Sunday, 29 July 2012

Pictorial Transitions: Crome


What is a simple way that artists use to sustain a viewer’s interest when looking at an image?



Often artists rely on the choice of subject to catch a viewer’s eye and sustain interest. For instance, an image featuring shameful humour (schadenfreude) or extraordinary phenomena may be riveting at first but the attraction relies on novelty and once the intrigue of a particular subject diminishes so to does the ability to attract and hold a viewer’s attention. As an alternative to relying on the choice of subject to captivate a viewer, the following discussion explores a tried and tested approach to keeping a viewer’s interest with the focus on the etchings of John Crome.

One way that some artists compose their images is to ensure that their arrangement of subject material takes into account the different perceptual propensities of the viewer’s divided brain (i.e. the conscious and calculated machinations of the analytical left hemisphere of the brain and the intuitive responses of right hemisphere) by using the Foote, Cone and Belding Grid as a guide (see the earlier post, Daniel Heimlich: Foote, Cone and Belding Grid). Another approach is to invite the viewer to read an image in incremental stages from left-to-right—the direction Western readers (i.e. as opposed to Hebrew, Arabic and traditional Oriental readers) are acculturated to contemplate images.

Betty Edwards in her marvellous book Drawing on the Artist Within (1986) discusses the evolution of ideas about these incremental stages with regard to creativity (see pages 2–5) but they may also have a practical application as a means for catching and sustaining the eye’s interest. With a small quiver of trepidation, I wish to propose that these stages have a long tradition of being an integral part of picture construction which I will explain with reference to Crome’s prints. Moreover, the stages are laid out literally as part of the image in terms of pictorial zones that act like visual stepping-stones for the viewer’s eye to recognise, rationalise and ultimately to negotiate meanings projected by the image.

In this scaffolding of incremental stages an image is broken into four pictorial zones starting from the far left. The first of these zones is the equivalent of the stimulation stage (the phase that the physiologist and physicist Herman Helmholtz terms “saturation” [Edwards 1986, p. 3]) where an artist presents the immediate sensations of an initial look at the subject without conscious comprehension of what is observed. In Crome’s etching At Heigham (shown below) this area extends from the left side of the image to the first tree on the left (see detail further below). Here, seemingly random jabbed short strokes suggest that the artist is portraying his first glimpse of the landscape as if he is searching for details to depict. From my viewpoint, these patterned staccato-like strokes hint at what he is seeing as a sensory impression rather than a pictorial replication of what he is viewing.

John Crome (1768–1821)
At Heigham [now know as Hingham], c. 1812
Etching (appears to be chine colle) on cream wove paper
From the first edition of 60 impressions as issued by Mrs Crome in 1834 before retouching and the addition of the title.
First state (of ii)
5.7 x 18.7 cm (plate); 9.5 x 22 cm (sheet)
Theobald 22; Goldberg 233
Condition: a rare and very delicate silvery impression with margins in excellent condition. This state is described by Goldberg “A most delicate silvery etching, it is only fine in early impressions, as the delicate distance on the left soon disappeared” (Goldberg, Norman 1978, John Crome the Elder: 1. Text and a Critical Catalogue, New York University Press, New York, p. 283.)
I am selling this print for $370 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button.


This print has been sold

Helmoltz’s “saturation” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Heigham, c. 1812

In the second zone, the area extending from the first tree on the left to the third tree away from the first (see detail below) the portrayal of the landscape details are shown by positive (black) lines where the silhouette edges of the tree forms and house are presented in their essential structural framework. This is formulation stage, or what Helmholtz terms as the “incubation” phase (Edwards 1986, p. 3), where the first impressions of the last stage are being synthesised. Here the strokes are clustered to represent conscious deliberations about what is observed and the clustering becomes progressively more frequent and denser towards the right.


Helmoltz’s “incubation” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Heigham, c. 1812


The third zone extends from the last zone to the further edge of the open shed at the water’s edge (see detail below). This is the stage where the artist’s perception is fully developed or what Helmholtz terms as the “illumination” phase (Edwards 1986, p. 3). Here, Crome’s portrayal of the scene moves from the structural marks of the former stage to mimetic marks drawing upon both positive and negative strokes to represent full recognition and understanding of the observed landscape features. From a personal viewpoint, Crome has now moved his approach to rendering (i.e. shading the subject) to a virtual elimination of individually important strokes and now employs tonal transitions as if portraying the surface of the subject rather than essential structures.

