Friday, 29 April 2011

The impossible task of writing about art

The Burghers of Calais by August Rodin - Taken by Adrian Pingstone in November 2004 and released to the public domain. Source: Wikimedia

"If I have expressed certain feelings in my works, it is utterly useless for me to try to put them into words, for I am not a poet, but a sculptor, and they ought to be easily read in my statues; if not, I might as well not have experienced the feelings."

Auguste Rodin (in “Art” translated from the French into English by Paul Gsell – Boston Small, Maynard & Company Publisher –November 1919)

More quotations from Rodin

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Monday, 25 April 2011

Square in a rectangle composition with golden ratio

While researching on paintings composition, I found a very interesting post by Stapleton Kearns on Building a square within a rectangular composition

These compositions work very well because the square brings an element of stability and harmony (with the four equal sides), while the rectangle creates a secondary interest.

Here are a few example of compositions based on a square in a rectangle in addition to the ones shown by Stapleton Kearns.

Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula by Claude Lorrain, [Source: Wikimedia]

Diego Velázquez, The Forge of Vulcan (1630) - Oil on canvas, 223 x 290 cm (87 3/4 x 114 1/8 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid [Source: Wikimedia]

Painting by Diego Velazquez, 1628-1629, titled The Triumph of Bacchus, or the Drunkards. [Source: Wikimedia]

In The Triumph of Bacchus, you can see how one of the diagonals of the square goes along the back of the character beeing crowned.

The use of the square in a rectangle can be associated with the golden ratio. The value of the golden ratio (also called the “divine proportion”) is approximately 1.6180339887.

There is an easy way to build a rectangle which proportions are based on the golden ratio without any calculation. The method, illustrated below, has the following steps:
• Draw a square as a starting point

• Divide the square in two equal rectangles

• Trace a diagonal in one of the rectangles (see illustration below)

• Using a pair of compasses and that diagonal as the radius, draw an arc that defines the long dimension of the rectangle.

The ratio between the long dimension of the rectangle and the short dimension is the golden ratio. Another interesting fact is that it is also true for the smaller rectangle (light pink one).

Practically, you may not be able to use these proportions if you buy ready made canvasses. However, if you make your own boards for acrylic or oil painting, or work on paper, you can try the square in rectangle composition based on the golden ratio.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The red truck

The red truck - Oil on canvas panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

For this painting, I used one of the reference photographs I took on my last trip to San Francisco.

I started with a quick outline done in pencil. Because the scene was complicated, I wanted to make sure I had the proportions and placement of the different elements right. The colours you see on the canvas are what remained of an earlier painting. It was a false start and I wiped out the paint to be able to re-use the panel later.

The palette I use is a simple selection of six basic colours plus white:

  • Titanium White (The fast drying Griffin Alkyd range from Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
  • Cadmium Red
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Ultramarine Deep

Until I reach an advance stage in the picture, I use a flat hog brush which is large enough not to be tempted to put too many details in (The brush number is gone from the handle, put you can have an idea of the size from the photograph - I am holding the brush very close to the canvas).

Towards the end, I mix the colours with a Flemish Medium (Sold in tube by Lefranc Bourgeois), which gives them brilliance, a good consistency, and help painting over the fresh background without disturbing too much the previous layer.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Proust Questionnaire

The Proust Questionnaire is a self-discovery tool that can help you to define your tastes and your personality.

As an artist, it coud help you in various ways: find subjects you like, make your artist statement more personal, get ready for future interviews and even help you shape the business side of your art practice.

Marcel Proust was a French novelist best known for his series of novels “À la recherche du temps perdu” (In Search of Lost Time), published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927.

The Proust Questionnaire was made famous (and therefore get its name) to the responses given by Marcel Proust. He actually answered the questions several times during his life.

The questionnaire will be more useful if, after answering each question, you also ask yourself: “Why?” Be honest with yourself. You don’t have to share the answers with anyone if you don’t want to.

Here are the questions.

Your most marked characteristic?

The quality you most like in a man?

The quality you most like in a woman?

What do you most value in your friends?

What is your principle defect?

What is your favourite occupation?

What is your dream of happiness?

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?

What would you like to be?

In what country would you like to live?

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite flower?

What is your favourite bird?

Who are your favourite prose writers?

