Saturday, March 29, 2014

Image size and the Internet

John Terwilliger, "In the Shadow of Man", Pastel, chalk, charcoal on paper", 80"x120", 1989
The New York School abstract expressionists new that size matters, and so did the Minimalists who followed them.   Standing in front of one of Jackson Pollacks paintings is an entirely different experience from seeing an illustration online.  If you don't believe me look at Chuck Close's painting Frank at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in gallery G373 online and in person (it is almost always on display).  

In my drawing above you can get a feel of the composition and the general idea of the artwork, but until you are standing next to it, the drawing towering over all except the tallest individuals, you do not get a feel for it.  It definitely does not have the impact or effect or quite possibly the meaning I meant it to have when drawing it.  It is in fact a completely different piece of artwork from the original, just as the the small engravings of paintings from the Renaissance are not the same as the painting depicted.

 In today's digital age an artist is in competition not just with contemporaries, but virtually every artists who ever lived who's art survived the ages.  Want to hang work by Vincent Van Gogh on your walls but don't have a hundred million dollars for an original?  Just by a print of one and frame it.  Whoever owns the rights to an artwork can photograph or scan it and produce for sale high quality (or low quality) prints of the original in almost any size imaginable. 

But most viewing today is online, on a computer monitor, or even a tiny little phone screen.  Most visual art is doomed when reduced to such a tiny and inadequate viewing device.  But the reverse can also be the same.  I have a lot of work drawn at Art Trading Card (ATC) size of 2.5"x3.5".  These works look great when holding them in your hand, but can look crude online when enlarged way beyond the original size.   The following drawing is uploaded at ATC size 72dpi for a total width of 252 pixels (or dots)
John Terwilliger, "Old Crow", Graphite pencil, 2.5"x3.5", 2010-01-30
I like to scan my drawings at 1200+ dpi because I have a printer that outputs well over that resolution.  for reference that ATC size drawing comes out to over 52" wide at the standard internet display resolution of 72 dpi.

The top picture forces you to stand in relation to it and absorb its presence while the lower one is intimate and can be held in the palm of your hand.  Yet here in this blog post they appear about the same size.  Very disquieting for me as an artist knowing this is how most will experience the artwork.  If fact, in both of the artworks shown this is the only way for you to view the actual artwork.  The top piece is rolled up in storage probably to never be displayed publicly in my lifetime, and the bottom one is sold out of state.

Do I miss the sold work?  No, I still have the actual crow skull in my studio; I can draw it again, though it will have less feathers left on it.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Construction Lines

John Terwilliger, "Raining Rings", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/03/21

A construction line is used in the building industry to insure a straight line for layout and/or cutting.  In the housing trades it is normal to see these as blue chalk lines on lumber etc.  The chalk comes in various colors some of which the manufacturer warns are "permanent" which means they won't wash off and will bleed thru paint and sealers and will stain the substrate.

I started adding construction lines as non sequitur composition elements to my drawings after I began using found/scrap plywood from various home renovation jobs I was on.  These lines were all chalk line blue and I simply drew my picture over them as if they were not there.  As I had previously created works with grids in the background the lines appealed to me from a composition standpoint so I started using them.  Though, I draw the lines in with a straight edge instead of a chalk line and use whatever color suits my fancy.

In my treetop drawings the construction lines can be read as power lines but that is not my intent when drawing them.  For me they are pure abstract forms adding (usually) color to a composition which needs something.  And it is that "something" which is most interesting when creating an artwork as the process, for me, is intuitive. 

The intuitive non verbal part of creating artwork when looking at the piece and knowing it needs something more/less or different is a bi part of the fun.  In the drawing above I drew in the tree and all the branches with the white paper as a background and spray fixed it.  I knew the work was not complete but I did not know what it was going to need. 

So I had lunch and thought about it, and it came into my to place blue rings around the tree.  I was going to do a more clustered background with the rings building up tonal gradation but as I started adding them it became necessary to just put in a thin spattering of rings, like the rain.  When I stood back and stared at the piece it demanded a compliment to the blue so I added the construction lines with the tangent circles.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Significant Form or Imaginary Relevance

John Terwilliger, "Splayed Treetop", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/03/19
I had a second generation abstract expressionist professor in college named Herman Somberg who used to talk passionately about significant form as all you need in a painting.  I took color theory and beginning painting from him before he retired but never got an answer or even a concrete idea about what significant form in a work of art was.  Significant form was an idea used as the basis for the formalist art theory which was put forward in support of the abstract expressionists.  It was first put forward by Clive Bell  who was an art critic writing in support of abstract art and cubism in his book "Art" from 1914.  If interested his book is available for free from project Gutenberg

The theory states simply that the interrelations of components within the artwork are what matters and it is art if they are "significant" in construction, and content, such as the tree in the picture above, are non-relevant overall as to determining is as art.  Art philosophy, especially analytic philosophy, have discounted this theory based on it's inability to count for bad art, as well as art that requires the content to even exist, such as conceptual art, where frequently there is only content, or thought, and no form.

