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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Variety is the spice of art in Level Two

by Chris Brizzard
Second-year Student

Having gone through Level One, it seemed that the charcoal would never end. But now that we’re in Level Two, there is more variety and the classes are getting more interesting. Below I will give a brief description of our classes this term and show some demos that the instructors have done so far.

Mondays: Color Study

On Mondays, we have color study with Natalie Italiano and Katya Held. This is a continuation of color study from Level One, but in addition to painting boxes, they have now added simple organic objects, such as fruit, and cylindrical forms, such as tea kettles and vases, to the setups. The objective is to try and capture the overall effect of light falling on the forms. We are not to concern ourselves with reflected light or any subtle nuances of form at this point, just focusing on the large, abstract shapes. It’s a two-dimensional kind of thinking and showing form doesn’t really have a place at this point. We are supposed to do two color studies per day, and I’ve heard it takes doing hundreds to really get it under your belt. It feels to me like learning to ride a bike, and I’m still crashing regularly. Below are some demos from Natalie and Katya.

Tuesdays: Figure in Graphite

On Tuesdays, we have figure drawing in graphite with Robin Frey and Joseph Dolderer. We started the class doing one-minute to five-minute gestures, just like what we did in charcoal and paint last term. We have started getting into half-day drawings now, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Graphite handles differently in that it is more linear and builds more slowly than charcoal or paint, which are both more mass-oriented. Graphite therefore requires more precision and it is good for getting very specific about the forms that you build. 

One thing that Joe continually stresses is the importance of placing the center-line in the figure. Doing this allows you to be in control when the figure shifts slightly from pose to pose (which is inevitable) and it also puts you in control of building your forms. Below are some short demos from Robin and Joe.

5-minute block-in from Joe

40-minute block-in from Joe

40-minute block-in from Robin

Wednesdays: Structure with Dan Thompson

On Wednesdays, we have our structure class with Dan Thompson. He really gets deep into it, and his course is fascinating. We started the course by drawing and dissecting the planes of a pepper as a way to get into a “structural” state of mind.

One of our major tasks in his class to build our own planar head from the ground up. We have now put our basic planes in place and will use this to add the features as the course progresses. We are continually referencing our constructions to the skull and always making sure the core landmarks of the head are symmetrical. A huge help to me personally was when we cut out the eye socket from the basic planar construction and then added the zygomatic arch (cheekbone) on top. I’m really enjoying how Dan breaks down the forms into logical chunks. I will never look at a head in the same way again.

Why are we spending so much time on structure, though? Focusing on structure alone will not give you much of a likeness, and it doesn’t look all that organic. The purpose, I think, is to ultimately be able to combine an optical way of seeing with one’s structural knowledge. In other words, structure is there to enhance what you see, and this is where you enter the realm of interpretation, of poetry. As Dan has said throughout the course, “The finer the relationships, the finer the art.”

In his demo below, you can see this approach to the portrait in action. On the left side is his optical “interpretation” of the model. On the right, he has simplified the pose into a box with its relevant planes. The progression of this demo is important to note. First he started on the left side with a purely optical approach for 10 minutes or so. Then he stopped and went to the right side and built the box/planar construction for another 10. Then he went to the optical side and incorporated some of the planar information back into the painting. So we can see that the structural information is ultimately used to inform the optical, and that this is where the “poetry” emerges from, in the merging of the optical and the structural.

Thursdays: Figure in Black and White

On Thursdays, we have figure painting in black and white with Darren Kingsley. The focus of this class is on portraying the forms of the figure. At this point, we are doing lots of 40-minute poses, but will we be getting into multi-day poses by the end of the course. One of the most important things I have gotten from this class has been from watching Darren’s demos, especially when he told us that it doesn’t have to be "correct" from the beginning. In fact, you don’t want it to be correct from the beginning, because you’ll have nothing to work with and develop in a long pose. This somehow relieved some kind of anxiety in me, the anxiety that “it has to be right from the start.” I’m not sure where this came from, but I think many students feel it. With this awareness in mind, I am really enjoying building the figure starting with a strong, loose gesture (the whole point of Level One) and then having the time to start putting in bony landmarks and basic anatomy. As Darren has said,  the beginning stages are when you are “collecting information” about what you see. Below is a short sequence from one of Darren’s demos that illustrates how loosely one can start and then begin to  refine and add information as the pose progresses. (Note: This is only the beginning phases of the painting.)

Fridays: More figure painting and cast drawing

On Fridays, our day is divided in two. In the mornings, we continue the figure in black and white from Thursday’s class with Peter Kelsey, and in the afternoons we work on a semester-long cast drawing in graphite with Darren Kingsley.

For the cast drawing, you really have to change gears and slow down because it takes the entire semester to finish. We were able to choose from casts of the eye, ear, nose or mouth and each of us has the cast hanging in a dedicated booth that we can use throughout the term. When it is finished, Darren has told us that you shouldn’t be able to tell who did the drawing - no personal style should show because the goal is to make the drawing look exactly like the cast, period. A tall order, indeed.

We work on thick four-ply Bristol paper and use soft pencils in the beginning to block in the drawing. Below are some pictures of Darren’s demos up to this point, about six weeks in.

Overall, the variety of Level Two has been very enjoyable so far, but many challenges still lie ahead. It’s good to feel growth though, even ever so slightly.