Tag Archives: Van Gogh

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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Filed under Contemporary Artists, Old & Modern Masters, Practice, Uncategorized

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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