Oct 15 2017
Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt
“Do you not see that among the beauties of mankind it is a very beautiful face that arrests passers-by and not their adornments.” Leonardo da Vinci
Today I went to see a wonderful exhibition of drawings at the National Portrait Gallery.
Its premise was so simple and yet revealing. The curatorial side was really nicely balanced; a little art history with well-placed texts and quotes. No convoluted dialogues about the socio-political context or the psychology of the sitter or artist, just informative text about drawing methods and the reason we draw.
‘Work hard and don’t on any account neglect your drawing.’ Michelangelo
The walls were painted a beautiful dark blue grey which set off the simple classic wood frames. Nothing from text, wall colour and frames, took away from or belittled the drawings; that they could be seen for themselves, uncluttered by words or theories. Some of the attributions were a little over ambitious but on the whole, it was a perfect exhibiting that achieved what it set out to do.
Refreshingly the show was laid out neither chronologically or by country so that varying artistic styles could be better appreciated. The Dutch rather more linear approach with some amazing Rembrandt drawings all drawn on one page, demonstrating his thought processes and musings. The Venetian drawings displayed more mass and shadow shapes compared to the more accented and linear central Italians drawings.
There was an especially lovely selection from the Carracci school who started the first Atelier as we now know them at London Fine Art Studios and across the States and Italy. My favourite was Annibale’s beautiful drawing of a study of a young Man. He must have known the arm was too long, but it is so touching to be irrelevant. I love the quote on the side which makes the drawing even more moving “Non so se Dio Me aiuta”. The softened mass with the red chalk balanced with little accents is so tender too.
“Stranger, do you want to see figures seemingly alive? Look at these, brought forth by Holbein’s hand.” Nicholas Bourbon
The last room shows many of Holbein’s master drawings. Some feel so modern as if one of the characters is just in the room right next to you.
He is surely the master of exquisite variety of technique and line from the refined drawing in the portrait to the softening of beard with accents and then near scribbled clothing.
The last quote of the show is so encouraging and relevant.
“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be well worth while, and will do you a world of good.” Cennino Cennini The Crafstman’s Handbook, c1400
For drawing is not just about line, it is about the medium you use. It doesn’t have to be for public.( I’m sure poor Van Dyck would be horrified to see his drawing on show.)
So draw in a sketch book or doodle every day – not for end result but for the process itself.
May 19 2017
2nd Year student and De Laszlo scholar Nneka Uzoigwe took the opportunity to visit the Fantin Latour Exhibition in Paris. It has now moved to Grenoble until 18th June. I remember taking a train to the Bowes Museum to see an exhibition of his work. It was definitely worth it.
This Spring I was lucky enough to make a day trip to Paris. It’s purpose was to go see, ‘A Fleur de Peau’, the first and rather monumental retrospective of Henri Fantin-Latour since 1982. As a favourite artist of mine the exhibition did not disappoint. Displayed at Musee du Luxembourg were over a hundred paintings and works on paper by Latour, as well a collection of rare private photos and lithographs displayed alongside working drawings, illustrating Fantin’s amazing imagination in translating reality through to mythology and symbolism.
One of the things that surprised me the most, was the feel of optical illusion when viewing his work in person. I spent a lot of time in the exhibition walking back and forth in amazement. Fantin’s paintings are highly detailed but only more so from a distance and when flattened in photos. So this made it hard to photograph certain area’s, when I wanted to take some personal visual notes on his possible processes of application and layering. Up-close a lot of the brush marks were broad and rough and built up in careful layers of thin to thick, which expertly brought to light what could be achieved by simply following the same processes we’ve been learning at the studio.
A couple of notes I took –
Figures sketched in thin wash soft grisaille – then opaque mid tones brushed on showing form and brush marks – thick dry lightest lights then applied – then colourful glazes and thin opaque darks.
Warmth of background shown through leaves and stems.
