Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tha Planar Head with Dan Thompson: The Ear as a Structural Door

by Michela Mansuino
Level Three student

The most underrated form on the head and one that gets far too little attention in most portraits is the human ear. It could be thought of as a door - with a beach ball holding it open. The concha (inner ear) being an immense, concave ball. In surer terms, the ear could be thought of as a rotated, extended panel on the lateral plane of the head.

We started our adventure into the modeling the human ear by rolling out two slabs of clay into rectangles approximately the size of what the nose should be. The slab should be a little thick, something you can remove clay from.
We lined the panels on our sculptures and attached them, lining them up with the cheekbone staple we had modeled the week before. We compared it to our skull.

Once the panels were in place, we scooped out a bit in the center, like a giant sink, and gave it depth, then we added clay to the back. Here Dan demonstrates the depth of the "sink" in a giant ear.

In the back we added clay.

For the helix, we rolled out a big coil and kept it thick, but the coil also had a flat part. The coil then went around and dove into the concha, just as the Lincoln Tunnel dives into Manhattan.

Here I have the "doors" on my planar head in place and with the "sink" pushed in.

Here I have the coil of the helix in place and diving into the concha.

A diagram of how the shapes should be thought of conceptually.

The concept abstract.

The giant ear Dan built to demonstrate the concept.

Sculpting the forms from observation and focusing on depth. Here is Dan's planar head with the ear in place.

Notice how the tragus and antitragus are twin forms. The tragus is a form that could be thought of as two twisting cones according to Dan.

Here you can see the twisting cones of the tragus in an anatomy book.

From now on I will expect to see more refined ear and cheekbone shapes in the portraits I paint.

Nelson Shanks painted beautiful ears in his many portraits, like this one, which is extremely revealing for the subject. (Detail of the portrait of Pope Paul the II, by Nelson Shanks)

Look out for my next blog on the Planar Head on "The Nose"

Friday, December 11, 2015

Day Three in Level Three

by Wendy Wagner
Level Three student.

Wednesday is a nice break in our week. It is a combined class of Levels Two and Three for Dan Thompson's structural drawing fundamentals. Since Dan commutes from New York, class starts 15 minutes later than our other days.

Today, he is doing an all-day drawing demo. We have completed two months of sculpting the head, feature by feature, and Dan will demonstrate how to incorporate the 3D thinking into our drawings.

7:55 am Arriving early on a frosty morning, students hang in the kitchen, discussing current work.

9:15 am Class begins. Dan explains that this is a visual example of our upcoming long pose, which will start next week. Using a 2H pencil, Dan's hand glides loosely across the page. I notice that he is using the techniques we have been taught all along: Use your whole arm to draw, stand back often, and move your eyes back and forth from the model to page. 
Tools of the trade

9:35 am Model break. Students line up to take pictures of the progress.

9:40 am Pose continues. We are allowed to ask questions as he is drawing. We take notes, photographs of the evolution, and ask away. Dan stays with the 2H pencil for some time, blocking in with an assemblage of shapes, angles and lines. This gives him the freedom to move and revise as the model settles into the pose. Space prohibits me from sharing my pose-by-pose notes, which were taken extensively for the rest of the morning.

Dan answering questions
At some point, he began alternating between a 2H, an HB, and for his darkest notes, a 9XXB. Dan explains that it is a tug of war - you want a certain richness. We watch him achieve this by lightly stumping in shadow shapes, drawing, and erasing out highlights. I love his markmaking.

Noon Lunchtime. In a reversal from the morning, it is a unusually warm day, so take-out it is!

12:45 pm Class resumes. Knowing that he has limited time to complete this, Dan continues his magic by moving from larger forms to smaller ones. He does not stay in one area for long, as he is constantly comparing smaller areas to the whole. This is where the knowledge of structure comes into play. Perception is great, but if you have an understanding of the planes, and the structure underneath, it will aid in your decision-making.

4:00 pm Time is up. The end result is an exquisite arrangement of shapes, values and hatchmarks in Dan's distinctive style. What a treat!  See his progress below.