Helmoltz’s “illumination” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Heigham, c. 1812

In the fourth and final zone, extending from the last zone to the right side of the image (see detail below), the comparatively detailed rendering of the former stage is replaced with a broader handling of the portrayed scene. This is a stage where Crome anticipates what he is about to see next and has allowed the image to diminish in focal acuity so that the image does not draw a viewer’s eye “out” of composition. In a way, this last stage could be termed the “prognostication” phase. It may be viewed as a conceptual bookend to the very first stage in that the diminishing rendering of the landscape mirrors broadly the fuzziness of the first stage. The diminishing focus also completes the cycle in that the loss of focal definition may imply a shift to the artist’s next view of the landscape as an ongoing panorama.


The “prognostication” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Heigham, c. 1812

Of course I do not believe that Crome consciously planned any of his images to show sequential stages in his developing perception of landscape. Such an idea would be nonsense. What I am proposing, however, is that the sequence outlined above is a very natural way that many historically memorable artists have laid out their compositions to sustain a viewer’s interest—and the artist’s own interest during the execution of an image. After all, to evenly distribute pictorial information over an entire composition can result in visual indigestion where too much information competes for attention. 

There may be an argument that the above layout of a composition in sequential stages works best in long rectangular formats like At Heigham but this is not the case. To illustrate how this “natural” (i.e. subconscious) disposition is also applicable to more square-shaped formats, I will offer a personal interpretation of how the four pictorial zones can be seen in Crome’s etching, At Hackford, Norfolk.


John Crome (1768–1821)
At Hackford, Norfolk, 1812
Etching wove paper
Fifth state (of v)
17.4 x 22.7 cm (plate); 21.7 x 26.7 cm (sheet)
Theobald 14; Goldberg 225
Condition: the impression is crisp and has been cleaned but not bleached. As a result of the cleaning process the plate mark has been flattened and is no longer evident. The print has been professional lined with thin Japanese paper. There are indications that the print has old creases but these are no longer evident. There is a mark in the sky to the right of the centre tree. This state is described by Goldberg “The title, At Hackford, is added in etched letters underneath. The plate was not much altered. The reflections in the water were darkened and the sky, as a rule, is hardly visible” (Goldberg, Norman 1978, John Crome the Elder: 1. Text and a Critical Catalogue, New York University Press, New York, p. 281.) In this impression the drawn horizontal line between the trees are clearly visible.
I am selling this print for $270 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button.

This print has been sold


The “saturation” zone on the far left of At Hackford, Norfolk extends from the border to include the pair of large trees on the left (see detail below). From my viewpoint, the plethora of details in the rendering of the dark tree and the ambiguity regarding where the lighter tree is grounded in space gives me the impression that I am not supposed to dwell in contemplative looking at this area of the composition. Going further, the spiralling form of the darker tree creates an “X” intersection with the lighter tree that psychologically advises me not to look there. Although such a reading of this zone is a personal interpretation, I see the first zone as a space framing the landscape features at the centre of the composition. In short, Crome uses this zone to offer an amalgam of pictorial details about landscape—a narrow screen of organically twisted forms in a flickering light created by positive and negative spaces—representing a developing but as yet an unclear vision of what he is showing the viewer.


Helmoltz’s “saturation” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Hackford, Norfolk, 1812

In the second zone, Helmoltz’s “incubation” stage, extending from the last zone to midway between the two centre sets of paired trees (see detail below), Crome clearly grounds the landscape features shown in this area. These features are also rendered with focus on their silhouette shapes and their structures are presented in an unambiguous way (i.e. a viewer should have no difficulty in understanding the form of the trees and the contours of the terrain). The treatment of the features in this zone fit well with the idea of showing the essential characteristics of the subject.

Helmoltz’s “incubation” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Hackford, Norfolk, 1812


The third zone, Helmoltz’s “illumination” stage, extends from the last zone to the far reaches of the second set of paired trees (see detail below). In this area Crome shows the superficial “skin” of his subjects such as the detailed rendering of textures in the foreground and the careful tonal gradations in the rendering of the road. In keeping with this degree of focal resolution, the treatment shows Crome’s fully resolved vision of the landscape at this point.


