Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Favorite Art Books 15: The Eye of the Artist

These days, much can be learned from online sources. No matter what you want to know, there's a site for that, and painting is no different. It may be that online resources will replace books and magazines as sources of self-improvement in painting and drawing, but I doubt it. That's because there are useful printed materials that provide factual and easily-understood that have gone out of print or aren't easily found. The books of Andrew Loomis come to mind. Mr. Loomis wrote wonderful and amusing books about drawing and illustration, published in the 1940s that eventually went out of print. Yet the books became treasures in many studios, so much so that after a long while they've found their way back into print. Alas, not all useful books do.

A few years ago I ran across "The Eye of the Artist" by Jack Clifton. Like many similar books, this particular title is aimed at the beginning artist. But unlike many others it provides solid assistance to those whose skills are more advanced. The main reason that Mr. Clifton's book is worthwhile is because it addresses a concept that is commonly mentioned but not often explored--the idea of seeing. By "seeing," the author means realistic visual analysis of the artist's subject. Because sight--seeing--is actually the business of the mind we tend to see what we expect to see and miss the actual.

After beginning with a discussion of visual awareness and the visual world of the artist, the author demonstrates his approach to visual analysis and drawing by starting with the silhouette. Some call the outline of an object or group of objects as the envelope. Regardless, Mr. Clifton emphasizes that if the outline of something is sufficiently descriptive, the picture is already successful. From that basic step he covers how to analyze an object's basic shapes how to block-in a drawing or painting by thinking in grids, negative space and backgrounds, and thinking in cross-sections.

Building on shapes and form, he delves into the concept he terms "thinking through," also sometimes called drawing through. As he says, this simply means understanding the opposite side of any particular object. If you've ever drawn a cube and dotted in the hidden edges, you've thought through the shape and drawn through the object (see page scan, right), but not many emphasize the concept as a visual aid to eventual realistic drawings.

Although he spends time on tones (values), form, edges, perspective, and foreshortening, it is his emphasis on how one sees a particular setting or object as an artist and how that applies--for example,how the concept of perspective and its use aids in tricking the eye into a belief in reality.The author contends (rightly) that perspective is one of the most difficult concepts for beginners to grasp, but he gives solid advice about how to look at art, and the world, with an understanding of the subject. He discusses one point and two point perspective in some detail, and provides good examples as well as showing examples where accomplished artists were lacking. He also discusses foreshortening in detail, showing how horizontal relationships matter in establishing positions in space.

Mr. Clifton's clear prose and good graphics (albeit mostly in black and white), provide the reader with a good overview of the problem of representing three dimensions in two. In one outstanding example he takes the famous painting by Manet "Mme Victorine in the costume of an espada" to show how size matters in perspective. In the painting, Mr. Manet has made the picador and horse entirely too small for the image if one considers the figures in the upper right corner correctly sized. Even the masters make mistakes, but learning to see with the eye of an artist helps. 

In the last portions of the book he spends time on more advanced topics, dealing with what seems a hodge-podge of chapters. Nonetheless, chapters on values, reflection, refraction, monochrome and color, among others, are worthwhile. Throughout, the illustrations are in black and white, except the short section on color. Still, the graphics are good and the text is clear. Recommended, but with the caution that some sections are more advanced than others. This book was originally published in 1973 and is out of print, though available from Amazon and other sellers online.

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