But the art theories before formalism could not account for abstract art and discounted it is non-art.  It is easy to see why Clive Bell felt the need to put forward a new understanding of art if you have ever stood in front of an early cubist work from Braque and Picasso or paintings by Kandinsky.  These works were not really about the subject matter contained in the painting if you could even determine the subject.  So the critics put forward the new theory as to why what they were doing was not only Art but good and great Art.

If I say the above pictured painting I just finished is indeed not just Art, but Fine Art, what is the significant form?  Is it heavy black charcoal lines smeared around the surface with an eraser?  Is it the tree, the sky, the paper itself?  The theory, and all of the writing around it, offers no real answer.  Significant form could be any of what I listed or something else.  I lean to something else, something imaginary, which is why I could never get an answer, as an artist, to what it is.  In his art philosophy introductory book "Philosophy of Art" Noel Carroll lays out the basics of the formalist theory in a straightforward and positive manner and then refutes it with objections.  He proceeds with this format, posit and refute, with all the current/popular philosophical theories of art.

I imagine my artwork is good, therefore it is significant.  If I need significant form or forms I can always go to go to all they have are significant forms of the very real, non-imaginary kinds.

Thanks to Wikipedia for most links contained herein though they did not have a listing for Herman Somberg.  Herman passed away in 1991 with very little internet exposure.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Goals within a framework

"Purple Moonrise", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/03/08

People are always saying that you need to set specific goals to get anything done.  There is truth in that sentiment but no guarantee of the end results.  This is of course not a surprising or profound conclusion and in creating artwork probably a foregone conclusion.

In the picture above I set a goal to create a drawing similar to one which was lost/stolen a few years ago.  The missing drawing (below) featured an orange tree with a tan background but a white sun/moon object in the center of the page.  I could have used the same tree but I did not wish to copy the drawing, only to edge towards the same feel.  So I chose orange for the trunk and tan for the sky. 

"Orange Tree", Pastel on Rives BFK White paper, 22T"x30W", 2008/04/01
Before I created the first mark on the paper I had gone off goal.  I chose a different orange and a different tan.  But from there I skewed even farther by making the the small branches orange and to restrict the amount of black I used.  The final big difference is I chose to place the moon/circle on the bottom of the drawing and draw it in purple.

Did I succeed in the stated goal?  I would say I did not.  Did I fail?  I would also say I did not.  Funny thing how the world works; at least in Art.  I like the top picture, and it is successful as a drawing.  There are some computational quibbles with the drawing. Such as I should have set the moon a little to one side rather than framing it in the opening in the branches, but once you start blocking in color with soft pastels there is no going back unless you want to go very dark.

Overall I moved one step closer to a different goal of creating ten more treetops on 22"x30" paper this winter.  Which is part of a goal to get to one hundred.  I already have 100 at 3.75"x5" and over 50 at 5"x7".  Goals with a number attached are easiest measure.

But soon I'll have to set a goal of building more frames.  Then will come more drawings, then more frames.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

So you say you are a Pastelist....

 "Crossing Grid Branches", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/02/14

The word pastel brings to mind light sun bleached colors.  Drawing pastel medium is anything but the light chalky colors you will find your kids classroom.  You can get the entire rainbow of colors including the deepest blacks and vivid colors. 

Soft pastels are, simply put, high test chalk.  But instead of using a white limestone as the primary pigment with tints to achieve color they are pure color pigment with a little binder and filler.  Some pastels use fillers to vary the hardness, tint, and cost of end product.

Traditional pastels use gum tragacanth as the binder but modern pastels use methyl cellulose.  Oil pastels, as the name suggests, use a non drying oil such as coconut oil and paraffin wax to alter the hardness of the pastel.  Crayons use wax as the binder.  And there are various other binder mixes to give a range of hardness and they all fall under the general category of Pastels as a dry drawing medium. 

I use soft pastels and a medium grade hardness pastel called Conte crayons.  I do not like oil pastels primarily because they use non drying oils, and I find the oil soaks into and discolors any exposed paper substrate and they cannot be erased.  I also am not a fan of regular wax crayons due to the workability of the medium and again the inability to erase.

The eraser is by far my favorite drawing tool.  While I do use paper stumps (tightly rolled paper in the shape of a pencil), dry brushes, and chamois for blending, in addition to my fingers, I by far prefer a medium soft eraser.  For me every mark needs to be modified, added to or erased.  The eraser not only removes material it also blends and drives the pigment down into the paper.  This gives an entire new type of making and toning that the pastel will not do on its own.  It can also add a lot of gestural energy to the original marking.

I have big fat erasers, soft erasers, hard erasers, and erasers which are only two millimeters wide in a mechanical pencil type holder.  If it can be drawn, it can be erased.