Helmoltz’s “illumination” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Hackford, Norfolk, 1812


To conclude the transition of pictorial zones, the fourth zone representing the “prognostication” stage extends from the third zone to the right side of the image (see detail below). In this area Crome diminishes the harsh tonal contrast portraying the landscape of the previous zones and by so doing diminishes the focal clarity of what a viewer can see. Crome also softens the tight knotting of rhythms of the previous zones so the eye can now to wander unimpeded along the course of the road as it slopes gently downwards from the centre trees to the lower right corner and the eyes can also traverse unimpeded down the soft contours of the terrain. This shift from closed to open space (i.e. from constrained window-like views of landscape in the preceding zones to an unconstrained view) is important as this is the zone where the artist foreshadows what he may be seeing in his next view of the landscape.


The “prognostication” stage
(detail) John Crome, At Hackford, Norfolk, 1812

The idea of creating prints in such a way may at first seem to be a counter-creative challenge but the real issue is that the approach provides a simple way of giving order and logic to a viewer’s reading of an image. From personal experience, if the lighting on a subject comes from the top-front-left (in accordance with the Western lighting convention) then the four zone approach discussed above is naturally geared to portray the lighting effect without a major challenge. Consider how Crome’s angle of lighting in A Composition (shown below) lends itself perfectly to this approach.


John Crome (1768–1821)
A Composition, c. 1812
Etching (appears to be chine colle) cream wove paper
Second state (of iii)
17 x 16 cm (plate); 19.8 x 18.1 cm (sheet)
Theobald 17; Goldberg 228
Condition: an exceptionally fine and rare impression with the characteristic “silvery” quality of the first issue in the Mrs Crome edition of 60 impressions in 1834. The print has a slight age toning and has conservator’s tape hinging. Overall it is in virtually pristine condition. This state is described by Goldberg “Black lines are drawn round the plate, lines are added in the sky to the right, and work is added on the mound to the left. In this state the plate was left by Crome, and was published in Mrs. Crome’s set. In the left corner bottom, J. Crome fecit, is in etched letters” (Goldberg, Norman 1978, John Crome the Elder: 1. Text and a Critical Catalogue, New York University Press, New York, p. 282).
I am selling this print for $430 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button.




(detail) John Crome, A Composition, c. 1812
(detail) John Crome, A Composition, c. 1812

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Fibonacci Spatial Intervals: Sadeler & Strang


How can artists use the Fibonacci sequence of numbers in a composition?


Interestingly, the Italian Renaissance mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci (c. 1170–c. 1250) used the expediential growth in a rabbit population to showcase his now famous sequence of numbers often referred to as the Fibonacci Numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … (the sequence may be continued by adding the two preceding numbers to arrive at the next which at this point would be 21+34=55). This discussion however moves away from the breeding habits of rabbits by proposing a way that artists can use the sequence to give order and logic to their placement of key features in an image. More specifically, the focus of this discussion is on how the sequence may be employed to create the illusion of spatial depth.

As a practical example of how the Fibonacci numbers assists in giving pictorial depth to an image, I wish to draw attention to Aegidius Sadeler’s darkly moody engraving, Woodland Landscape with a Waterfall (shown below).  Here, a view to the far distance along the course of a river framed by cliffs is interrupted by a sequence of rocky ridges acting like stepping-stones for the eye. The space between each of these rocky ridges is where the Fibonacci sequence of numbers plays a role. By measuring and comparing the distance between each of these ridges (see diagram further below) the pattern of spatial intervals becomes apparent: 1 (the spatial zone between the horizon and the first red line), 2, 3, 5, 8.  

Aegidius Sadeler II (1570–1629)
Woodland Landscape with a Waterfall, c 1600
from the series of six mountainous landscapes in Tyrol after a drawing by Roland Savery
20 x 26.5 cm (sheet)
II (of II) with address of Marco Sadeler (lower right) on laid paper from an unknown collection (not at Lugt).
Hollstein 227; Bartsch (Sup.) 7201.235 S2
Condition: marvellous strong impression. There is a closed tear at top at the dryfold and with a fold along the dryfold. There is also slight foxing but otherwise in good condition.
I am selling this print for $430 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.


This print has been sold

Verso of Woodland Landscape with a Waterfall, c 1600
Diagram of spatial intervals in Woodland Landscape with a Waterfall, c 1600
In Johan Sadeler’s Rocky Landscape (shown below) a similar sequence of spatial intervals can be seen (see diagram further below). Here, each of the four critical intervals is pictorially marked by a horizontal line with the most distant lines delineating the horizontal aspects of the terrain and the closer lines outlining a band of shadow.  Although the placement of these pictorially important lines matches the sequence of the Fibonacci numbers there is a problem with the arrangement of spatial intervals in the sky with regard to eye-catching cloud features (see the same diagram with intervals marked with blue lines). By this I mean that the intervals in the clouds on the left side of the image are almost evenly spaced with virtually no spatial recession, while the intervals in the clouds on the right are larger towards the horizon—a reversal of perspective.  

