Monday, January 28, 2013

Drawing the Figure with Pen and Ink

I am taking a class at the Art League in Alexandria, Virginia with instructor Robert Liberace. Liberace is an accomplished painter, sculptor and draughtsman. The class, “Figure and Portrait: A Modern Approach to Classical Drawing”, explores drawing the figure through master techniques, such as silverpoint, pen and ink, charcoal, red chalk and graphite.  I hope to post on these various techniques in the coming weeks.

                             Robert Liberace, Figure Study in pen and ink, 2012.

The past two weeks we have been using pen and ink with watercolor washes to create a three dimensional drawing of the figure.  Pen and ink, using flexible nibs, allows the artist to create energetic, dynamic sketches. Rembrandt’s pen and ink drawings, characterized by his calligraphic line, are great examples of this technique.

          Rembrandt van Rijn Woman Having Her Hair Combed, pen and ink, 1637

Pen and ink can also be used for longer more detailed studies.  It was a favored medium of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Durer and many other masters. Liberace recommends using a slightly textured text weight paper such as Twinrocker in “Calligraphy Cream”.  To add warmth to the paper he coats it with a light watercolor wash using yellow ochre or raw sienna. Since pen and ink is an unforgiving medium (erasing is difficult if not impossible) most artists begin with a simple pencil sketch of their subject. 

                Michelangelo Buonarroti, Studies of the Holy Family, pen and ink, 1505.

When ready to start drawing Liberace recommends using a sepia ink, such as seen in master drawings, with flexible nibs. The nibs allow the artist to create lines that go from thick to line as pressure is put on the nib. Rob also uses Micron technical pens as he draws. Technical pens (which store their ink in the pen) allow for a more consistent line.

                        Marie Dauenheimer, Figure Study, pen and ink, 2013.

I highly recommend experimenting with his wonderful medium!

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Bernini Sculpting in Clay" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“You need to draw using your eye-that is, imprint everything in your mind-and always make sketches and drawings of your different ideas…”

So said sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) in 1673.  Bernini is best known for his dramatic sculptures that adorn his native city of Rome. Bernini is credited with starting the Baroque movement in sculpture, a hallmark of which is his masterpiece “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa”created in 1652.  This piece can be viewed in the Cornaro Chapel, in the church Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

                   "Ecstasy of St. Theresa", 1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

When you see Bernini’s theatrical and life like sculptures it is natural to wonder what his process was. In December I saw a comprehensive exhibition that shed light on the way Bernini worked.  The exhibition was “Bernini Sculpting inClay” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it featured 39 terracotta models, or “three-dimensional sketches”, created by the the master.  These small clay models are bold, expressive and animated. Numerous drawings accompany the models and aid in understanding Bernini’s thought process.

                         Terracotta bozetto for "Ecstasy of St. Theresa", 1647-1652.

One of the most impressive “bozettos” in the show is a lion modeled for the “Fountain of Four Rivers” (1651) in Piazza Navona in Rome.  As Bernini suggests in the above quote he modeled the lion from his "mind’s eye", a naturalistic lion exaggerated in its anatomy and expression!

              Terracotta bozetto for the Lion on the "Fountain of Four Rivers", 1649-1650.

The largest terracotta in the show is a bozetto for the “Fountain of the Moor”, 1655, Piazza Navona, Rome. This dramatic, twisting piece embodies the energy of the figure and highlights Bernini’s way of describing textures-muscle, skin, hair, shell, dolphin and scales.  

                          Terracotta bozetto for "Fountain of the Moor" 1653.

It has been suggested that Bernini made 1000s of these terracotta sculptures, however not considering them finished works of art, but rather ‘sketches” he didn’t preserve them.  Only 52 remain intact.

For more info on Bernini’s life view this video from the Simon Schama BBC series “The Power of Art”.

I recommend the exhibition catalog "Bernini Sculpting in Clay" by C.D. Dickerson, III, Anthony Sigel and Ian Wardropper.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Matisse, In Search of True Painting” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1949 art critic Clement Greenberg wrote of Matisse “A self assured master who can no more help painting well than breathing.”  Indeed when I look at Matisse’s paintings they show a confidence and bravado in the brushwork, colorful palette and composition.  It was surprising to learn that painting never came easy to Matisse who "reworked, questioned and repainted".

                Still Life with Compote, Apples and Oranges by Henri Matisse1899

The exhibition “Matisse: in Search of True Painting”, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art , explores how Matisse used his canvasses as tools, repeating compositions in order to "compare effect, gauge his progress" and “push further and deeper into true painting.”

By creating multiple paintings of the same subject matter Matisse experimented with different techniques to explore the subject.  He often copied the same image over and over varying the treatment of the canvas and handling of the paint.

In his series of paintings of the “Young Sailor” Matisse used graphite pencil to block in the figure, he followed with black paint to re-inforece the outline.  His final step was to use vivid paint, allowing it to drip and run, to emphasize the two dimensional aspect of the surface. 

