An Artist's Journeys in Nature

Art and the Cartoon Comic – 2

Michelangelo Icon - Patricia HowittMichelangelo didn’t limit himself to drawing from life.  In 1492 at 17 years of age he put himself in serious danger by dissecting dead bodies in the mortuary of the Santo Spirito monastery in Florence.

The penalty for interfering with human remains was death.  Why would he do that?  To understand how the human body is constructed and how it works – and that is what gave such unprecedented life and movement to his paintings and sculptures.

Drawing – Making Line Live

I’ve come to appreciate that though I never went to art school, I did get a pretty rigorous training in drawing and in making what I created truly express the reality. This came from my dad’s critique, which harked back to the good old basics of looking hard at one’s subject-matter, understanding it and capturing it. 

If what I drew or painted didn’t look like what it was meant to be, and didn’t have life, I GOT ROASTED.  If the technique was weak or fussy,  I GOT ROASTED.  About that, more later.

So I came to value clarity of line, especially when it expresses 3 dimensional mass and movement economically.

Cat & Towel Pencil Studies - Patricia Howitt

Sleeping Cat and Towel Pencil Studies

The Second Principle : Strength of Composition – Design

Composition is arguably THE most important element of a painting – sculpture too, though it’s more complex in three dimensions.  If there’s one thing that really puts me off, it’s a painting with a number of elements scattered around the space, without real consideration for the overall layout of the composition as a whole.  No design!  And that happens more often than you might think.  And the average person doesn’t see it.

Look at frames from Disney cartoon movies, and see how all-pervading good composition and design was in the huge array of Disney’s animations – masterly! Given the number of artists working for Disney at any one time over the years, maintaining such consistency is a huge achievement in itself.

Disney Movie Frames

Walt Disney Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland Frames

Taking the subject of composition a little deeper, here’s something most people are totally unaware of.  It was clearly explained in a book called ‘The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art’ by Charles Bouleau, which I have among my texts.  The book is out of print now, but people on Amazon are crying for a reprint.  I really can’t improve on this short excerpt from a review by T Campbell:

This is the art history text we all should have had and didn’t. It is the only book I have found in several years of looking into what has been printed on composition/design in the 2-D arts that actually shows the manner in which artists in a number of Greco-Roman to western traditions managed their space. It was certainly not the “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach that is so common now. The great ones then, and to a certain degree even now, were very well educated in their traditions, which included mathematics, especially geometry, the application of which to image making was connected to their faith, as well as being an expression of their genius.

Bouleau carries his argument into the 20th century and shows that respect for geometric spatial division to establish harmony is not dead. It still works, even with completely nonrepresentational art.

This is a stunningly informative look at the visual arts in the European traditions and is the only book I have found that informs me on how the “old masters” and some contemporary masters built their paintings.”

Below are works by 2 relatively modern artists, showing their use of geometric principles in composition.  “Miserere” by Georges Roualt and “Composition ll in Red, Yellow and Blue” by Piet Mondrian:

Georges-Roualt-Piet-Mondrian

Georges Roualt and Piet Mondrian : A Painter’s Secret Geometry

Don’t be misled: this is not a case of art being forced into a geometric matrix to suit some theory.  Just as mathematics underlies much of our world (think of music, for a start), it is inescapably true that artworks whose composition or design complies with certain geometric principles, are more powerful and satisfying.

Hence the value of basing your studies as an artist on the very best of traditional and contemporary masters.

Patricia

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