Here are the step-by-step pics.
Photos taken each model break

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Beginning to see the light

by Chris Brizzard
Level Two Student

After about 20 weeks of practicing open grisaille figure painting, our level has now entered a new stage - adding the light. This is a pretty big deal, as I think most of us have been waiting a long time for this. Last week, our instructor, Darren Kingsley, did a demo and walked us through the initial process. Our poses for this stage start at an hour each, and we are to divide that time in half: 50% for the grisaille and 50% for adding the light. As this is a black-and-white painting class, we are still using our mixture of two parts Ivory Black to one part Burnt Umber for the darks. You can see how Darren has laid out his palette below: (Note how thin his mixture for the darks is.)

Even though this is an exciting new phase for us, there are several caveats Darren reminded us about:

  • Don’t get caught up in smaller shapes and sub-forms. It is still critical to check the overall proportions and gesture and to make the big shapes as good as possible, not more complicated. Believe it or not, this is the most important stage of all because it sets the foundation for everything to come. As such, Darren told us that he is consciously not over-drawing in this phase, but rather keeping it strong and simple as much as possible.

  • Don’t let the legs fall behind the rest of the figure. This is a common mistake as we tend to focus more on developing the torso or other areas, like the head. All parts of the figure need to be developed together.

  • Keep your paint mixes thin. This applies to both the dark and light mixtures. We are working on the principle of “fat over lean” in oil painting, so it is important that the initial layers of paint be thin so that subsequent layers can be added on top. And “thin” does not mean adding turp to your mixture either. It should be dry and thin, not wet and thin. It may be helpful to wipe off any excess paint from your brush with a paper towel before applying it to the canvas to keep the paint application on the thin side. 

The mixture for both the darks and lights is thin on the palette.

  • Don’t create a third value where the light and dark shapes meet. This is important because the goal for this phase of the painting is to create a figure that has been divided into flat value shapes of light and dark. In addition, there should be no sharp edges where the light and dark shapes meet. We are still pushing the shapes around in this phase, adjusting the gesture and proportions of both the light and dark shapes to get the figure more and more accurate - not more complicated.

Even though we have moved into an exciting new phase of figure painting, it is not a miracle cure or anything. If the gesture doesn’t work and the proportions are off, no amount of adding light is going to fix that. So we still must focus on the basic principles that we have been practicing from the beginning and that can be summed in Studio Incamminati's motto: STAND BACK AND SQUINT!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Cheekbone Staple

by Michela Mansuino
Level Three Student

The Cheekbone Staple is the next step in building the planar head. We set up a skull so that it has a vertical face, like the one pictured. Instructor Dan Thompson has us work with the skull directly in front of us so that we can rely on it for measurements and further aesthetic comparisons.

We roll out clay into thin slabs the size of a napkin and cut these into 1 by 5-inch strips. You can see these on top of Dan's skull in the photo below. Dan used toothpicks to pin strips to the side of the clay head to make the cheekbone blocks. We used additional clay strips in front to connect sides. The tiny block below the jaw stands for the mastoid process.

It is important that the cheekbone "strips" start to emerge around the auditory meatus which is one of two passages in the ear.

The cheekbone is the widest part of the face, to get the widest point we must cut and rotate the side strips.

Dan created a drawing on the board as a diagram to illustrate how these side strips get cut into two parts and then are rotated.One portion of these two blocks is catches more light and pitches upward. That is the part toward the front of the face.

After we had our "blocks" in place, we attached them  permanently and removed the toothpicks. Then, we thinned them down and modeled them in.

Here, I've pinned the strips to the sides of my planar clay head.

Below is a side view with the mastoid process also pinned down under the cheekbone, lining up just behind the location of the auditory meatus. Dan joined the two strips this way, where the cheekbone dives into the auditory meatus.

Here is a view of the front plane of the cheekbone staple in place and modeled into the planar clay head.

Here is a side view.

A back view, including the beginning of the mastoid process.

The zygomatic arch, or cheekbone, lines up with the helix of the ear, it is an astonishing relationship, according to Dan. We see it clearly in Bernini's terracotta head of "St. Jerome."

The next steps in building the planar head are the ear, nose and mouth.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Follow me through Level 3

by Wendy Wagner
Level Three

Welcome to Tuesday in Level Three.

Figure Painting One is a two-day class. On Tuesdays, we study under Lea Colie Wight. On Thursdays, we work on the same pose under Jafang Lu.

