Thursday, March 26, 2015

On rhythm in the human figure

by Chris Brizzard
Level Two student

In studying human anatomy, there are many great books and resource materials available. Some of the books used at Studio Incamminati include Stephen Rogers Peck’s "Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist," Dr. Paul Richer’s "Artistic Anatomy" and the works of George Bridgman. Sometimes looking at this material, we get overwhelmed by all of the diagrams of the muscles and lose sight of a critical element: rhythm. There is a rhythm that flows through the human body that can be captured with just one line, as when starting a gesture drawing, to the gentle S-curve found flowing through the standing figure.

Gesture drawing controlled by one dominant line

The S-curve in the standing figure. (Image from Edouard Lanteri's book "Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure")

As an example, let’s look at the leg on a standing figure (and also assume it is the weight-bearing leg). In looking at this picture.below, from Stephen Rogers Peck, we can see all the muscles and tendons that comprise the leg.

Leg anatomy diagram from Stephen Rogers Peck

But before we start drawing in all the muscle groups, it is important to first get how those groups are controlled by basic rhythm lines that flow through the leg. For example, in the standing (weight-bearing) leg above, we can reduce everything to four basic rhythms. The major muscle masses align themselves along these rhythmic lines, and help give the drawing more unity and cohesion as a result.

Rhythms controlling the forms of the leg

Here is an example of how this might work in a structural sketch:

rhythms/forms of the leg

To sum up, I think it is important that we look past the surface of what we see and try to understand the controlling factors that lie beneath. Rhythm is an important example of this and it flows throughout the figure, still life and landscape. Learning to find those underlying rhythms help give flow to the work and is one of the artist’s many tasks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Tuesday in the life...

of a Level Two student
by Wendy Wagner

Yes, my last post took you through my Tuesday, however, we are in a new semester, with a brand new Tuesday. So tag along while I explain my Still Life day with instructor Robin Frey.
The class begins in the cast room, where each student has his or her own booth. We spend the morning on a black/white value study while the afternoon is spent doing a color version of the same objects.

9:00 am: We start setting up our still life. I was surprised at the amount of time it takes to get a cohesive setup. What may seem like the perfect object(s) at home may look totally different under the warm lights.
We peruse the shelves for two to three objects that work well together. Robin offers suggestions on composition and helps those undecided as to which direction to go. It is a team effort, but ultimately the student has to respond to the arrangement, as she/he is the one who has to look at it for four weeks.

10:15 am: Finally get to start on the value study.

Noon: Time for lunch. The beauty of working with objects is that we can take a shorter lunch break and return to the cast room to work.

Although these photos aren't from the first day, they are an example of the value vs. color paintings on which we are working. Also note that some people were still working on their paintings when the photos were taken, and to get a decent view of the painting, the set-up is a little washed out. You get the idea.

12:25 pm: I start painting the color version a little early, as class doesn't officially start until 12:45. It is interesting how the introduction of color can throw off your perception of value. In my setup, I have a shiny magenta fabric. Is the color of the fabric in the light a higher value just because it is more chromatic? That is up to me to decide as I compare that color to the others surrounding it.

In speaking with other students, I have learned that some prefer working in value, while others prefer the color.

3:15 pm: Class ends a bit early today for a special event: we were invited to visit founder Nelson Shanks in his studio. Today is reserved for students in my level, and of course I am taking advantage of such an opportunity.

Nelson graciously allows us to come into his private studio to see his current project. How cool is that? Very.
As a student, to see him in the process of working on a current painting is truly inspiring. He has finished work sitting around for us to inspect, and will answer any questions we may have about his work, process or palette. A teacher accompanies us and explains how what we are learning relates to Nelson's methods.
Not many people can have learning experiences like these, and it inspires me as an artist and a student.

6:00 pm: Back to the cast room. We are stoked after visiting Nelson's studio, and seeing his progress up close, so a few of us decided to continue working with fresh eyes.

8pm: Time to leave. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Until next time...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The true formula for success - learning to see

By Carolyn Gabbe
Level Four student

I’m writing this blog post as an expanded conversation that started on Facebook with Dorothy Voss, Ricky Mujica and myself, a fourth-year student in Studio Incamminati’s Advanced Fine Art Program. The conversation touched on art instruction and, in particular, if Studio Incamminati has a formula or an approach.This led to the rumor that we start with an entire year of drawing.

Well, yes, we really do start with almost a full year of charcoal and graphite drawing because we are learning to see first. Within all the drawing that first year, full-time Studio Incamminati students undertake, there is a focus on gesture, proportion, value, and anatomy. You must learn to see it in order to describe it. Once you can see it, you can begin the effort to describe it with line, mass, value, edges.The wonderful intricacies of color come later.

