Sunday, 30 September 2012

Drawing corners: Pymble, Orley & Swanevelt


What are some of the principles guiding artists when they portray corners?

One of my first year illustration students, Michelle Pymble, executed a drawing of a ram’s skull recently (see drawing below) and her sensitive treatment of the closer horn prompted this discussion. Michelle’s clear interest in showing the texture and angled contours of this spiralling horn (see detail of the drawing further below), especially her considered use of tone to differentiate its top and side planes, is a fine example of the inherent layering of pictorial conventions underpinning how artists portray corners. This notion that such a layering exists may at first seem unlikely; after all, how difficult can the shading of a corner be? For instance, I can conceive that one may think that the exercise is as easy as portraying the lit side of a corner in light tones and the shadow side of a corner in dark tones. This may be superficially true, but there are so many subtle principles relating to corners to be taken into account that they turn what may otherwise be a fairly straight forward account into a complex one. To simplify the explanation, I have narrowed the focus of the discussion to only five of these principles:
1. the Western lighting convention (i.e. lighting a subject from the top-front-left so that an Occidental reader can perceive form readily);
2. simultaneous contrast (i.e. the optical exaggeration of tonal contrast where the light side of the corner meets the dark side);
3. tonal weighting (i.e. a subtle darkening of tone “down” both the lit and shadow side of the corner and an exaggeration of tonal contrast at the bottom edge of the corner);
4. noetic space (i.e. an abstract representation of spatial depth created by an undrawn, or very pale area, in the background abutting a corner on the shadow side of the subject);
5. exotopic tone (i.e. an area of darker tone in the background abutting a corner on the lit side of the subject).


Michelle Pymble 
(James Cook University first-year Illustration student)
Ram’s Skull, 2012
watercolour and ink
Detail of Michelle Pymble’s Ram’s Skull

Regarding the first principle, the Western lighting convention, this topic is discussed in the earlier posts: Haeckel: 10 rules of composition [Rule #5] and Boisseau, Agar, Wild & Foster: Analogue & Digital Lighting. Rather than revisiting the reason why the convention evolved, I now wish to address how artists have formularised—perhaps subconsciously and arguably because it is logical—the notion that shadowed regions of a subject should be rendered (i.e. shaded) with horizontal lines whereas areas in strong light should be rendered with vertical lines to differentiate them from lines portraying shadow. To show this principle in action I wish to use as an example, Richard van Orley’s (1663–1732) classically inspired etching, Sacrificing Iphigenia to Diana (shown below) featuring a Baroque composition of figures in the forecourt of a domed rotunda. The details of this image that I wish to focus on are the facing corner of the stone slab supporting the sacrificial fire to Diana and the timber framing the fire (see details further below). Here, the artist has rendered the shadow side of the slab and the stacked timber with cross-hatched horizontal strokes while their lit sides are depicted with vertical strokes.
Richard van Orley (1663–1732)
Sacrificing Iphigenia to Diana, c.1700
Etching on laid paper
signed in the lower left margin: “R.V. Orley fecit”
25.2 x 18.3 cm (sheet)
White: 34
Condition: Strong, crisp impression, trimmed with small margins around the image and with lower text area intact. The paper is clean and in very good condition but there are remnants of top hinging (verso) and a small closed tear in the upper right corner (not visible from the front).
I am selling this print for $158 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 have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of van Orley’s Sacrificing Iphigenia to Diana 
showing the Western lighting convention
Detail of van Orley’s Sacrificing Iphigenia to Diana 
showing the Western lighting convention
Detail of van Orley’s Sacrificing Iphigenia to Diana 
showing the Western lighting convention

Beyond differentiating the shadow areas of the subject from those in the light, the use of this convention is also an advantage when portraying the corner of a block where three planes meet; such as the top surface of the slab. In the context of three planes meeting at a corner, the Western convention of aligning marks according to the degree of light falling on them becomes a handy formula. In van Orley’s rendering of the slab, for example, he uses vertically aligned lines for the slab’s lit side (the side facing the viewer), cross-hatched horizontal lines in perspective for the slab’s shadow side (the side leading away from the viewer) and for the top face of the slab he aligns his marks so that they are oriented in a direction opposing the other angles: marks that are parallel to the viewer.

One critical component of the Western lighting convention that van Orley’s print does not exemplify is the principle of lighting the portrayed subject from the top-front-left—the way that Michelle employs in her drawing of the ram’s head. This perceived shortfall in van Orley’s print can be explained simply: the angle of lighting is the outcome of the printing process and the artist chose not to take the mirror reversal produced by the process into account. I am reasonably confident about this as van Orley’s watercolour of the same subject in the Galleria Palantina in Palazzo Pitti, Florence (see http://pictify.com/43330/richard-van-orley-sacrifice-of-iphigenia [viewed 30.9.2012]) shows a top-front-left angle of lighting that matches the Western lighting convention.