Johan Sadeler (1550–1600)
Rocky Landscape with Antique Buildings
From the eighth print in a series engraved by Adriaen Collaert and similar to a composition by Hendrick van Cleve. Part of the Emblemata copied after Andrea Alciati (Venice, 1599) (notes from TIB, p. 136).
Engraving on laid paper
21.5 x 26.9 cm (plate); 27.7 x 37 cm (sheet)
Hollstein 581 (only state); Bartsch 7001.534
Condition: A dark impression with flattened dryfold and small closed tears with conservator’s tape reinforcing (verso) in the bottom margin far away from the image. An inscription, “120”, is written by an old hand on the upper-right corner outside the plate mark. On the back there are pencil inscriptions by previous collectors along the bottom edge and ink smudges 3.5 in length on the lower left otherwise the print is in good clean condition.
I am selling this print for $180 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.



Verso of Rocky Landscape with Antique Buildings
Diagram of spatial intervals in (detail) Rocky Landscape with Antique Buildings
An artist’s arrangement of subject matter in a composition to present a regular progression of diminishing spaces is driven undoubtedly by intuition and good judgement. Nevertheless there is very calculated way that can layout the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. First, the horizon line for the composition is established (see first image in the diagram below). Next, an angled line is drawn from where this horizon line meets either the left or right side of the composition (see second image). Along this angled line the sequence of the Fibonacci numbers are then marked out using any unit of measure with the lowest number placed at the horizon (see third image). For example, if the unit of measure were a centimetre then the distance between the first mark away from the horizon and the second mark would be two centimetres and the gap between the second mark and the third would be three centimetres. The next stage is to connect the last mark to the lowest corner of the composition directly below the beginning point on the horizon and to use the angle of this connection as a guide to run parallel lines from all the remaining Fibonacci marks to the same side of the composition (see fourth image). Finally, from the points now established on the side of the composition, horizontal lines are drawn setting the “stepping stones” for the composition’s key features (see fifth image). With the disposition of these features now set an artist can then adjust the tonal and colour transitions (see sixth image).

Diagram of the step-by-step process of establishing Fibonacci spatial intervals
To show the difference to the illusion of spatial depth that Fibonacci spatial intervals can make to an image, compare the two lower images. The first image shows a very noble etching by William Strang of women engaged in manual labour. Here, Strang’s arrangement of the two women does not align with the sequence of Fibonacci spatial intervals. In the second image I have altered the arrangement of the women so that their placement on the ground is in accord with the Fibonacci intervals (i.e. there is a larger space in the immediate foreground and the more distant woman is placed further away. I am not proposing that the compositional arrangement of the second (digitally altered) image is better than Strang’s original composition but rather that the second presents a greater degree of spatial depth.

William Strang (1859–1921)
Potato Lifting, 1882
Commissioned by Philip Gilbert Hamerton forThe Portfolio and published by Seeley & Co London, 1882
Etching on wove paper with The Portfolio MBM watermark.
25.2 x 17.6 cm (plate); 35.6 x 26 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression in pristine condition
I am selling this print for $130 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Digitally rearranged placement of the figure’s feet
Left image, (detail) Potatoes Lifting, 1882
Right image, digitally altered with Fibonacci spatial intervals

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sheep and Shadows: Jacque


How do artists portray shadows on surfaces that are not smooth, such as the fleece on sheep and the hides of other animals?