                                     Young Sailor I by Henri Matisse, 1906

                                      Young Sailor II by Henri Matisse, 1906

A series of three canvasses of “Le Luxe” dominate the exhibition.  Influenced by Ingres and Cezanne, Matisse sought to convey the essential qualities of his figures.  Using various materials, such as charcoal, distemper (a water based medium with a matte surface like fresco) and oil, Matisse created a dramatic series of figure studies that work independently, but when together create a powerful series that echo the forms of the figures.

Three versions of Le Luxe by Henri Matisse, the first using charcoal, the second in oil and third using distemper, 1907-08

Another series of paintings by Matisse, highlighted in the exhibition, are of Notre Dame.  They are based on the view from his Paris apartment. “I never tire of it, for me it is always new”.  The series, as you can see moves from a traditional view of the cathedral to one that becomes more abstract.  These later paintings giving way and influencing a new generation of artists seeking “true painting”.

                                         Notre Dame by Henri Matisse, 1900

Notre Dame by Henri Matisse , 1941

                                        Notre Dame by Henri Matisse, 1914

I highly recommend this exhibition which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 17, 2013.  I also recommend the catalog edited by Dorthe Aagesen and Rebecca Rabinow.

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Beatrix Potter, the Picture Letters" at the Morgan Library

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is known to many as the creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and many other children’s stories. What may not be know is that Beatrix Potter was an accomplished scientific illustrator and an astute businesswoman.  Both of these attributes added to her success as a children’s book author and illustrator.

                          Beatrix Potter and her pet rabbit "Benjamin Bouncer" 

Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 into an affluent family.  She enjoyed time at her family’s city home and in the countryside.  Beatrix and her brother Bertram had a menargie that included mice, rabbits and a hedgehog.  When the family travelled to the countryside Beatrix was fascinated with her natural surroundings and explored them through drawing.

                        Beatrix Potter's watercolor drawing of "Boar Fish", 1895.

   Beatrix Potter watercolor and pen and ink drawing of "Studies of a Dead Thrush", 1902.

The “Beatrix Potter, The Picture Letters” exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York is a must see for any Potter enthusiast.  The show focuses on Beatrix Potter’s many beautifully illustrated letters she wrote to children.  She corresponded with over forty children including her former governesses’ family.  Perhaps her most important correspondence was with young Noel Moore for whom she wrote the Tale of Peter Rabbit complete with lively pen and ink drawings.  The model for Peter was Beatrix Potter’s own pet rabbit that she described as “An affectionate companion and quite friend.”

                           Beatrix Potter's sketches of her pet rabbit Peter, 1899.

Beatrix attributed her success to the fact that her stories were written for “real children"- indeed a particular child.  Her studies of animals from life and scientific investigation of mushrooms, plants and landscape add an unusual freshness to her illustrations.  The animals are not mawkish or oversentimental.  Her animal characters keep a sense of the animal they are drawn from.

         Beatrix Potter's illustrated letter "Peter's Dream of a Comfortable Bed" 1899.

The exhibition includes early board games, stuffed animals and figurines based on the various Potter stories, ever the businesswoman Potter kept copyright and control of her famous characters.

            Beatrix Potter's watercolor and pen and ink drawing "His mother put him to bed, 
            and made some camomille tea", 1907.

I highly recommend a visit to the Morgan Library to enjoy this delightful exhibition!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Topics for 2013

Happy New Year!  As we begin the new year I have been brainstorming about blogging topics for 2013.  I was in New York for a few days and I plan on blogging about some amazing exhibitions I saw and plan on visiting.  Among them are the “Bernini, Sculpting in Clay” and “Matisse: True Painting” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bernini's terracotta sculpture model for the "Lion on Four Rivers Fountain" 1649-50. From the  exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The “Beatrix Potter, The Picture Letters” and “Durer to de Kooning” exhibitions at the Morgan Library are worth discussion and exploration.  The Frick’s “Mantegna to Matisse, Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery” and MoMA’s “Inventing Abstraction” look fascinating.  The National Gallery of Art’s upcoming French drawing exhibition “Color, Line, Light: French Drawings, Watercolors, and Pastels from Delacroix to Signac” is much anticipated for it’s varied collection.

Pastel drawing by Auguste Louis Lepere, 1900.  From exhibition "Color, Line, Light: French Drawings from Delacroix to Signac" at the National Gallery of Art.

 I plan on continuing to blog about master drawing techniques , such as pen and ink and wash and red chalk.  As I prepare my 2014 Vesalius Trust“Art and Anatomy” tour to Greece and Italy I will continue to blog about Andreas Vesalius whose 500th anniversary is next year! To reflect the focus of my blog I have added "Art and Anatomy" to my title.

Pen and ink drawing by Jacques Bellange, 1610. From the "Durer to de Kooning" exhibition at the Morgan Library.

Thanks for reading, commenting and joining me on my art and anatomy travels!