Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Shadows (Part 2): Denon, Piranesi, Goya, Gericault & Haden

What are some of the principles underpinning how artists portray shadows?

In the previous post about shadows (see Part 1), the focus is on the construction of shadows and some of the subtle principles guiding artists. This present discussion moves beyond the construction phase to explain how tradition has moulded the way artists render shadows (i.e. “shade” them).

Broadly, tradition has given artists two important principles. The first is culturally driven and is arguably the legacy of a culture’s reading direction. For instance, cultures where people read from left to right, such as the Occidental cultures, the Western lighting convention has evolved, as discussed in the earlier post, Drawing Corners. This convention leans artists towards using a top-front-left lighting direction to ensure that the angle of illumination portrayed in images facilitates an audience’s reading direction. In the sensitive and poetic portrait of Paul Véronèse (shown below), for example, the angle of lighting from the top-front-left invites the eye to look first at the illuminated left-side of the Véronèse’s face before moving attention to the shadow side of his face on the right. For an audience with a right-to-left reading direction, such as Arabic or Hebrew readers, the conventional angle of illumination is the converse (i.e. the angle of portrayed lighting in images is from the top-front-right). 

Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon (1747–1825)
Paul Véronèse, c. 1820
Inscribed “P. 137” upper right; “Paul Véronèse” lower left; “DV” lower right; “Tire du Cabinet de Mr. Denon” lower centre
Lithograph in black and sanguine on off-white wove paper
54.5 x 36 cm (sheet)
Condition: a beautiful and rare impression in good condition. There is age toning, handling marks and a small tear (1.7 cm) at the bottom edge.
I am selling this lithograph for $120 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be shipped rolled in a tube. 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

The second principle employed is a visual code of mark-making for representing light and shadow that an audience accustomed to looking at art understands (see for example a range of approaches and visual devices for portraying light in the earlier post, Representing light). Tradition has evolved such a visual code in the sense of rendering styles. For instance, fine lines usually connote light whereas thick lines connote shadow. Going further, fine lines that are short, crisp and sparsely laid usually connote very intense light whereas thick lines that are long with very little space between them usually connote intense shadow.

In Piranesi’s dramatically lit etching, Scenographia Pontis hodie Mollis (shown below), for example, the forward projecting stones appear to be glistening in the intense light falling on the time-ravaged bridge (see details further below). This intensity of light is created in part by strong contrast between light and shade, but the intensity of the light may also be attributed to the way Piranesi has rendered the lit surfaces using very fine and short strokes, many of which are no more than dots. Of course their small size and their effect of portraying strong light is only meaningful by comparison to the much longer and thicker strokes rendering the shadows (see details further below).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–88)
Scenographia Pontis hodie Mollis, c. 1760
“View of the bridge known as Ponte Molle, from Il Campo Marzio dell' Antica Roma, Opera di G.B. Piranesi socio della reale società degli antiquari di Londra (The Campus Martius of Ancient Rome, the Work of G.B. Piranesi, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, London), plate 39” (see [viewed 28.1.2013] and [viewed 28.1.2012])
Inscribed: “Tab. XXXIX.” upper right; “Scenographia Pontis hodie Mollis, ostendens quod remanserat antiqui eperis cum a Nicolao V. Pont. Max. vestitutus fuit. A. Tiberis fluvius.” bottom centre; “Vide indicem ruinar. num. 3.” lower left; “Piranesi F.” [Fecit] lower right.
Etching on laid paper (3cm chain marks without watermark)
22.2 x 35 cm (image); 23.4 x 35.7 (plate); 37.2 x 54.2 cm (sheet)
Taschen 522; Focillon 469; Wilton-Ely 600
Condition: superb impression on virtually pristine laid paper. There is a tiny pin hole in the upper-right corner of the sheet (far away from the impression) and soft folds upper right and lower right. I am not aware of the date of the printing as there is no watermark or embossed stamp but the impression is on laid paper suggesting late 18th to early 19th century.
I am selling this print for $520 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be shipped rolled in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.