Who are your favourite poets?

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Who are your favourite heroines of fiction?

Who are your favourite composers?

Who are your favorite painters?

Who are your heroes in real life?

Who are your favourite heroines of history?

What are your favourite names?

What is it you most dislike?

What historical figures do you most despise?

What event in military history do you most admire?

What reform do you most admire?

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

How would you like to die?

What is your present state of mind?

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

What is your motto?

Related articles and resources

It’s time to interview you.


Monday, 18 April 2011

“The Rites of Dionysus” by Tim Shaw

This is the last post from my visit to the Eden project (after Eden Project – outside sculptures  and “Seed” scuplture by Peter Randall).

The rites of Dionysus is a group of sculptures installed in the Mediterranean climate dome of the Eden Project.

The Maenads where the god’s follower and they dansed in the vineyard. The sign presenting the installation suggest a reading of these sculpture as a literal representation of the myth but also as a reminder of the tension that exists in “civilesed” societies:

“On one level, “The Rites of Dyonysus” is a faithful translation of the Dionysian myths. On another the work gives shape and form to the powerful forces that lies beneath the everyday appearance of “civilesed” reality, forces that reflect our essence and what we are capable of.”

This work, made between 2000 and 2004 has a great force and even a disturbing violence. The life-size figures add to the realism and the power of this installation. The red earth planted with vine creates and ideal background for it.

Tim Shaw was born in Belfast and is now established in Cornwall. You can see his work on Tim Shaw's website.


Friday, 15 April 2011

Photography versus painting

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – March 2011. 

Each time a new disruptive technology emerges and competes with an old one, people either fear it or embrasse it. John Ruskin, in his Lectures on art, looked upon photography with some contempt:
“I have not the slightest fear that photography, or any other adverse or competitive operation, will in the least ultimately diminish,--I believe they will, on the contrary, stimulate and exalt--the grand old powers of the wood and the steel.”

 Photograph by ardelfin -Source: Morguefile
A few years later, Degas embraced photography as a tool to capture mouvement and better understand it. He took photographs of bellerinas dancing in their studio and horses galloping at the races and used them as reference material. Photography is also a great tool for artists to judge their own work. Picasso once told Brassaï: "It’s strange indeed, but it is through your photographs that I can judge my sculptures… Through them I can see my sculptures with a new eye..."

Ken Robinson, in his book “Out of our minds”, explained very well how it takes time for a new media to generate a new art form:
“It’s an interesting feature of cultural change that for a time new technologies tend to be used to do the old thing. The early photographers tended to mimic the formal portraiture of oil painting. In due course, photographers realised that a camera made possible other forms of visual record.”

Today there is no question that photography has developed into an art form in its own right. In doing so, photography has forced painters to question the boundaries of their own art. As Picasso put it:

“Why should the artist persist to represent what the camera’s lens can capture so well? It would be foolish, isn’t it? Photography came at the right time to free painting of any literature, the anecdotal and even the subject ... In any case, some aspect of the subject now belongs to the field of photography ... Why painters should not now enjoy their regained freedom to do something else?”

The advent of digital photography in the last decades has brought together again painting and photography. The photographer can manipulate images in ways very similar to what painters do.

Related articles and resources


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Product test: Inktense pencils by Derwent

Inktense pencils by Derwent are watersoluble pencils with brillant colours that give ink like effects. The colours are translucent and blendable.

The range includes 71 colours. I tested a selection of 24 pencils. The box also contained a non-soluble outliner. You can draw with it outlines that are permanent, even when water is applied.

You can use Inktense pencils on paper like watercolour pencils.  They can also be used on fabric and I tested them on cotton. One advantage is that after you apply water onto the pigments, the colour is permanent once dry.

The process is simple, with a number of variations:

  • The first method consists in applying the colour first and then adding water on the colour with a soft brush. This is similar to the technique used with watercolour pencils. Depending on the colour, the result will look like a watercolour wash or some pencil marks will remain visible.

  • For the second method, you put the water first with a clean brush on the fabric and then apply the pencil. This is interesting because the colour fuses in the fabric in the same way watercolour fuses when you employ a wet on wet technique. In addition, the water makes the colours come to life and you see immediately what the final colour will be. When the fabric is wet, the pencil glides on it.

