Friday, January 31, 2014

"The most interesting passages.. " - the gradated mask technique

I need to record how I did this before I forget.

I've been experiencing somewhat of a breakthrough doodling around on the ground and trees, and this is a new technique I invented for it:

Painting on a new layer (the light clods in the dirt ridge behind Fafhrd). I used a light cream color, the lightest color in the dirt highlights, but I painted the entire clods all as individual shapes just using that one color. Then I used the magic wand to select the transparent area on that layer and did an Inverse, so now I have the highlights I just painted selected. Make a Hue/Sat adjustment layer, and click the box to use the selected are as a mask (that's not the exact wording). Then I was able to adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of those selected daubs of paint.

But here's the new part - I then painted onto the transparent parts of the mask using various values of grey, to make a gradated mask. So that when I finally merged it down onto the background copy each brushstroke now goes through a transition of all 3 elements of color - value, hue and chroma.

My own somewhat mangled quote of Richard Schmid - "A paint passage is more interesting if it includes a shift in color or value. The most interesting passages include both".

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A brief guide to constructive figure drawing - part 4 - the boxed figure

Albrecht Durer's conception of the boxed figure

The Boxed Figure

No, not a collector's action figure still in the original box - though in a sense action figures are close. I'm referring to the figure drawn as a series of boxes and cylinders (or what I like to call tubes and cubes). And again, like the basic form exercises I started this with, we've all seen it a million times. And you probably well understand the main purpose of it - to help solve problems of perspective and foreshortening in figure drawing, so you can draw an arm pointing toward you rather than just held straight down at the figure's side like a soldier standing at attention. Beginners tend to shy away from active poses and foreshortening and instead draw the figure like a flat paper doll, with every part of the body parallel to the picture plane. It's a lot easier.

Ok, I'll skip over how valuable boxing the figure can be for foreshortening and action poses - I think that's already well understood. Instead I want to discuss some of the more subtle and less well-known reasons for doing it.

Here's a page from Hogarth's Dynamic Figure Drawing. You can clearly see how he's conceived of the rib cage and pelvis as block shapes, though not just simple rectangular ones. But notice something else - the way the shadows remain contained in the planes of the boxes. The usefulness of 'boxing up the figure' goes well beyond its most obvious virtues. It's another strategy to help you place shadows, to help keep them under control for maximum simplicity and clarity. There are light planes and dark planes. And the fact that there's already a definite line showing where those planes meet is immensely helpful for placing shadows.

Because the human body does consist of planes - many of its parts do anyway (all of them if you want to slightly labor the point). They're not perfectly flat planes that meet at sharp, straight corners like a cereal box - they're gently curved - more so in some places than others, and the corners are rounded. Like a slightly used bar of soap, or like a wooden block that's been taken to the belt sander. Or like the body panels of cars. And drawing the edges where the planes meet as straight lines (at least at first) really helps you organize the forms, and keeps things in line.

Like a wood carver, an artist begins with simple blocks. To carve a puppet head for instance, Pappa Gepetto might select a piece of 4x4 and carve wood away to get a rough blocky pseudo-head shape, which is very close to the actual finished shape of the head, but is defined entirely at this point by planes, which he will then sand down to make smooth curves where appropriate. But seeing those planes as flat surfaces first can help you keep things properly shaped.

Here you see Hogarth's version of a head as a block shape, somewhat carved down and smoothed on the metaphorical belt sander to round off the corners nicely. And again, see how easy it is to figure out where the big shadows go.

Just a quick note - the reason I favor Hogarth's drawings in this guide is because he always uses strong lighting and shadow to really push the sense of form. To me that makes his work feel much more 3 dimensional than most of the others. I honestly believe this fact helped me to understand how to render form using light and shade to an extent that I suspect I wouldn't have gotten from Loomis for example. But that really comes down to personal preference, though I suspect some artists will be drawn more to Hogarth and some to Loomis.

