Copying Li Xue Ming (Part II)

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming b 082419

This is Part II of Copying Li Xue Ming. In the video, I’ve chosen a portion of a painting by the artist to sketch. It’s the same painting as the one in Part I, but I focus on the cave, as opposed to the figure inside. I begin by commenting on the work as a whole and then talk through (often rambling, sorry) what I’m thinking while responding to the work with a brush.

It’s fairly long (30:06), and I start sketching (after a trial run) at 6:25 or so.

 

 

Copying Li Xue Ming (Part I)

Li Xue MingI recently moved, and out of the 437 that I own, this is one of the few books I could bring with me. I bought it at a brick and mortar store in China Town in San Francisco a few years ago.

I was having fun exploring the area, so discovering the artist, Li Xue Ming, may seem a little random.

I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, so to speak (IE, just one of those days when you want to discover something that sparks joy in your life), and hitting two birds (or if you want two bottles or two inanimate objects) with one stone, it also gave me a chance to think about how to develop my own style of line by looking at somebody else’s.

This video is of me preparing and using Chinese ink the old-fashioned way while sketching a figure inside one of his paintings.

I’m also preparing Part II, where I give a response to the work and sketch what surrounds the figure.

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming 082419

Graphics of the German Expressionists

Sabarsky, Graphics of the German ExpressionistsIt occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of my art in terms of the line. The approach to German Expressionism, for example, I think was to focus not on the line but on how colors fill up space, particularly black; even how the lines fill up space, as they are so thick.

I happened to have the book, Graphics of the German Expressionists (1984), by Serge Sabarsky, on my book shelf. (I found this gem in a used book store.) The historical context (1910’s – 1930’s) from which this kind of work arose helps to understand the intent and approach of the artists.

 

The confusion and disorientation of modern man at the turn of the century created a need for immediate and tangible meanings. As a result the arts moved in the direction of a new primitivism. This opened the way to the rediscovery of graphic techniques. In… their woodcuts, the German artists, especially the members of the Brücke, developed a style that used crudely simplified… forms….

… The printing of manifestos especially was almost exclusively done with carved woodblocks. These… were characterized by an immediacy that makes them… as modern today as they were six or seven decades ago. (pp 9 – 10)

I want to emphasize this idea of “immediacy.” In terms of the line, thicker lines are bold and slower to move. It’s not about how well the elements flow but standing one’s ground. Wood blocks, in particular, can be described as emblematic. Or that’s one interpretation.

If I only think in terms of the line, I will be inclined to be guided by how well the lines flow. With the thicker lines you get from a brush, I should think not of how it flows, but how it fills up space. Or, if I want to continue to be guided by the “flow” of elements, I should focus not on two-dimensional depictions of line, but on three-dimensional depictions of how the “line” seems to fill up the illusion of space.

But this moves us away from German Expressionism, as the flatness of their work is another quality the artists commonly used for effect. Their work was intentionally made simple, in order to be emotionally accessible.

Below is a video that looks at specific examples and is not so much a book review as some first impressions of this movement and graphic art in general.

I start talking about the book at 1:26. 

 

Salvaging Old Drawings: Solar Flare

I have a few things that are products of automatic drawing, which I’ve put aside for a while. I always wanted to do something with them but, until now, I couldn’t think of anything.

They are works in progress. (Sorry, more incomplete work.) But they share something in common: each were completed in one sitting but can be used as an “element” in a larger work.

For the first two, I was limited by the actual surface area.

033018

When I ran out of room, I simply stopped. This was last year and at the time I wasn’t at home, where I could reach for a larger piece of paper, and once I was home, I had stepped out of the right frame of mind and didn’t bother trying to find it again.

Drawing, Teel SaleWell, in 2009, I had bought a book that takes you through techniques in contemporary drawing (Drawing, 5th edition (2003), by Teel Sale, et al), and recently, an image I’d seen while flipping through its pages, had lead me to a place, mentally, where I could expand on the above ideas.

It was Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain Addendum 1 (1991-1992). It’s on p. 60, in Chapter 2, which is on “gesture and other beginning approaches,” and is used as an example of a continuous drawing.