Detail of fine short marks portraying strong light
Detail of thick long marks portraying strong shadows

An effective approach employed by artists to render the dark tones of shadows, especially intensely dark shadows, is to scatter pin-points of white throughout the areas of dark tones. This practice gives optical sparkle to dark shadows by the phenomenon of simultaneous contrast and prevents shadows from being dull spots in an image. The need to create these flecks of white plays a role in an artist’s choice of rendering style. Goltzius' dotted lozenge style of cross-hatching (see the earlier post, Dotted Lozenge), for example, is ideally suited to producing diamond-shaped points of light in full shadow. This principle of ensuring the there is spirit in shadowy darkness is also a fundamental principle in Oriental brushwork. In the detail of a brushstroke shown below, for example, natural breaks in the flow of ink produces and effect called “flying whites.”

“Flying whites” in a brushstroke
What I find particularly interesting regarding the portrayal of shadows is how the alignment of marks and the inherent attributes resulting from how artists lay each mark contributes to an effective portrayal of shadows. For instance, in Goya’s etching, The Little Prisoner (shown below) and in many of his other etchings, Goya employs horizontal lines to render shadows. Although I have no privileged information regarding his reason for using this horizontal alignment of lines over other rendering styles, from a personal standpoint, Goya’s choice makes sense: horizontal lines connote the idea that shadows “lie down.” Moreover, a pattern of horizontals in the dark regions acts as the perfect foil of calmness to complement the grim subject matter often featured in his prints. This is especially true in The Little Prisoner, as the horizontal alignment of lines portraying the shadowy background contrasts strongly with the contour marks describing the figure.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828)
Little Prisoner (Spanish title: Tan Barbara la Seguridad como el Delito [The imprisonment is as barbarous as the crime]), c. 1810–20
Published in La Gazette Des Beaux Arts, Vol. XXll, Paris, 1867
Etching and burin from the original plate on laid paper
10.5 x 8.5 cm (plate); 25.6 x 16.3 cm (sheet)
Delteil 31; Harris 26.lll
Condition: strong impression in pristine condition. There are conservator mounting hinges on the back.
I am selling this print for $385 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

Detail of Goya’s Little Prisoner
Detail of Goya’s Little Prisoner

Another principle guiding artists when portraying shadows is the simple but useful rule: surface details and textures are best shown in the half lights (i.e. those areas on an illuminated subject that are halfway between being in the light and in the dark). Or, to express this rule strongly in a negative way: do not depict a subject’s surface details and textures in the subject’s most brilliantly lit areas or darkest shadows. For example, in Leon Cogniet and Theodore Gericault’s collaborative lithograph, Le Maréchal Famand  (The Flemish farrier) shown below, note that the pattern on the horse’s rump is invisible where the light is strongest, but clearly visible in the half-light and invisible in the darkest areas (see details further below). This arrangement is not restricted to the horse and can also be seen in the treatment of the man on left (see detail of his legs further below).

Leon Cogniet (1794–1880) in collaboration with Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault (1791–1824)
Le Maréchal Flamand (The Flemish farrier), 1822
Published by Gihaut Frères and printed by Villain from the suite of lithographs, Études de Chevaux (or Grands Chevaux).
Lithograph on wove paper
Inscribed: "Géricault del" lower left; "Chez Gihaut, éditeur Md. d'Estampes, bard. des Italiens No.5" lower centre; "Lith. De Villain" lower right
24.3 x 32.4 cm (image); 27.5 x 35.5 cm (sheet)
Delteil 85.ll
Condition: strong impression in good condition. There is a small stain on the lower right corner, scuffing on the lower left corner, a foxing spot on the horse's hindquarters and two light dimples visible on verso. This is a rare print before the printer’s name of Villain was removed in 1828.
I am selling this print for $235 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a reasonably large print and will be shipped rolled in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.

