March 29, 2008

A Brief Word on Painting Gold

When it comes time to pour gold accessories on a figure - capes and necklaces and chains and belts - the naive artist will reach for their tube of gold p
aint. It seems to make sense: gold thing is painted with gold pigment, which looks like it's made from actual gold. By the same logic, when we come to paint flesh tones, we should reach for that tube of 'flesh' pigment, made from real flesh.

I have nothing against gold paint, and have a nice collection of tubes and jars of it, including all sorts of bronzing powders and gold leaf, and on summer afternoons I pull them all out and look at them sparkle in the sun. But when rendering a gold object they don't work, at least not by themselves.

Gold paint is generally a particle with some natural iridescence, such as mica, suspended in a clear binder, and this iridescence catches the light in a pleasingly metallic way. But there are several objections to it's use when trying to depict an object in space. Were we to paint a gold ball, for instance, and dutifully drew a circle and filled in the shape with gold paint, it would glitter nicely but would remain looking like a circle - there would be no sense of the third dimension, no shadow or highlight, nor would it reflect the world around it.

The best method is to paint gold with an opaque medium like gouache, as a mass of several colors, and to do so we must acquaint ourselves both with the colors of gold and its behavior. In the example I have done of a golden statue, I have followed a classic scenic painting technique, with the following steps:

1. A brown underpainting, in raw sienna and black, which models the form - this is transparent and layered.
2. Another wash with olive green, for gold has more green than one suspects at first.
3. Highlights and reflections painted with cadmium yellow deep, which as you can see is a lovely orange color.
4. Finer highlights and reflections in cadmium yellow pale - and this is the trick: the yellow is painted only on top of the orange color. Also, it is used mainly for the highlights - reflections generally remain orange.
5. The brightest highlights are then added with permanent white, which as before is only painted on top of the yellow.

6. As this statue is outdoors, I added a little cool sky blue - mixed ultramarine and white - to pop out the warm tones by contrast.

Let's look at actual, real painters, like Rembrandt and "Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer" - the whole painting sparkles and shimmers like gold, but he used no gold paint. If you can, go to the Metropolitan Museum and stand before it, and look especially at Aristotle's chain - thin glazes of rich oranges and browns with thick glops of yellows and whites on top.

If you can get to the National Galley in Washington DC, take a look at David's portrait of Napoleon. Gold objects abound, like the chair to the right, and the epaulets on his uniform - again, no sparkly gold paint used, just browns, oranges, yellows and whites.

As I said, you can use gold paint if you want, why not? My suggestion would be to not paint it directly over white, or to use it flatly. Try painting it over a black or dark brown base, and try to stipple and model the object you're trying to convey, as in my quick example here:

(One of the issues with using gold and metallic pigments is that they copy and scan unpredictably, and obviously without their sparkling character translating.)

Observation is the key, as ever, so look at all the reflective, shimmering things in the world and take note.

March 16, 2008

Drawing Fabric - Part 2

The recent homework assignment was to drape cloth over some object and draw the tableau with charcoal and chalk on brown paper, with an eye to making the object within understandable - the assignment yielded some wonderful results (we'll try to post some soon). I tried my hand at it myself, wrapping a plastic cast of a skull in a dishtowel (I sort of threw the game by poking in the indentation of the eye socket).

It is a fascinating activity - I kept reflecting on how in drawing a face and head of a fellow human we're drawing the thin membrane of skin that covers the skull, and in recording the topography of the face we're also aware of the mass of the skull underneath. And in more mature years, people's faces become less taut, and the skin will pucker and wrinkle in ways that suggest loose fabric. I've drawn my plastic skull many many times, but drawing these studies I had an eerie feeling of evoking the actual person who in time past spoke and ate and listened to music and saw the sun shine, before dying and yielding their skull to be cast and molded plastic.

March 1, 2008

Drawing Fabric - Part 1

The folds and wrinkles of fabric are endlessly fascinating and can be overwhelming in their shifting complexity. Some simple observations to help us:

Just as we study the forms of the skeleton so that its masses are always understood to be within the body we draw, so the body itself (and the skeleton within it) are understood to be within the clothing of the person we're drawing. The folds and draping shapes of clothing are thus defined by the body the clothes cover, enfold, surround, and hang from. We essentially draw the effects of gravity on the cloth that dresses the figure.

The variety of folds and wrinkles - always changing as the figure moves - are a series of transient abstract shapes that express the action of the figure, and pass by like clouds on a windy day. But like clouds, their abstract shapes have been given names and organized into categories - just as wispy, insubstantial clouds are labeled 'cumulus' and 'cirrus,' so folds have been given a series of names by George Bridgeman, the influential drawing teacher at the Art Students League a hundred years ago. His categories:

Pipe Fold
Zigzag Fold
Spiral Fold
Half-lock Fold
Diaper Pattern
Drop Fold

It is, one will soon discover, a bit arbitrary, and fabric sometimes acts as if it never read Bridgeman's books at all, but it's an entry point.

A basic idea is that fabric wants to hang from a point - let's say a shoulder - in a series of perfectly coned-shaped pipe folds, but other forces - like other tensions and compression points - will interact with the pipe fold shape and create the other forms. We can see clearly, usually, that the diaper pattern is really two sets of pipe folds radiating from two hanging points and creating new valleys and ridges as they meet together. There are many ways to visualize this, but let's begin with the following illustrations: