Friday, April 14, 2017

Nulla dies sine linea

The quote above is a well-known aphorism that comes to us from antiquity. Pliny the Elder attributed the phrase to Apelles, the renowned painter of Greek Antiquity, who worked around the time of Hippocrates. Perhaps the quote is accurate, although Pliny was writing about five centuries after Apelles lived. The literal translation is "no day without a line," but of course the line in question could easily be either drawn or written. In any event the quote has been used for over two millennia by many artists and writers. In a blog post a few months ago, James Gurney mentioned that Adolph Menzel, the 19th century German artist, used the phrase as his own personal motto. One of my mentors often cited the same saying regarding how to progress in art. Others have done so too.

The Latin phrase is only one of many bits of advice, mottoes, sayings and the like that have influenced my own art, but it's been an important one. It helps me to continue the habit of daily drawing. Sometimes the drawings are digital but more often I work in traditional media. Some drawings are mere sketches just for study, like those of facial expressions I posted some weeks ago, some are preliminary studies for paintings, and some are stand-alone drawings in various mediums from ink to metalpoint. But the common denominator is always the continuation on a daily basis.

Here are a few graphite images from the past six months.

This began as a study of my model Brooke, intended as a study for a head and shoulders portrait, though it could stand alone as a finished drawing, too, despite the lack of detail in her hair. She's a lovely model who is not only attractive but easy to work with. Although I've drawn and painted her from life numerous times, this particular drawing was done from a reference photo. (The eye just below her head is actually a study of another model.)

For a finished portrait drawing, a mid-tone paper is usually preferable because the artist can then employ light and dark values to suggest structure more readily. This one of Brooke is actually on white paper.

The next image is a quick sketch of a deranged man who shot two dark-skinned foreign men in a bar in Kansas a month or so ago. The victims, who didn't know the attacker, were computer engineers from India, but the shooter somehow believed they were Muslims. One of the men died. The story was even more affecting when I saw the shooter's expression in his mug shot, which was widely published. Mug shots are taken at a time of significant inner turmoil for most of the subjects, many of whom have committed a serious offense. Seeing photographs like the mug shot that served as a reference make me wonder what on earth is happening behind those eyes. What emotions, forces, outside stresses and other unknown or unspeakable influences lead us to commit some of the dreadful offenses we humans are capable of? What happened to these individuals that led them to the behaviors or events that prompted the photo? The idea was to capture the intensity of his gaze and to suggest the unexplored depths they could reveal.

One of the most important parts of daily drawing is the chance to practice. Musicians practice constantly and so should a visual artist, in my opinion. Sometimes practice involves repeating past exercises  and sometimes it involves learning or re-learning. Lately I've begun  drawing cats and dogs as a morning exercise. Here are a couple of those drawings.

The first is a drawing of a mama cat descending stairs with a kitten in her mouth. This is about 5x7 on toned paper, done from a small sketch I saw in a textbook, considerably modified. The muscles and movement of animals is an important part of any artist's mental dictionary. A lot of animals have very similar musculoskeletal structure, particularly mammals. Dogs and cats are part of everyday life nearly everywhere and deserve particular study.

The second is a head of a rather statuesque dog, copied from a book of drawing lessons. It's probably a Doberman, but could be another breed--great Dane for example. The head and ears were all that I was actually interested in working on with this particular drawing. This breed has a relatively long nose, but not longer that the length of head from eyes to its the back of the head is roughly equal to the length of the snout. This sketch was done on an 11x14 pad but the actual drawing is not larger than 10x8. This is graphite done using a 2B graphite stick. The size of the pad means using a standing easel, which is useful practice. Many times I draw while sitting, but it's good to keep standing so you can back up a look at the result from a distance. My old friend Bill Whitaker calls it "the painter's dance."

Finally, here is a figure study boiled down to a few lines. It was originally to be a straightforward study--just an attempt to hone skill--but then the challenge of using minimal lines came to mind, and this small drawing (about 5x7) on toned paper was the result. Although it could perhaps stand as a gesture drawing from a studio session, it's actually from an underwear advertisement I saw online. Still, the basic idea is similar to gesture: to capture the essence of the figure, and the motion, but in this case to use the least number of marks as effectively as possible. I used a 2B pencil.

Drawing in the Morning (previous post in the series)
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