With regard to the second principle, simultaneous contrast, this effect is an optical phenomenon observed when looking at a corner lit on one side. What occurs is that the contrast between the two sides exaggerates the degree of contrast in the mind’s eye. The consequence is that the dark side appears to be darker than it is in reality towards the corner edge and the light side appears to be lighter than it actually is as shown in my rendering of a cube below.


Rendering of a cube showing the effect of simultaneous contrast at the front corner 
In the detail of Michelle drawing, for example, Michelle has exaggerated the effect of simultaneous contrast where the strongly lit top plane of the ram’s horn meets the shadowed side plane.

The third principle, tonal weighting, is a subtle device where the artist applies a very gentle tonal gradation (i.e. a transition from light to dark) on all the side surfaces of a form so that both the lit and dark sides are tonally darker towards the ground plane. For instance, in Herman van Swanevelt’s (1603–55) etching, The Cardinal (shown below), the use of this principle is so subtle that it can be easily overlooked—and I suspect that its use by the artist might even have been instinctive rather than by conscious decision. Nevertheless, it may be seen on close examination. In the pair of details shown further below, for example, the shadow side of the building reveals subtle gradations to a darker tone down the wall towards the ground. 


Herman van Swanevelt (1603–55),
Landscape with a Cardinal Reading, c. 1620–55
From a series of twelve landscapes
Etching on laid paper
18.5 x 28.5 cm (sheet)
With text line: “Herman van Swanevelt Inventor fecit” (lower left); a Paris chex Hondhare rue St Jacques” (lower centre); “cum privilegio Regis” (lower right)
Hollistein: 87; Bartsch: 02.83
Condition: very good impression trimmed close to the platemark. Traces of use, otherwise the print is in very good condition.

I am selling this print for $136 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 have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.




van Swanevelt’s Landscape with a Cardinal Reading 
showing weighting the subject by tonal gradation.

An even more subtle device linked to the principle of tonal weighting a subject is the use of tonal accents placed at each corner of the subject where it rests on the ground. This device has been discussed in the earlier post, Dujardin: Sheep Legs, with regard to making sheep appear anchored to the ground. In the rendering of the cube for example, the corners resting on the ground are accented by sharp tonal contrast while the remainder of the line delineating the ground line of the cube is blurred so that the cube appears firmly attached to the ground (see annotations on the cube marking these accents and effects of blurring below).

Rendering of a cube showing the effect of weighting a subject with accents at the corners
The fourth principle, noetic space, is discussed in the earlier post, Jacque: Sheep and Shadows but interestingly, this principle is seldom (if at all) addressed in art texts even though it is a convention that most artists employ. To demonstrate how this principle may be used effectively, I have drawn a horizontal line as part of the background behind my rendering of the cube (see below). On the back corner edge of the cube on its lit side (the left side) the horizontal line is portrayed as abutting (i.e. “touching”) the cube. By contrast, on the back corner edge on the shadow side (the right side) the horizontal line is portrayed with a gap of noetic space (i.e. an abstract representation of space embodied in a blank space) where the line does not connect with the cube.

Rendering of a cube showing the effect of using noetic space at the far right corner 
Note also that the use of noetic space in this rendering involves fading out of the immediate surroundings around the far right corner as well as the background line. The history of artists using this principle dates back to the Renaissance and an excellent example of its use can be seen below in the two details of Johannes Sadeler’s (1550–c.1600) Hermit Ciomus, c.1590 discussed in the post, Sadeler: Subject Integration. 

Sadeler’s use of noetic space in Hermit Ciomus, c.1590
In these details can also be see the fifth and final principle that I wish to address, exotopic tone (a term coined by Paul Klee along with “endotopic tone”). As the prefix,”exo,” in name suggests, artists use this tone on the outside of a subject. In the details above, the darkening of the background on the lit side of the building is a fine example of exotopic tone in a print. Its function is to optically illuminate the subject. In the case of the rendering of the cube, this tone also helps to differentiate the far corner of the cube from its background and if I may return to Michelle’s drawing, the exotopic tone applied to the outside of the skull helps to establish the pale tonality of the skull (see detail below).

Detail of Michelle Pymble’s Ram’s Skull
Like all principles there is an element of smudging where the attributes of one principle overlaps the next. This is certainly true of noetic space, exotopic tone and simultaneous contrast but while there are functional similarities each principles is employed for distinctly different purposes: Noetic space is used to spatially separate the subject from its immediate background; exotopic tone is used to accentuate and separate the lit area of a subject from its background; and, simultaneous contrast at corners is used to accentuate the difference between the lit plane of the subject and its adjoining shadowed plane.