If a cold background – a warm transparent umber wash applied first – before adding on opaque greens thinly and expressively for the leaves.
Background pre-prepared for still lives – flowers built up in thin colours and darks sketched in in rich glazes – lights dryly and thickly put in.
May 2 2017
Howard Hodgkin; Absent Friends
National Portrait Gallery
23rd March-18th June
Yesterday I went to the Howard Hodgkin portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It would not be my show of choice but a dear friend absolutely loves his work and wanted to take a couple of us to see his work.
She was right to bring us; it was so lovely to go to an exhibition, which was just about colour and feeling. A disregard for representation and shapes and why not? If the colours and patterns of shapes work together and balance, which with Hodgkin they do, then the abstraction is rather refreshing and liberating.
This portrait of Peter Cochrane is the most figurative. I love the bold colour and patterns!
Most shows zoom through an artist’s life chronologically or within subject matter. Here the show started with one of his later pieces and most abstract. It really helped put the rhythm of the subsequent paintings within a context: Seeing the end to understand the beginning. In his painting Absent Friends, is the title ironic or is it even prosaic of me to think that?
During the war as a young boy, Hodgkin was an evacuee to New York City thereby having the opportunity to visit MOMA and be in a city not focused and devastated by war. This must have been a huge influence. What sort of an artist he would have been if he’d been an evacuee to Wales like my father?
On returning to England he studied at Camberwell under the tutelage of Coldstream. I love Coldstream’s paintings, not least because I was lucky enough that my dining hall at school was hung with Coldstream paintings, (apparently he partly paid the school fees with paintings).
So as with NYC and Wales… I wonder how my artwork would have differed if it had been Hodgkin’s paintings informing every mealtime rather than Coldstream.
With all of Coldstream’s measuring and observation, what they would have thought of each other.
After Camberwell, Hodgkin went to study in Bath where the tutors were much more open to his ideas. Ironically the examples the NPG showed of his time in bath were his most figurative, some of the most wonderful and powerful portrait drawings in Pencil from around 1953, with a strong use of line and mass. I’m sure Coldtream with all his meticulousness and measuring gave Hodgkin a thorough grounding, to help the leap into abstraction.
His philosophy on the abstraction from the figurative portrait is equally applied to his use and deconstruction of the frames. It is very playful.
To choose a favourite would be difficult, though the one that sticks in my mind is probably one of the most figurative. I just found the character leaning over very enchanting and the colours so refreshing. Perhaps it is its figurative nature that makes it memorable to me.
If the paintings are about a response to people and memory, I would ask if he either has a very rich visual memory, or are his paintings an emotional response to the memory? – two very different things, and in my mind, the latter easier to access.
I wonder what was going on in his mind? Was he being playful or utterly sincere? I do hope a little playful, as this would give the work some freshness and would take away the pretense of some of the written word!
If you do go and see the exhibition it is a wonderful tour de force in colour and colour combinations, in patterns and juxtaposition of shapes.
Apr 25 2017
Tim Daost has been studying with us for some years. He has received both the De Laszlo Scholarship and was awarded Artist in Residence at Leighton House Museum. We have been fortunate that he has given a series of lectures at the studios on perspective and most recently on the American Illustrators. Here is a brief synopsis of his fascinating talk.
One of the main reasons I wanted to study traditional drawing and painting techniques was to improve my ability to tell stories visually. I have always loved the way a good illustration can transport you to another world, and admire artists who can use realism in imaginative ways.
Although slightly less famous in the UK, the American Illustrator Norman Rockwell has long been considered a master of visual storytelling by the US public.
The more I practiced traditional figure drawing the more I wondered how Rockwell and his contemporaries became such amazing figurative artists and illustrators. I decided to explore this topic more in a talk I gave at the studio in November 2016.
A large part of the story of American Illustration comes back to the Art Students League in New York City. Every time I found an illustration from the early 20th century with amazing figurative work and researched the artist’s background I discovered that they spent some time at the Art Students League or in Paris at Academie Julian.
