Tag Archives: Kathe Kollwitz

Finding the Middle Ground

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”  -Paul Cezanne

When we think of paper we usually think of a clean white page, but working on white paper is a relatively recent convention in drawing. Throughout the centuries drawings have mostly been executed on toned papers of various sorts. A toned paper has one advantage over white in that its darker tone immediately addresses nature’s preponderance of middle values, allowing the artist to move off in both directions from the middle-ground, toward the upper reaches of the value scale by adding white, or toward the darker end by using a dark medium.

In the hands of the masters of any time period two compelling qualities stand out in works on toned grounds. The first is unity. The pervasiveness of the toned ground in all parts of the drawing generates a virtual atmosphere in which all parts “live, move, and have their being.” The color of the page is like family blood, so to speak, tying the whole together in ways that are much more challenging to do when working on a white drawing page. On white, the entire value scale must be added and calibrated without the reference of the middle ground. The dominant lightness of a white drawing page can deceive the eye in the initial stages of the drawing, making even relatively light marks appear much darker at first.

The second quality is economy. Economy of means is almost always a quality of great drawings, of any sort, but drawing on toned paper makes it easier to do more with less. In toned-ground drawings whole parts of the drawing are effectively untouched, yet they participate fully in the expression of form and space. The added darks and lights activate the recessive nature of the ground, shaping it, giving it form and inviting it to participate in the whole.  Like the silent intervals between musical notes, the ground becomes an active player in the structure of the drawing by the action of the dark and light notes.

And finally, with a nod to Cezanne, a toned paper is somehow just not as blank at the beginning as a white one!

A selection of drawings, past and present, that demonstrate the unique potentialities of drawing from the middle ground.

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More Head Studies

20th Century

“…whenever one approaches a subject with the respect for another, and not as a mere construct of the mind, it begins to take on this mysterious energy of vortex, which swings one, and flings one all over the place. The frenzy of the artist, notorious in ancient as well as modern times, is the outward evidence of his determination to touch at least the fringe of this whirlwind as it escapes. Only time will tell what sense he has brought back, but he has no doubt of the awe and power he has approached.”   –  Peter (Miles) Richmond, 1922-2008

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Modeling With Line

Modeling is a term that drawing borrows from sculpture to signify any graphic strategy that develops the appearance of the third dimension. Varying line width and weight, exploring tonal contrasts, cast shadows, linear cross-sections, and atmospheric perspective are some of the ways that the draughtsman responds to the visual phenomena of the three-dimensional world. Building on the investigations of line in the early weeks of the semester, we move on to a juncture where the boundary between this most abstract of elements begins to blur into another element – value, or tone – in all of its orchestral richness. The drawings shown here all employ line in ways that express the third dimension through the development of tonality. Unlike media such as charcoal that can be smeared and diffused over the drawing page to create a continuous tone, the insistence of the linear mark in line modeling lends a directional force, a texture, and a certain degree of abstraction and transformation to the drawings. m

Virginia Deane

Staunton, VA artist, Virginia Deane, employs the sharpened pencil in this drawing as if it were a pen & ink drawing, laying down distinct linear hatch marks to define tonal changes across the globular forms of the onions. Countering the dark lines are white hatchings created by the eraser. The composition builds on the repeated circle of the onions while exploring the subtle variation of the central axis of each, as well as scale contrasts between the different forms, the irregularities of their stems, and the play of cast shadows defining the ground plane.

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Michelangelo uses contour hatch-modeling to emphasize the tactile three-dimensional volumes of the figure. The curved lines reveal the surface terrain like the cross-sections of a contour map, or like the toothed tracks left in stone by the sculptor’s chisel. Gradients of dark to light appear in the drawing but they ultimately serve tactile, not optical ends. Transient effects of light and shadow are subordinated to the sense of touch and what it confirms about the volumetric solidity of the form.

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Giacometti’s drawing uses line like the wire armature of his sculptures to build the forms from inside to outside. Within the urgent, fast-moving linear vortices of the drawings, traces of the artist’s astute analysis of positions, angles, and axes of major and minor forms can be seen.

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In this drypoint print, Jake Muirhead, like Giacometti, draws with a vigorous searching line but pushes the contrasts of line weight by varying the pressure of the hand. The direction of the lines mimics the natural striations of the corn leaves, building a powerful three-dimensional expression through contrasts of dark to light.

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In this walnut ink drawing by Vincent Van Gogh large, coarse lines and intervals at the bottom of  the page yield gradually to finer marks and stipples at the top, combining with scale changes, overlaps, and perspectival angles in the fields to set up a simple, yet powerful, spatial movement from foreground to background.

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Both Kathe Kollwitz, above, and Rembrandt, below, use contour hatching in these self-portraits to explore both tactile, planar surfaces and optical effects of directed light and cast shadow. Rembrandt, by observing the loss of tonal contrast in places such as the eyes and the pursed lips, and the reflected light on the neck and jaw, conveys a powerful sense of luminosity.

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Giorgio Morandi develops a rich tonal scale by a methodical layering of regularly spaced straight lines of unchanging width.

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Line, when it is reduced to an outline, mirrors the essential flatness of the drawing page. Where the drawn outline yields and admits the phenomenon of form overlapping form, the modeling of the third dimension begins. Using nothing more than line an extensive spatial vocabulary exists.

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Vincent Van Gogh

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Aubrey Beardsley

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Michelangelo Buonarotti

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Kathe Kollwitz

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William Utermohlen

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Peter Paul Rubens

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Willem Drost

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Willem Van Der Hoed

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Guercino

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