One of the great strategies artists use to simplify drawing is to shade the big forms first. The big forms of the body are the rib cage, the pelvis, the head and neck, the cylinders of the arms and the legs, and the blocks of the hands (drawn as mitten shapes at first) and feet (wedge blocks). Start to figure out your shadows early, in this blocking stage, and it's pretty easy to get a sense of strong solid form. And this way you don't get confused by lots of little shadows all over, which happens if you think about little details before the big forms.

Luca Cambiaso really took the idea of boxing up the figure to heart!

See, here's the beauty of this, and what really ties it all together into a unified system - you're reducing the body to a few basic forms, and you already know how to shade basic forms, right? We covered that in the first post. BAM!! Full circle. Draw the figure as basic forms, shade them according to the core shadow system (or another one - that's only one approach of many described in great detail in Dynamic Light and Shade) and your figures now have an amazing solidity and sense of realness to them.

In the last post I mentioned that shadows are pools of darkness, and when the figure moves or the light source moves they flow around it and into the valleys and hollows. Knowing where the major plane breaks of the body are really helps you to understand exactly where to place these shadows. Hogarth and Hale both go into great detail about these plane breaks, and their importance to artists. I'm only presenting a quick overview here, in hopes that it will spur some of you to get the books and start to fill your head will these amazing ideas, which will transform your art. One more fascinating little detail I'd like to throw in here - as the figure moves in relation to the light, those shadows have a tendency to move rapidly across the planes until they come up against the plane breaks (the rounded corners), where they slow way down and creep around leisurely, and then when they hit the next plane they again leap across it rapidly. So usually the edges of shadows fall along the plane breaks. This is good stuff - be sure to remember it!

These books (aside from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way) are advanced instruction manuals for the serious art student, and as such they can be pretty dense and take some real slogging to get through. What worked for me was to do an initial read-through of each of them, in which many of the ideas went way over my head. But now I had seen the words and the concepts, was somewhat introduced to them anyway, and a few months later I went back and started going through again, taking it slower this time, going a chapter at a time, and this time I found it making a lot more sense. A lot of the ideas that were brand new and completely alien to me the first time were somewhat familiar now because I had read them before. I've re-read all of them several times now and done many drawings to practice the concepts (not nearly as many as I should - more in the arena of dozens rather than hundreds, but still it has greatly improved my work).

Ok, enough of my rambling. Hopefully now I've wetted your appetite and you're ready to get some good books on figure drawing and anatomy (or go back and re-read the ones you already have and try to absorb more info). 

A brief guide to constructive figure drawing - part 3 - big and simple

Big and Simple

I'm talking about shadows - or more properly the shapes of shadows. Beginners often fill their figures (and other stuff) with lots of little disconnected patches of shadow, all pretty much the same value (relative darkness level). They do this because that's what they see on the model or in the reference. Skilled artists see it differently, or if they do see little confusing patches of shadow then they fix it. Note - let me state right here that when I say things like this, I group myself among students - somewhat intermediate level, and not at all a highly skilled artist! Though hopefully well on my way.

In the drawing above you can easily see how Tintoretto massed his shadows into mostly one big shape, like a lake with little inlets and bays ranged around the edges of it. And a couple of smaller ponds inland that are still big simple shapes in their own right. And the tones of those shadows are simple - he used only 2 values in shadow and 2 or 3 on the light planes. This is called Massing - you learn to see the mass shadows and the mass light on the figure.

The difference between skilled artists and beginners is training. Artists are trained to see in terms of form and to use the elements of drawing to maximize the sense of form. This training consists of various strategies that emphasize form and the depiction of it.

Drawing is a process - it's not simply recording exactly what you actually see. The job of the artist is to make things clear and easily understandable, and often due to poor lighting conditions or a bad viewing angle or confusing shadows cast by objects surrounding the model or any number of other problems, what you actually see can be very confusing and not at all pleasing to the eye. This doesn't create a problem for the trained artist. Or I should say he has strategies to help overcome these problems and many more. He can remove confusing shadows or even invent a completely different light source coming from a totally different angle, to clarify the figure. This is because he has learned to understand light, how it works, and how to imitate its various effects on forms, and he also understands the principles of art, which include clarity and simplicity.