Researching a bit about the training at the Art Students League around the 1900s explains how its students became so influential. At the time the League had three incredibly influential teachers: George Bridgman, Robert Henri, and Frank Dumond. All three of these teachers had trained at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts or Academie Julian, some directly under the tutelage of France’s foremost academic artist, William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
Here are a few images of students training at the Art Students League – the setup should seem familiar to anyone who studies here at London Fine Art Studios.
One of the longest standing teachers at the Art Students League, George Bridgman, wrote some of the most influential books on figure drawing that are still in wide use today and can be bought at the studio shop Lavender Hill Colours. Here you can see examples of the work from his class.
Robert Henri, another instructor at the League, wrote the highly influential book The Art Spirit.
Frank Dumond, who exhibited at the Paris Salon and won a medal, can be seen in the photos above teaching cast drawing.
It is no surprise that instructors of this calibre were able to turn Norman Rockwell into one of America’s best illustrators by the time he was 20. Rockwell matured as an illustrator at a very fortuitous time, since the technical circumstances of the time made illustration the dominant form of advertisement.
During the 19th century lithography, photography, and printing were making it possible to mass produce black and white images cheaply. Colour printing was a more complicated process, but by 1904 rotary offset lithography made it possible to mass produce colour images. Although colour printing was possible, colour photography was still a challenging process until 1935 when Kodak introduced Kodachrome film. This meant that mass produced colour advertisements required an illustrator from the early 1900s until about 1935.
This opportunity was taken up by many other Art Students League students: Walter Biggs and Howard Pile were all former students at the forefront of American Illustration.
Illustrators from outside the League were also popular; a little research tends to reveal that they also had an academic background. J.C Leyendecker was America’s leading illustrator before Rockwell. He studied under John Vanderpool, the Dutch-American artist and author of the book “The Human Figure” which is still widely used in art schools today. Leyendecker continued his studies at Academie Julian in Paris.
Leyendecker’s images for Saturday Evening Post defined the modern look of Santa (often mis-attributed to a subsequent Coca-Cola campaign that clearly references these images), and his work for Arrow Shirts advertising helped define the fashion sense of the 1920s.
N.C Wyeth is also considered one of America’s greatest illustrators. He trained under Howard Pyle, who was in turn trained by F.A Van der Wellen from the Antwerp Academy of the Arts. It is hard to find exact details on how Pyle was trained, but it is clear the Van der Wellen had his students draw from casts. Pyle also briefly trained at the Art Students League, and it is reasonable to surmise that Pyle trained Wyeth using the classical techniques that he learned from the league and Van der Wellen.
Wyeth completed an incredible 3,000 paintings (an average of 6 per month during his working career) and illustrated 112 books (2 -3 per year) during his career. Maintaining such a pace would require spending no more than 25 – 35 hours per painting.
Apr 19 2017
This term I wanted to understand how to complete a longer more complicated still life. I planned to use a bountiful supply of spring flowers. Due to their short life, they would of course have to be replaced weekly. Here is a collection of images documenting these few weeks.
I started to build up the bouquet of flowers in my composition, a small bunch at a time. This meant I could concentrate on a small section of one or two flowers a session. This allowed time to finish each collection of flowers to the desired amount of finish and detail. The central poppy alone took me two full consecutive days in class.
The most challenging part was designing of the composition. Not all the flowers I chose, worked in the set-up; when in the painting they sometimes clashed with the overall colour harmony, focal point, general feel and texture of the other flowers. So a lot of time was also spent editing in a variety of different flowers and painting over or wiping off what didn’t work.
When adding in the flowers one by one, I had to be aware of keeping a natural flow and structure, to stop a staged feel. Paying special attention to creating natural overlaps and where light and shadows would consequently fall, helped do this. Near the end additional shadows were carefully glazed in, as well as reflected colours on some of the flowers to echo their surrounding environment.