Modern and contemporary painting all too often seems like a solution in search of a problem. The contemporary painter is obliged to qualify and explain his work in terms of some unique, personal vision or concept; art exhibitions today involve as much reading as looking. But it wasn’t always this way: in the past, artists were patronised and commissioned to produce great art; art was a business and the client supplied the artist not only with remuneration but also with purpose. By today’s standards, the range of subject matter was narrow and predictable; religious, historical and mythological themes dominated. But the artist had the benefit of a brief – and probably in many cases a detailed one. The question of what to paint – or even why to paint at all – wasn’t a source of concern for the artist; all he had to do was to decide how to paint. Unlike the contemporary artist’s open-ended, high-minded (and sometimes desperate) search for originality and authenticity in his work, the Renaissance painter’s challenge was confined to one of design: finding a way to satisfy the patron’s requirements and his own artistic preferences at the same time.
You could argue that the artist of the Renaissance had more in common with the contemporary illustrator than the contemporary fine artist not only in working to a brief but also in observing traditional techniques and craftsmanship. Having a purpose, being able to establish clear objectives, makes a difference.
One under-appreciated form of art-with-a-purpose is the cartoon.
Continue reading Art with a purpose: the cartoon
the Guitarist series
The Guitarist series of drawings started out as a distraction: an attempt to produce something resembling art on a regular basis as an antidote to work. The choice of guitarists as subject matter proved to be a challenge both in terms of drawing and composition. During the course of filling three sketchbooks with pencil studies, I began to understand a little about the compositional possibilities of line: how it can be used to move the viewer around the drawing and how to create focal areas by means of linear contrasts.
Continue reading Composition: contrasts of line
Over the past two years or so, I’ve managed to fill two or three sketchbooks with studies of guitarists – usually flamenco guitarists. All of the drawings were made from YouTube videos or Web images and the average time spent on each was around three-quarters of an hour. Initially, they were done simply as drawing exercises with the main aim being to record the image as accurately and economically as possible.
Eventually, I began to experiment with drawing technique to try to suggest the energy and brittleness of flamenco music. The hands of the classical or flamenco guitarist are a fascinating study in themselves – especially the left hand with its strength and flexibility, the square-shaped fingertips and the compositions which the hand creates holding down a chord or fingering a scale passage. The instrument too is a challenge to draw: getting the perspective and proportions correct is difficult enough but trying to find ways to depict the fingerboard or the intricacies of the machine heads without drawing every fret, string and gear is more difficult still.
The benefits of attempting a lengthy series of studies on a narrow theme are well worth the time and effort involved. They range from the trivia of technique (which makes/grades of pencil and paper gave best results) to the compositional possibilities of a subject which at first sight does not seems to offer too many options.
I’ve used a number of these drawings as studies for paintings and in a future post I will show how Photoshop can be used to bridge the gap between a pencil study and a watercolour painting.
The Drawings gallery contains a selection of these sketches.