He has learned to keep shadows big and simple, because that defines form very clearly and understandably. He has learned to be consistent with which side of the form the shadows are on, even though in reality lighting situations often fail to conform to these rules. He has learned to use contrast, even if it isn't there in reality.

I want to talk some more about the Tintoretto drawings.

He was an absolute master. I love the drawings of the old masters, even though often their paintings leave me cold. This kind of drawing, done on a toned ground (colored paper) using 4 or 5 values is an ideal way to practice all of these principles, because it helps you to keep things simple. One value for halftones (usually that's the paper itself), one for dark shadows, one for lighter shadows, and highlights added with chalk. These values conform perfectly to the values demonstrated in the core shadow exercises presented previously. Using white paper, which is mostly a modern thing, forces you to either tone most of the image manually or you end up with way too much highlight tone everywhere and your drawing ends up too high keyed. Using chalk or a lighter tone to add highlights assures that you don't overdo them, they should be pretty minimal in most situations. Working on tinted paper like this also helps to understand lighting in color, because the dominant lighting color of the environment will be reflected onto any forms in that environment. If the room is painted yellow, or if the sky is blue, then that color will be cast onto everything. But I really want to keep this about drawing rather than painting.

One of the strategies of the great masters is to unify your shadow shapes - keep them big and simple, and run them together like pools of water. In fact shadows are pools - as the light moves or the model moves they flow around it - into the hollows and crevices and gradually change their shape, and they do seem to want to run together whenever possible.

Notice Tintoretto joined almost all the shadows into one big one that remains entirely on one side of the form and defines only those planes facing away from the light. The majority of the drawing is midtone (the blue paper itself), with just little touches of highlight where they effectively push the form out toward the viewer. In the next post I'll discuss planes in more detail - they're a fascinating concept and a great strategy to help organize your drawings. And that's when these posts will really start to come together into a unified system.

Another strategy artists use is to outline the shadows. Map them out. Often they'll start by lightly penciling in the outlines before adding any tone. This allows them to think of the shadows as shapes and to think about the borders of them. If you just start shading without first defining the outlines you can get lost and end up going all over the place, rather than creating a simple and clear map of shadows that defines the form.

Another strategy - divide your values into two distinctly different ranges - one for light and one for shadows. Tintoretto used the paper itself plus chalk for light, and 2 values of charcoal for shadow. The lightest value in the shadows should be visibly darker than the darkest value in the light. This helps to avoid confusion and create a visually pleasing map that's easy for the viewer to understand. And as you know if you've ever tried to follow someone's directions to a place you've never been before - a clear and easily understood map is far better than a confusing one!

All of these strategies are simply ways of thinking about light and shadows - in other words they're ideas. It's what Robert Beverly Hale was talking about when he said drawings are ideas with lines around them.

Ok, that's it for this followup post - next up, we visit the planes!

A brief guide to constructive figure drawing - part 2 - lighting and form

This is a direct followup from the last introductory post, dealing specifically with the first proposition I put forth:

How to render basic forms properly in terms of light and shadow

This is the easiest part, but it will still take some time to learn to do really well. I used to groan when I'd see these - I mean come on - this is simple stuff, right? We all know how to do it. Right? Well, if you really do then you're well on your way already. But most art students actually don't know it nearly as well as they assume they do.

Students think that just because they've seen the basic form shading exercises many times and read about how it's done that they already know how to do it. They're usually wrong. Understanding how to do it is only the first step - You don't actually know it until you can draw it - and draw it well. You should do these exercises every so often to gauge your progress.

.. And videos :

Start off by copying exercises you find online. But the goal is to eventually be able to draw it entirely from the imagination and be able to place the light source anywhere. The cast shadows are important too - they help to define where the forms are in relation to each other and to the environment. A cast shadow grounds an object solidly.

When you've studied these lighting principles it's also extremely helpful to set up little still lifes and draw them, using objects similar to the basic forms, maybe eggs, apples, blocks, whatever you can find. Try to only use one light source and switch off other lights, close window shades, eliminate extra light as much as you can to simplify the lighting. 

