Exercises for 2007 and the Form Principle
Work on a still life has kept me from posting for a while. It's been slow going but the painting should be done soon. I'll post it when it is, along with a few more paintings I haven't found time to put up yet. There's been a fair bit of drawing going on too, which will hopefully be posted soon, but this post is all about what's going to come next.
In my last post I reviewed the different kinds of practice I've done over the past year or so. I also said that the next post was going to describe the series of exercises I'm about to start in order to (hopefully) get to the next stage. So here it is.
Many of these exercises will be similar to, and sometimes the same as, the ones I've been doing so far, but with the difference that they are going to be based around concentrating on basic principles. This set of exercises is intended to be more focused than my practice has been so far.
There's one basic principle which I've come to believe is the foundation on which everything else must stand. Without it, all other aspects of painting and drawing - design and composition, technique, colour - will be weakened. I think that it's the common thread which runs through all good drawing and painting.
But it's not my idea. I've come across this principle in a wonderful book by Andrew Loomis called "Creative Illustration". This book is expensive, and not easy to find in the usual book shops since it's out of print, (there's usually a few copies on sale at Abe books). I have to say that I don't think I've seen a clearer, more concise or more useful book on painting and drawing. Even the Harold Speed books pale a little by comparison, and you should know by now how much I love those.
The Form Principle
Loomis calls this overriding basic principle the 'Form Principle', and the book is based entirely around this idea. He describes it like this:
"The form principle is the rendering of form as to it's aspect at any given moment with regard to it's lighting, it's structure and texture, together with it's true relationship to it's environment. Now let us see what this means. Any pictorial effect that will present a convincing illusion of existing form must do so first by the rendering of light on that form. Without light, as far as we are concerned, form ceases to exist."
It's all about the light. Loomis goes on to list a few basic truths of the form principle, which I won't go into here, but have paraphrased for you in a page describing the Andrew Loomis Form Principle in a little more depth. I'll try to make a note of where these things come up in subsequent practice pieces. For the next few months at least, I intend to make the Loomis Form Principle the basis of my practice.
Most of the exercises here I've already been working with in one form or another. But I plan now to go back to them with the form principle in mind, and to approach them from a slightly different angle, hopefully with more focus. The exercises can be roughly split into two types, with two different goals, but in practice, I think that there'll be a lot of cross over between the two.
The first type is concerned with improving accuracy. The second is concerned with tone and, you guessed it, the form principle. The more I draw and paint, the more I become convinced that tone is more important than colour, more important than technique and materials, and can create almost all the most important things in a good drawing or painting. Light, mood, expression, form, design, all these things can be done with tone. Look at any Vermeer painting if you don't believe me. I'm beginning to look on colour as entirely secondary to tone.
Of course this is a personal opinion, and I must admit that I have a thing for tone these days, much more than colour, but I do believe that mastery of tonal values is the key - at least, I believe that it'll be my key. To my mind, there's not much point in playing around with colour too much until tone is mastered. If that mastery isn't there, then the most harmonious colour, the most carefully worked out composition, will fall short. On to the exercises:
Drawing and Accuracy
After an abortive attempt at a copy of plate 5 in pencil, I'm returning to charcoal for another go. Primarily, I see the Bargue plates as exercises in accuracy of drawing. Now I'm moving onto tonal plates, there's a lot to learn regarding the form principle here too. Bargue simplifies tones down to their main component blocks. That's a good skill to be developing.
See above. These are slightly tougher than the Bargue plates since working from a three dimensional subject is harder. Also, these drawings will cross over more into the form principle and tone, since decisions regarding where the main tone blocks start and end have to made as I go along. That's all done for you on the Bargue plates.
Self portrait drawings
These drawings are definitely a bit of both, but I'm going to be concentrating on measuring and accuracy for the near future with these.
Still life drawings
There's still 50 of the series of 100 to go, so lots of room to practice. These will continue as before, but with more concentration on using tone to describe form. I plan to incorporate some exercises involving the simplifying of tones down to a few basic values.
Cubes and Spheres
This is an exercise recommended to me by Graydon Parrish. Thankfully he's still talking to me after I trashed his Bargue book. He's a nice feller. This exercise involves taking ten cubes and ten spheres, and painting them all a different step of the value range from black to white. A painting is then done of each one in four different lighting conditions. I have a strong feeling that this is going to be an excellent exercise, although obviously it will take some time to get them all done.
Although the above exercises will form the core of my new syllabus, there's a few other things which I'll be doing as time permits, either because there's something to be learned from them, or because they're fun to do. It's not good to be too much of an ascetic.
Loomis head drawings
Back with the venerable Mr. Loomis again. The Loomis books have been quite a find. I'm currently working through "Drawing the Head and Hands", in which our Andrew covers everything from basic structure to muscle groups to, well, everything you'd ever want to know about drawing heads. I've already done a bunch of these which hopefully I'll get round to posting soon, and all will become clear.
I miss my cafe sketches. They're fun. I hope to start again if I can find time for it.
Morning practice drawings
This is an ongoing thing which I've been doing for a while now. Every day (well, almost every day) starts with half an hour or so drawing. I do it because it's fun, but I won't be posting the drawings here. Who wants to see my drawings of coffee cups, ash trays and cartoon robots? I thought so.
So that's it, a whole bunch of exercises which will probably take me right into next year. I'm not putting any time limit on these, since they're all ongoing and I'm going to have to fit them around work (the stuff that pays the bills) and my still life paintings. Based on my experiences so far, I think these exercises represent a fairly well considered approach to learning the basics, and should give me a solid foundation on which to build future work. Why not join me?
Posted 11th March 2007