Friday, September 13, 2019

The Plumb Line and String of Thought

I spend a great deal of time sorting objects for a still life, arranging them and looking at the set up. I will contemplate the surfaces, shapes, reflections, positive-negative spaces and assemble the composition. Then looking at the overall design and playing around with it, add and subtract things until I get something that “feels’ right. All the while looking through a view finder for a sense of how it will look to scale on canvas. I try not to rush this part of the painting process, knowing that I am going to make a commitment of time and energy. I want it be something worth the effort and not have one of those last hour, “good grief what was I thinking" moments.

Now that I have a design I like. I need to transfer the image to paper or canvas. In almost every painting or drawing setup of mine you will find a plumb line. A very simple but most useful tool for artists.

Webster’s definition of plumb line is.
1 : a line (as of cord) that has at one end a weight (such as a plumb bob) and is used especially to determine verticality   

OK, so it’s a cord or string with a weight on it. 

More important is that it is a drawing tool, a vertical line from which you can measure any point. Plotting out the dimension and placement of objects and the alignment of elements.

Plotting the drawing and blocking out.

To scale the drawing, you need a measuring device, something you can move your thumb up and down and make visual measurements from quickly, for comparison. You can use a piece of charcoal or a brush handle works. I like chop sticks as they have a uniform thickness up to the point. 

After setting up the still life and establishing a viewing point (the spot you will use to make all your observation from), establish a vertical axis through the composition. Use a plumb line or scale edge held at arm’s length. I place the subject and artwork where I can see both in one glance and flash my eyes back and forth between the two and make comparative measurements. Always using my reference of the plumb line from my vantage point.

Hang your plumb line so that it visually kisses or intersects edges. In the Moka pot I have the plumb line falling down the straight edge of the upper part of the pot. I draw that line on my paper for the first placement. Then using a pencil at arm’s length, I establish a unit of measurement. I measure widths and heights from this virtual line. How tall the pot, how wide, how far over is the garlic clove.

Once you establish the size of one part, compare it to another and build on those relationships, establishing one measurement that you compare the next measurement to and so on, growing a set of ratios. As you develop the drawing you will check your dimensions often. I like to refer to this as plotting out the drawing. Develop a set of points you can use as constant reference, after plotting all your reference points block out the basic shapes with simple straight lines. Keeping it as uncomplicated as possible, keeping the marks simple makes it easier to rearrange them until you have their placement correct.

My goal is a accurate drawing and solid foundation for my painting.

This is mainly a Comparative Measurement process based on my adapted version of the “Sight-Size Method”, there many links and articles about this topic online and a wealth of information at Darren Rousar’s website.

I absolutely recommend spending some time there.

The sight-size method is great tool for artist to understand and adapt to their process. I think sometimes it gets a bad rap because of its academic pedigree or it being too mechanical. But, every representational artist: no matter how loose they paint, plot the positioning of the elements in their picture plane with some type of mark or mass of paint. This process when applied to a direct method of painting can be very fluid and energetic.

I want approaches which allow me to understand the elements required to represent three-dimensional space in painting. Good drawing skills are the first element of that. To help achieve that goal make use of any drawing aids that will train your eyes and hand to draw proficiently. As you progress most of those tools will become second nature. I have always liked the idea that to master a skill you must own it.

String of Thought

My line of thought is to get the main idea down, blocked in or sketched out as quickly and accurately as possible. I want to see the main impression, or what is the “big” picture?

From there the general approach is to continue bearing down on the elements in the painting, making smaller adjustments, dialing in on the image I want to see. Thinking big to small, simple to complex, general to specific. Until I reach the illusion of realism I want to imply.

This can seem like a slow process to some, but when done consistently you will find it very effective and quick. But the point of the process is not speed but slowing down and engaging with the image. Painting is both time consuming and time slowing.

If you are not going to get a thrill, how can you give someone else one? 
You must feel the beauty of the thing before you start.   ---- Charles Hawthorne 

I paint what captures my eye, often those small things overlooked. The reflection in a glass, the atmosphere around an object, the ying-yang of negatives-positive spaces, the play of light and shadow. Those qualities that resonate with me in art are skill, beauty, poetic feelings and simple truths. These are the qualities that transcend mere representation and I aspire to.

I certainly enjoy the process of painting, building layers of glazes and color – modeling form. It is a very sensual medium. But it does go beyond the technical and observational skills, craftsmanship is just the conduit for authentic self-expression. If art is hard work, it’s because you’re struggling to go beyond what you know and looking for that poetry in your art.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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