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Line Drawings

Line drawing, like writing, can be declamatory or expository; a way of persuading viewers or a means to simply engage with the world beyond the self. The searching, tentative quality of a sketch is more like a soliloquy than a sermon, the artist’s interior dialogue groping toward a mystery. John Berger wrote that for Vincent Van Gogh drawing was  “a way of discovering and demonstrating why he loved so intensely what he was looking at…”

At the beginning of a drawing class we focus on line and all of the various ways it can be played. Working with line is like the visual counterpart of MTV’s “Unplugged” series where musicians leave all their technological wizardry at the door and just play the music. In the absence of recording-studio colors and effects, the integrity of the basic idea is revealed. The ensemble stands or falls in that clarifying light.

A linear drawing builds its riffs from a similarly austere palette, drawing its unique power from elimination, reduction, and distillation of the rich sensory experiences of the eye. Unaided by the seductive romances of tone, color and texture, the play of line in a drawing can inform us about what we are and are not seeing, allowing us to address problems before they’re embedded in complicated visual embroideries.  The relative spatial positioning, directional movements, and scaling of one part to another can be tested and worked out. Like a house under construction, a line drawing is more about the foundation than about the furnishings. The understanding of relational structure, built over time through constant practice, is the foundation of our powers of expression as artists.

On its march toward resolution and clarification of intent a linear drawing leaves in its wake a clamoring of linear hypotheses that can produce a remarkable beauty, as can be seen in many of the drawings below. The ghostly images of abandoned positions, proportions and directions function almost like the sonic qualities of reverberation in music. Tonal drawings have an epic feeling and grandeur about them. Linear drawings, by embracing certain constraints on their means, can achieve a very different kind of poetry, not unlike the sparse syllables, internal rhymes and rhythms of haiku.

Tone speaks directly to the emotions. Line speaks to the mind. Or, rather, it speaks to the emotions through the mind by distilling the idea of the thing. Lacking the mimetic immediacy of tone, which is a closer approximation of the actual way that we perceive the world,  the abstractness of a line drawing can never look like its subject in any literal sense. It can only look like itself, however much it may remind us of things seen. But, what we give up to line’s austerity, we gain back from its unique power of transformation. When we begin to draw, the motif is, as Henry James said of nature, a “blooming buzzing confusion.”  As our lines negotiate and articulate that empty space everything changes – our perceptions, our emotions, even the motif itself. The provisional becomes the inevitable.

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The Nude, Pinterest® and Censorship

I’m a relative newcomer to the social networking site, Pinterest. My first impression of the service was that it was mainly used by people as a kind of visual “wish list” of things they’d seen on the internet. It was not until I began to observe what artists were doing with Pinterest that I realized it’s great potential for handily building image databases for art. Jumping in,  I quickly built catalogs of art, enjoying the ease with which I could “pin” exemplary paintings and drawings off the internet and sort them into various albums by technique, theme, or medium for the benefit of my students. One of the drawings I posted was this favorite nude graphite study by the contemporary Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Garcia.

Antonio Lopez Garcia

Imagine my shock when I shortly received this notice from Pinterest:

Pinterest® notice of image removal

Despite the wording which seems to distinguish between art that might be “educational,” or “like you might see in a museum or classroom,” apparently no one from “The Pinterest Team” bothered to look into the matter. In fact, the drawing in question has widely circulated in art museums all over the world, and it is a regular visitor in thousands of art classrooms internationally, mine included, because it is, quite simply, a great masterpiece of figure drawing. There is nothing “sexually explicit” about it. Compared to the frankly erotic drawings of Egon Schiele or Auguste Rodin on Pinterest, the frank objectivity of Antonio Lopez’ drawing is tame indeed. My feeling is that some prudish and ignorant viewer thought it was a photograph and complained. Pinterest, afraid of offending its viewers, has only revealed its ignorance by removing it without the slightest research.

This blatant censorship reminded me of the struggles of American artists in the late 19th century to work from and show nude studies in a society in which nudity was considered immoral. Aside from a few Popes demanding fig leaves to cover the genitalia of sculpted nudes, Europe has rarely been as conflicted about the nude human body as have Americans. In the 17th century, Europe disgorged the Puritans who found the New World an appropriate blank canvas for imposing their curious notions of morality on a society. To the present day they continue to dog the American consciousness with their peculiar equation of nudity with sinfulness.