Another foundation of the program is developing strong starts. If you begin without the gesture, with proportion problems, with anatomical impossibilities, you have little chance of success. So we undertake thousands of starts. Really – thousands. And that is another blog for another day.

Back to drawing, since we are visual people, here are some examples of my student work that I think illustrate the benefits of such a program and approach because it shows where I started and how my drawings evolved in less than two years.  I understand that the French Neoclassical Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres said it takes 30 years to learn to draw and I believe it! 

Charcoal figure drawing prior to starting the  Studio Incamminati  program.

Charcoal cast drawing, done part way through my first year of the full-time program.

Graphite figure drawing from late in my second year at Studio Incamminati.

Graphite cast drawing from my second year in the full-time program.

The second aspect of the Facebook conversation was whether or not we have a formula.  We do not. However, the Studio Incamminati curriculum focuses on teaching to see and think. It focuses on building skills, working large to small, getting the big things in correct relationship before moving to the small things, capturing the gesture, feeling the energy of a pose, seeing the planes and how they relate to the light with color and value, learning the anatomy of the human body, understanding value relationships and turning form with color and value, managing edges, composition and feeling. These skills enable us to move forward with our own artistic visions with strong foundations to build upon.

David Hockney, in a recent interview in Harper’s, said “ They don’t teach drawing in art schools anymore. It’s criminal. Teaching drawing teaches people to look.”  

Well, it certainly is taught at Studio Incamminati and to the great benefit of all of us who study here. As founder Nelson Shanks says, “We train to be enabled by competency not restricted by inability.”

So, off to draw!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cast Drawing - Level 2

By Lynn Snyder
Level Two Student

After 18 three hour sessions, Level Two completed its cast drawings. The goal of the class was to push you to see and draw as clearly and accurately as possible. The work began by drawing in the contour to lock in the proportions showing light and shadow. Once the shapes were correct, we began to build form with graphite in a slow manner. The class focused on drawing skills required to paint human form and still life. These are the fruits of our labor.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Drawing Freehand Ellipses

By Chris Brizzard
Level One Student

At Studio Incamminati, one of the things we learn is to reduce objects to straight lines and basic geometric shapes, which can then be refined at later stages as needed. This fits into a core idea here, namely working from big to small, and it applies equally well to that form we all love to hate - the ellipse.

The ellipse is a form that one encounters frequently, especially in working with the still life. The tops and bottoms of vases, jars, cups, etc. are all elliptical forms and so having a method to deal with them is an important tool in the artist’s skill set.

In our first semester still life classes, we learned to reduce the ellipse to a basic hexagonal shape.

This is extremely useful and will suffice in many situations, but what if one wishes to refine the ellipse a bit more? The following steps show one approach to doing this.

First, let’s deal with accurately drawing the hexagonal shape used to represent the ellipse. Establish the long and short axes of the ellipse, remembering that they will always be at right angles to one another.

Next, add a rectangle to show the boundaries of the ellipse.

Add a grid to accurately divide the rectangle into thirds.

Now you are ready to draw the hexagonal shape used to represent the ellipse.

The question now becomes, how can one refine this abstraction into a more ellipse-like shape? Now the process of subdividing begins. The hexagon has six sides and we will now add points to divide each side into two.

By connecting the new points, we can create a 12-sided form which starts to look more elliptical.

This may be all the refining one needs, but it is possible to keep adjusting the shape. One idea is to add straight lines where two lines meet, thereby subdividing the shape even more.

We can now erase the grid to better show the elliptical form.

This form can be further subdivided using the same process, and it is up to the artist to decide how refined a shape s/he needs for the task at hand. The basic hexagonal shape will suffice in some situations where the overall forms are very general in nature (the block-in phase, for example), but there are also times when a more refined shape is needed. This is one approach to achieving that end.

Ultimately, the artist must wrestle with each concept and come up with something that works best for him or her. As instructor Natalie Italiano keeps telling us, there is no one “right” answer, and ultimately, that is what makes a piece work or not, for each piece that we work on is a record of choices (both conscious and subconscious) that we have made along the way. Learning to make informed choices is one of the benefits of studying at Studio Incamminati.

Another day in the life...

of a Level Two student.

By Wendy Wagner

Continuing from my previous post, I invite you to follow my Tuesday as a Level Two student in the Professional program.

