Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Little Backstory on Inktober

Okay, yes, it's December, and Inktober is in October, but I'll be honest: I'm still working on it. And there's never not a good time to create or talk about art, so let's do that.

By the way, in case you don't know what Inktober is, it is a month-long challenge to create a different piece of art with ink every single day (I'm not going to say a drawing, although most of them are, because you could also do a painting in ink wash). It was invented in 2009 by Jake Parker, who runs the Inktober website at www.inktober.com. Every year when Inktober rolls around, Jake publishes prompts for each day, in case you have a little difficulty coming up with ideas, or if you like the challenge of how to conceptualize the prompts. You don't have to follow the prompts, though; the point is just to make yourself create on a regular basis. Keep those art muscles limber!

Now, as you may know, I am terribly lazy, and "challenges" are even more challenge-y because of that. My first year participating in Inktober was in 2017, and I didn't know about the prompts, so I just drew whatever. Ink is actually one of my go-to media, as anyone who has been hanging out on my Facebook page or on this blog probably knows (the title pic is from a calendar I did back in college that had all ink drawings), so this should be a breeze, right?

Well, the laziness, remember.

Anyway, that first year saw me produce about four drawings, all in ballpoint pen, most on Post-It notes, because I did all of them at work. Here's one:

I hadn't started on October 1st, and I probably didn't even do those four drawings on consecutive days. But, I did do them, and without Inktober, I probably wouldn't have done them, so there.

Last year, I actually did start on October 1st. I think I did know that there were prompts, but I said pffft and still drew what I felt like drawing. Again, I did all of my drawings at work, but at least I did them on actual paper and not colored Post-It notes:

And yes, again, I only produced a few drawings. I was going to do a stylized alphabet, because what could be easier? And it would get me through 26 days without having to even come up with any original ideas. Well, I got allllll the way to...B. Yes, I managed to do even less last year than the first year. A, B, and one other drawing - some floral doodle thingy. But hey, again, I drew something. I had tangible results of my minimal efforts.

This year, I started Inktober late, and I had a very good excuse: I had a portrait commission to fill. Once that was done, though, it was still October, so I though, "what the heck"? and visited the Inktober site for the prompts. The prompts for Inktober 2019, just in case you want to toy with it, are:
1. ring                 
2. mindless         
3. bait                 
4. freeze             
5. build
6. husky
7. enchanted
8. frail
9. swing
10. pattern
11. snow
12. dragon
13. ash
14. overgrown
15. legend
16. wild
17. ornament
18. misfit
19. sling
20. tread
21. treasure
22. ghost
23. ancient
24. dizzy
25. tasty
26. dark
27. coat
28. ride
29. injured
30. catch
31. ripe

I'm sure you are wondering how things went this year, aren't you? Actually, not too badly. As I said, I started extremely late, but this past year, I became active in two local art groups, and having companions who were hitting Inktober pretty hard, as well as chances to join them for drawing sessions, was very helpful. Eschewing the scrap paper I'd been festooning with my scrawls, I bought a small sketchbook that was actually dedicated for the purpose. This made a difference in the quality of my drawings, as well. I did pencil sketches first, instead of working alla prima (this is not against the rules--you get to do ink your way, and that means any way).

In the interest of not making this post overly long, though, I will do a follow-up concerning this year's effort, since it can be another whole post unto itself, maybe even two or three. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Film-making 101:How Sergei Eisenstein Employs D. W. Griffith's Editing Techniques in the Film Battleship Potemkin

D.W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance was a major influence on the Russian development of montage. Russian filmmakers closely studied how Griffith used his cuts to drive the narrative, to integrate diverse material, to intensify emotions with its rhythms, and to mirror internal thoughts and sensations. The following essay will show how Sergei Eisenstein used Griffith's techniques to achieve those four results in his 1925 film Battleship Potemkin.