Sunday, 23 September 2012

Linear Vectors & Nodal points: Brereton, Jacque & Daumier


What are some simple visual devices for unifying an image?

Two effective and reasonable simple visual devices that artists use to draw together subject features in a composition are linear vectors and nodal points. This discussion focuses on these devices but mindful that the terms are not self-explanatory descriptors, I will begin by describing how they function in images.


Regarding “linear vectors,” this term describes the alignment of portrayed subject material in such a way that a viewer of the image can perceive a line carried through from one portrayed feature to the next. For example, if an artist wished to portray two rectangular blocks in an image as pictorially separated from each other but conceptually linked (i.e. compositionally united) the artist would ensure that an edge of one of the blocks is perfectly in line with an edge of the other block (see illustration below). A viewer looking at this arrangement is then likely to perceive a line created that conceptually bridges the gap between them. This perceived line is what I wish to describe as a linear vector. Artists use such optically created lines (linear vectors) as a way to draw together subjects that are spatially separated and seemingly very different in physical attributes into a cohesive composition.

(upper image) diagram of the created linear vector
(lower image) alignment of the subject to create a linear vector
Regarding “nodal points,” this term describes pivotal points within an image that the eye perceives as aligned with important lines, angles or intersections of the portrayed subject. Sometimes these points arise from the artist’s preliminary measuring of the subject’s proportions and are shown as small dots or “x” marks usually inscribed on the outer border of an image. Often the marks are shown as having migrated into the picture area as well when the artist is plotting proportional measurements to accurately position the featured subject within the composition. Artists also use nodal points to show a conceptual extension of a form. For example, in the illustration below, the upper edge of the closer glass block has been extended to its intersection with the further back block and this nodal point has been accentuated with a touch of colour.

(upper image) diagram of the created nodal point
(lower image) alignment of the subject to create a nodal point

As a practical demonstration of these visual devices I wish to use a fine drawing (see below) executed by John Brereton (one of the James Cook University’s first-year illustration students) of a taxidermy chicken during a short examination last week on the principles of drawing. As part of his written explanation John describes how he created a connection “between the head of the chicken and [its] front leg” through the strong lines linking them—linear vectors. I have marked this path of linear vectors in the diagram shown further below. Interestingly, in discussing the effect of these lines with regard to notions of compression and stretching in the chicken’s form, John makes the insightful comment that the lines create contrast between the chicken’s “proud/arrogant” back and the “softer voluptuous chest.” John proposes that “this chicken believes it has the right to scratch around in your vege/flower garden! It dares you to disagree.”

John Brereton
(James Cook University first-year Illustration student)
[Taxidermy chicken], 2012
Ink, charcoal and watercolour on cartridge paper
29.6 x 21 cm
Diagram of linear vector pathways

The use of nodal points also features in John’s drawing. As part of the initial layout, the four sides of the drawing have been used like a ruler with sight-size notational measurements registered in pen marks. These marks guide the artist’s hand in plotting where, for instance, the tip of the chicken’s beak is to be positioned and the proportional distances between its beak, breast and hindquarters. In the diagram below the alignment of these reference points have been revealed to show where and how John established the chicken’s position on the page.

Diagram of nodal points used in the preliminary stage of sight-size measuring

From an historical perspective, the list of artists using these visual devices is considerable. Last century features Sir William Coldstream (1908–1987) with his famous “Coldstream method”—an exacting style of measured drawing continued by his pupil at the Slade, the now legendary Euan Uglow (1932–2000). Looking back a century earlier, I have decided to focus on Charles-Emile Jacque (1813–94) and his sensitive etching, Les Petites Vacheres, to discuss linear vectors and Honoré Daumier (1808–79) with his satirical lithograph, À Bercy, to discuss nodal points.


In Jacque’s Les Petites Vacheres (shown below) featuring two cowgirls surrounded by cows with one of the girls portrayed standing lightly resting on a staff while the other reclines on the ground and toys with a nest of baby birds. At first my eye is drawn to the standing girl but only momentarily as attention is soon diverted down her staff to the reclining girl. This shift in focus is not driven simply because the staff acts as a pictorial bridge between the two girls. There is more to the shift than that. This is a linear vector as the staff is aligned to connect with the reclining girl’s head and then her shoulder and finally down her arm to the nestlings (see red line in the diagram further below). The more one looks closely at this print the more connecting lines appear and they appear to be arranged intentionally. See for instance the inverted “v” shape formed in the tree behind the girl and how a dead branch from from it connects with the formation of birds flying in the far distance (see the blue lines in the same diagram below).



