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.