Essentially there are four principles assisting artists to render shadows cast on animals:
·         Portraying the animal’s superficial details in the half-light of shadows (i.e. details in the strongly lit areas or in the darkest shadows should not feature details of the animal’s surface). For example, the texture of the animal’s hide and incidental features such as colour patterns and the shape of individual strands and locks of hair should only be portrayed in the mid tones.
·         Noetic space (i.e. leaving virtually blank areas of paper in the space surrounding the animal’s shadow side—see the earlier post Grimaldi: Landscape Conventions).
·         Making subtle adjustments to tonal gradations in the shadows taking into account the related principles of:
o        simultaneous contrast (i.e. the optical phenomenon where a dark or light toned area abutted beside its complement will create the illusion of a greater contrast between the two areas than there really is),
o        reflected light (i.e. creating the effect of reflected light on rounded forms so that there is a transition on the shadow side from dark to a comparatively lighter area of tone at the silhouette edge),
o        aerial perspective (i.e. a gradual loss of focal resolution towards the distance),
o        weighting the animal (i.e. adding an accent of tone at the points of the silhouette edge where the weight of the leg makes contact with the ground—see the earlier post Dujardin: Sheep Legs),
o        Inverse-Square Law (i.e. establishing a correlation between the degree of illumination on the animal and the distance that it is away from the light source—see the earlier post Berchem: Inverse-Square Law),  
o        the intrinsic properties of shadows (i.e. umbra, penumbra and antumbra).
  • Western lighting convention (i.e. lighting the animal from the top-front-left because Westerners scan images from left-to-right following the direction they read—see the earlier post Muller, Calame and Waterloo: Portraying Trees).
The following discussion addresses how these four principles can be seen in a suite of charcoal drawings by the famous nineteenth-century Barbizon animalier, Charles Emile Jacque.

Application of the first principle can be seen in Jacque’s drawings, Sheep’s Head “A” and Sheep’s Head “B” (shown below). In both drawings, strong light illuminates the top of the sheep’s ear while its brow and snout are portrayed with a transition from light into shadow. These areas of transition (mapped digitally further below) are the mid-tones where Jacque has drawn the surface contours of the head and, in the case of Sheep’s Head “B,” coarse tuffs of fleece. The convention of only showing surface details in the mid-toned areas helps to simplify the amount of visual information for a viewer to digest. After all if a plethora of detail where to be shown in all areas from the most strongly lit to the darkest shadows the eye may be distracted from seeing the artist’s vision as a holistic totality—“the big picture.” 

Charles Emile Jacque (1813–94)
(upper) Sheep’s Head “A”
Charcoal on brown laid paper
8.4 x 11 cm
Unsigned
Condition: the drawing has been cut by a previous collector from a leaf of drawings by Jacque. There are two pin holes on the upper and lower left corners otherwise the drawing is in pristine condition.
(lower) Sheep’s Head “B”
Charcoal on brown laid paper
9.5 x 12.4 cm
Unsigned
Condition: the drawing has been cut by a previous collector from a leaf of drawings by Jacque. There is a length of conservator’s tape (?) on the upper edge from previous mounting otherwise the drawing is in pristine condition.
I am selling the pair of drawings for the total amount of $230 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Verso of Sheep’s Head “A” and Sheep’s Head “B”
Digital mapping of the mid-tone areas featuring surface details in Jacque’s Sheep’s Head “A” and “B”

Regarding the second principle, noetic space, Jacque’s use of a blank gap between his subject’s silhouette edge on the shadow side and the subject’s immediate background can be seen in his drawings. For instance, in Sheep’s Head “C” (shown below) Jacque has left break in the outline describing the lower section of the sheep’s ears rather than allowing the outline to connect fully with the side of the sheep’s face (see digital mapping of noetic space further below). This subtle but important break is an example of noetic space as the gap functions as conceptually abstract space separating the further away plane of the ear from the projecting plane of the sheep’s face. Arguably, Jacque’s use of this principle is guided more by intuitive good judgement—a subconscious understanding of what is needed to portray spatial distance—than by conscious planning. I mention this as a drawing from the same leaf Sheep’s Head “D” (also shown below) does not reveal use of the principle. To show how the principle could have been applied, I have digitally altered the drawing to add the gap of neotic space on the shadow side of the ear. An important issue with using this principle is that the background should connect with (i.e. “touch”) the subject on its lit side (in Jacque’s drawing the background on the lit side of the ear would be any strokes rendering the neck) and the noetic space gap should be shown only on the shadow side (in Jacque’s drawing the background on the shadow side is the jaw). 


Charles Emile Jacque (1813–94)
(upper) Sheep’s Head “D”
Charcoal on brown laid paper
7 x 9.2 cm
Unsigned
Condition: the drawing has been cut by a previous collector from a leaf of drawings by Jacque. There is a notational drawing on verso (presumably by Jacque) otherwise the sheet is in pristine condition.
(lower) Sheep’s Head “C”
Charcoal on brown laid paper
10.2 x 16 cm
Unsigned
Condition: the drawing has been cut by a previous collector from a leaf of drawings by Jacque and there is a rectangular section (2 x 3.8 cm) cut from the lower right corner. There is a 1 mm hole towards the upper right (this may be an intrinsic part of the paper) and a smudge of charcoal crossing the left ear of the sheep (perhaps created during the execution of the drawing).
I am selling the pair of drawings for the total amount of $230 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.