One of the best examples of Eisenstein's use of cutting to drive the narrative is the mutiny sequence, where we are first shown, one by one, the various affronts and abuses that are the reasons for the men's anger, then given the final straw that starts the mutiny: the attempted execution. In the uproar that follows, cutting is rapid, showing the men running about, grabbing weapons, and the fate of each officer after the chase. Eisenstein intersperses takes of the men chasing and dispatching the officers with dramatic shots of the Potemkin's flag flying high, as if urging them on.

Directly before the mutiny sequence, Eisenstein used his editing in a slightly different way. To build up the tension before the mutiny and to amass evidence for the benefit of the audience, Eisenstein enumerates the cruelties wreaked upon the harried crew, the foremost among these being the rotten food. The unsympathetic doctor, the vicious First Mate, the crazed priest, and the difficult working conditions are also highlighted. Eisenstein juxtaposes the men going about their daily routine with shots of the stew containing the rotted meat; shots of their exhausted sleep with the belligerent night-snooping of the boatswain, and takes of the men buying food with those of the uneaten stew to show that they've refused it. Later in the film, Eisenstein again links up diverse material through the narrative by playing shots of the freedom-loving Odessans against the oppressive, freedom-shattering Imperial Guard.

Eisenstein's rhythmic cutting plays on the emotions, building suspense, terror, or anger almost to a fever pitch. His quick switches from the terrified Odessans fleeing down the steps in screaming disorder and the calm, unfeeling onward march of the soldiers creates an irregular rhythm that is quite disquieting. His cuts from the sailors of the Potemkin waking and preparing to face the oncoming fleet to those of the ships as they approach builds suspense—this sequence seems to go on forever, until the tension is released by the information that the fleet has joined the revolutionary cause.

Although this film depicts large numbers of people as its “main character”, Eisenstein still manages to show individual emotion: the anger on the face of the dishwasher as he breaks the plate; the clenching of the fists of the funeral observers; the expression on the face of the mother who sees her boy prone and trampled on the steps; the tearful embrace of the sailors who believe they are going to their deaths. All these and many others give the audience a sense of pathos, stirring emotions enough to generate genuine interest in the story and heartfelt sympathy for its characters and their cause.

Potemkin is one of the greatest examples of Soviet montage because of the way Eisenstein's editing has shown all of these things, creating drama and intensity in an artistic way while still maintaining a clear narrative.

To read more, including a plot summary, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battleship_Potemkin
Image of Battleship Potemkin from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Magazine Collage Project - Step-By-Step

Howdy all! I have made a resolution to finish 20 art projects by 2020 and also to write 20 blog posts by 2020 (among this blog and my others), so here I am, making a blog post about the first art project I have completed. How's that for double-dipping?

This is actually a project that is an outgrowth of a previous project, that of decluttering. I wrote an article , "How to Get Rid of Magazine Clutter" on my other blog, Big Ol' Bucket of Useful. It's a fun read, but if you don't have time, it basically boils down to: Don't save the whole magazine just for a few tips, pictures, or articles. Tear the pages out and put them in a folder and chuck the rest into the recycling bin. I found doing that helps so much with the volume of stuff I have to deal with.

However, quite a few of those pages only had one small item on each that I really wanted, so I resolved to cut down the clutter even more, while making something cute and creative to save the parts I really wanted. So, my first project was to make a collage of beauty tips I'd saved.

**Click on any pic to enlarge**

Step One: Gather Your Supplies

In this picture, I have gotten my beauty tips clipped out of the magazine pages, decided on colors (pink on an orange background) and used paper punches to cut heart and star shapes out of paper and pink foil. These are all things I already had kicking around the studio, so in effect, this is also a good de-cluttering project for art supplies, as well! I used a glue stick to adhere the beauty tips to the pink paper and then scrapbooking shears to cut the pink paper around the tips, creating a decorative backing. I also cut the eye out as a nice decorative element that also plays up the beauty theme.

