April 2013

Recommended Reading – Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides

Some of you have been asking about books that I recommend, so here is the first one.  Probably you’ve got this one, or heard of it.  If you haven’t already done so, please get this book and go through it.  It’s got some great illustrations and outlines some atelier practices.  Fantastic resource and a good addition to your library !

It’s available at Amazon.ca

Positioning the Feet on a Standing Figure

In drawing a standing figure, we aim to capture the essential gesture of the pose and the balance and rhythm of the model.  This is achieved through capturing the diagonals that represent the inclinations of the weight-bearing leg, the torso and the head.   In doing this, it is essential to locate the feet of the model accurately in vertical relationship to the torso and especially the head.  An accurate placement of the feet is critical to achieving balance.

There a number of exercises that the student can do as homework to train the eye to depict feet.  The first one is an exercise to hone our skills in planting standing feet firmly on the ground.

From many perspectives, the base of the model’s feet are not exactly horizontal, and the natural inclination for so many people, is to exaggerate the diagonal base line of the feet.  This gives the viewer an uncomfortable feeling that the model is standing on tippy-toes or even levitating.

The following are examples of feet exercises done by some of students in Florence.  I’d recommend for anyone attending drop-in life drawing sessions where the early poses are very quick, to concentrate on doing such drawings.

Block in the feet and draw in the legs up to the knees.

You can also draw a box around the feet to knee section and tone in the negative shape, in order to use the latter to check the positive shapes.

Focus on the base line of the feet (indicated by the red lines).

And secondly, focus on the distance and horizontal relationship between the two feet (indicated by the green lines).

The next post will look at exercises to be done from mastercopies.

Great Documentary to Watch

The documentary is called “Why Beauty Matters” and is a BBC Scotland production.  This was one episode in a BBC production on Modern Beauty and this one centres around the British philosopher, Roger Scruton’s impassioned case for the need to restore Beauty in our modern day world.  I first saw this video during in Florence, and it has made the rounds of ateliers and art academies on both sides of the Atlantic.  So much so, that Roger Scruton has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the next international representational art conference in 2014.


Fiona Howatt, a friend and philosophy major from St. Andrew’s University, has graciously written this synopsis of the documentary for us:

For renowned British philosopher and writer Roger Scruton, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. It is, in fact, an objective truth which has a significant part to play in the arts and in our everyday lives. His 2009 documentary, ‘Why Beauty Matters’, is a thought-provoking essay, which argues that the modern art of the twentieth century has turned its back on beauty, inflicting a culture of degradation and ugliness on mankind in the process. As a result, Scruton maintains that we are losing beauty and, with it, the sacred meaning of life.

For over 2,000 years, beauty was deemed to be essential to our civilisation. Many philosophers argued that our pursuit of beauty shaped the world we lived in and helped us understand our own nature as spiritual and moral creatures. Beauty, therefore, is an universal need of human beings, like truth and goodness. If we ignore such a need, Scruton maintains that we are left to wander unconsoled in a vast ‘spiritual desert’, isolated and alone. 

The great artists of the past, according to Scruton, were fully aware that human lives are full of chaos and hardship. They believed that the best solution for such suffering was to make beauty the ultimate objective of art. A beautiful work of art brings consolation in sorrow and affirmation in joy. In other words, beautiful art shows us that human life has meaning and is worthwhile. Yet, at the beginning of the twentieth century, many artists had grown tired and weary of carrying out this supposedly “sacred” task. They believed that the random nature of modern life could not be redeemed or vindicated by art. Instead, art could only reflect and depict how the world really is; the here and the now with all its imperfections. 

This line of thought, according to Scruton, was set in motion by the French artist Marcel Duchamp in 1917, when he submitted the scandalous work ‘Foundation’ (a urinal signed with a fictitious signature) in an exhibition for the Society of Independent Artists. Duchamp’s submission was supposed to be a satirical attack on the world of art, designed to mock its traditional methods and its condescending attitudes. However, ‘Foundation’ was also interpreted in another way; claiming that anything can be a work of art. Scruton goes on to suggest that, thanks to Duchamp’s legacy, contemporary art has been reduced to a ‘cult of ugliness’ as art no longer required any element of skill or taste. Modern art, in other words, has become just another meaningless human gesture like laughing or shouting. 

For Scruton, creativity is the essential ingredient in every true piece of art. Creativity, he says, is about sharing; it is a call to others to experience the world as the artist sees it, to feel and understand the artist’s emotions. But creativity alone is not enough and the skill of the artist needed ‘to show the real in the light of the ideal and so transfigure it’. Scruton goes on to say that there are objective standards of beauty which have a firm foundation in our nature and that we need to search for them and incorporate them into our everyday lives.