Verso of Sheep’s Head “C” and Sheep’s Head “D”

Digital mapping of the areas of noetic space in Jacque’s Sheep’s Head “C”
(upper) Jacque’s Sheep’s Head “D”
(lower) Digital manipulation of the sheep’s ear with noetic space

The next principle—adjusting the tonal gradations in shadows to take into account simultaneous contrast, reflected light, weighting, the inverse-square law and the intrinsic properties of shadows—involves a multifaceted view of shadows as each issue that needs to be consider conceptually overlaps with the next. For instance, with regard to the impact of simultaneous contrast on tonal gradations, a fine example of how Jacque has adjusted the transitions from dark to light can be seen in the detail of his superb drawing, Three Hooves that are both shown below. Here the abutment of strong light and shade on the inner surface of the left hoof is rendered with the gradation on the shadow side that clearly darkens towards the light. Conceptually overlaying this principle is the effect of reflected light that can be seen in the same detail with the sharp change in the transition from dark to a much lighter tone towards the silhouette edge.


Charles Emile Jacque (1813–94)
Three Hooves
Charcoal on brown laid paper
20.5 x 29.4 cm
Unsigned
Condition: the drawing has been cut by a previous collector from a leaf of drawings by Jacque. There is a notational drawing on verso (presumably by Jacque), a 1 mm hole towards the middle right (this may be an intrinsic part of the paper) and a band of conservator’s tape (?) along all edges from previous mounting.
I am selling this drawing for the total amount of $230 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below. 




Verso of Three Hooves
Detail showing reflected light

With regard to the related principle of weighting the subject (i.e. adding a dotted accent of tone where the subject makes a connection with the ground) Jacque has varied the pressure he places on the charcoal at the two critical points shown in the detail below. Again, this accent also plays a role in denoting an intrinsic element of how shadows are formed in the sense that the accent is also the precise point where the shadow is at its darkest.

Detail showing the accent points where the hoof contacts the ground

In this same detail of the hoof, note how Jacque uses reflected light to denote the sheen of the hoof and how he has added to his pictorial description of reflected light a stronger degree of contrast between the right section of the hoof compared to the left section. Again, this is an overlapping of principles. In this instance Jacque is addressing the phenomenological attribute of the inverse-square law in that as the right side of the hoof is closer to the light it must show a stronger degree of contrast. Of course, few artists have to ponder the intricacies of related principles such as these as a meaningful working approach is well-ingrained from years of practice.

Regarding the final principle—the Western lighting convention of illuminating subjects from the top-front-left—Jacque’s drawings display varying lighting angles that are appropriate for studies executed while looking at real sheep with equally real lighting effects. What is an interesting experiment to contemplate and judge which lighting angle portrays the three-dimensional form of sheep most convincingly is to compare the two images below: Jacque’s study of the sheep’s head C with light angled from the top-front-left and the digitally mirrored image resulting in light angled for the top-front-right. 


(upper) Jacque’s Sheep’s Head “C”
(lower) digitally mirrored image with light angled from the top-front-right


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Cropping images: Williams & Haden


What are some of the principles guiding an artist’s hand when changing the shape of an image?

Most artists commence work on an image with a broad idea of what the outcome of their labour will look like even if the specifics of the image are hazy. Going further, most artists also allow for evolutionary change when fresh creative possibilities emerge during the execution process. Mindful that change is an almost inevitable consequence of creative invention, some changes may lead to pictorial dismantling involving radical cropping of a composition. Such alterations are usually not undertaken lightly and the following discussion offers insights into three key principles involved in aesthetic considerations when changing the format shape of an image:
  • cropping an image so that its shape is appropriate for the projected meaning;
  • cropping the featured subjects on a Golden Section (rather than a point of articulation, separation or a midsection);
  • cropping an image to achieve an aesthetic balance (based on the Golden Section proportions) between areas of drawing and areas left blank.