Detail of Cogniet and Gericault’s Le Maréchal Flamand
Detail of Cogniet and Gericault’s Le Maréchal Flamand

To further ensure that viewers see areas of dark tone in an image as shadow, as opposed to seeing these areas as representing dark colours, artists often employ a subtle but important technique: retroussage. This is a technical term for lightly stroking an inked plate with cloth before it is printed so that ink in the etched or engraved lines is brought to the surface resulting in the effect of blurred lines when the plate is printed. By using this technique, artists can emulate the loss of focal acuity usually experienced when looking into shadows.

A similar effect of focal blurriness to signify shadows may also be achieved by the use of drypoint. This process involves the artist scoring marks to represent shadows into the printing plate so that a burr of metal is raised with each line. Ink catches in these burrs when the plate is prepared and when printed the uneven accumulation of ink caught in the burrs produces velvety-soft lines.

The combination of retroussage and use of drypoint may be seen in the shadowy foreground of Seymour Haden’s Twickenham Church (shown below). Here Haden contrasts the soft lines created by these two techniques (see details further below) to signify shadow with sharply defined etched lines signifying strong light.

Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818–1910)
Wickenham Church, 1865
Printed by F Goulding for Hamerton’s The Portfolio, lll, 1872
state lV (of V)
Etching with drypoint on heavy cream wove paper
13.7 x 21.5 cm (plate); 17.5 x 24.6 (sheet)
Schneiderman 98.lV
Condition: very strong impression with no foxing or blemishes beyond light toning from the print having been mounted in the past.
I am selling this print for $148 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.

Detail of Wickenham Church showing retroussage wiping
Detail of Wickenham Church showing drypoint lines

The true test of Haden’s success in representing shadows is as simple as asking the question: would an art acculturated audience be likely to see the foreground trees in this print as black—perhaps as the outcome of a fire—or as in shadow? Hopefully the answer will be affirmative.

In the next post on shadows (Part 3) I will continue the discussion by addressing some of the conventions underpinning the use of chiaroscuro lighting.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Shadows (Part 1): Rodin, Brown & Dorigny

What are some of the principles underpinning how artists portray shadows?

Over the last few years, Auguste Rodin’s (1840–1917) six bronze figures that make up his sculpture group, The Burghers of Calais, have made their way into my life. My studio is now dotted with models, drawings and prints about this moody group of figures and I know that the root of my interest in them is all about the play of light and shadow on their forms. For instance, last night I spent my evening drawing Rodin’s emotionally burdened, Andrieu d’Andres (shown below). My attention focused on modelling the figure’s form out of a mass of dark bronze reflections and shadows set against a stark white background. In short, my present preoccupation with shadows is driving the following discussion. Its focus is on key principles and conventions behind portraying shadows: the principles that artists apply when constructing shadows; traditional approaches used to represent shadows; and, the conventions underpinning chiaroscuro lighting (i.e. theatrically dramatic lighting featuring sharp contrast of light and shadow). As the scope of the topic is large, I will break the discussion into three parts and for the first part I will deal with the construction of shadows.

Detail of Auguste Rodin’s Andrieu d’Andres
(one of six figures featured in The Burghers of Calais)
James Brown
Andrieu d’Andres after Rodin, 2013
Pen and ink on 300gsm Saunders Waterford watercolour paper
75.5 x 56 cm
I am selling this drawing for $850 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.

With regard to the principles for constructing shadows on the ground, there are five fundamental points in an image for an artist to establish (see illustration below). The first of these points (see “A” in the illustration) is the centre of the light source casting the shadow. The second point (see “B” in the illustration) is on the ground vertically below the light source. The third point (see “C” in the illustration) is on the portrayed subject from which the artist wishes to cast a shadow. The fourth point (see “D” in the illustration) is on the ground vertically below the previous point. The fifth point (see “E” in the illustration) is at the far end of the shadow.

Five fundamental points in the construction of shadows
From point A, the artist inscribes a line passing through point C on the subject to mark the farthest point of the shadow cast by point C on the ground. This point on the ground is point E. To determine the angle of the cast shadow, the artist inscribes a line from point B, through point D and the angle of this line establishes the angle of the cast shadow connecting point D with point E (as shown in the illustration below).

Establishing the length and angle of a shadow
Note that the length of a shadow is determined by the angle of a line inscribed from the light source (point A) to the point on the subject casting the shadow. Essentially, this means that shadows are different lengths depending on this angle of incidence (i.e. the angle determined by a line drawn from the light source that tangentially brushes against the subject). For example, in the illustration shown below the shadow cast by the lit candle is much shorter than a shadow that would be cast from the unlit candle.

Shadows vary in length according to the angle of incidence
Note also that the angle of a shadow is determined by inscribing a line from the point on the ground (point B) vertically below the light source to the point on the ground vertically below the point on the subject casting the shadow (point D). This allows for a radiation of shadows when there is more than one subject (as shown below).

Radiating shadow effect

When there is a broad light source illuminating a subject (as opposed to a pin-light for instance) a fractured shadow with three distinctly different tones is cast radiating from the far edges of the light source. In technical terms the dark centre triangle of tone is called the umbra. The lighter outer edge of such a shadow is called the penumbra and the farther out triangle of shadow that is formed is called the antumbra (see illustration below).

Umbra, penumbra and antumbra
The same formation of an umbra and penumbra also occurs when there are two or more lights (see illustration below).  

Umbra and penumbra shadows
Beyond the fundamental rule that shadows are darkest close to the subject casting them and are progressively lighter in tone towards the regions furthest away, there is an optical phenomenon that is also important to artists. This phenomenon, however, is subtle and easily overlooked, but it is important: the effect of simultaneous contrast (discussed in the earlier post, Colour and spatial depth). It is important because the edges of shadows—regardless if they are umbra, penumbra or antumbra—all appear darker than the rest of the shadow as an involuntary optical response by the eye. Or conversely, the centre of each shadow region appears lighter in tone than its edges as may be seen in the cast umbra and penumbra shadows shown below. When an artist takes into account the effect of simultaneous contrast the portrayed shadow nearly always appear luminous.

Simultaneous contrast (note how the tones are lighter in the centre and darker at the edges of the umbra and penumbra regions)
In the next post—Shadows (Part 2)—I will discuss how artists apply the above principles but as a foreshadowing of how the use of simultaneous contrast is applied consider the luminous shadows in Michel Dorigny’s (1617–65) Bacchanal of Children (shown below).

Michel Dorigny (1617–65)
Bacchanal of Children, 1659
Described by the British Museum as “Three putti and young satyr helping another young satyr to climb a tree; on the right, a putti feeding a goat with grapes”
From a suite of twelve prints after Nicolas Chaprond’s bacchanalia
Etching on laid paper
18.8 x 16.5 cm (sheet)
Condition: Strong impression, with fine margins in very good condition. The print has a very small collector’s stamp verso (see below).
I am selling this print for $153 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 Dorigny’s Bacchanal of Children
(right image shows collector’s stamp)
Detail of Dorigny’s Bacchanal of Children
Detail of Dorigny’s Bacchanal of Children

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Effective brushstrokes: Hyakusen, Keinen, Kyuko and Rosetsu

What are some approaches for making effective brushstrokes?

