Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Silhouette, Part 2

Silhouettes don’t have to be black cutouts in side view seen against a white background. All shapes present silhouettes, and vision researchers have shown that one of the first tasks of perception is to be able to sort out the silhouette shapes of each of the elements in the scene.

A good rule of thumb is that the most important part of the pose, often the hands or the face, should be brought into the silhouette, rather than embedded inside the pose. In the painting "Forge of Vulcan" by Velasquez, the sun-god Apollo has arrived at the Cyclops' forge to break some bad news to Vulcan. The artist has made sure to bring Apollo's upraised finger into the silhouette to make it clear that he is relating a narrative.

Silhouettes can have dramatic, unexpected shapes, like the wind-blown cape of the pirate Billy Bones by N.C. Wyeth. Only the hat, the tip of the elbow, and the end of the spyglass break the outside shape, literally concealing the hand of the pirate, and making his intentions seem more mysterious.

Try to imagine the poses of your important figures converted into a simple silhouette, either black against white or white against black. If the shape standing alone still conveys the action, it will probably work fully painted, too.

The most important element of the pose should be placed with the strongest contrast against the background. The background can be designed so that it gradates up to a bright halo behind that element, while the other parts of the silhouette can be left a bit closer in value. In this N.C. Wyeth painting, the head is the featured part of the silhouette.

In this little sketch of a fellow artist that I did during a figure group, I chose to lighten the background behind her hand, rather than behind her head, because I thought it was more important.

Related posts: Edge Induction, link. Flagging the Head, link.


Justin said...

I really liked the examples you used this time around. The gradiation towards the focal point is one of those very effective subtleties that took me a while to figure out, and I only learned it by looking at other artist' work. Now of course, I'm curious what other ones are there...

Unknown said...

Great posts Jim!
Thank you for the great info!

Anonymous said...

Very good! Just one thing: I think, Helios is the sun god, and Apollo the god of light, music and spring. And should not Hermes the messenger god bring news to the forges of Vulcan? If anyone got an idea, please enlighten me. :)

James Gurney said...

Alandiras, I looked up the story of the painting on this site: http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/TheForgeOfVulcanVelazquez.html
As I understand it, Apollo is the Roman name for the sun-god, and Vulcan is the Roman name for the smith-god Hephaestus.

There's also an explanation of why the Greeks had both Apollo and Helios as sun gods at: http://myth.typepad.com/breakfast/2006/02/your_questions_.html

I'm sure there's someone reading this who can enlighten us (so to speak) more.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the hint. I did not remember why the romans added out Helios. Or rather they didn´t. Looks like some people prefered to worship Apollo above Helios. Though the wiki tells that the roman equivalent of Helios was called "Sol", but is less often revered. So there are different authors and poets in history and they used both Apollon and Helios to describe the same services and things. So I guess the less educated people in times past where confused too and maybe they chose whichever god appealed more to them, and remembered only the story they had access to. Because tehy heard of Euripides must not necessarily mean that they also knew about some other author due to the common man´s limited access to certain literature. Other reasons might be that because they were either illiterate, or the manuscripts were too expensive, or the theatre plays varied in different regions of greece and the surrounding lands. Well, that´s my own theory though.
But I guess that´s not even the end of the story.
So I looked it up, because I was a bit confused, so this should be the correct list:

god of light, music, poetry, spring, wisdom:
greek: Apollon - roman: Apollo

god of smithcraft and fire:
greek: Hephaistos - roman: Vulcan

god for travelers, merchants, delivering messages for Zeus:
greek: Hermes: - roman: Mercurius

god of the Sun:
greek: Helios - roman: Sol