 

Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Addendum, 1991You know how they say, “There’s no role too small for an actor?” It reminds me that, no matter how basic one’s approach is, you can still create something as moving and intriguing as this.

Material used were ink, ink wash and gouache on paper, which also gives me ideas, although, for now, I’m sticking to ballpoint pen, at least until I’m sure of what I’m doing.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (1).JPG

I’m tentatively calling this Solar Flare. I made a carbon copy of the top drawing (above) and considered simply repeating it over and over again… but it quickly started looking like a wallpaper design.

Do you see how in the initial drawing there appears to be a girl’s head? It’s fine if I do it once, but it’s easy to notice if I do it more than once. I thought it would be enough to change all but one of those places where the girl’s head hows up.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (2).JPG

But it wasn’t enough. I began noticing how the other part of the initial drawing was making patterns. It was becoming “easy,” which doesn’t incline a viewer to keep one’s eyes roaming through the whole work, and although I’d wanted to call this “Wires” before, and even had planned on drawing half of the lines in green pen, I can’t help but see this other part of the initial drawing as a flower.

On the other hand,… maybe I was being too ambitious. Maybe I should see this approach through (using one drawing over and over again). I could be hanging onto the idea only because I like parts of it, mostly the new parts… and it takes a lot of time… and there was so much hope for the initial idea… Sigh…

But I decided to start over again with the intent to use the flower as a recurring element, but to space them out with new lines and to make sure no two flowers are going in the same direction or doing the same exact thing.

I’m in the process of making a carbon copy of the larger work, and along the way, editing the lines or making different choices than the first attempt, one 9″ x 12″ sheet of tracing paper at a time.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch (5)

I never do a good trace, so I really am drawing the image over again, which is good practice for drawing “good” lines and maybe even developing a style… ?

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, edit 1, sketch (6)

So far, this is what I have for my second attempt.

Next: Fire Balloons

 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III B)

In my last post, I said I felt “primed to make a mistake.” It was because, for this drawing to work, I would need to follow the rules of perspective, of which I have had very little practice.

Well, this drawing was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (2)

 

First, I made a couple of studies… and made some obvious mistakes.

 

I really like the outlines and want them to shine. I need to support them, the way merely coloring them in with watercolor did not. While looking to Michelangelo’s  Study of a Mourning Woman, however, I got carried away with the details. Or I thought only of light and shadow, and it was the wrong approach, and it became a mess.

I had to decide on how the lines could work for my flowers. In what way would they serve a realistic depiction of flowers and in what way would they be for effect?

My flowers were abstract from the beginning, and their outlines didn’t justify that much detail. I decided to borrow just one move from Study of a Mourning Woman — using multiple lines to emphasize the direction of each petal.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (1)

I drew guidelines, the kind you use to draw a person’s face, to have an idea where the middle of each petal is, the direction it’s going in, and where there will be a curve that travels perpendiccular to its given direction. The curves will have their own path which needs to be consistent, so when a line crosses the path of a given curve, it will curve at the right moment.

 

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (3)

It was all trial and error. I used a pencil to put down tentative lines which I had to edit by simply asking myself, “Does this look right?” I didn’t draw a single petal the way I wanted to at the first go. But that’s okay. Like I said, it was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i 012119

It helped me appreciate how multiple lines can be more substantial in doing what a single line can do — express movement and even feeling. Giving each petal a direction was like giving each a personality, and in this way, it went beyond style.

Flowers II, Edit I  012119, detail (1).JPG

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (2)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (3)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (4)

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III)

Whenever I get “blocked” (think “writer’s block” but for artists), it’s psychological. I mean it’s not because I’ve inexplicably run out of ideas. It’s usually something else entirely. I’m distracted or… well, it’s usually because I’m distracted, but for a variety of reasons.

Maybe I was looking at Michelangelo too much… but I kept getting the feeling that I was primed to make a mistake, and I just didn’t want to botch something that could look so awesome. Which is absurd at my age… to buckle under some imaginary pressure to do well.