Charles-Emile Jacque (1813–94)
Les Petites Vacheres [Small Cowgirls], 1864
Etching on laid paper signed lower left and printed by Lienard
17.5 x 12.2 cm (plate); 24.8 x 19.9 cm (sheet)
Condition: superb impression in pristine condition.
I am selling this print for a total cost of $117 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 have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Whole sheet view

Linear vectors in Jacque’s Les Petites Vacheres

In Daumier's À Bercy (shown below) featuring two brewery workers—one carrying pails of what is probably water from the Seine towards the other worker who is pouring the liquid from a pail into a barrel—the critical visual dialogue is clearly between the two portrayed figures. More subtly, however, there is also a potent graphic dialogue between the horizontal line created by the pointed nose of the figure carrying the pails and a horizontal line aligned with and pointing back to the same figure’s nose created by the candle support on the far right edge of the image. This alignment is planned and it is all to do with a carefully placed sequence of nodal points. For instance, in the diagram further below, see how the line from the candle support is perfectly level with the other figure’s nose and hands. This subtle graphic exchange between all the pointy bits lies at the heart of what makes Daumier’s satirical style of drawing so engaging to look at.

Honoré Daumier (1808–79)
À Bercy: - Nous faisons tout ce que nous pouvons pour empêcher que la Seine déborde jamais........ et il y a pourtant encore des gens qui ne nous savent pas gré de notre bonne intention!......
["At BERCY: - We are doing everything we can to prevent the Seine overflows ever ........ and yet there are still people who do not know we appreciate our good intention! .......] Plate 321, edition of the Charivari July 1, 1856
Lithograph on printed leaf (verso)
Delteil: 2769
19.4 x 25.7 cm (illustration); 25.6 x 30.1 cm (sheet); 32.7 x 50 cm (support sheet)
Condition: crisp impression, attached by hinges to grey support paper, slightly dusty and imaged with a few spots and light age toning.
I am selling this print for a total cost of $94 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. (The print is large and will be posted in a tube.) Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Nodal points in Daumier’s À Bercy

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Five key responses to art: Julien, Daubigny & Montefiore


What are some of the fundamental ways that viewers respond to artworks?

First let me make the grand announcement that no one can presume to know how each viewer will respond to an artwork. After all, there are simply too many variables that come into play with each viewer’s engagement with art. For instance, viewers have varying depths of understanding about art. They also have different dispositions, sensitivities, cognitive and physical capabilities to be taken into account. Moreover, the context and their mindset at the time of looking at an artwork make nonsense of the idea that viewers are likely to respond in the same way to an artwork. Now that I’ve exposed the essential flaw with any proposition that there might be a set of fundamental ways that viewers respond to artworks, I still wish to persevere and propose that there are four very broad ways that viewers look at, engage with and respond to artworks: a Aristotelian view (i.e. a view that an artwork is like a veil of pictorial effects under which lies essential truths); a Kantian view (i.e. a view that an artwork is like a psychological portrait of the artist who created it); a Schillerian view (i.e. a view that an artwork is enjoyed when it draws together complementary forces in flux in the viewer’s divided self); a Hegelian view (i.e. a view in which an artwork becomes a aesthetic refuge and conceptual rock upon which a viewer can rest the mind and become liberated); Proustian experience (i.e. an experience in which an artwork is a catalyst for personal reverie). I realise that my version of the concepts of the above luminaries (Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Marcel Proust) borders on gross misrepresentation of their ideas. Nevertheless, for the sake of the following discussion I wish to use their names as a means of identifying four very different ways of responding to artworks with the closest related luminaries that I can find for each outlook.

Regarding the first approach, the Aristotelian view is underpinned by the notion that there are archetypal essences that sensitive viewers have developed an understanding about, such as “the ‘pieness’ of pies, the ‘cliffness’ of cliffs” (Arthur, John 1989, Spirit of Place: contemporary Landscape Painting and the American Tradition, Bulfinch Press, Canada, p. 63). This way of looking and the mindset driving it allows a viewer to see through superficial issues with the artwork. For example, the viewer may be conscious of but can overlook issues like surface grime and physical damage to the artwork and technical issues to do with composition, proportions and handling of the medium employed. In spite of being conscious of such concerns, however, they are backgrounded by the viewer’s desire to envisage what the artwork aspires to project.

To explain this with a practical example, in Bernard-Romain Julien’s (1802–71) lithograph, Etude aux deux crayons N°15 (shown below), there are traces that the print has been handled over the centuries and there is clear evidence of that it has undergone a minor misadventure in its past life as one corner is chipped. To viewers with an Aristotelian eye, such issues are not overly significant. Instead, their gaze is more focused on what the print signifies and to my eyes this is a young girl’s awkward but cloyingly charming moment of innocence. From such a Aristotelian viewpoint, the featured subject is not a portrait of particular child but rather it is an embodiment of the ideal of young girl’s sweetness. Going further, the highly refined rendering of tone (i.e. the treatment of light and shade) modelling her features is pictorially cleansed of incidental details (e.g. freckles, blemishes and physiological abnormalities) presents an idealised vision of how little girls should look lik­e—albeit a saccharinely sweet vision.