Step Two: Decide on a Basic Layout

Once I had all my tips glued down and cut out, it was time to decide on a good composition. This layout, pictured, includes a good number of tips, but also leaves room for decorative elements. I have a couple of tips off to the side that didn't fit, but they will find a home eventually. Once you are satisfied with how everything fits on the page, go ahead and glue them all down. 

Step Three: Start Adding Decorative Touches, by Size and Color

I started by adding all of the pink foil elements first, as the heart and the heart "frame" were the largest elements and would likely be overlapped by smaller shapes. I went ahead and added the smaller foil elements so that I could make sure to distribute them evenly through the collage, creating a "trail" that would draw the eye around the piece.

Step Four: Finish the Basic Embellishments

After gluing down all the foil accents, I followed up with the pink ones. Whereas I created some depth by overlapping some of the bright frames with the pink foil elements, I couldn't do that with the small pink elements, as they'd simply blend in and get lost. So I used some to layer over the pink foil and some to fill in some of the remaining areas. As with the darker pink foil, I spread the bright pink cutouts around to create balance and movement around the piece.

Step Five: Add Creative Details!

To further connect the elements of the picture, fill in more spaces, and create a finished look, I used a Pilot G2 gel pen to add little swirly embellishments that further tie the piece together. Below is a detail. Note that sometimes I drew the swirls behind the picture elements, but sometimes I continued the line right on top of them. Feel free to play and experiment!

I hope this inspired you to try some of your own collages. I used beauty tips, here, but you can use any theme, like travel or food. Happy collaging!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

"Bayou Scene" by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith

One of my articles, "How to Create an Interesting Still Life", produced a question from a reader who mentioned how people waver between whether they like abstract art or representational art (such as a still life). I think the wavering is understandable, as both styles have much to offer. They are also very much intertwined, as both use pictoral elements like composition, form, contrast, and especially color to create a mood or a message. Paintings like "Bayou Scene" by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith further show the blurring of lines between the two styles.

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was an American painter from Charleston, South Carolina, active in the early 20th century. She worked in a variety of painting and printmaking media, but eventually settled on watercolor as her preferred medium.

Smith's watercolor work seems to be evenly divided into work that is more representational and work that is almost completely abstract, with some slight representational aspects. "Bayou Scene", painted in 1920, is clearly in the latter category. It looks like she was probably doing some wet-on-wet painting with different colors, starting with an abstraction based on color alone and letting the merging shapes inspire her as to subject matter. We can see that she indicated some wading birds and reeds at the shoreline of a bayou, hidden away in a thick, dark wood.

Owing to its transparency, watercolor has a singular ability to produce an incredibly luminous effect. Smith was known as a master of color, and I suspect she chose watercolor for this property. In the painting, the ethereal glow of the water could be interpreted as reflecting the chance glow of a sunset. It frames the two shore birds and serves as a striking focal point against the dark clusters of cypress trees. The ripples on the water are a mesmerizing pattern, and the abstract shadows in the forest make it look even more mysterious. The blurry, nebulous quality of this piece makes it look at once like a frozen snapshot in time that will quickly change, and also like a mystical vision or apparition that might not even be there at all, possibly a glimpse into some magical fairy realm.

All this from just playing with light and shadow, shape and color! It's a mysterious, playful piece; very lovely and fun to look at. It's also an ode to creativity, and a marriage of abstract and representational art that explains and expands upon the appeal of both.

Image is in the Public Domain.
Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bayou_Scene_Alice_Ravenel_Huger_Smith_1920.jpeg

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Watercolor Sketch of Free Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When I was attending Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, we would occasionally venture out of the classroom to work on location, en plein air (French for "in full air", this is a typical art term used to mean working outside). Because the school is located on Logan Circle in downtown Philadelphia, there was no shortage of cool subjects to draw or paint, from the stunning Swan Fountain on Logan Circle to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and other such historical buildings as The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and the country's first library, The Free Library. The Free Library consists of two buildings, so I cheekily referred to them as Volume I and Volume II (and I am probably one of only a few hundred thousand people who thought that up).