An important concept you'll encounter when doing these is the core shadow - the core of a shadow, or the darkest part of the shadow, which lies between the lighted plane and a dark plane (I'll be covering planes in depth soon). Also, and a necessary partner to the core shadow - reflected light or bounce light

You can really see it here in Tintoretto's drawing

One important thing to take careful note of (and always keep this firmly in mind whenever you're drawing or painting - it's one of the vital keys) - reflected light is never as strong as direct light. Note in the drawing above you can clearly see which planes are lit directly and which are receiving only reflected bounce light. You should never put any tone into a shadow area that approaches being as bright as even the darkest tone in the lighted area (the halftones). This cannot be stated strongly enough - it's one of the essential principles used by the masters to simplify drawings and paintings so they're easily readable. In fact this is why the light tones are called halftones - it's a reminder. Divide the value scale into two separate sections - darks and lights - in fact it's best if you leave a gap - for example use values 1-4 in light and 6-9 in dark. No 5 at all in the drawing. This helps to really clarify exactly what is light and what is shadow.

Tintoretto's drawing perfectly illustrates the real importance of learning to light basic forms - when you understand it then you can light more complex forms and make them look solid and real. There are a few other things he's doing here that I'll be discussing in the next followup too, that help to make the drawing clearly understandable. And after a couple more posts you'll really see how all this stuff ties together into an amazing system.

Ok, that's it for #1 rendering basic forms properly in terms of light and shadow - the other 2 entries are about #2, the forms of the figure and how they relate to each other. Be there or be square! 

A brief guide to constructive figure drawing - part 1 - introduction

Figure Drawing self-education

This is a brief guide to what you need to learn if you want to be able to draw/paint figures entirely from the imagination or be able to freely modify your reference as you go (aka Constructive Drawing, as opposed to Direct Drawing). I'm not teaching those things here, just introducing what they are - to  learn them get books on figure drawing and anatomy or take classes on those subjects. This guide is specifically about what is sometimes called the Form Factor - in other words, how light and shadow work to reveal form.

There are only 2 simple things you need to learn (simple, but not easy):

1) How to render form realistically in terms of light and shadow

2) The forms of the human body and how they relate to each other

In the followup posts I'll go into greater detail about these 2 categories.


About this guide -

I'm concentrating on lighting and shadow and how to use them to depict convincing FORM, covering those areas that I personally found vitally important in my own learning, and I don't pretend to cover everything. For instance I'm leaving out perspective and gesture, which are super important. Every student should definitely learn them! 

My (biased) book recommendations -

Personally I did most of my studies from books by Burne Hogarth and Robert Beverly Hale, both of whom I consider excellent teachers on the subjects. Andrew Loomis is another, though I know a lot less about his books. I can also recommend Jack Hamm's Drawing the Head and Figure. And I'm sure there are more as well. But I want to point out one that I think makes a surprisingly good introduction to all this stuff - How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. It's quite rightly considered a classic, and it seems to be largely a condensation of many of Hogarth's concepts but presented in a way that's much more accessible to the beginner. I heartily recommend starting with it and then moving on to others, and saving Robert Beverly Hale for last as I consider it more advanced. Hale recommends choosing one set of books written by the same author and learning them backwards and forwards, and then get ahold of every  other book on the subject that you find, because each author presents the same material in a different way, and some cover a little ground that others don't. Then you just need to skim the other books to find those nuggets of wisdom you haven't already learned and study them.

What you'll get from these books is a unified system that allows you to draw and paint realistically without needing a model or reference. This system has been taught to art students from the Renaissance on - up until sometime in the mid to late 20th century when art education in most schools switched to "just draw what you feeeel". For this reason, it's usually recommended any serious art student get books written in the 40's or earlier, or at least by artists trained then (Loomis, Hogarth, Hale, Hamm, and many others).

Ok, stay tuned folks - followup posts to come.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gestures - inspired by Stanchfield

From Croquis Cafe.

Notes gathered from Conceptart

Composition: don't even bother with details, just get a big brush and paint the light and shadow areas, zoom out and see if it works. If it does, then star adding detail.