Bernard-Romain Julien (1802–71)
Etude aux deux crayons N°15 after Auguste Debay (1804–65)
Lithograph on cream wove paper (vellum)
47.7 x 30.7 cm
Condition: strong impression with light surface soiling, faint scattered foxing and the top right corner chipped.
I am selling this print for a total cost of $95 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be posted in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.

This print has been sold
Detail of Julien’s Etude aux deux crayons N°15 after Auguste Debay 
Detail of Julien’s Etude aux deux crayons N°15 after Auguste Debay 

The second way that viewers can look at an artwork, the Kantian view, proposes that the viewer can read the artwork like Sherlock Holmes and reconstruct from the evidence displayed the inner workings of the artist’s mind. With this mindset the viewer’s whole engagement with the artwork is to decipher the reasons for the artist’s choice, arrangement and manner of the execution of the portrayed subject material. In essence the viewer is absorbed with experiencing the artist’s presence projected by the artwork. For example, in Charles François Daubigny’s (1817–1878) etching, Le Pre Des Graves a Villerville (Calvados) [Grazing Cows in a Meadow near Villerville] (shown below), the viewer may be captivated with finding the three cows and five rabbits—there may be more of both animals but these are the ones that I can see—that Daubigny has woven into the pictorial fabric of the grasslands. The viewer could also contemplate why Daubigny chose to draw this particular scene and enter into the artist’s thought processes (i.e. “head space”) to unravel its significance. From a personal viewpoint, for instance, I see this landscape with its finely hatched linear treatment as being like the undulating hairy skin of an animal. Moreover, my reading of the image is that Daubigny expresses an animist view of landscape in the sense of conceiving of it as a spiritually alive entity.

Charles François Daubigny (1817–1878)
Le Pre Des Graves a Villerville (Calvados), 1876
[Grazing Cows in a Meadow near Villerville]
Etching on cream laid paper
Inscribed: “3.” (upper right); “Daubigny del et sculp.” (lower left); “Vve A. Cadart. Edit. Imp. 56 Bard Haussmann, Paris.” (lower right); “LE PRE DES GRAVES A VILLERVILLE (Calvados)” (lower centre). 
16 x 24 cm (plate); 21.7 x 29.6 cm (sheet)
Condition: excellent impression in very good condition. There is a small mark (approximately .5 cm square) on the back of the print that is not visible in the image on the front.
Melot: 124

I am selling this print for a total cost of $160 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 have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.



This print has been sold

(upper) recto view of sheet
(lower) verso view of sheet
Detail of Daubigny’s Le Pre Des Graves a Villerville (Calvados)
Detail of Daubigny’s Le Pre Des Graves a Villerville (Calvados)
Detail of Daubigny’s Le Pre Des Graves a Villerville (Calvados)

The third way that a viewer may look at an artwork, the Schillerian view, occurs when a viewer recognises in the artwork arrangements of elements representing coexistence of opposing forces (e.g. the dualities of conscious control and free action; temporal concerns and spiritual transcendence; calculation and intuitive response). This may at first seem like a view that no one really has but even from personal experience it is a very genuine way of looking as it resolves pictorially inner conflicts. For instance, I remember looking up at the carving in the entrance to a church that featured of two fish bound together by a cord as in the Pisces astrological symbol. Whereas I would normally have looked and marvelled at the skilful carving, at this particular moment in my life I realised that the reason why it was in the doorway was because it embodied the notion of the soul and body going in different directions but bound together as a whole person. This was an amazing vision that I had at the time (and I’m as close to being an irreconcilable atheist as any heathen). In short, viewers need concrete forms, such as artworks, to visualise intangible but very real feelings. Or to borrow John Armstrong’s analogues: “An emotion without an object is like a lover without a loved one (or a miser without a hoard). Feelings need objects.” (Armstrong, John 2000, The Intimate Philosophy of Art. Allen Lane, London, p. 118.)

As an example of the Shillerian view I wish to focus on Daubigny’s Claire De Lune a Valmondois (shown below) which is the last etching he executed. In this print the dim light of early evening makes the moon glowing above the tree line appear like the sun as it casts soft radiating shadows from the farmer leading his (or her) cows home. From my reading of this image the figure and cows are arranged at the intersection of dark and light to signify a shift from day to night. Going further, for me this intersection is a metaphor for a change in energy from daytime labours to night-time relaxation. When I look at the print I literally feel a calming shift in my energy level. In short, this way of looking at the print is all about recognising a duality of feelings and responding to the manner in which they are brought together.

