Saturday, 24 January 2015

See, that's how you do that.

I'm sometimes asked by people who see a drawing of mine, 'how do you do that?'  And the probable answer of anyone with some skill is likely to be the same as mine  'I don't know.'

But of course we do know, we've spent a long time doing this stuff, but we can't explain, because we're not teachers.  The internet has allowed artists to film a drawing as it proceeds and put it on youtube so that it can be studied by others.  I'm not completely sure how useful that might be as I've always felt you learn mainly by doing and only a little by watching but maybe... maybe I could be a teacher too?

I don't have any fancy cameras to film my drawings, so I thought it still might be useful to break down a work in to handy bite sized chunks - little pictures of the work in progress and see if there's anything useful at the end.

For a while now I've been producing my 'classical' range of decorative designs, merely drawn from ancient sculpted reliefs so there's not much original work in them, but I don't trace them (which would be so easy with a computer,) I attempt to  freehand draw a version of the relief which I then colour with a rough stone effect.

In this blog I thought it might be interesting to show one of these designs as it progresses through various stages, and for this project I've chosen a cavalry soldier from Trajan's column.  This image is found near the top of the column, representing the culmination of Trajan's Dacian campaign, where a number of Roman cavalry caught up with the fleeing Dacian king Decebalus, and the king commits suicide by cutting his throat with a knife.

The death of Decebalus, from Trajan's column.  Conrad Cichorius.
If it's too small for you, click on it.  You may get a bigger image.
This picture is actually a painting, that appeared in a standard work on the Column by German historian Conrad Cichorius, published in 1896.  It's out of copyright so I can use it, however I was disappointed that there were no 'commons' images of this part of the frieze available.  Oh well.  I have used other images for reference, but more of that later.

I have mentioned before that with a digital image  made with software it is usually possible to design the work on layers which 'float' above one another, allowing elements of a design to be separate and to be worked on separately.  This is similar to painting lines on sheets of glass placed one over the other.

With this one, however, rather than fragment the drawing I've kept it simple so that the complete drawing is on one layer, with colour layers floating below.

So to begin.  I'll be drawing the horseman on the extreme left foreground of the scene.

I begin drawing the head.
I usually draw an object as big as possible; on a sheet of paper for instance, you have to be careful of scale, always watching that all elements are going to fit as you progress, with a digital file I make the file pretty big, and then scale the elements.  So if the head is huge and filling the 'paper', then I can scale it down and fit more on to it as I go along.

A comparison.
There will be a lot of changes as I go along no doubt, as a digital approach allows for very easy editing.  If you use computers to write then you'll know how easy it is to make corrections and shuffle text about on a page, when in the past a lot more tinkering about would have been required.
Head and upper torso drapery.  The image is scaled down so it can be added to.

Digitally its possible to cut into a drawing, rotate parts, scale them distort and skew lines and generally make an image plastic and changeable. Now as I go on I'm really looking hard at the painting, with it blown up on my computer screen, looking at the drapery, measuring angles and looking for positioning points.  I'm also trying to interpret odd looking things within the image such as the odd structure just behind the soldiers neck, hanging down from the helmet.  What is it?  I don't really know, possibly something used as a helmet liner - it looks like a tassel but I'm not sure.  All I can do is draw it as it appears.

The image continues to be scaled down.   If the start file is big enough, say 8000 x 8000 pixels it shouldn't lose too much resolution.

Earlier I said there would be mistakes, and all artists make them, no matter how good - I suppose its the frequency of them that matters!  But it was about this stage that I begin to see a few problems.  It seems to me that the figure is too short in the torso, he has no stomach area, so I need to lengthen  it by cutting the drawing in half and moving the lower half down - which will obviously leave a gap.

The image seems too short, so a break is made in the middle figure and the gap redrawn.
The whole process is made up of continual readjustments and tweaks to the image, so many in fact I ought to use them to host one of those 'spot the difference' contests.  But there's plenty more to do, as I've still got to do the horse, and the complex drapery of the saddlecloth.

Beginning the horse.  The actual horse looks a bit odd in the sculpture itself.  A bit too small, perhaps?
The horse will raise a few issues, as I may be accused of not drawing it very well.  But I think its reasonably close to the actual horse in the sculpture which is a bit short in the body, (I'm hoping you'll agree).  The figures on Trajan's column vary in quality, probably there were a number of sculptors working on them, and they could have had different subjects to work on.  Some would have been good at some things and not others.

Short - but I think its accurate.
The front legs of this horse are visible but not the back legs, and this throws up a little problem, as I wanted the full horse.  The sculptor must have been thinking of the ploy my father discovered as a child - if you don't know how to draw something, then hide it behind a tree.

I did say earlier that I had other references that I could use, and one off these is another of Conrad Cichorius' beautiful painted scenes.  Here I found another horse and grafted its back legs on to my own horse.  Like so.

Not exactly finished but the whole figure of horse and rider is there.  Now I'm darkening the outlines and putting in colour.
So in conclusion, and after reflection on my own feeble tutoring skills what do I make of  the question 'how do you do that?'  I'm put in mind of a joke I heard the US comedian Steven Wright tell -   and I paraphrase -

A man decides to throw himself off the top of a giant skyscaper in New York.  He plummets and is caught by the wind which throws him back against the building.  He hits the awning over a window and he bounces off - is caught by the wind and thrown clear across the street, tumbling and somersaulting through the air.

He falls down through a number of awnings, slowing down at each window, until he is caught by the wind again and pitched back across the street, accomplishing double someraults as he flies.  He falls lower and lower until he hits a giant awning near the foot of the building bounces off, does a double - triple - quadruple somersault, and lands safely on his feet on the sidewalk.

Nearby a little cat turns to another little cat and says 'you see, that's how you do that.'

And so, my friends - that'd how you do that.

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