Or the pressure was real but not because of the work itself. It was pressure from just wanting to do it well. Have you ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn, when Holly Golightly starts going on about the “mean reds?” I can’t say it was as dramatic as that, but I was responding to something outside of what I was working on and the work is what suffered.

Not sure where this falls under the bell curve… but I’m better now. I put it aside for Christmas and New Year’s… and on… and then said, f*** it, and started going at it again.

I decided to keep doing what I had already been doing, which I had told myself not to do for fear of making the drawing look too simple. To my surprise, it does not look too simple.

Moreover, while seeing something that works take shape, I began to see the why’s and how’s behind how it works.

VS Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman (SOMW)

 

I had done a few studies with the ambition of making my flowers look as cool as SOMW.  I tried to apply the technique, above, and although I succeeded with the petal that points towards the left (fourth flower, below), I can’t say the same for the petals that are vertical.  Only when I reverted back to doing what I did for the first set of flowers (the drooping ones), did I realize the ambition to look like SOMW was a major part of what “blocked” me.

 

Michelangelo was probably looking at a real live woman, so his ambition was to draw her realistically. On the other hand, it’s not perfectly realistic; IE, there are some “short cuts” or places that don’t require as much detail because other places deserve more attention. These “short cuts” are abstractions  and involve choices having to do with style.

Choosing the balance between realism and abstraction can be a very conscious choice (especially if you’re like me and over-analyze everything).

My Flowers (1) are a product of my imagination and (2) I began with outlines, so my end goal must be an abstraction or much more of one than SOMW. To finish Flowers, I had to decide on the style of lines and follow through with that style. I had to decide on “doing more of the same,” regardless of my fears of ending up with a “simple drawing.”

Flowers II 011319.JPG

People believe SOMW was an early drawing of Michelangelo’s. He was doing what many others were already doing. He just did it extremely well. He had good lines and kept them evenly spaced apart, which yielded great visual rhythm.

My Flowers also rely heavily on visual rhythm. The technique is simple, but it relies on me doing it well. It’s a matter of having good eyes and good hands. and has manifested, thus far, from what was already there, organically.

 

To be continued… 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part II)

When I got the idea of filling the flowers in with hashes, I was probably thinking of Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman. I’d made a copy of it in 2017, and one of the most important lessons I learned, while making copies in general, is that you have to know what you’re looking at.

Study of a Woman in Mouring, scan

When I tried doing the line-work for my flowers, I realized I didn’t have a clear idea of what they looked like if they had volume. It’s tricky because they’re imaginary. I have the freedom to make them look however I want to but it also has to make sense. I mean it can be easy to miss when my mind cheats and makes the contours move a certain way because the lines that represent them look prettier that way.  When adding hashes, it became more obvious that the flowers in my had couldn’t actually work that way… or something interesting must be happening to explain the shape of the outlines.

Maybe it’s the weather… but my head turned to pudding… or as the cliche goes, the work wasn’t “speaking” to me… For some guidance (and maybe some ideas), I took another look at how Michelangelo represented the Mourning Woman.

There are some moves that are very familiar because we see them everywhere in illustrations and cartoons. I imagine many of us used these moves as children when drawing rudimentary representations of household objects, clothes or even people.

Above, I’m looking at the edge of the sleeve, where there’s more light and no shadow between the threads. In real life, we don’t see the total absence of shadows but we do see a contrast, and that’s what this move creates for us. To apply this move ourselves, we need to know where the lines are between light and shadow, while remembering that each line follows a given contour which coincides with some perspective.

Same goes for the depiction of the edge of a fold. The lines, above, follow the contours of the lines or threads which follow the curve of the fabric, and where the lines end creates the path of another line, the path on which the light follows.

Below, the move is a little more sophisticated, and it’s something I hadn’t noticed before. As with the other moves, there are multiple contour lines which individually move in a curve, while the place of each curve varies along a path of a second curve moving in another direction, but the second curve isn’t represented by the lines ending. The lines continue, so the flow of contours continue in both directions.