One day our class went outside to do some watercolor sketches. Yes, watercolor is paint, but if you aren't doing what you consider a "finished" painting, you can refer to it as a sketch. Although it's true that sketches are frequently done in pencil or charcoal, a "sketch" is simply a quick rendering, sometimes as a preliminary to a more developed piece, and is not related to any specific medium. This can also be referred to as a "study", if plans are to use it as reference for a finished work. The choice of subject was ours, and the way the afternoon sunlight played across the westernmost building, or Volume I, if you will, of the Free Library caught my eye. A tree in full blossom in the foreground provided a nice framing device to enhance the composition (read about framing devices here).

I made a sketch in colored pencil on my small (9" x 12") Arches watercolor block (watercolor blocks are basically a pad of watercolor paper that is sealed almost all the way around, leaving only a small area into which you slide an X-acto knife to carefully cut around the edge to release the sheet once it is dry. This is to spare having to stretch the paper--it stays taut while you paint. Quite a blessing for us lazy folks!) and then went to work with my watercolors (half-pans by Schminke, a very good German brand) until it was sufficiently developed. I used white gouache to lay the white blossoms into the foreground.

Since this was freehand, the railings and columns aren't perfectly straight. I would definitely use a ruler to get that right if I were to develop this into a finished piece. There are some things I would re-think (the tree and blossoms in the foreground are well-placed, but rendered clumsily), and some others that came out just right (I was delighted with how well the quality of the light came out). Our professor always wanted us to make our preliminary sketches with red pencil, but I would definitely do that differently, as it does not disappear after paint is added and tends to look incongruous. These days, I always make an underdrawing with a related color--usually the primary color in the painting, so that would be green, brown, or blue, usually. I might use red for an Arizona desert landscape!

Anyway, just wanted to share some work with you in hopes to educate and inspire. Thanks for visiting!

Image is original art by the author.

Here's another story about working on location in Logan Circle:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault

The Raft of the Medusa, created in 1818-19 and exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1819, is a huge painting in the Romantic style by Géricault, whose work I have mentioned before, here http://allsortsartbyali.blogspot.com/2014/12/portrait-of-mad-woman-by-theodore.html

This painting, which is a self-promotional piece Géricault created to advertise his skills as a painter of large-scale commissions, is based on an actual event in French naval history. The frigate Medusa ran aground on the coast of Mauritania, in Africa, in July of 1816. A few days later, more than a hundred people set off on a large raft, but by the time they were rescued 13 days later, only 15 remained alive, weakened by starvation and dehydration. It was a tremendous scandal at the time, mainly due to the incompetence of the captain, but probably in no small measure owing also to the sad fact that those who survived had to practice cannibalism.

Géricault was fascinated by the story and felt that it would make a good subject for a large, dynamic work. The Romantic style of painting was beginning to take hold in France, depicting emotional, dramatic subjects in contrast to the classical themes that had been the prevailing style. The terrible human tragedy of the Medusa fit right in, especially as portrayed by Géricault.

The painting depicts the raft, sloshing in the waves, covered with a mass of bodies—some clearly dead; some bent over and grieving the dead or trying to comfort the dying; one crouches with his hands to his head, lost in stress and despair. But there is a glimmer of hope, here: A ship can just barely be seen on the horizon, and those who have the strength have climbed up onto the highest point of the raft and are waving cloth around to catch the eyes of possible rescuers. Maybe Géricault was depicting the point of the actual rescue, as there are 13 people on the raft who are clearly still alive, and certainly a couple more who could be (some are clearly dead, and one body to the lower right of the painting seems to have the head submerged.

Géricault reportedly visited hospitals and morgues to observe the appearance of dead and dying bodies for the sake of getting skin tone and other details correct, although the individuals depicted in the painting seem fairly well-muscled to be suffering from starvation. Perhaps 13 days doesn't make much difference, but of course Géricault was also working from non-starved models, including his young assistant, the model for several figures on the raft, including the dead youth stretched out over the lap of the older man. At any rate, the musculature adds to the dramatic, tense poses that depict desperation, elation, torture, and agony.

