Friday, June 12, 2015

GJ Book Club, Chapter 11: Variety of Line

On the GJ Book Club, we're looking at Chapter 11: "Rhythm, Variety of Line" Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing. The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in boldface, 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.

1. Line Rhythm depends on the shape of your lines, their relation to each other and their relation to the boundaries of your panel.
He continues that circles and straight lines can be dull because of their lack of variety and that they're seldom used except to enhance the variety of other lines.

Naturally, I thought of Alphonse Mucha, one of the great pictorial designers, who uses the circle and the straight line as 2D design elements. But he varies the edges of those geometric lines and interrupts them with overlapping forms so that it's not too mechanical.

In his essay on design, Mucha makes a strong case for the necessity of book or magazine cover illustrations to reinforce the shape of the page or cover.
Like Rockwell, J. C. Leyendecker used the standard circle device of the Saturday Evening Post magazine. He also used horizontal or vertical lines inside the picture that were parallel to the edges of the magazine itself. 

Speed then goes on to discuss ellipses and egg shapes, which have more variety, since their curvatures are constantly changing. That made me think of the evolution of character design at the Disney studios, which started out as a lot of circle shapes early on, and over time the characters kept getting the redesign treatment.

2. Speed's "Variety in Symmetry" diagrams  

One of the most valuable takeaways from this chapter are the two diagrams showing how convex roundness (B) on one side of an arm or leg is often opposed by hollows (A) on the other side.

Here's the idea played out on the whole figure. Hollows (A) vs. Convexities (B). 

It's helpful to look across the form to compare the kinds of lines and to allow them to answer each other.

Walt Stanchfield, from Drawn to Life 
Other drawing teachers suggest contrasting straights against curves across the form. Animation teacher Walt Stanchfield, in his book Drawn to Life, talks about comparing straights and curves across the form as an expression of how the form is bending.

3. Greeks did away with the indentation above the nose.
I've always wondered about this, because it is such a consistent feature of Greek art and Victorian art. I haven't met too many people who really look like this. Speed says the Greeks chose to sculpt the ideal face that way to create more unity of line, extending the line of the forehead down along the nose without breaking it with an angle or an indentation. 

By saying "shape of your lines" he's reminding us that lines can function in two ways: the edges of shapes and standalone lines.
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)
3. Free online edition.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club on Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
New GJ Facebook page, credit Jenna Berry


Jessica M. Boehman said...

Do you have a link to the Mucha essay on his design choices?

Jim Langer said...

If this post is too long, please accept my apologies, James. Feel free to delete or edit.

Regarding Paragraph 2: I also preach convexity and overlapping planes, not using hollows on the edge of a figure (which relates to something you've mentioned before as an unresolved issue for you).

Here are two pages of a larger book by Sir Wm. Holman Hunt, with a leg illustration similar to what you have, with the distinction of having no indentations or slack areas.

My own anatomy and drawing professor at Boston University, Jack Kramer, was also a proponent of this view, but he was even more influenced by Degas and his own mentor, Oskar Kokoschka. The latter used straight lines and short curves copiously, not only for lay-in but to evoke the energy of the forms and personalities. Kramer taught us to track across the forms, both horizontally and diagonally, as well as across the negative space between legs, for example, to coordinate points to lines and then constructing planes that suggest surface shifts. Another professor, Robert d'Arista, spoke of the elusive and all-important "vanishing plane" which gives the illusion of a turning and torsion of form.

I have been searching for years for a reference I read once making a distinction in Italian between "contorno" and this other "vanishing plane". If you, James, or any of your readers know of this Italian term and concept, please let me know!

James Gurney said...

Jessica, sorry, don't think it's online. I just have an old photocopy of it. I'll try to track that down for you.

Thanks, Jim, for that contribution.

The_Mad_Pirate said...

All 70 Drawing Lessons upon wich Volumes 1 and 2 of Walt Stanchfield's "Drawn to Life" is based can still be found on internet. One of te resources i found is this :

seadit said...

Thanks The_Mad_Pirate, these are awesome!

Charlie Pickard said...

Hi James,

Any chance you've had a chance to track the mucha essay down? I would also be really interested to read it

James Gurney said...

Charlie, haven't found my photocopy of that yet. I'll take another look.