Like most variables when creating images, an artist’s vision of what constitutes an effective brushstroke is driven by what the artist wishes to project. For example, Vincent van Gogh’s choice of brushstroke is driven by the need to express deeply felt personal experiences, whereas an artist like Georges Seurat’s choice, by comparison to van Gogh, is driven by cerebral concerns rooted in theory. Mindful of this, the idea that there may be one type of effective brushstroke that is good for all occasions is unrealistic. Nevertheless, from a practical standpoint there are fundamental principles underpinning the way that an artist makes meaningful brushstrokes and the following discussion will address some of these with reference to: loading the brush (i.e. wetting the brush with ink or paint); handling the brush (i.e. use of the brush to apply the medium of either ink or paint to the support); and, ending the brushstroke (i.e. the finishing touch of making a brushstroke).
collaborative painting (Gassaku):
Yoshidaa Hyakusen (1859–?)
Imao Keinen (1845–1924)
Hagio Kyuko (1863–1923)
[Flowers—a collaborative painting]
Ink on paper scroll with wooden roller ends
183 x 61.5 cm (scroll); 112.5 x 49 cm (image)
Condition: light foxing and surface wear, otherwise in good condition.
I am selling this painting for $490 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.

Regarding ideal ways that artists can load their brushes, I wish to propose two useful approaches: loading a brush for fluid mediums like watercolour and ink; loading a brush for viscous mediums like oil paint and acrylic when the paint has not been thinned with a solvent. 

When working with fluid mediums, the Eastern approach for loading a brush offers artists the opportunity to create brushstrokes exhibiting variations of tone and opacity within each stroke. Essentially the process of loading a brush consists of three key stages with each stage designed to produce different tones within the brushstroke (see the illustrations below).
Step 1: immerse the brush-head in clear water.
Step 2: Immerse brush-head two-thirds of its length from the tip into a mid-tone of the colour chosen.
Step 3: Immerse the tip (or not more than the top-third) of the brush-head into the full-strength colour.

Loading the brush with three tones

A brush loaded in this way produces brushstrokes that are darker towards their centre and lighter at their edges. An extension of this approach is to load the brush with multiple colours so that each stroke can produce a multi-hued effect. This traditional approach to loading the brush enables Oriental artists to create a tonal range within each stroke as shown in the way that the leaves and flowers are portrayed below.

Brushwork of Yoshidaa Hyakusen, Imao Keinen, and Hagio Kyuko 

When working with viscous mediums, the Western approach of loading a flat brush (i.e. a square-ended brush) is to ensure that a ball of paint is positioned towards the centre of the brush-end (see illustration below). By loading the brush in this way the resulting brushstrokes exhibit an even spread of paint that defines the shape of each stroke laid. This is important because if an artist were to load the brush with a random dollop of paint (e.g. scooping up paint from the palette with the brush without considering how the paint will spread in a stroke) the resulting brushstroke will inevitably have an inexpressive sloppy ridge of paint on either side of the stroke. More worrying, the shape of the brushstroke may also be lost (see illustration further below of the typical ridges formed when the brush is not loaded with care).

Loading the brush so that a ball of paint 
is positioned at the middle of the brush-end
A poorly loaded brush may result in two ridges of paint
created on either side of a brushstroke
Regarding the best practice in laying brushstrokes, I wish to propose two important approaches that are also applicable for working with square-ended crayons and pastels: use of lateral pressure and angling the brush-head.

The approach of using lateral pressure describes the angle that an artist holds the brush when making a stroke. By angling the brush, the resultant stroke exhibits a crisp, unbroken edge on the side of the brush on which pressure is made and a comparatively less defined, crumbly edge on the farther side of the stroke. This change in the attribute of the brushstroke-edge from one side to the other is most noticeable with curved brushstrokes. The reason for this is that with curves, the lateral pressure on the brush moulds the paint like a current of water in a river moulds the two sides of the river-bank differently. For example, in Negasawa Rosetsu’s visually arresting ink painting, Sparrows and Spider (shown below), note how the variations in pressure on the sides of each mark animates the portrayed tangled vines with the spirit of life (see detail further below). 

