Dear Art Lover,
I sat in on an art history class once in college, but I was more interested in the boy I skipped my own class to be with than in any kind of history. However, this past winter while in Florence, Italy, I attended as many art history lectures as I could.
Listening to the Maestro Michael John Angel speak at his school in Florence was an eye-opener. Today, it seems that the art talk I hear implies that 'realistic art' is traditional and therefore boring. But as the Maestro spoke so passionately about the artworks created by various artists over the last several centuries, I began to understand that what appears at first glance to be realism is, in fact, a chosen design of varying shapes, lines, colors, and tones simply inspired by Nature. What appears to be reality is really abstraction. And it is often the artist's choice of shapes that distinguishes a quality portrait, for example, from just another well-executed painting of a person.
At another of Florence's art schools, Mr. Charles Cecil delivered a series of art history lectures detailing how artists influence one another in technique and inspiration. I truly enjoyed these lectures even though sometimes (if I must admit) I got lost in the twirling motion of his hands in front of the slide projector's light as he "acted out" the flowing movement from one element in the composition to another.
Mr. Cecil's last lecture that I attended was about Peter Paul Rubens. He traced how this artist came from the north to the south of Europe to learn from the masters before him. Mr. Cecil also related a recent conversation with one of his peers in which they both lamented that today's art students seem to learn technique and then do nothing with it. His plea to his students was: do as Rubens did. Rubens took what he learned, went home, and he made something new of it, changing the art world. Backing up his premise with various works by Rubens throughout his career was really fascinating and inspiring! And yet, I wondered if what was seen as revolutionary during Ruben's own time, today appears simply as 'traditional.'
Technique comes from observing and doing. Copying and working would be more accurate. For example, I have been a mentor since 1992. While I was beginning to seriously study art, "my kid" Rudy, now a young man, was teaching himself how to play the drums and later, the guitar. He would listen to a piece of music and then try to play it - for hours and hours.
When he was still a teenager, I would take Rudy to the local guitar store and he would play the same riff on every guitar that interested him. A sales clerk once started up a conversation with me and I lamented that I only wished that Rudy would play something different once in a while. I was surprised by the response: He must play the same phrase until he owns it and as he does this, he will gradually change the phrase to create his personal style of playing.
It is through technique that our voices begin to emerge. And it is that discovery of what is our own that is so totally absorbing and exciting to an artist. It is the beautiful song of that one individual voice that makes an artwork more than mere technique.
I went to Italy primarily to learn more about design. The Italian word for design is 'disegno.' The same word means 'drawing.' So my first task has been to improve my drawing skills. I have included a few images here to give you an idea of the approach to disegno that I have been studying.
Disegno: One Drawing Process - Romance and Architecture
This is a 2-hour sketch of model
Alessandro, who has a noble face.
First, to capture the gesture or movement in a composition, a basic series of curves are drawn. I figure out my design in a small sketch before working on the real drawing. My goal is to create the simplest line drawing I can that still contains the idea I wish to present. I think of this as starting with romance - I must recognize what it is about the pose that attracts me and capture that quality from the very beginning of the process.
After that, I refine my drawing by adding the architecture. Curves for movement; straight lines for strength: Romance and Architecture. Too much romance and you have only spaghetti. Too much architecture and you become bored. I want to create unity with variety. It is the play between these elements that creates compelling disegno.
If a line drawing is the end result, then I draw a changing line or lines (from heavy to light) to describe how the light falls on the form.
Above: 2006 pencil drawing of Tamara.
If I want a more rendered drawing, then I move onto tone. I am simplifying this process a bit, but once I am happy with my sketch and its articulation, I now design the shapes of my shadows. Many decisions will be made here - and sometimes changed from the initial set. Ultimately, this line divides the form into two parts: light and shadow. Each part must be separate and distinct or my form is lost; i.e., the lightest part in shadow should always be darker than the darkest part in the light areas.
Then, after filling in an average value for my shadows, I begin to create a 3-d illusion from a 2-d pattern by adding tone: modeling or rounding the larger forms first, and then working individual forms inside the larger context. I then start working in the shadows and later begin 'sculpting' the lights.
Above: 2006 pencil drawings of Tomaso.
Drawing of Isidora
Above: 2007 pencil drawing of a model named Isidora from Serbia.
Above: Drawing the shapes of the shadows, which will remain separate from the lights.
Above: Now I begin to create the illusions of three dimensions from my two-tone drawing of shapes.
Above: I was unhappy with the head so I erased my work and redrew.
The model moves frequently, but this adds life and often a fresh look to help me catch my errors or to change my design.
Drawing of Mauro
Above: In these images of Mauro, you can see how I am trying to improve the subtle dynamics in the pose. And you can see the abstract design in the form.
When I first arrived in Italy last September, I met another artist named Amedeo. Amedeo told me that if I knew how to do etchings, I could earn some money. At an art opening a few months later for another new friend, Hafiza Malik, I saw how each of her prints from an etched plate looked different, some markedly so. My interest was peaked. I bought some zinc plates and a tool to scratch with and began my education.
On my way home from life drawing one evening, I showed my new etching to Giovanni, the flower vendor who worked near my flat in Florence. He was impressed and asked me if I could work from photographs. Not my favorite way to go, but OK. He presented me with a small image of him that surprised me.
So now I had a commission for a pencil drawing. I had never created a portrait with a detailed background, so I felt this was another opportunity for growth. The 4" x 6" photo offered little assistance. Fortunately, I had visited Prague before arriving in Italy and saw the artwork of the late Alphonse Mucha and became inspired. During the winter months, I worked on the drawing in the late hours of the day, after doing the work I came to Italy to do. Creating the design was much more difficult for me than the execution of the drawing, but Giovanni and I were pleased with the result.
Surrounding Giovanni are his beloved flowers: anthurium being his favorite, with the rose in a very close second. The arch above his head is in the same proportion and shape as Filippo Brunelleschi's famous Duomo in Florence. And the fleur-de-lis is also a reference to Giovanni's home town.
Other new drawings from life:
New Pencil Drawings
Above: Left to right: "Mauro", "Isidora," and "Ode to Michelangelo (Mauro II)"
Do note that for each drawing, I have spent two or three weeks (3 hours per day) with each model. These are much longer sittings than I usually have.
In closing, thank you for your continued interest. I enjoy your feedback and friendship.
Thank you for reading.
17 May 2007
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If you enjoy Borsheim Art News, please forward it to friends and colleagues. It comes to you about 6-8 times a year from Cedar Creek, Texas-based artist Kelly Borsheim.