In his documentary, Scruton looks at a number of philosophers’ views on beauty, including Plato and Kant’s, in order to reinforce his own impassioned case for the importance of beauty in art. For Plato, beauty is the sign of another and higher order and to see it was to cultivate true virtue. We human beings aspire to the eternal realm where we are united with the divine. Whilst we can not know this transcendental world directly, Plato believes that human beings may catch glimpses of ‘that heavenly sphere’ through the experience of beauty. Beauty, therefore, was considered by Plato to be a transcendental visitor from a higher realm and we can only ever contemplate its pure radiance and brilliance. Beauty, for Plato, is a path to a higher realm, and if we attempt to possess it or manipulate with it, we desecrate it, tainting its spiritual aura. 

Kant, one of the key philosophers of the Enlightenment era, claims that the experience of beauty comes when we take an disinterested attitude towards things; when we put our own interests to one side and look upon things, not in order to use them for our own ends or to satisfy some animal appetite, but to simply engage with them and endorse them for what they are. For Kant, experiences of beauty connects human beings with the ultimate question of existence, raising them to a higher level of spirituality, and delivering them from the banality of mundane experience.

So, it seems that when we examine the history of the idea of beauty, philosophers and artists had good reasons to identify the beautiful with the sacred, and to see that the need for beauty is something deep and inherent within our nature. Contemporary artists, however, look upon this notion of sacred beauty with contempt, seeing it as a mere leftover of an old fashioned way of living which has no real connection to our modern surroundings. They feel the need rebel against the traditional pursuit of beauty and they do so by treating and depicting human life in demeaning ways. For Scruton, this willful desecration by today’s artists is an denial of love and shows this postmodern era of art is an unfeeling and cruel one. As a result, our spiritual needs which are so essential to our wellbeing remain unfulfilled.

As contemporary art turned its back on beauty in its own self-indulgent pursuit of originality, Scruton argues it has become a slave to our consumer culture, feeding our animalistic addictions and appetites and wallowing in self disgust. By creating a ‘cult of ugliness’, modern art fails to satisfy any of our spiritual needs and thus leads us into a ‘spiritual desert’. The only way out of this, according to Scruton, is to reinstate beauty to its rightful position as the ultimate objective of art and at the heart of our culture.

Recently, Scruton has been announced as the keynote speaker at next year’s Representational Art Conference in California where the focus will be on the aesthetic principles and values implicit in the representational art of the 21st Century. 

Displaying some of my work

This weekend is the North Short Art Crawl in North and West Vancouver.


There will be lots of other artists opening their studios to the public the whole weekend.

I’ve been given an opportunity to show my work and do a demo at the Music Box, 1564 Argyle Avenue, West Vancouver, on Saturday 11am-5pm.

It’s a lovely location, right on the waterfront, and I will be on the upper floor, all naturally lit from overhead skylights.

Please come and visit !

– copy after Mariano Fortuny

Shadow Shapes: Examples from Life Drawing

As a follow-up to the last blog, with examples from mastercopies of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, with their corresponding shadow shapes, here are some examples from one of my Florence students, Randy, of shadow shapes from the live model.

In all three cases, we did not take the drawing further into the realm of a finished drawing, that is, put in the fall of light and big form modelling.  Rather, these drawings are sketches, which is to say: measured porportions, proper balance and composition, construct, well-articulated and refined shadow shapes, some modeling of structural half-tones in the lights, and some accents in the shadows.  This is the goal we are aiming for in a one-evening pose.

Articulating and Massing in the Shadows

The question has come up a number of times in class as to what constitutes a shadow and at what stage of the drawing should one differentiate between differing values of shadow.
The most important principle to remember is that shadow is where light from the single direct light source doesn’t reach.  So, if the light is coming from top left, it stands to reason that everything facing away from that light source does not receive direct light, and therefore it’s in shadow.  In this example, where light is from top left, all planes facing to the right and facing down, will be in shadow.  
Inside the shadows there may be some light bouncing back off a prop or another part of the body, back into the shadows.  That is called reflected light and is part of the family of the shadows.
Derek has kindly done a tracing for us of all the shadows in this Prud’hon figure and filled it in with a value #5.  This is the stage that every drawing should get to, before proceeding to the rendering of the lights and the variations of the darks.  The shadow shapes, and the light shapes are well articulated, and there is now a foil of grey for all the shadows and a base of white paper for all the lights.  There is no differentiation between lighter and darker shadows, bed-bug line, cast shadows, reflected lights etc.  All the shadows are value #5.
As for the lights, all previous marks, such as construction lines, centre lines, quarter- and half-way measurements are erased.

– Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

In reality, we are less likely to encounter a pose with so very much reflected light, and the following drawing, also from Prud’hon, is a more typical situation.  One again, we have top-left lighting.  Notice how all the shadows are facing away from that top-left.  Especially noteworthy is the lower part of the leg on our right.  It’s facing away from the light, but is getting a lot of reflected light.  According to our light logic, therefore, it belongs to the shadows and is treated as such from the beginning.  It’s worth noting, by contrast, the upper part of the leg on our left.  This part of the leg is a place that is receding in space (slightly) towards a locked knee.  It isn’t quite in shadow, but it is receiving much less light and is therefore part of the darker half-tones.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon