Friday, May 15, 2015

GJ Book Club, Chapter 7: "The Study of Drawing"

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 7, "The Study of Drawing," from Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.
I look forward to your thoughts, and I enjoyed the discussion last week.

1. Line drawing vs. mass drawing
In this short chapter, Speed hammers home his thesis about how there are two basic approaches: line drawing and mass drawing. This distinction is so important to the book so far, that I tried to see if I could diagram how clusters of ideas group with each point of view:

Line Drawing————Mass Drawing

2. Squareness may be looked for in the drawing

In general, I agree with Speed, who captions this diagram with the point that "flatness gives strength to the forms." I've always thought of this in term of how planes and straight lines give vigor to form. Also, using straight line segments is a useful drawing method as an early step for achieving accuracy.

But the diagram confuses me a little bit. I can see that he is interpreting the Rubens drawing in terms of short, straight line segments, but someone could also interpret it in terms of round lines and bulging forms. So why is he looking for "squareness" in this drawing?

3. The student should study simultaneously from these two points of view....And the qualities of each point of view should be studied separately.
In other words, you can't just do a line drawing and hope the tone will work out later. These are two fundamentally different ways of seeing and the student should pursue them as a different set of challenges.

He points out that students, before they get to painting, should have some elementary tone exercises under their belts. Form expression with tone requires some comfort with the elements of tonal language that Speed is talking about in the book so far.

I hope I'm not missing any big points in this small chapter, and I look forward to your comments about it.

The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club Facebook page  (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Overview of the blog series


Jared Cullum said...

I recently listened to a podcast where a woman kept referring to using "straight-line block-in."
Are you familiar with that term? Is that essentially the same concept as the "squareness" concept?
That approach was completely new to me, as was the whole idea of "mass drawing." Since I started, I've always just tried to draw the contour lines I see as accurately as possible. I have found it really helpful to use the squareness approach to make measurement notes in the initial drawing, such as "edge of the shoulder points to top of the ear" and that sort of thing.
Forgive me if this is a redundant comment. I didn't go to school for drawing so a lot of the terms go right over my head and I feel pretty dumb talking about it. :)

James Gurney said...

Jared, these are really helpful and insightful questions. The straight line block-in is a method used for accurate drawing, and is a foundational principle for the "Charles Bargue" system often used by the academic ateliers. By drawing the boundary or "envelope" of the form in terms of simplified line segments, it's much easier to make correct judgments. You would do this instinctively if you were give the task of copying the the shape of Virginia's coastline from a map.

Beyond its usefulness as a drawing method, I think there's another principle at work aesthetically: that shapes drawn with mainly straight lines, or 3D forms made up of flat planes, have more force or vigor, looking more like a wood carving. You'll see a lot of the planar thinking in Bridgman's life drawing.

In other schools of drawing, especially animation art, you'll often hear people talk about alternating straights and curves for the best aesthetic effect.

Beware of these and all systems if they ever get in the way of seeing.

Chris James said...

Angle and proportion are easier to perceive with straight lines, for when someone runs into trouble trying to judge those things. Helps solve placement issues. I never liked straight lines in figure drawing (convex lines define the classical look ), but it is useful for the initial lay-in.

Dean Johnson said...

3. James, thanks for your synopsis! Speed mentions sculptors drawings, and I'm interested in knowing what he is referring to. I would guess he means that you are understanding, or able to construct what you are drawing, in your mind, or on paper, as you do your line drawing, like Loomis did for the construction of the head and figure. In other words you know how the part you see relates to the rear part of your subject as it turns out of your view, as a sculptor would have to understand it fully to build it.
I like his metaphor of two paths meeting, like when a long bridge is built and they are to meet exactly in the middle: "United at last, when complete light and shade has been added to his outline drawings, and to his mass drawing an intimate knowledge of form, the results will approximate and the two paths will meet." He seems to say that an understanding of how a form is constructed will help give direction to one's brush strokes.
On a materials note, I used to tape several .5 mm mechanical pencil leads together with a piece of masking tape to make a sort of graphite paint brush. Has anyone else experimented with this sort of thing?

Rich said...

I'm somehow fascinated how he "blocked out" this Rubens.

