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.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A day in the life . . .

... of a Level Two student.

Ever wonder what it's like being in the full-time professional program at Studio Incamminati? I'm Wendy Wagner and I am a Level Two student in the program. Welcome to my Monday:

7:45 a.m. Arrive at school. The cold, rainy, gray day outside is a contrast to what awaits me inside: color study with the figure.

8:45 Enter studio B for color study. The first nine weeks was color study with still life and the rest of the semester is with the figure. Class starts promptly at 9; our instructor is Jafang Lu, and she's fab. Before enrolling as a full time student, I took JaFang's Continuing Ed classes on Fridays and learned a lot.

9:00 This is our second week with the figure. JaFang reduced our 21 color palette down to 12. To further make us simplify, we have to use a palette knife. Keep that in mind while viewing our progress throughout the day. Since I like to look at the other students' progress as I go, I thought you might too.

Pose 1: Grisaille. Light and dark shadow shapes for both the figure and the environment. We were permitted to use a brush for this stage only.
Pose 2: Adding color notes for the light, then the dark areas.

Pose 3: Once all color notes have been added, we expand the notes to cover the areas.

JaFang has been having a random student "demo" in front of the class, asking questions about the choices we have made. Students will also give input on the direction of a color.  Today was my turn.
Here is my painting before and after:

Noon: Break for lunch.  Everyone has lunch at the same time, so it's nice to chat with other levels. Upper level students are a good resource for advice as we all discuss our progress.

12:45 Class resumes. Once the canvas is covered in paint, we begin the second pass.

 Color is affected by what surrounds it, so the initial statement may not be accurate in relation to the other colors. It is important to not just stare into a color. Scanning our eyes around the canvas quickly gives us a better impression on which direction to push it.

Sometimes you think it should go one way, so you add that color. Then it becomes apparent that you need to go in the other direction. You don't know until you put something up there.

By the end of the day, we should have at least two passes on each color, adjusting the color relationships as we go.

Between this and manipulating paint with the palette knife, it has proven to be a challenging day. Here are the results of our work:

3:45 Whew! The day is over. Next time you can shadow my Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Color Study At Studio Incamminati, Week Four

As we work on these color studies week after week, we get the hang of it. Fun to do because there is no concern, really, for the drawing of the boxes. It does not matter if the proportions are off. This is about seeing large color and value relationships and learning which colors to mix together to get an approximation of what we are seeing. Remember, when you are doing your color study you are not trying to match the color you see, but rather, recreate the illusion of the quality of light and color relationships.

In order to set up your own color study still life, you will need many painted boxes of all sizes, pretty colored drapes, a good light source (we use halogen Home Depot lamps) and a dark room to work in. You could also set it up outside and do it in the sunlight, like Henri Hensche did. To start, however, perhaps artificial light will be easier because it will not change over the course of three or six hours.

It gets really exciting (to us, anyway) when the boxes in light and shadow start creating a sense of space and atmosphere, an illusion of depth, as it were, and yet all we were trying to do is see the color relationships accurately. What is behind? What is below? What is above? What is beside?

After three hours of working from these halogen light sources, our instructors, Natalie Italiano and Joe Dolderer, place colored gels over the lamps. This changes the color and the light drastically, as you can imagine. The following pictures have two studies on them, one in halogen light and the other in the effect of the bluish greenish gel.

It is important to start with the brightest color you see when you are making your first pass into your color study. It is much easier to dull a color already up there than make it, and all the surrounding colors, brighter. So start bold and brash and end up very lyrical and poetic. See how you can develop this very new art form.

In my name, Michela Mansuino

Monday, May 12, 2014

Color Study at Studio Incamminati


Remember that moment in the film "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy steps out of her black-and-white world by opening her front door and gazes into the razzle-dazzle color world of Oz?  Well, that is what it will be like when you take your first year at Studio Incamminati and, after nine months of charcoal gesture drawings and value studies, you embrace a palette of 23 colors and look out onto a stage of painted boxes.

We are told that, rather than match the color you see, you must push the relationships of color to give the full effect of the light on form. This is the same concept with value study. It is not about matching the value you see, but experiencing that value in the context of a light situation.

Our course description, below, will clarify the objectives.

Start with one box.

Push the realm of color as value.

Course Description

The purpose of this class is to gain an understanding of color relationships and pigments, and to gain the ability to recreate the illusion of light on form through a series of simple exercises called color studies.  For this semester, these introductory color study exercises will involve painting colored boxes and simple still life objects under artificial light.   
Emphasis is placed on understanding the various elements, i.e. value, hue and saturation, that influence color relationships.

Students begin each color study by establishing simple light and shadow masses in grisaille. They will then build the painting with simple shapes of color that capture and recreate the relationships of the lighting situation. The semester will begin with simple exercises utilizing boxes or objects that have planes and strong color, and will increase with complexity as the semester progresses and as the student demonstrates readiness. 

We have been told that we will do at least one hundred of these.

There are three passes. The first time around you will be getting your first impression of the relative value, reaching for the boldest statement of color and the least amount of mixing.  In fact, mix on your canvas.

The second pass would be an alteration of the values to more approximate the situation.

The third pass would be a hue and temperature decision and another calibrating of the values.

For reading on the matter, a book on