Tuesdays are a bit groggy because I have the portrait marathon on Mondays but I'll do my best.  
Tip: Do not volunteer to monitor a class the day after you take an evening class.

7:50 am I walk in to see the coffee pot started and am glad it is not my morning to set up the model stands. Instead I chat with fellow students as we lament about needing caffeine.
Coffee brewing

8:30 am Set up palette for the day ahead.

9 am We are finishing a 6 day exercise. We spent two days on a value study, one on a color study and three on full color. To make it "simpler," the instructors decided to have us crop a small area. Sounds easy enough, right? We start the first 20 minutes of the day with gestures to warm up.

9:30 am After speaking to a student, Lea decides to demo on his painting. Since this is the last day, we are to turn form by paying close attention to the colors between light and shadow.
I took two and a half pages of notes. One of the things I like about Lea is that, besides giving great technical advice, she also gives tips on how to deal with learning the process.
Lea giving advice

11am  We start back on our own canvases with a fresh perspective.

Lunchtime. Level Three's are discussing our progress with "Mentorship Fridays." Some of us are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art making a master copy (as am I during this cycle), some us are in the studio painting alongside an artist, and some of us are copying a Nelson Shanks painting. This rotates periodically and we have just received our assignments for the next round. All in different directions, we share tips.

12:30 pm A few of us are still tired so we make a latte run
Works in progress

12:45 pm The final three hours of the pose. It feels like we make one step forward, two back. Lea assures us that this is normal.
This is the pinnacle of combining all the aspects we have been learning these past two years - there are no specific rules because each pose and set up is different, with it's own unique light conditions. It IS hard.

3:45 pm Whew! Day is over.

Here are shots of our final pieces.
Close-up exercise
Close-up exercise

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Planar Head with Dan Thompson

by Michela Mansuino
Third-year Student

It's 6:45 a.m. Wednesday and I'm radiantly happy as I climb out of bed realizing that Dan Thompson is probably, at this very minute, already driving down from New York to teach his now notoriously famous class at Studio Incamminati - THE PLANAR HEAD IN CLAY

I don't know how he does it, driving down to Philly, a three-hour trip, teaching for seven hours at Studio Incamminati, and then driving all the way back to New York - 13 hours of non stop energy... I find myself saying a prayer under my breath that he is okay as I drink my coffee and get ready to be the monitor for the class. 

We begin with a homemade armature and around 30 lbs. of Chavant Professional Plastelline.

For future heads, I make a detailed study of the Home Depot parts and other materials needed to make the armature.

We start by going to our armature and begin massing in clay, the “light bulb” shape, thinking about the carrying angle of the head and how the pole of the armature will be offset by it.
The size of the ball and egg shape is calculated to be a bit bigger than the skull we are working from, which is life size, so as to have room to make the planes a little exaggerated. We exaggerate them in order to learn from them.
                                                                   Our skull

Dan Thompson lectures on the mother planes of the head, following drawings by John H. Vanderpoel, in his book "The Human Figure."

From these Vanderpoel drawings, Dan instructs us where to make our first cuts on the mass of clay we have shaped on our armatures.

These diagrams are a decoded version of the planar head, step by step. This is where we start.

Dan models the mother planes in this manner:

Once we have accomplished this on our sculptures, Dan moves on to demonstrate the carving out of the tilt line - he uses a "dough cutter"  to make the cuts. He recalls where he found the thing, having thought it had looked like an amputation tool from the Civil War. If you see a painting of a nude in the background, that's Kathleen Moore's black and white form study from another class, hanging on the wall. We surround ourselves with our best work so that we may learn from each other.

Intermittently, between carving the planes of the planar head in clay, we draw and paint from the model. We have done two other exercises to further re-enforce our structural understanding  of the planar head.  These are:
1. Drawing the head two ways, side by side, one intuitively and the other structurally.

2). Painting the head two ways, side by side, one intuitively and the other structurally.

After a what seems to be five minutes, the day is over and I look forward to next Wednesday.  I'm worried Dan has a long trip home still. It's all going to be alright, so look for my blog on Dan Thompson next month for the continuation of the planar head in clay.  We will be carving and attaching the staple of the jaw that is the cheekbone, and the ear.

Yours Truly, Michela