"Block out" or "Block in"; dunno the exact difference. Perhaps the "squareness concept" applies to both ?:

Haven't known this wonderful Rubens sample before. The figure's left arm and hand are pure line drawing, I've noticed so far.

Daulat Neupane said...

Regarding the "Squareness" of forms, I think speed wanted us to view the squareness as being the reason behind the strength that the figure by Rubens shows, not as a way to block a figure when starting out.

It's more like an analysis rather than a method. The study by Rubens, has a very flat look to it, which is imparted by very low variations of values across the forms in light, suggesting a very flat and stable build. This effect is more pronounced by the range of values the figure has. There isn't much role of mid-tones in this study, as the planes abruptly seem to change direction as suggested by the values, making the forms seem planar and geometrical.

And it's quite fascinating to wonder about why angular and geometrical forms impart a sense of strength in us. I like to relate this to the way objects in nature assume their shape when left undisturbed. Everything, seems to take a more rounded shape in a world like ours, with gravity and atmosphere, unless subjected to external forces or disturbances. So the very idea of angularity suggests revolt, a sign of life or a will to withstand so to say. This idea seems to be ingrained in us somehow.

James Gurney said...

Daulat: what a profound thought -- that squareness and roundness are related to aspects of life, time and nature. It got me to thinking about various paradigms: New broken stone, planar vs. stream worn stone, rounded. Baby, rounded vs. old person, planar. Wood carving, planar vs. weathered wood rounded. Cute prey animal, rounded vs. toothy predator spikey. These ideas are powerful for character designers, type designers, and picture-makers in general.

Rich, I haven't heard "block out" as often as "block in," but I guess both terms mean the same thing.

Dean, I'm glad you brought up "sculptor's drawings, because that caught my eye, too. I think of the drawings of Carpeaux or Rodin, whose drawings really seem more concerned with gesture, proportion, and form, than with appearances of light.

Chris, your point reminds me of a classic debate in figure drawing: Does the figure have any true concavities, or is it made up of smaller convexities? Try cupping the palm of your hand and looking at the small forms.

Daulat Neupane said...

James: Thanks for the follow up. Some great examples you have given. And yeah this shape paradigms have always had a profound impact on the visual media industry, the most prominent in the animation industry i think. The character designs, even the environments and architectures had a distinct geometrical significance in them, which added another layer of believability, as well as making them memorable, as we tend to remember shapes better. Manipulating shapes to insinuate feelings is a powerful tool animators employ.

Rich said...

...on the other hand I've heard the term "blackout" more often than "blackin"...:o)

seadit said...

I've been thinking about this chapter all week and put some of the ideas to practice during a 3 hour figure drawing session this morning that featured poses of roughly 25 minutes. Started blocking in the shapes with each pose with varying success (really helped when I was blocking in the entire figure), but in most cases found myself using shading and value blocks to help nail down the perspective and proportions, and rounding out things rather quickly once I was satisfied I had gotten it right or close. The figure was a slender woman, and I've only been back to drawing for almost 6 months, so I would not draw any definitive conclusions yet other than these continued discussion and Speed's book make for an interesting study as I refine my approach to drawing and art in general.

As always, thanks for interesting and helpful discussion.

Annie C Curtis said...

There's an awful lot in Speed that I don't understand, but point 3, about advancing from the line and the mass drawings together, and aiming to marry both techniques, really chimed with me. It's with the mass side of things I have real difficulty with. I find it strange, however, that Speed emphasizes line as producing lively design; maybe I'm misinterpreting, but to me, design is about how everything works together on the page or canvas?

Daulat Neupane said...

Annie, I think what speed means by lines producing lively designs has to do more with the visual aspect of the design rather than the "actual" design. Lines bear similar role in design as Skeletal structure does in our body. It holds the design. Drafting a design in mere lines, emphasizes the core of it and also helps delineate the design elements better, how they work and subordinate, essentially the functional aspects.

Whereas, mass rendering has an enveloping quality, which helps give design weight and volume. This brings the design into our world of light and atmosphere, makes it easier to relate to it.

And when they are both combined, they produce something that's very hard,(dare I say impossible?) to achieve through just either one of these. But when an artist tries to capture design with just either one of these, when done fairly well, is a delight to watch.