Monday, October 13, 2014

The Reilly method via Watts atelier - what I've been able to learn so far

Quicksketch drawings by Kevin Chen - a student of the Reilly method and excellent teacher

I've made a lot of scattered posts about the Reilly method, and recently about Watts atelier and the way they teach their version of it. It's a beautiful holistic system designed for professionals, with figure drawing, gouache painting and oil painting all intimately tied together in such a way that they feed into each other and what you learn in one applies to the others.

I just went through and put tags on all those earlier posts so I can now make a link in the sidebar directly to them, but this post is to present the overall picture, of which I've only been able to present puzzle pieces before. Now that it's all coming together in my head I need to write this up. For further elaboration check the Reilly method and Watts method tags (at bottom of post) to see the original posts which contain more specific information and demos, and some analysis by yours truly.

Here's what I've been able to glean - the Reilly method apparently begins with what he called Quicksketch technique for figure drawing. It's very precise and elegant, it seems to be a bit more involved than most figure sketching methods but once learned it seems to give you great precision and flexibility and the ability to draw any part from any angle accurately and rapidly. It also includes rapid shading using core shadow and reflected light, and once you've learned descriptive form shading you also learn mood /atmospheric shading, so it's a crash course in everything you need before moving on to paint. I think Reilly's quick sketch is also very similar in many ways to Glen Vilppu's quick sketch. Or at least I use a bit of both now when I draw, and I'll be incorporating more Reilly as I learn it.

Once having become proficient in that, you move on to painting in gouache, first in black and white, then you add in one color, and then another, at which point you're using what's called the Zorn palette (or you can substitute different colors and use somebody else's palette or make up your own).  This Zorn palette is vitally important in the Watts curriculum - once you've learned to handle the 4 colors it uses, you can then paint in full color. Or just stick with the limited palette - many painters used them all through their careers to great effect.

For gouache painting they use a method - also  taught by Reilly as part of this overall system, called Tiling, which involves placing small carefully shaped tiles of color, following a precise drawing, and then blending where needed. And they often also use a method of softening edges that involves a rapid flick of a finger over the just-applied paint, which is exactly the same way they often draw in quick sketch.

You use gouache to learn about painting because it's inexpensive, non-toxic, and not smelly and has easy water cleanup. Plus you can just paint on paper or in a sketchbook. Very nice!! Also you can stop at any point, let it dry, and still pick it up whenever you want - the paint will still re-activate when it gets wet, unlike oils.

Then after developing some proficiency in gouache painting you move to oils where you follow the same procedure - first monochrome, then add one color, then Zorn palette etc. At this point you've already tackled many of the problems of painting itself, and now you can concentrate specifically on the problems of handling oil paint which is slick, slippery, and temperamental. Of course it helps immensely to use Alkyds, which are essentially oil paints in a synthetic alkyd binder that makes handling properties and drying times all uniform, as opposed to oils in natural media which all have very different properties and drying times.

Adding this here - they also do Oil Gestures - the quick sketch of oil pairing technique, basically 40 minute to an hour long sketches done alla prima in wet-into-wet oil. You can see the pattern - at each level (figure drawing, gouache, and then oil) there are quick sketches and also more painstakingly developed pieces with a lot more measuring and checking of values etc. These play off each other.

I'll collect a few key tutorials here that helped me figure this stuff out - these are all by Watts alumni or staff:

E M Gist

Here's a very key pic from the KChen tutorial - I'm hoping since he posted it as a learning resource he doesn't mind people posting excerpts from it, as long as they also link to the original and give him full credit:

I had seen this but didn't like it at first - I thought it was much cooler and looked more artsy to go ahead and draw arms and legs with loopy lines, capturing the outline right from the get-go. But now I understand that way lies madness! It becomes way too easy to loop too far and go way out of bounds. I'm learning why construction lines are straight - it's just easier to measure and to control your forms, then when you come back in to drop the expressive lines over the light construction lines, that's when you get all loopy. 

The Reilly method uses straight tubes essentially for arms and legs, and then you come in and add the very specific shapes of parts that protrude outside of that gesture line. It's very methodical. 

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