The first snowfall of the year greets us as we arrive.
With two weeks left in the fall semester, we are finishing our class, Drawing the Figure in Graphite. After a year of charcoal with Level One, we graduated to graphite. The class was broken into two long poses, about eight  weeks long, with a few shorter poses in the beginning of the year. Our instructor is Robin Frey.
Library w/painting by Nelson Shanks

9 am: Before jumping into the pose, we head to the library to show our weekly sketches. Robin has us draw from life on our own, and also copy from various books over the semester. For the past few weeks we have had to copy from Anthony Ryder's figure drawing book. 

Coffee provided by the school daily
This is to reinforce the habit of daily drawing and it's one of the things I enjoy about the class.

Coffee (and tea) is provided to the students by the school, so we fill up our cups and meet to show our weekly sketches.

It's also interesting to see the personality of each artist emerge from their sketches. Some chose to do quick sketches, while others prefer longer master copies. Robin is very open about what we do, as long as we draw, draw, draw.

Here are some examples from sketchbooks:
Examples from our weekly sketches.
9:45 am We then move on to continue working on our longer pose. This is week seven of an eight-week effort. At this point, we should have the full value range, calibrating off the lightest light and darkest dark. Others are developing the lights with a hard pencil.

Did we capture the light effect? If the light on the shoulder is the same as the light on the knee, there is a problem.
Michela, working during the break
Noon: Lunch. Time to head to the kitchen with the other levels.

12:45. And we're back, continuing to assess which areas need attention, standing back, getting feedback. Here are snippets of some work.
Parts in progress

Level One artwork
During model breaks, I like to look at the artwork on the walls. Studio "A" has charcoal drawings from Level One. I remember those days!

As our instructor, Robin put it, It's not just about it copying, it's about interpreting. You have to build an understanding about what you are drawing.

The group got together for a photo:
3:45 Time to put it away for one more week!

Until next time,

Friday, January 30, 2015

First semester passes in 50 shades of grey

By Ruth Feldman
Level One Student

I can hardly believe I am entering into my second semester at Studio Incamminati. First semester passed in a massive and rapid blur of information, hard work and small awarenesses, all emerging in 50 shades of grey (we don't approach color until next year). I huffed charcoal, dropped charcoal, snapped charcoal, ground it into a powder on sandpaper and under my feet. 

I don't have the words to describe the pleasure and fulfillment this process has brought into my life. But one of my favorite writers, Ann Patchett, does. Please, apply her thoughts on writing to the act of drawing:

"Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say."

I cannot say enough good things about the quality of instruction at Studio Incammanati. So, here is another of Ann's thoughts about a favorite instructor at the beginning of her writing career. This applies to all my classes and to each of the instructors.

"Most of what I know about writing I learned from "x", and it is a testament to my great good luck (heart stopping in retrospect) that it was this classroom that I turned up in when I first started to write stories. Bad habits are easy to acquire and excruciating to break. I came to (him/her) a blank skate, drained of all the confidence I had brought with me... I knew I still wanted to be a writer, but now I wasn't even sure what that meant. I needed someone how to tell me how to go forward. The course that "x" set me on is one that has guided my career ever since."

And doesn't "Incammanati" mean moving forward? I am so grateful! 

Ruth Feldman

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dan Thompson - Portrait Drawing Demo

By Lynn Snyder
Level II student

Recently, levels II and III students at Studio Incamminati watched a six-hour portrait demo of our model, Colin, given by Dan Thompson. Here is a recount of the demonstration based the notes and pictures I took while watching Dan draw.

Dan started the life-size drawing (Figure 1) by pushing the head a little bit higher on the paper so a relationship is established between the head, neck and shoulders.  He established a line of action between the models shoulder and head using long, straight lines. One of the most important anchor features is the ear, which establishes and angular extension important for judging proportion. The drawing is built with relationships rather than developing one feature completely over another. Simple shapes are what become the features, rather than a definitive line. 

Figure 1

Next, Dan concentrated on two values (Figure 2), light (the light of the paper) and dark (false value) by placing the pencil marks closer together. "Proximity vs. Pressure" is a term Dan used to get quiet, solid resolution to each tone making the drawing less noisy (this way the pencil strokes are closer together). A blending stump is used to unify tones going from the linear to the shape phase.

Figure 2

To organize the masses of values in the human head, Dan simplified the drawing into five values (Figure 3). The first being the darkest dark (your tone anchor) to give value range.   The second value is the lightest dark to connect to the darkest one. The third tone is the middle light then the highlight and lastly the darkest light. Layering the pencil strokes is essential to developing tone. 

Figure 3

At this time, shadows were reinforced with a stump. Smaller shapes were developed as in the eye area (Figure 4). Middle lights were calibrated to the lightest light and darkest dark.  One of the last features Dan put in were the eyes (Figure 5).

