Friday, June 26, 2015

GJ Book Club: Chapter 12, Unity of Line (Part 2) Curved Lines

On the GJ Book Club, we're looking at Chapter 12: "Rhythm, Variety of Line" in Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing. The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in boldface. If you would like to respond to a specific image or point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

This is part 2 of the chapter, about curved lines. Because I've been so busy with Gouache Week, I've barely looked into the chapter, I'll just present some of the main points and images. I'll pass on my own responses and leave the discussion to you in the comments.

1. Curved lines have not the moral integrity of straight lines....without the steadying power of straight lines and flatnesses, curves get out of hand and lose their power....We recognise this integrity of straight lines when we say anybody is "an upright man" or is "quite straight," wishing to convey the impression of moral worth.

2. Always be on the look out for straightnesses in curved forms and for planes in your modelling.

3. Illustration showing the "Power of Curved Lines to Convey Energy."

4. Illustrating the flow of lines (in Botticelli's Venus) on which the Rhythmic Unity of the Picture Depends.

5. Rhythmic Lines in Veronese Rape of Europa.

6. Diagram of "Clash of Lines" from Uccello's Battle of St. Egidio

7. Showing how Lines unrelated can be brought into harmony by the introduction of others in sympathy with them (also below)

8. Indicating the sympathetic flow of lines that give unity to this composition.

9. Illustrating the effect on the face of putting the hair up at the back. How the upward flow of lines accentuates the sharpness of the features (left), and fullness of the features (right).

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


seadit said...

I'm actually still working my way through the chapter myself, but a couple of observations I find interesting:

El Greco: it's hard to believe this man lived and painted over 400 years ago - his work seems so contemporary and ahead of his time! I can see why Speed loves his work. As much as I've always tended to gravitate towards more classical styles of painting, I find El Greco's work, well, refreshing and beautifully alive in his use of color and movement.

I have read many approaches to the do's and don't's of composition, but I'm really enjoying Speed's discussion about the use of lines in relation to rhythm and unity. I find it not only helpful and instructive to what I'm trying (hoping) to do with my forays into fine art, but also photography and design, my profession. In graphic design we are almost always guided by the use of grids in creating the most pleasing or arresting composition of words, graphics and images, and yet I've never given as much thought or consideration into what to me is a similar approach with drawing and painting according to Speed. I also find this useful in the editing images from either a photoshoot or identifying the best images from one of our travels, where previously I've relied mostly on my gut reaction to an image. I can't wait to go back through my image library and look at the images with a fresh POV.

One question that came to mind - for either those who have finished the chapter or have thoughts about it, has Speed said or discussed the Golden Ratio at all in relation to line and composition? I've read arguments for and against the Golden Ratio and am curious if Speed or others here have strong thoughts about it...

James Gurney said...

Seadit, about the Golden Ratio in composition, you might be interested in my series "Mythbusting the Golden Mean," which starts here:

seadit said...

Thanks James, I'll have a look.

Nancy said...

In Diagrams XVIII and XIX, Speed resolves disharmony among lines by adding lines that echo a single chosen line, and blotting over eye-stopping line junctions. The blots give him some visual weight on the page, which he can then balance with other blots.

In reviewing "Composition" by Arthur Wesley Dow, I noticed a different solution to a similar problem. He calls sharp line junctions "oppositions" and resolves them with "transitions", or lines that blend the angles into curves (page 22, He makes the interesting statement that "... beauty... has been defined as consisting of elements of difference harmonized by elements of unity".

I wonder if that is true?

James Gurney said...

Seadit, the name of the book is: "alphonse mucha lectures on art academy editions, london." I think it was published in 1975