To explain the use of these three principles, I will explore the cropping of Fred Williams’ etching, Coal Delivery, and Sir Francis Seymour Haden’s division of his original single printing plate image into the two print fragments: The Two Asses and Dundrum River. Clearly the following thoughts are my own and they are not those of the artists, but the driving issue is not really about these prints and the artists’ motivations but rather how the three principles can play a role in the decisive act of reshaping images.

Regarding the first principle—cropping an image so that its shape is appropriate for the projected meaning—Williams’ first state of the etching, Coal Delivery (shown below) reveals the original composition that prompted Williams’ decision to cut the plate. In this first state, the artist’s high viewpoint on two delivery workers captures the spirit of their everyday task. The elevated view with its resultant spatial foreshortening on the figures (see diagram below) draws attention to the sack carried on the shoulder of the foreground figure while the weight of this sack is suggested by the balance of the figure’s forward lean and outstretched arm. All this pictorial information expressing a fleeting moment is captured by Williams’ freely laid notational strokes, but I can see why Williams chose to reshape the composition even though it has all the essential components of the image in its final state: the background, as a broad field of virtually two-dimensional space, is distracting to the foreshortened viewpoint and the balanced movement of the foreground figure. In the final state of this print’s evolution, the top of the print is lowered and the left side is reduced (see diagram further below) to remove the distracting details and to focus attention on the figures. In short, William’s reduction in the image in the last state makes the point of the print much clearer—a brief moment of observed everyday reality in 1950’s London.


Fred Williams (1927–82)
Coal Delivery, 1955–56
Etching and drypoint on Whatmans paper
1st state (of three)
Number 1 in an edition of 10, dated “56”
20 x 11.2 cm (plate); 26.9 x 16.6 cm (sheet)
Mollison 73i
Condition: This is a very rare impression (1/10) with minimal age toning otherwise pristine condition.
I am selling this print for $4380 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.

Full sheet view
Fred Williams, (detail) Coal Delivery, 1955–56
Guidelines showing foreshortening
Fred Williams, (detail) Coal Delivery, 1955–56
Reduction in the size of the plate from state 1 (coloured outer area of the image)
to state 2 (the uncoloured area)

Regarding the second principle—cropping the featured subjects on a Golden Section —this principle is all about finding the aesthetic point (i.e. the “sweet” spot) along the length of a subject, or even a single line, where the artist’s intuition “knows” is the ideal point for cutting a subject. In the earlier post “Jacque & Legros: Human Scale” this aesthetic point in a line is shown as the Golden Section point. Rather than dwell further on the significance of this proportional division in a line (remembering that there are two of these points in any line) I will move the discussion to two places in a subject where cropping should be avoided—or carefully considered.

The first of these places to be avoided are those where the subject can bend or where the subject changes its form or essential qualities. If the subject is a person, then the places where a figure can bend are, of course, the joints while the places on the figure where its form or essential qualities change are places like the hair line, the lip line and the cuticle line. In an image of a semi-trailer, or other articulated vehicles, the place to avoid cutting will be at the pivoting joint. In trees it will be the junction where a trunk becomes a limb and the limb become a twig. The simple reason why these places are problematic is that if the subject is cropped at one of these places then a viewer’s eye will be drawn to gaze at the break and diverted away from the critical projected meanings. For instance, consider how the eye is fixated on the bottom edge of Williams’ print when the foreground figure is cut on the ankle (see image below). Interestingly, if an artist wishes to make a figure appear hurt or dead in a war scene then use of cropping at points of articulation may be a useful device (see, for example, Théodore Géricault’s Mameluke Defending a Wounded Trumpeter 
[http://nga.gov.au/FirstImpressions/details/50061.cfm]).

Fred Williams, (digitally modified) Coal Delivery, 1955–56
Foreground figure cropped at ankle

The second of these places to avoid featuring on a cropped edge is the centre of a portrayed subject. For instance, if Williams’ print were to be cropped along the figure’s groin (see below). Once again, the centre of a subject is fascinating to the eye and thus may divert a viewer’s attention away from the projected meaning of the image.


Fred Williams, (digitally modified) Coal Delivery, 1955–56
Foreground figure cropped at ankle

Regarding the third principle—cropping an image to achieve an aesthetic balance (based on the Golden Section proportions) between areas of drawing and areas left blank—this principle is all about artists employing their intuitive sense of what looks balanced. Like a traditional Japanese sand garden, where a harmonious balance is achieved by broad areas of raked sand and the psychological weight of a craggy rock, a similar balance is sought between the psychologically arresting strength of certain clusters of line and those areas (often blank) where visual demands are not placed on the eye. Achieving this balance can be rationalised by imagining that the balance would be perfect if all the black lines were dragged together (as if by some form of magnetism) and the amount of black in the image, in proportion to the amount of white paper, approximated the Golden ratio (see diagram below).