Charles François Daubigny (1817–1878)
Claire De Lune a Valmondois [Moonlight at Valmondois]
Etching on cream laid paper
State iv (of iv)
Inscribed: “Daubigny del et sculp.” (lower left); “Vve A. Cadart. Edit. Imp. 56 Bard Haussmann, Paris.” (lower right); “LE PRE DES GRAVES A VILLERVILLE (Calvados)” (lower centre); “Gazette des Beaux Arts” (bottom left). 
16 x 23 cm (plate); 27.5 x 18.5 cm (sheet)
Melot: 124
Condition: strong impression in very good condition. Melot notes that this print “illustrated the obituary article on Daubigny” and that the author, Alfred de Lostalot, “explained that ‘this etching was drawn two months before the death of the artist. Daubigny intended to do some retouching: he wished to burnish it, that is, tone down the haystacks and the tree-covered mountainsides that bound the horizon: death did not leave him the time to do so.’” (Melot, Michel 1978m Graphic Art of the Pre-Impressionists, Harry N. Abrams, New York, p. 283.)

I am selling this print for a total cost of $160 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 have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.

This print has been sold

Detail of Daubigny’s Claire De Lune a Valmondois
Detail of Daubigny’s Claire De Lune a Valmondois

The fourth way of looking the artwork, the Hegelian view, is about finding beauty in an artwork as a point of departure for spiritual transcendence. What constitutes this notion of beauty, of course, is, as Margaret Wolfe Hungerford correctly advises, “in the eye of the beholder.” Some artworks, however, are executed with the idea that they will be seen to be beautiful. For example, Bernard-Romain Julien’s lithograph Cours Elementaire, Plate N°15 (shown below), executed to epitomise classical ideals of beauty and designed to excite art students to replicate it. Whether such an image is still likely to be a “point of departure for spiritual transcendence” is an open question. Nevertheless, this is a fine example of an artwork designed for such a purpose.

Bernard-Romain Julien (1802–71)
Cours ElementairePlate 146
Lithograph on wove paper
36.1 x 27.5 cm
Condition: strong impression with age toning towards the edge, a few faint foxing marks otherwise in very good condition
I am selling this print for a total cost of $65 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This print will be posted in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.


This print has been sold

Detail of Julien’s Cours ElementairePlate 146

Explaining the fifth way that a viewer may look at, or more correctly respond to, an artwork (i.e. a Proustian experience) is a little more complex than the previous four. The essential construct in this approach is that the reading of imagery is less about the artist who created it and more about the viewer using—perhaps subverting—the projected meanings of the artwork for personal satisfactions (i.e. self-indulgent pleasures). One such “satisfaction” may be a flood of recollections prompted by the artwork. This occurs where a feature of the artwork excites memories and so the artwork is like a launch pad in raising distant memories and experiences. Another “satisfaction” may be involuntary aesthetic critiquing. This occurs when a viewer’s mind is triggered by some feature of the artwork into benchmarking the artwork against a personal set of aesthetic values and sensitivities. In this overwhelming aesthetic critique the viewer may even engage in mentally correcting the perceived shortfalls in the artwork in what is euphemistically described as “the mind’s eye.” The final “satisfaction” I will discuss is to view the artwork as a focus for contemplation in the way that Matisse famously describes as ‘something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue” (Matisse, Henri 1908 “Notes d’un Peintre” in La Grande Revue as translated by Jack Flam [1995] in Matisse on Art). Here the artwork passes from being examined as an artefact to being a visual field for reverie.

As an example of how the view of an artwork can move from artefact to reverie I will use Edouard Levy Montefiore’s (1820–94) etching, Vue Dans Le Port De Sydney (Australie) (shown below). Clearly this is an early view of Sydney harbour but for anyone familiar with the Sydney the image is a challenge to look at without the mind lapsing into thoughts about how the portrayed waterfront has changed. This effect of the mind wishing to intervene with an involuntary flood of memories—in this case very recent ones—exemplifies this final viewer response when looking at an artwork.

Edouard Levy Montefiore (1820–94)
Vue Dans Le Port De Sydney (Australie), c. 1871-1894
Etching on thin laid paper
Rare proof before letters, signed in the plate
17 x 20 cm (plate); 26.5 x 36.2 cm (sheet)
Condition: a rare and strong impression on very thin paper in very good condition. There is a pencil inscription of title and the artist’s name on the lower edge of sheet.