The colors in this painting add to the emotional impact. This is not a sunny day on a blue-green ocean; the colors are dark and murky, with a foreboding sky and deep, dark shadows that contrast with the pale flesh of the corpses strewn across the foreground. Géricault is masterful at conveying movement, as well: the wind lashes the sail and billows the cloths of the signaling survivors. Sun slants down from the left side of the painting and illuminates a diagonal swath through the middle of the scene, picking up the slumping shoulders of a man hunched dejectedly over the body of a dead youth, then along the backs and outstretched arms of the people who are desperately trying to signal the boat. The use of this illumination cleverly leads the viewer's eye to the tiny boat by creating a path through the painting that culminates in the waving white cloth above it.

This painting is full of diagonals, which create the most dynamic compositional framework. The lighted path of the sun shining along the bodies goes from the lower left to the upper right; the mast with the sail tilts to the upper left of the canvas, surrounded by various other diagonal ropes, and the dead body in the lower right is also on a diagonal. The composition as a whole is a kind of X, with the southwest-to northeast arm emphasized more in order to guide the viewer's gaze along that path. There are no true verticals in the picture, and the expected horizontal—the horizon—is broken up by the swells of the ocean. Overall, this is another example of Géricault's mastery of composition and of creating a dynamic and powerful narrative with painting. It is hard to imagine that he was only 27 years old when he finished it, and sad to know that he lived only a few years more, dying in 1824. One can only imagine all the further masterpieces he might have created!

For more analysis of paintings, please check out the following: 




Image: The Raft of the Medusa, 1819, Musée du Louvre- Click image to view larger


Saturday, February 17, 2018

I Don't Know Why It's a Challenge

Growing up, it was clear that I had some artistic talent. I came by it honestly, as my mom was an artist. Fortunately, she was also a teacher, and so she knew how to nurture creativity in me, and unlike some parents (including my dad, sad to say) who may have viewed art as a somewhat worthless pursuit, she encouraged me to pursue my drive and ability for drawing and sketching right up through sending me to art school for college. There was never any question of who I was and what I was going to be.

However, although I had had a full head of steam regarding the production of art as a kid, filling up the margins of my school paper and literally stacks of notebooks with my drawings, the older I got, and the better I got, I mysteriously stopped being nearly as productive. In college, I produced work as assigned, but I was a bit slack about working on it out of the classroom, unless a grade deadline loomed. I did, at least, contribute a decent amount to my sketchbook.

But by the time I graduated, I didn't choose to enter the art field, despite my having done quite well at my internship and my school's having a great placement program. I felt that having the pressure to create every day--for some soulless ad agency, no doubt--would take all the joy out of it. I might have been right, but as I entered a succession of service-industry jobs, I didn't spend much of my spare time indulging in that joy.

I find myself filling my spare time with non-productive (and even counter-productive) things like watching television or playing video games. I make time to hang out with friends or check my social media accounts, and I do write (and I also don't do that as often as I'd like or feel I should, although the very high number of blogs out there that had a flurry of posts at the beginning and then went completely dark would indicate I'm certainly not alone). But why don't I make time to create art? I managed to do three whole drawings for Inktober's 31 days, even though, as a kid, I would empty ball point pens with regularity.

When I see artists at work, I watch with fascination, just as people watch with fascination to see me at work (with this in mind, I have sometimes taken a sketch pad to a public space just to entertain folks and keep myself motivated, but I don't do that often enough). I feel inspired by them, and awfully jealous that they seem to have that drive that I have found lacking in myself. Just to get some sort of "art" going, I will sometimes fill in designs in those popular coloring books for adults. It's fun, but I always feel a little ashamed, thinking I should be producing those designs, not just filling them in. I have the ability, after all.

I do know this--once I get started, I can go for a good bit, just like I've done in writing this article. But what do I need to get me started? And why do I need it?

Image of something cool that I colored in but didn't draw, so kinda yay.