And finally, below, I’m looking at the straight lines which are more for effect than posterity. It underscores the direction of the hand, which counters the downward direction of the bottom of the dress. It also adds a stiffness or a stillness to the area, which contrasts with the folds and fluidity of other areas. I borrowed this move for some of my flowers.

My flowers are represented in three stages of maturity: before they open, their being newly opened and their wilting. I borrowed the straight lines for the flowers which are not yet opened.

First, I made a carbon copy of just those flowers and then experimented on them. I began with the bottom right flower and tried using straight lines, just as it’s done in Study of a Mourning Woman. This didn’t work, because having lines calls attention to where you don’t have lines, especially where the lines end. It makes it look like there’s a lot of light in the middle of each pedal. It also makes it more childlike and playful and too much like it’s an abstraction. In a Study of a Woman in Mourning, it was for effect, and I realized that’s not what I’m doing here. So I extended the lines in the flower at the bottom left. The lines follow the contours of the flower so they curve in places but they also maintain the freshness of new flowers as their curves are minimal and there are no signs of aging (or softening and eventually wilting).

Looking at the whole picture, I noticed I may have a problem with how this flower overlaps with an opened flower. Would it be too many lines?

I added to the carbon copy and experimented with those two flowers, and yay, there aren’t too many lines. But in the original, the colors of one object change when overlapping with another, I thought maybe I could make every other line blue where the flowers overlap with the vase, so I tried it… and no, it just doesn’t seem necessary, and if it’s not necessary, it’s too much. Also, using the same move on the opened flower made it look a little too stiff.

Here’s Flowers II again.

Flowers II 120418.JPG

And here’s a close-up of where I made changes.

Flowers II 120418, detail

To be continued…

 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part I)

Flowers II 092018

I like the bright colors and the pinks and greens are a good contrast, but I’m far enough away from having drawn it to have a vague sense of it looking “amateurish.” But what does that word mean? And can I get away with it? I may have been thinking of “naive art,” but there is a fine line between “amateur” and “naive.” The first encourages you to change things, while the second ignited an entire art movement.

Let me first look up “naive art.” … Okay, according to our much beloved Wikipedia, “Naïve art is any form of visual art that is created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes (in anatomy, art history, technique, perspective, ways of seeing).”[1]

Well, I can always say I’m “authentic,” as in I am a bona fide amateur. But how can this be art? …

Back to Wikipedia… “Naïve art is recognized, and often imitated, for its childlike simplicity and frankness.[2] Paintings of this kind typically have a flat rendering style with a rudimentary expression of perspective.[3]”

So… It’s imitated by artists who have had formal training in the arts. Which means… “they know what they’re doing.” Sorry, that’s another one of those phrases that get tossed around. Like being “happily surprised” by the results of one’s work in the context of other work having been criticized for being “contrived.” We praise an artist who discovered something, meaning one does not know what one is doing, and criticize an artist for knowing exactly what one is doing (and letting it show in one’s work) which can look “formulaic.” And when looking for the “it” factor, please don’t say, “You’ll know it when you see it.” That’s not helpful.

… Maybe the only way an artist can know what any of this jargon means is by actual experience with producing and evaluating one’s own art and critically seeing others’ art from an artists’ point of view.

So… back to “Flowers”… I admit… I am not “getting away with” … anything. Even for “naive art,” it’s not done well, because the elements of the work lack follow through, and in the end, it shows signs that I did not know what I was doing.

  1. There are streaks in the watercolor, which if done intentionally, could’ve been used to create the illusion of volume. Not that I wanted volume; I wanted solid blocks of color, for which gouache would’ve been good. OTOH, having time to think about it, I’ve decided against using gouache, because I like the translucency of the watercolor of the vases and the flowers often overlap with the vases; and I have other plans for the flowers anyway.
  2. The perspective isn’t only rudimentary. It’s inconsistent. You don’t see a table, but it’s implied the vases are standing on some surface, by virtue of the tops of the vases being visible and elliptical and the vases being somewhat three dimensional. Some of the flowers are also seen at an angle.  So it’s not flat and for the perspective which is there, I failed to follow through. On a more positive note, I’m glad I did not add the details of a surface, and instead allowed for it to only be implied, as I would have had to work that into the composition, as something else that interacts in lines, shapes and colors with the vases and flowers, and that would have been too much. It’s enough to only have vases vs flowers.
  3. Coloring in the flowers freezes the fluidity of the lines. What I liked about the flowers, from the beginning, was there fluidity, and yet (maybe because I was thinking of the flatness of “naive art”), I decided to color them in. The fluidity implies volume, which is three dimensional, while coloring them in makes them flat and two dimensional.. Moreover, once drawn in, some of the flowers lost their sense of being flowers.