A particular incident in the history of American art makes a poignant example of how deeply this perverse view has insinuated itself into a particular faction of American culture which seems uniquely incapable of recognizing the difference between fine art and the exploitations of pornography. In our art schools of the late 19th century, female models were commonly required to wear a veil to protect their “modesty.” Were the model’s identity to be revealed, she would ostensibly be ostracized for the moral outrage of exposing her body to strangers. Thomas Eakins, a celebrated teacher of anatomy and figure drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia, finding the veil a hindrance to his students’ understanding of the anatomical connection of the head and neck to the shoulders, scandalously defied the requirement and removed it from the model. For this simple act he was fired by the directors and trustees of the Academy.


Ironically, to our modern eyes, Eakins beautiful drawing of the veiled model would actually seem to have more in common with certain kinds of contemporary pornography than she would without the veil. I’ve written to Pinterest, as has another artist from whose site the drawing was removed. I hope to re-post this image to my Pinterest albums at some point. Until then, hat’s off to Pinterest’s rivals in the social networking sphere, Facebook and Tumblr, for not removing this beautiful work of art. “The Pinterest Team” needs to carefully weigh the damage that their ignorant censorship of great art will do to their reputation among artists who increasingly use Pinterest as a teaching vehicle. A simple solution would be for Pinterest to adopt the practice of Tumblr, which allows posters to restrict albums that certain viewers might find troublesome. Or, even simpler, how about just doing a simple Google Image Search when someone complains, Pinterest Team!?


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New Tumblr for Drawing OWU

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 12.52.20 PMCheck out the new Tumblr companion to Drawing OWU. You can find the link in the right column under Blogs.  The Tumblr Archive feature allows you to easily see pages of thumbnails of every image ever posted on this blog, while the Home page  and search option allows grouping of images that are related by one or more characteristics. You can look at drawings organized chronologically, stylistically, thematically, or by technique or  nationality. Enjoy!

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Drawing Into Painting: John Virtue

John Virtue is a British artist known for his massive black and white paintings that he executes from a unique medium of ink mixed with shellac. His initial research involves making hundreds of on-site drawings. From this material he builds his evocative paintings in the studio. Virtue’s most celebrated series, 13 large-scale paintings of the London skyline, was carried out over two years from a studio in the National Gallery in London.

“The thing about London is that everybody knows, or thinks they know, these buildings. But the more you look at them, the more mysterious they become, so the more fascinating they become.

I would draw there, and then I would draw there. That would be one morning, and then I would do one part another morning… and so on, and I’d build them up sequentially; and then I’d mix them all up and I’d bring them all in here, and they inform the way you work and it helps you to be very free. It was phenomenally exciting, and stimulating, and refreshing, every day to get up and go and draw what you say are very, very famous and iconic buildings, and bring all that material in here and go to work.

I’ve never felt any need to put in cranes, and buses, and cars, and airplanes – the noise, if you like, of London. I like using it for my own ends which is to make abstract compositions, but from the way I perceive the world. The monochromatic way of working tallies exactly with the way I look at… the world. It’s a way of seeing that resonates, rather than a way of seeing that is comfortable or is referential to other things.  

The basic materials, and they have been for the last twenty-six years, is a black ink mixed with shellac. I use titanium acrylic and I like working onto the raw canvas because I can bleed the image in; I like the idea of the image impressing itself into the canvas, and then I use rags, and my hands, all kinds of brushes, quite indiscriminately, quite promiscuously, in what I’ll use to try and get an effect.”

John Virtue from The Bespoke Film Company on Vimeo.


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“Stay Young, Stay Foolish:” The Wisdom of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, creator of Apple computers and Pixar, the largest animation company in the world, died today at 56. A college dropout, Jobs gave the Commencement address at Stanford University in 2005.

“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”    -Steve Jobs

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Drawing OWU

Drawing OWU is Frank Hobbs’ blog for his Drawing courses at Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU).

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