the non-weight bearing leg.

I noticed where the main weight is pressing, the ankle of the forward leg, and sketched a vertical plumb line to see what falls along that path. This is how I noticed that the raised wrist is not directly above the weight-bearing ankle, which helped me capture the general gesture. Not that I got it right at the first pass, but it helped me begin to visualize the pose on the page.

I looked for the theme (red), counter-theme (orange) and ornament (blue) to capture the gesture precisely (see my Studio Escalier notes). I spent most my time between this and the first stage, back and forth, adjusting it until it felt like the pose.

This looks wiggly and swoopy, but the lines are quite precise and intersect movement with structure. They map the paths of energy and tension that are defined by the structure of how the body is holding itself up. The axis where the curves touch the outside contour help me see the exact shape of the contour and how every part interrelates to every other part of the figure as a whole.

Once I feel I have everything working to describe the pose, I use this system to move into smaller and smaller contours of the body. Inevitably I find errors from the earlier steps - when the network of curves do not "work" within the bigger errors I have made, like the hand landing in a wrong spot on the torso would show me I've estimated the curve of the shoulder incorrectly.

Nothing on the body has these simplified curves though - these are curves of movement, not of structure. The structure is a network of many compound curves, complexity within the harmony of the whole.

As Ted Jacobs taught me, the shapes of the body are fan-shaped and non-parallel. This translates to everything - no two high points are directly across from each other on a form. No three intersections or axis line up in a straight line.

The most difficult part was the non-weight bearing leg. That's because the limb is supporting some weight, but the upward pressure of the supported toe versus the downward pressure of gravity on the bent knee were making a curve in opposition to the general curve of gesture - two curves canceling each other out make it tempting to see a straight line, but the straight line makes the limb look rigid and dead - there must be tension and vitality, even in counter-acting curves. So I found myself struggling with it a lot, but my goal was to show the tensions without deadening the movement.

I find I also have a tendency to make everything regular and even: the first time I sketch say two curves defining the outer contours of the leg, my drawing looks awkward and clumsy and un-life like. I often wish I could see immediately what I am doing wrong, but a the stage I am at now, I can see it is wrong but not how to fix it, and I just have to fiddle around till it feels right.

I think I would be faster and more efficient if I could start to see my errors and tendencies as I make them (or even before!).

I find when drawing and painting I must suspend a certain type of evaluative, critical looking in order to work, but I need critical looking to tell if what I have drawn is satisfying, so I am always practicing and refining the skill of how to switch this critical evaluation on and off at will. So I was pleased and thrilled to find this quote by a mathematician that exactly describes this phenomenon:

"When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only of how to solve the problem. But when I am finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."
- Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983) architect/mathematician/engineer