It’s all about the light.
That’s pretty much been my mantra since I startedretraining myself just over a year ago. Sometimes we get things right despite ourbest efforts to the contrary, and I must say I do think that I was right to put somuch emphasis on light, right from the start.
Light shows us form, makes patterns of light and shadow and so produces design. Itcreates mood and expression, it’s reflections create the colour we see and without itwe can’t see anything at all.
I’ve recently found a strong echo of my preoccupation with light in a book by Andrew Loomis.Loomis was an illustrator from the Golden Age of American illustration. Histradition includes such luminaries as Howard Pyle, Norman Rockwell and J. C. Leyendecker. I’mno expert on these people or the work they produced, but what I can tell you is that they knew a thing or two about making pictures, they did it for a living. To my mind, the factthat they worked to briefs for money in no way denigrates their contribution to the world of art.They didn’t cut their ears off, or go off to live in poverty in the South Seas, or, in fact, liveout any of the romantic myths of struggling artists. What they did do was create beautiful images with alevel of competence and skill and that would shame most living ‘fine’ artists, and many dead ones too.
Andrew Loomis has also written a number of practical books on the subject of drawing and painting, andthey’re among the best I’ve come across. This post concerns one in particular, “Creative Illustration”.
In this book, Loomis talks about something he calls the ‘Form Principle’, which he takes as thebasis of an approach to drawing and painting which he uses throughout the book. “Creative Illustration”was written, of course, with illustrators in mind. But anyone who really wants to learn the skills required todraw and paint representational work would do well to let go of their ear, put down the razor blade andpick up this book. And start drawing.
The book is currently (and shamefully) out of print, but you can usually find second hand copies atAbe books.
I’m not going to attempt a translation into my own words of Loomis’ form principle. I think it’s a muchbetter ideato give you it in his own words. As well as the basic principle, Loomis describes several ‘truths’ pertainingto the principle which I’m going to reproduce here. If you like the sound of them, then I suggest youget the book. Yes, it’s expensive, but how much would you pay for an art degree course at a university these days?If you want to draw and paint, you’d be better off spending all that cash on several year’s worth of materialsand a copy of this book. Actually, get the Bargue book too, then you’re all set. Well, you might want to getthe Harold Speed books as well, but they’re only the price of a decent brush in any case.
Enough rambling. Over to you Andrew.
The Form Principle
“The Form Principle is the rendering of form as to it’s aspect at any given moment withregard to it’s lighting, it’s structure and texture, together with it’s true relationship to it’senvironment. Now let us see what this means. Any pictorial effect that will present a convincingillusion 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.”
Truths of the Form Principle:
“It must be determined at once what kind of light we are dealing with, for it’s nature and quality andthe direction from which it comes will affect the entire appearance of the form.”
“The lightest areas of the form will be within those planes lying most nearly at right anglesto the light. The half-tone planes will be those obliquely situated to the direction of the light. The shadow planeswill be those planes lying in or beyond the direction of the light so that the light of the original source cannotreach them. The cast shadows are the results of the light having been intercepted, and the shape of such interceptingforms will be projected onto other planes. In diffused light there is little or no cast shadow. In brilliantlight or direct light, there is always cast shadow.”
“Direct light produces much more reflected light, and this is most apparent within the castshadow. The amount of reflected light reaching the shadow will determine its value. Everything upon which light fallsbecomes a secondary source of reflected light and will light shadow planes in the same manner as the original source,being brightest on the planes at right angles to such reflected light.”
“Reflected light can never be as bright as the original source. Therefore no area in shadow can beas light as the areas in light.”
“All forms within your picture should appear to be lighted by the same source and be lightedconsistently with one another.”
“All things represented within a given light bear a relationship of tone and value to one another.”
“Relationship of values is more correct in natural light than any other.”
“Overmodelling comes from incorrect values.”
“The big form makes the subject carry and appear solid, not the incidental surface forms.”
“The best pictures run to a few simple values.”
“The design makes the picture, not the subject or material.”
“The same form may be presented with great variety by a careful arrangement of lighting.Just any light will not do. It must be the best of several experiments.”
“Light and shadow in itself produces design.”
“Value relationships between objects produces design.”
“All pictures are fundamentally either arrangements of lights, intervening tones, and darks, or else lineararrangements.”
“Line is contour; tone is form, space, and the third dimension.”
“Contour cannot be continuously defined all around all units and a sense of space achieved.”
“The fundamentals are the same in all mediums.”
“The darkest part of the shadow appears nearest the light, between the halftone of the light and thereflected light within the shadows.”
“The Form Principle is the co-ordination of all factors dealing with line, tone, and colour.”
Now, some of the truths may seem pretty obvious, but how often do we get them wrong in a picture? I can only speak formyself, and I know that it’s more often than not. I’ve just put together a new series ofexercisesto take me through the rest of this yearand probably beyond. Throughout these exercises, I’m going to be keeping the Form Priniple and it’s basic truths in mindas much as I can. Some exercises I’m going to base entirely around the truths of light which Loomis so clearlylists for us here. I’ll do my best to describe as simply and clearly as I can what I’m doing and why as I go along.
After a year and five months of frustrations and elations, medium, pallete and support experiments,repeated mistakes and slow steady progress, I’m right back to where I started. It’s still all about the light.
11th March 2007
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