Flowers, Edit 1, flowers detail

Over all, I had the problem of being inconsistent, which can lead to the vague criticism of being “amateurish” or “it lacks confidence” or “it lacks focus” or “it follow through.” If I wanted solid blocks of color, I should’ve found a way to make that happen. OTOH, if I wanted the fluidity of the lines, I should’ve found a way to make that work. Same with the perspective. If I didn’t want perspective to rule over this drawing, I shouldn’t have given each object a given angle. However, having given each object an angle, I should’ve followed through with all of them being seen from varying angles, according to how far away the viewer is away from each.

Here goes attempt #2

I made a carbon copy of the original.

Flowers, original , carbon copy.JPG

Flowers, Edit 1.JPG

This was in pencil, of course, on which I could then edit the perspective as well as the composition. There seemed to be too many flowers — a case of “less is more” — which made it “cluttered.” Sorry, more jargon. What I mean is… the flowers were overpowering the vases, and taking out a couple of them allows the vases to be the focal point and compete equally with the flowers.*

This was done on drawing paper and saved as a copy of the second version, below.

Flowers, original.JPG

I then prepared a sheet of watercolor paper by giving it seven washes of tea. (It turns out that I’d been using red tea and not green tea.) It creates a yellowish hue, which I like more than the bright white I began with because it’s more “muted” (or bright white has a greater contrast with the other colors), and doesn’t call as much attention to the negative space… which I have a lot of.*

I’ve also decided to use ink for the flowers, which I intend to fill in with hashes. The translucency of the watercolor is an integral part of how the flowers and vases interact with each other, and using lines not only (1) maintains a sense of translucency, it maintains (2) the fluidity of the original idea for each flower. Now, if I were to only portray the flowers as outlines, as seen below, they may look “unfinished.” Sorry… What I mean is… the flowers have to be substantial enough to compete with the vases. I also cannot forget that the contrast between the pinks and greens was a major element in and of itself and an integral part of the interaction between the flowers and vases. Using red ink (3) will be as good of a contrast as the various shades of pink and (4) filling in details with hashes adds volume helps the flowers compete equally with the vases.*

Flowers, Edit 1, flowers in ink only.JPG

To be continued…

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* The paragraphs which are followed with an asterisk were edited 11/29/18.

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The below references are for the quotes from Wikipedia and taken from the Wikipedia page on Naive art.

  1. Benedetti, Joan M. (19 April 2008). “Folk Art Terminology Revisited: Why It (Still) Matters”. In Roberto, K. R. Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front. McFarland. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-4766-0512-8.
  2.  Walker, John Albert (26 April 1992). Glossary of Art, Architecture, and Design Since 1945. London: Library Association Publishing. p. 433. ISBN 978-0-85365-639-5OCLC 26202538.
  3. Matulka, Denise I. (2008). “Anatomy of a Picture Book: Picture, Space, Design, Medium, and Style § Naïve Art”A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books. Westport: Libraries Unlimited. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-59158-441-4OCLC 225846825.

Don

Trees Don 101818

Here’s another version of Don. Getting better acquainted with applying ink onto paper. Very flexible medium. Training myself to be as gentle as I can be… like a whisper of dandelion blowing through the wind… sigh… Or like a machine set at a certain height above the surface. Any random shake or spasm in the hand and you have to do another layer of ink to make up the difference in how dark one line is compared to all others.

Sigh.

For a discussion about Don and previous versions, please see Trees and More Trees.

Materials

Ink (Blic fine gel pen)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)