Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Another leaf at the back while I think about foreshortening

So yesterday was Columbus Day and everyone had a jolly good day off of work apart from our household, which knuckled down. I hid in the studio much of today. A dicky tummy meant it took me forever to get going, but I eventually sorted myself out. I felt like I hadn't made much progress considering the amount of focusing I had done, but actually, after taking these photographs I have come to realise that I did manage to translate quite a bit to paper. Tonight will be a Hosta dream night for sure. I always get at least one plant-themed dream while I paint a plant, and it's usually after that dream that I finally feel like I have cracked it and paint rather quickly from then on. Usually it happens a bit sooner, but I haven't been sleeping in my new room, so it's taken a while this time around. Plus I haven't sat with the Hosta for long periods of time until recently.  

Hosta - a work in progress

A close up so you can see that more paint and refinement is still required

A close up on the Hosta

So a little take on my views on foreshortening - as requested by some of you... This is going to be tricky for me, as I have had no training, but I am going to give it a shot. 

Foreshortening refers to the visual effect, or optical illusion, that an object or distance appears shorter than it actually is because it is angled toward the viewer. It's a tricky business interpreting the wonder that is our life here in three dimensional form at the best of times, let alone processing it all and transmitting it onto paper. Sometimes I really wish I could glimpse other dimensions in order to put mine into perspective. We take our 3D-ness for granted, and I think that is why it becomes so tricky to describe on the page. Conveying something that is 3D onto a flat surface something is difficult, but a great work out for the eyes, arms, fingers and brain (and maybe even the breath depending on how hard you are concentrating). 

As image-makers one thing is for certain, none of us can avoid perspective and foreshortening. If you want to your drawings to have a believable sense of volume and depth, you do need to develop a sound working knowledge of foreshortening and perspective. Here is a nice little video on foreshortening. I rather like what he does at about 8 minutes in. This is for figure drawing, but the same rules apply for any subject.

I think this is rather good at roughly 8 mins into the film

In the case of the Hosta, I have one leaf coming towards me and three going away. I usually find leaves that are coming towards me easier to deal with. My top tip, get your lines right at the beginning. So much information can be transmitted just by line. Lines are powerful. Use your eyes really carefully and question them. I think it is important to question your work all the way through the process at regular intervals (don't over do it as it can become too analytical though). The most important time to question your work and subject is right at the start. Question the arrangement and the space around the subject as much as the subject itself. What is that space saying? Is the space talking to the subject? What is this interaction? How does this plant interact with it's space, does it like it there and which direction does it grow through that space?

This is what I ask myself. So, when I start to draw the line, I double check all of the time. I start with the stems because that is what each leaf is perched on. These stems are literally supporting the leaves and therefore the scaffolding for the entire subject. I notice that there is a stem coming towards me, but that is all I do. I just give it a 'nod' and try to disregard it.  I use my pencil as a measuring tool and try my hardest to treat like all the other stems. If I think about it too much, my brain will start drawing what it thinks it sees and none of us want that. I do the same for the leaves, getting all of those lines drawn in (only the midrib and veins) using my eyes all of the time. So I guess my advice is to not trust what you think you see - ask if it is what you truly are seeing all of the time and if it is how it really is (nb. your brain is likely to be tricking you somewhere here). 

A close up on the Hosta

The leaves of a Hosta are pretty easy to foreshorten in a way, as they have parallel veins, but they are a nightmare in that they have highly rippled surfaces. I know that it is these ripples are what is really going to help give a sense of perspective. So, I mark a few of the strongest ones in with a pencil, but not many as I hate pencil. With the leaves that are going away from me, I can see that as the leaf goes away, the ripples get shallower, smaller and lighter. There is less contrast. However, in the case of the leaf that is coming out at me, this is in fact turned on its head. As the leaf comes towards me the ripples again become closer together, but the contrast intensifies and the lines become more crisp. When I add colour, I continue on this theme. I try to draw what I see to start with, but by the time the layers of paint build up I often have to start referring to photographs, as the plant has moved. I rather like doing this as I can feel my brain having to deal with the 3D and 2D complex in a multitude of forms. Photographs can help to bridge the gap between worlds.

The Hosta in it's entirety - still loads of work to do! £500 unframed when finished

Plants are tricky to foreshorten, because not all of the leaves are the same size and you can't use basic mathematical rules as you can in life drawing. However, I always thought that made them easier to paint, because one has a little more flexibility. If someone paints a human with one arm disproportionately longer than the other, we are going to notice. It's going to look rather odd, but with plants, well... its flexible. The only time when it isn't, is when working with flowers that from a single species, as these will be all of the same size, or cones. ARGH! Cones... Foreshortening a cone is still the hardest thing I have ever done (actually no, the hardest thing was to paint a pebble - still can't do it). How I go about things is to practice, breaking tasks down into bite sized chunks, remembering to feel. For me it's about the relationship of the subject with its environment and then my relationship to the subject and my environment and then bringing it all together into something whole some and spiritual.

I will move onto light next and how I work with light. Light is very important when working with perspective, it is what will give the piece form.

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