Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sacred Geometry in Classical Art

Mathematical studies of the Fibonacci Series and golden section/sacred geometry is not usually the priority for a fine art painter of today. We moderns don't think about sacred geometry too much - we mostly enjoy the act of painting and kinda ballpark the rule of thirds in our layout, and most often come up with pleasing compositions as we paint on the standard canvas sizes carried by art suppliers.

But I've been thinking a lot about the geometry used in classical art that defined the composition. The classic masters did use it. Learning how to draw a root2 or phi rectangle doesn't create a beautiful painting in itself, it does help us with proportions that can be used like a template to suit and support the original concept of the painting. Graphic design uses templates for columns and page layout, so why not fine art painting.

This youtube video may be a bit overstated with all the triangulations, but I do think it makes the point that the old masters used geometry in their work - sacred or not. 


Note: These lines are only to show points of interest in the overall two dimensional picture plane, and not intended to suggest perspective for a three dimensional illusion. Perspective and its lines of delineation are a separate area of study.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

'Why' do artists paint on canvas and linen?

As a beginning painter, or a beginner of anything, we almost always followed the lead given by the instructor(s) providing the 'how to' - isn't that what we always do to learn something new - whether mimicking our parents as children, or how to do 'math' in school. We simply do what the current authority figure does or says, and that's how we learn.

On the topic of oil painting, I love the texture and other qualities of oil paint - so when I decided to learn to paint, it was naturally my choice of medium. Learning how to use it well isn't so simple. In fact it is more difficult than math in someways, wouldn't you agree? ;o)

So now that I've begun to study the classical proportions of a picture plane, and as I go along learning, I decided to use rolls of canvas and/or linen so I can cut my own specific  sizes. Using the past information given to me by 'several' authorities on painting who seem to have a wide range of approaches to things, it was no surprise to me that while warming my morning coffee, a question pops into my head asking 'why' do artists paint on canvas and linen?

I mean, we have so many materials to chose from, why fabric for fine art? At first impression, fabric brings to mind things like dyed cloth for clothing, and embroidery on dish towels. While I appreciate that both these examples can be beautiful, neither of them makes the leap in my mind to the idea of fine art.

So the best I can discern is this:

1) The obvious is that linen and canvas are light weight and much easier to transport than say a venetian plaster wall. One can stretch it on bars made into frames for showing, mount it on a rigid support, or roll it up for safe keeping.

2) Linen and canvas allows for better adhesion of the paint so it doesn't flake off as with a wooden panel or plaster surface.

3) And three, 'linen' especially gives a quality to the image that I personally find difficult to resist.

In design we learn that 'Form follows function', but once you get past the functional and practical aspects, it becomes, and is, more of an aesthetic thing.

As it turns out, after considering my thoughts I did a little research, and discovered I wasn't so far off in my thinking for the first two reasons listed. The Wikipedia resource suggests the same reasons for using fabric. See Oil Painting.

However, the third reason I mention is the 'WHY' that might be more elusive to identify (and not in Wikipedia), especially if you don't have the same aesthetic sensibilities.

I've painted on glass, wood, metal, rocks, canvas, and paper for oil painting, but linen is by far most appealing to me. I can mount it if I want a rigid surface, I can stretch it and experience a pleasurable 'give and take' with the surface as I apply paint. It can be used with or without a ground depending on purposes of the final image. I can be scrub into linen, or lay down paint smoothly and lightly; I can apply thin paint washes, or build up texture on the surface making it more sculptural. If I change my mind, I can wipe it away and begin again, and so it goes.

Fabric, especially linen, is simply a wonder surface to work on. Hmmm... wonder who the first person was who tried it?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Study of the classical renewed...

Since seeing the Rembrandt painting at the Seattle Art Museum (the Kenwood House Collection) this past Spring, I've become more and more curious about classical work regarding the methods of the old masters.

Rembrandt - Self Portrait
Oil on Canvas
ca. 1665

The self-portrait of Rembrandt is engaging. The composition, the quality of paint, everything about this painting screams at me, but the language sounds foreign. His small etchings had/have a quality that is compelling in a similar way. The other paintings in the show had/have something intriguing about them too - none of which I could quite put my finger on as a modern viewer... and in spite of years of art training, I felt inadequate - like something was missing in my understanding. Let me explain...

Selecting objects for a still life is always an exercise that challenges me. I see beauty in so many things and want to express it in a pleasing way that you might see it too. After selecting items, working with how do I arrange them - what size do I paint - and after  coming up with a passable solution, it changes several times during the process. And this I've discovered is one of the interesting things about classical work.

In a classical painting there is an underlying framework for composing the painting. You've heard of the 'golden section' or 'divine proportion', but there is a tremendous amount more to it, and many of us more modern painters have no idea about how to utilize it like the masters did for our compositions. Could it really make for better paintings and perhaps achieve a true masterpiece?

This process was used in painting and sculpture and all manner of the arts. Just like learning an instrument and or movements in dance, there are scales and fundamentals that one needs to learn before they can perform beautifully. The same goes for painting.

I know we always hear suggestions about selecting random elements and being spontaneous for my paintings, but for me this results in sooooo many failures and disappointments. So now, I fear I will become a snob of sorts rejecting efforts that are not 'designed' in a more classical way. ;o)

I have a good sense of layout as a graphic designer, but even this seems basic and not very artistic or satisfying with our modern way of doing things. I enjoy painting very much, but when I begin to paint I often ask myself if the world really needs another oil painting. Maybe not...?

However, for my next several painting efforts, my plan is to revisit some past images of my own doing to start from, and begin to learn how to actually 'design' a painting like the Masters might have done - using the same objects, and see if it makes a difference. Sounds like work, but what the heck - I like a good challenge.

BTW, the study resources I plan to use are based on the Barnstone Studio program. He has some free videos to preview on his site that immediately rang true for me.

During the next several posts I will share my experiences with this study.