(left) an ideal proportional balance between areas with drawn marks and areas free of marks
(middle) Fred Williams, Coal Delivery, 1st state
(right) Fred Williams, Coal Delivery, 3rd state

Williams’ reshaping of this etching and the changes he then made to its composition, such as the added tone to the foreground figure’s trousers and strengthening of vertical and horizontal lines framing this figure, is fully understandable in terms of refining the focus of the image. Not all decisions however, are so clear and straight forward. Sir Seymour Haden’s prints, The Two Asses and Dundrum River (shown below), are good examples of when the process of cropping an image has a disappointing outcome. 


Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818–1910)
The Two Asses, 1863
Published in Fine Arts Quarterly Review (1867)
Etching on heavy cream wove paper,
15.3 x 8.6 cm (plate); 26.9 x 17.5 cm (sheet)
Schneiderman 46AII
Condition: strong impression with faint foxing mainly outside the plate area otherwise in good condition.
I am selling this print for $170 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.
Full sheet view

Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818–1910)
Dundrum River, 1863
Published in Etchings for the Art Union of London by The Etching Club (1872)
Etching on heavy white wove paper,
15.2 x 14 cm (plate); 24 x 21.5 cm (sheet)
Schneiderman 46BIV
Condition: crisp impression in pristine condition.
I am selling this print for $190 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.
Full sheet view

Fortunately I do not have to make this judgement from a personal standpoint as Haden has inscribed this evaluation onto the plate of The Two Assess for all to read (see detail below):
“This plate is a part of the square one wh [which?] follows it. Both were drawn under the mordant and afterwards cut. The balance wd [would?] have been better preserved if the division had not been made, and if this white space had been filled in with strong work as intended. S.H.”

Sir Francis Seymour Haden, (detail of inscription) The Two Asses, 1863

Perhaps even more revealing about Haden’s view of The Two Asses is an insight by the printer of this etching, Frederick Goulding: “Mr. Seymour Haden [Jr.] tells me that later in his life his father was in the habit of presenting impressions of this plate to engaged couples” (Schneiderman, Richard 1983, A Catalogue Raisonne of the Prints of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Robin Garton, Wiltshire, p. 129). Clearly Haden liked to share his mistakes as a warning for others.

Unfortunately there is no extant print of the original image before the printing plate was cut. Nevertheless, the digitally abutment of the two prints shown below gives an idea of Haden’s dilemma about the “white space” in the foreground of The Two Asses. From my reading of the abutted images, this lower-left space may need to be “filled in with strong work,” but the diagonal line of shrubbery bordering it adds to the serpentine twist of the river while at the same time focuses attention on the two asses acting as a fulcrum point of balance for the composition


Abutment of Seymour Haden’s The Two Asses (left image) and 
Dundrum River (right image)

Despite Haden’s reservations about his cropping of the printing plate, the line of division does address the three principles that artists usually consider (even if intuitively). Regarding the first principle, the division line enables both prints to be read as independent images with their own projected meanings. In my reading, The Two Asses invite contemplation about the relationship between the two animals and, in turn, their relationship with the surrounding landscape; Dundrum River projects a sinister mood arising in part by the dark recesses between the distant trees and from contrast between the mechanically horizontal lines of the sky against the organically curly lines of the foliage. Regarding the second principle, the line of division is a superb example of cutting the original rectangle at its golden section. Regarding the third principle, if the pattern of lights and darks were extracted in a conceptual way (see diagram below), then the proportion of drawn areas (the darks) compared to the unmarked areas (the lights) would be close to the Golden ratio. In short, both Haden and Williams had fine aesthetic eyes when they chose to crop their images.


Approximate proportions of areas of drawing and areas left untouched
(click on the image to make it larger)

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Addendum

I received a welcome note from the print dealers, Barham Money Fine Art (http://www.barhammoneyfineart.co.uk/), regarding Haden’s etching The Two Asses. They have a rare first state signed copy of the print before the addition of Haden’s inscription lamenting the barren foreground (see below). After looking at the plate in this untouched state Haden’s conundrum about finding a way forward is clear.