Figure 4
Figure 5

Dan switched to a 4H pencil in the light areas (specifically the nose) and used this to burnish like a stump, getting more specific with smaller shapes. The structure is the map of the face and you get that with tone. The down planes were darkened and with each form and he traveled across the face to find the opposing form and darken it as well. Dan continued to add dark areas to increase the value range. An 8B was to used to add the shirt and hair (Figure 6). The last pose was spent refining the shapes to ensure that one tone flows into another. 

Figure 6

I was amazed to see how simple straight lines went from large abstract shapes to complex structural features in a short period of time. If you'd like more information on Dan's drawing techniques, please visit his website for purchasing his DVDs on anatomy of the head and gesture drawing of the figure. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

On Proportion and using the Cranial Index

   Throughout history, there have been different canons of proportion for the human figure. Typically, this has involved using the human head as the basis of measurement. For example, Michelangelo’s ideal figure was eight heads high, while that of Dr. Paul Richer, the renowned 19th-century teacher of artistic anatomy, was 7.5 heads. The problem for the student, however, comes in the act of measurement. If you measure two or three or four heads down from the top of the head, what do you intersect with? There may be something convenient, such as a navel, or they may be nothing significant at all to help anchor your measurement. Fortunately, there is another approach championed by Robert Beverly Hale, which alleviates the previous problems by focusing on that which underlies everything in the human body - the skeleton. This approach relies on the cranial index unit instead of the head as the basis of measurement for human proportion.

   So, what then is the cranial index? As seen in the diagram below, the cranial index is the unit formed from the base of the skull (mastoid process) to the top of the skull. This unit becomes a box which can then be rotated in space.

   If we accept the cranial index as the unit of measurement for human proportion, then the beauty of this system soon begins to unfold. For example, if we look at the distance from the mastoid process to the suprasternal notch, also called the jugular notch, we find that it is one cranial index unit (hereafter labeled “CI”). Or, if we look at the width of one clavicle, we find that it is one CI. Or, the length of the sternum = one CI. Or, the width of the scapula = one CI.

If we consider the rib cage, we again find an intriguing correlation. The rib cage is four CIs:

Fortunately, it doesn’t stop here. Let’s now consider the arms and the pelvis. The upper arm is two CIs long, the lower arm to the tips of the metacarpals is two CIs long, and the width of the pelvis is two CIs.

And it carries through with the legs as well. The upper leg is three CIs long and the lower leg plus the foot is also three CIs.

Now we can see how this idea looks superimposed on the skeleton as a whole:

   Looking at these diagrams, we can see that the power of using the cranial index as a unit of measurement is that it frequently intersects with the bony landmarks of the skeleton, which are fixed, as opposed to fleshy landmarks (like navels), which are not. For this reason, I find this approach much more helpful than trying to measure how many heads high a figure is. When you use the cranial index, you know that the relationships you observe will relate to the bones, which is where it all starts.

 I would like to thank Michael Mentler for allowing me to use images he has created at his studio, 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Back to Basics

   What is is essential for musicians to practice regularly? Answer: scales. They are the ABCs used to build words, sentences, paragraphs, stories. As level 1 students at Studio Incamminati, we have been introduced to the visual equivalent of musical scales through copious amounts of gesture drawing, thumbnail sketches, still-life block-ins and value studies, all in charcoal.

   Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with school co-founder Leona Shanks about another essential skill set akin to musical scales, namely drawing the sphere in space. In the front of almost every drawing book is an image of a sphere sitting on a surface with light shining on it. It is largely forgotten as other topics are dealt with. 

Planar Sphere

   So why is this idea so important? In any kind of realistic art, the artist must be able to control light as it falls on form.  With time and ample practice, the artist should start to be able to see how spheres, cones and cylinders appear in different parts of the figure AND understand how to show the effect of light on those forms accordingly. Leona recommended practicing drawing spheres for 30 minutes a day for at least 1 to 2 months to help make this skill become second nature to the artist. 

Leona Shanks' demo

Other tips from Leona:

It is important to develop a beveled tip on the charcoal and hatch in large areas smoothly. 

Charcoal with beveled tip

Edges should be organic, meaning no linear outlines (there are no lines in nature). When working with charcoal, this means working against the direction of the outline. 

Wiping across the form to create organic edges

In figure drawing, it is very important to make shapes clear. Leona recommended looking at the drawings of Prud’hon for good examples of this.


Don’t be deceived by what seems like an elementary concept. As Henry Yan has said, “Stick to the basics - any brilliant styles or fancy techniques come from skillfully controlled basics.”