Negasawa Rosetsu (also known as Gyo, Masakatsunoinn, Chougyo and Hyokei) (1754–99) or a follower of Rosetsu
Inscribed: Rosetsu (signature); Nagasawa (upper seal); Gyo (lower seal)
Sparrows and Spider
Ink on paper scroll with wood roller ends
180 x 44 cm (scroll); 93.5 x 31 cm (image)
Condition: light surface wear and pale stains lower left on the mount, otherwise in good condition.
I am selling this painting for $490 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.

Detail of Rosetsu’s brushwork 
showing lateral angling of the brush

The second approach whereby the artist angles the head of the brush is one of the fundamental principles for both painting and calligraphy. The reason for this is simple. When the tip of the brush is angled (usually at about 45 degrees to the direction that the artist plans to make a mark) the brushstroke will exhibit all the artist’s deviations of direction by the line either thinning or swelling in its thickness. For example, in the earlier post, Passion in a Line, Carl Rohrs’ angled handling of the pen is shown in Bounce (see below). Not only does the angling of the pen give flow to the word but it also captures the spirit of the word’s meaning. Compare, for instance, the projected meaning offered by Rohrs’ calligraphy to the OCR-A font developed in 1968 for optical character recognition shown further below.

(upper) Carl Rohrs’ calligraphy
(lower) OCR-A std font

With regard to fundamental principles about how an artist should end a brushstroke there are two critical rules: creating pictorial coherence within the matrix of brushstrokes (i.e. ensuring that the brushstrokes are pictorially woven together) and communicating meaning (i.e. ensuring that the tail-end of a stroke connotes the type of passion and confidence appropriate to the expressed meaning of the artwork as a whole).

The first of these “rules” addresses the important issue that all components of an image should work together to project a clear message. This means that if the artist draws attention to each brushstroke so that all the brushstrokes are arresting to the eye, the image may become fragmented. After all, if each mark is in visual competition with those surrounding it the viewer will become distracted from understanding the artwork and its broad meanings as a whole.

To ensure that the brushstrokes are woven together, artists often overlap the tail-ends of earlier laid strokes so that that there are no individual strokes revealing both their start and their end (see illustration below). Of course, sometimes a viewer’s attention needs to be focused on a specific mark and so both the start and its end are visible. To explain this metaphorically, such a stroke will appear to float like a boat on a sea of marks beneath it and draw attention to itself (see example of such a stroke further below).

“Woven” brushstrokes
“Floating” brushstroke

The second of the rules, communicating meaning, is perhaps the most important. This is because the end of a brushstroke can capture the spirit in which an artwork is executed and even the reason for a mark’s existence. In terms of how the end of the brushstroke can capture the artist’s mindset, I wish to compare the end of a mark that I see as looking like whipped cream (see illustration below) with the end of a mark that I see as looking like a lock of hair formed as a kiss-curl (see illustration further below). The first mark—“whipped cream”—suggests that the artist hesitated tentatively and lifted the brush vertically away from the canvas: arguably this would be a mindset in a state of distraction. The second mark—“kiss-curl”—suggests that the artist painted with confidence and the brush was lifted with speed in the direction that the brushstroke was laid: arguably a mindset where the artist is focused and in a flow of thought and action (i.e. “in the zone”).

“Whipped-cream” brushstroke
“Kiss-curl” brushstroke

Beyond the artist’s mindset that a viewer may intuitively feel or consciously rationalise through the manner of how a brushstroke is made, the chosen shape for the end of a mark is a element that the artist has total control over. For example, a square-ended mark may connote dry heat; a round-ended mark may connote humid coolness; a tapered-end on a mark may connote strong light. This list of potential meanings projected by a mark could be endless when contextualised with other marks. To illustrate how important the tail-end of a mark can be, I wish to return to Rosetsu’s Sparrows and Spider and focus on a single, but pivotal, brushstroke depicting a strand of web holding a spider in space (see detail below). Note how the line fades into the paper as it approaches the spider and consider how this treatment of the end of the line is so perfect for expressing the taut and delicate tension supporting the spider.

Detail of Rosetsu’s brushstroke 
depicting the web strand