I am selling this print for a total cost of $210 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 have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of Montefiore’s Vue Dans Le Port De Sydney (Australie)

As I advised at the start of this discussion, there are an imponderable number of variables impacting on a viewer’s engagement with art. For those wishing to explore this topic further, I will return once more to Ian Armstrong—an excellent writer that I admire for his common sense views—who offers the following conceptual framework behind key philosophers who have very different thoughts on the subject: “Kant draws attention to the need we have to see signs of intelligent and benign purpose; Schiller to the need to find images of the reconciliation of divergent aspects of ourselves; Hegel pin-points a need to create for ourselves a spiritual home in a world which can all to easily seem indifferent to individual life.” (Armstrong, John 2000, The Intimate Philosophy of Art. Allen Lane, London, p. 187.)

Before concluding this discussion I wish to share a marvellous insight from Lafcado Hearn (1850–1904) (aka Koizumi Yakumo) concerning memories but one that may also impact on the types of images that stay with us:
 “Assuredly those impressions which longest haunt recollection are the most transitory; we remember many more instants than minutes, more minutes than hours, and who remembers an entire day? The sum of the remembered happiness of a lifetime is the creation of a few seconds.” (Hearn, Lafacadio 1984, Writings from Japan: An Anthology (Travel Library), Viking Penguin, New York, p. 75.)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

10 “Rules” of Composition (Part 2): Haeckel



What are some “rules” of composition guiding an artist’s hand?

This is the second part of the discussion begun in the last post regarding “rules” of composition. As explained in the last post (Part 1), these “rules” should not be perceived as inflexible laws but rather as guides intended to help artists to arrange their subject material in artworks. After all, to make an artwork eye-catching, artists need to deviate from conventional arrangements underpinning the “rules” and add an element of surprise (i.e. an unpredictable element breaking the “rules”). To sustain the same approach to the discussion as in Part 1, I will again use Ernst Haeckel's scientific illustrations as the focus for the explanation.

Rule #6: avoid creating uninterrupted lines across an image (i.e. where the featured subject creates a conceptual bridge spanning one side of the image to the next, such as an horizon line that has no subject breaking its continuous line). In Haeckel’s Acanthophracta—Plate 41 (shown below) the radiolarians are all arranged with black space surrounding them. Consequently, there are no uninterrupted lines to be seen that might otherwise break the composition into separate components. For instance, if some of these delicate forms were rearranged to create a continuous line wherein they “touch” each other as well as two sides of the image’s border (as shown in the digitally altered image further below for example) then the viewer’s eye is drawn to the uninterrupted line they create. In the case of this altered image, the eye then reads the division in the image as producing two sections; each of which are united with the other but at the same time both are examined by the eye as separate pictorial zones. In short the cohesiveness of the image is diminished.

Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919)
Acanthophracta—Plate 41 Folio print (antique halftone lithographic translation of Haeckel’s drawing by Adolf Giltsch) from Ernst Haeckel’s 1899–1904 edition of Kunstformen der Natur published by Leipzig & Vienna
28 x 20 cm (image); 35.5 x 27 cm (sheet)
Condition: there is a crease on the lower corner well away from the image.
I am selling this print (Acanthophracta—Plate 41) and the print below (Siphonopharae—Plate 37) along with their accompanying sheets of explanatory text for a combined total cost of $137 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. (Note: these are large prints and will be shipped in a tube.) Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Sheet of explanatory text for Acanthophracta—Plate 41 from Ernst Haeckel’s 1899–1904 edition of Kunstformen der Natur published by Leipzig & Vienna (click to enlarge)
Digitally altered image of Acanthophracta—Plate 41 showing the effect of creating an interrupted line

Rule #7: avoid even numbers of subjects (i.e. images composed with, for example, two, four, six or eight featured subjects). This is a common sense type of rule in that when an artist uses odd numbers of subjects—one, three, five or seven etc.—then there is a better chance of there being a centre of interest upon which the eye can focus. To express this differently, committees are ideally composed of an odd number of people because an odd number means that one member of the committee stands alone and can cast a deciding vote. In terms of composition, the same logic applies in that odd numbers of subjects usually means that one of them stands out to become the focal point whereas when even numbers of subjects are featured this can lean a composition towards symmetry where all the subjects compete for attention. In Haeckel’s Siphonopharae—Plate 37 (shown below) there are an odd number of subjects and clearly the central form is visually arresting because of its size and complexity. If this central form is removed (as can seen in the digitally altered image further below) then there are an even number of subjects and the eye is left in a perceptual flux as to where the eye should “rest.”

Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919)
Siphonopharae—Plate 37
Folio print (antique halftone lithographic translation of Haeckel’s drawing by Adolf Giltsch) from Ernst Haeckel’s 1899–1904 edition of Kunstformen der Natur published by Leipzig & Vienna
28 x 20 cm (image); 35.5 x 27 cm (sheet)
I am selling this print (Siphonopharae—Plate 37) and the print above (Acanthophracta—Plate 41) along with their accompanying sheets of explanatory text for a combined total cost of $137 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. (Note: these are large prints and will be shipped in a tube.) Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you have any queries or click the “Buy Now” button above.
Sheet of explanatory text for Siphonopharae—Plate 37from Ernst Haeckel’s 1899–1904 edition of Kunstformen der Natur published by Leipzig & Vienna (click to enlarge)
Digitally altered image of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 showing the effect of featuring an even number of subjects
To extend this process of elimination a stage further, in the second altered image of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 shown below, the number of subjects is reduced to just three forms and the eye has less of a problem choosing a centre of interest—to my eye the lower left Siphonopharae. In short, the odd number of displayed subjects allows the viewer to select a centre of interest by establishing one of the forms to be the most interesting in a hierarchy of visual importance (i.e. by a perceptual “pecking order”).

Digitally altered image of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 showing the effect of featuring an odd number of subjects
Rule #8: avoid creating a “floating” composition (i.e. do not position a subject so that it is unattached to the outside border of the image or in a way that does not conceptually relate to the border). For example, if I revisit the composition of Haeckel’s Siphonopharae—Plate 37 and digitally “float” the portrayed forms with additional space surround them as a group, as shown below (see upper-right image), the relationship between the forms and the borderline of the format becomes more “free” compared to the original print (see upper-left image). By this I mean that an element of visual uncertainty is introduced into the composition as to the spatial position of the forms—to my eyes they are further away in this fresh arrangement. Moreover, there is also a leaning to ambiguity with regard to the meaning projected by the new composition—to my eyes the forms are not as structurally solid compared to how they appear when juxtaposed close to the straight edges of the border as in the original print. If I then digitally remove all but the central Siphonopharae from the composition (see lower-left image) the relationship between the borderline and the portrayed subject becomes more tenuous. This is because the removal of the Siphonopharae from the corners of the composition makes the arrangement less formal and rigid. As a final experiment, consider how the relationship between the border and the central Siphonopharae breaks down even further if the subject’s form is distorted (see lower-right image) so that it could be framed with formats other than a rectangle (e.g. an oval or a diamond-shape). At this stage the compositional link between subject and the image shape is lost by the effect of a perceptually floating subject.

(upper-left) Siphonopharae—Plate 37
(upper-right) digitally altered image showing the effect of a “floating” composition
(lower-left) digitally altered image showing the effect of a “floating” composition
(lower-right) digitally distorted image showing the effect of a “floating” composition
The addition of a single line connecting the subject to the borderline, however, can “fix” the problem and give compositional cohesiveness back to the image as can be seen in the adjusted image below.

Digitally altered image of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 
 Rule #9: avoid creating an unbalanced composition (i.e. do not position the subject material so that it is aesthetically too “heavy” on the top or sides). Usually artists seldom create unbalanced compositions because intuition and years of developing a “good” eye for aesthetics guides judgements regarding balance. Rather than resorting to the tried and tested approaches to test whether a composition is balanced or not (e.g. looking at the artwork in a mirror to give a fresh viewpoint—there is even a tradition of looking at artworks by turning your back to them, bending over, and then examining them from the unusual viewpoint of between your legs) I wish to discuss the more delicate approach of using the centre-of-interest as a fulcrum point to avoid an unbalanced composition.

In the earlier adjustment of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 showing the effect of using only three featured subjects (see the left image below) the composition displays a visually unsettling top-left weighting. One way to address this aesthetic problem is to shift the upper-left Siphonopharae to a position where it acts like a fulcrum (i.e. the pivoting point) of a child’s swing to aesthetically balance the two other forms. In the right image below, I have selected such a point that I feel is aesthetically “right” for balancing the visual weights of the lower-left and the upper-right forms. Of course there are many other such positions and there will be many viewers with a much more refined sense for locating the exact “sweet spot” for placing this subject. 

Digitally altered image of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 showing the fulcrum point adjustments
Rule #10: avoid creating equal sized spaces between subjects (i.e. do not position a subject midway between two others). Of all the issues relating to composition in Haeckel’s prints this “rule” is the one that Haeckel has chosen to ignore, but with good reason. In scientific illustration the purpose of the artwork is to show the subject in a way that can be understood objectively as a specimen. This means that the artist’s role is not directed to showcasing a very personal view of it (even though Haeckel’s artwork is far from lacking a clear style). Mindful of this aim, Haeckel’s images are constructed using symmetry of equal sized spaces. Nevertheless, to demonstrate the effect of changing this symmetry with subjects arranged with uneven spaces separating them the digitally adjusted image below of Siphonopharae—Plate 37 may be of interest. Of course the creation of these unequal sized spaces raises the question in scientific illustration concerning rule #8: avoid creating a “floating” composition.

(left) Siphonopharae—Plate 37
(right) digitally altered image using uneven spacing of subjects