Thursday, November 16, 2017

Planning a Picture with a Large Group of Figures

Karen Robinson says: "I had just been looking at work by Wilhelm Gause. I was looking at the Vienna Ball one - and puzzling over how you would even begin to render a piece with multiple figures. Do you make a really detailed drawing, pick the focal person and kind of fan out from there? What if there isn’t really a focal person, the point being that there are LOADS of people..."

Wilhelm Gause, Hofball in Wien 
Karen, when you want to show a whole lot of figures in a scene, I think it's important to work out the design in black and white preliminary sketches first.

Wilhelm Gause (German, 1853–1916)
Hofball , 1897, grisaille on paper laid on cardboard
Size:69 x 46 cm. (27.2 x 18.1 in.
In the case of Gause's Vienna Ball scene, there appear to be a related work done on tone paper. I'm not sure whether it's a preliminary sketch, or how he proceeded, but I would guess that he sketched the figures loosely at first and then worked them out individually based on models in costume.

One of my favorite Viennese multi-figure scenes is this early one done by the Gustav Klimt and his brother, before Gustave went into the more abstract work.

"Friday at the French Artists' Salon" by Jules-Alexandre Grün (b.1868)
Thanks, Damian
Some of the best painters of crowd scenes conceive of the figures as part of larger tonal masses. If you do that in the early planning stages of the picture you'll avoid the tendency for a broken up or spotty effect.

Alphonse Mucha, one of the Slav Epics
You can get that right by keeping the sketch a little out of focus, and then you can begin to differentiate the individuals. You can see this done well in the work of Alphonse Mucha, Rembrandt, Joaquin Sorolla, Tom Lovell, F.R, Gruger and others.

If you put those names in the search box of this blog you'll find posts about their compositions and design process, or this link will aggregate all posts about composition.


DamianJ said...

The Klimt Viennese scene is terrific. One of my favourite crowd paintings is Friday at the French Artists' Salon by Jules-Alexandre Grün (b.1868 - which makes him a contemporary of Klimt ). It's a huge painting - 6 meters ( 20 feet) long, which probably makes the foreground gentlemen almost life-sise. That's a lot of paint.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for reminding me of that one, Damian. I've added to the post.

Robert Michael Walsh said...

Isabel Bishop's "Dante and Virgil in Union Square"

Karen Eade said...

Wow! Fantastic, thanks so much for responding to my question. Tonal masses? Why didn’t I think of that. Everything always seems to come back to tone, doesn’t it? Thank you, James.

Unknown said...

This is a topic I have actually been exploring lately as well (it's funny how the community seems to have its trends with similar goals in a piece). To James or anyone who may know, what is a good source to find more information on multi figure compositions? So far Creative Illustration and maybe random blog post's about artists like Max Ginsburg seem to be the only resources I can find on the topic.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

Thank you Karen & James! Additionally, a helpful way is to break the idea down, beginning with a single point, be it a large group or a key figure, and build back up in 3's (major, minor, accent—again, be each a group or a key figure). The subject often suggests a hierarchy, a main point and supporting elements. Research the subject. And, of course, what your own project calls for as to hierarchy (the project's purpose, and compositional constraints).

Suzanne Hanks said...

Putting a scene together with a group of people has been on my mind a lot lately as this is the next step in my art development. Finding information on this composition has been a real challenge. This was a timely post, thank you for sharing!

Kelly Borsheim Artist said...

Thanks, Timothy! Yours is a great addition to an already very helpful post... so thanks to all of you who contributed and also of course to you James, ever so helpful! I love the math involved in this. And the music!