  • Third method consists in using a fabric gel medium to wet the fabric where you want to apply the colour. By contrast with the previous method, the colour does not fuse. This works well for details.

You can layer colours one on top of the other. You can also use water to blend together colours after then have been laid on the support.

One difficulty when you start working with these pencils: it is sometimes hard to identify the colour of the dark pigment pencils without reading the name printed on the pencil. In addition, for certain shades, the coulour of the lead won’t tell you much about the brillance of the colour once washed with water. It would be a good idea to make a colour chart showing each colour dry and then washed with water.

In conclusion, these pencils are interesting to work with for bright and luminous colours. The fact that you can use them on fabric without the need for any special fixative is a definite plus. Derwent also sells Inktense sticks (looking like square dry pastels) for work on larger formats.

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Monday, 11 April 2011

On neuroscience, telephone poles and accurate drawing

What is the common point between neuroscience, telephone poles and accurate drawing?

I was listening to a fascinating podcast, The Brain Science Podcast. In Episode 73, Doctor Ginger Campbell was interviewing Doctor Shapiro, Professor of Philosophy and author of the book “Embodied Cognition (New Problems of Philosophy)"

A discussion around the end of the podcast caught my ears.

Source: MorgueFile [Image URL]

Dr. Shapiro gave an example on how problems that seem complicated can sometimes get resolved easily by focussing on one parametre.

Dr. Shapiro: “Yes. Gibson has lots of examples of what appear to be computationally onerous tasks, but it turns out that there are very simple solutions that rely on picking up certain information in the environment. So, here’s a neat example: If you have two telephone poles that are the same height—50 feet tall, let’s say—and one of them is behind the other, the question is: how do you figure out which one is closer and which one is further. No, sorry; the question is: are they the same height—let’s make that the question. And in order to answer that, it seems like a computational problem: you have to figure out how far they are from you, and then certain trigonometric relationships will tell you whether they’re the same height.

But what Gibson realized was that objects at the same height will have the same proportion of themselves below the horizon and above the horizon. So, two telephone poles that are 50 feet tall, if one is 100 feet away and the other is 50 feet away, they’ll still be cut by the horizon with the same proportion beneath the horizon and above the horizon. And that tells you that they’re the same height.

You don’t have to do any sort of computations.”

You can reverse the statement made in the paragraph I highlighted in bold: If you are drawing telephone poles along a road vanishing towards the horizon their size will get smaller, but they will be cut by the horizon with the same proportion beneath the horizon and above the horizon (because you know they are the same height).

Knowing this principle can be useful when drawing a vanishing series of posts or lamposts.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The artist’s inprint in all parts of his work - Rodin

This quote was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – March 2011. 

Oil painting, "Praying Hands" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) – Source Wikimedia

" And the mind of the great artist is so active, so profound, that it shows itself in any subject. It does not even need a whole figure to express it. Take any fragment of a masterpiece, you will recognize the character of the creator in it. Compare, if you will, the hands painted in two portraits by Titian and Rembrandt. The hands by Titian will be masterful; those by Rembrandt will be modest and courageous. In these limited bits of painting all the ideals of these masters are contained."

Auguste Rodin (in “Art” translated from the French into English by Paul Gsell)

Flora (detail) by Titian – Source: Wikimedia

Related resource

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

‘Seed’ sculpture by Peter Randall

The Seed is a 70 tonne granite sculpture that was quarried and carved in De Lank Quarry on Bodmin Moor by Peter Randall and then transported from there to the Eden Project. The artist patiently carved out 1,800 nodules into the granite surface over a period of two years.

The sculpture is totally integrated into the building, nested into a white chamber at the heart of the Core education centre. This work is remarkable by its size and the putiry of the design (based on the Fibonacci sequence, which is recurrent in nature).

This sculpture, like many other by the same artist is influenced by organic forms and patterns.

Peter Randall-Page was born in the UK in 1954 and he studied sculpture at Bath Academy of Art from 1973 to 1977.

Related articles and resources

Monday, 4 April 2011

Queen's Park stairs - oil painting

Queen's Park stairs - oil painting (10" x 14") by  Benoit Philippe

With spring, it's time to go outside to do some plein air painting. First one of the season. The weather is still uncertain in England, so you have to pick the right time.