Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Studio Tools: Dürer's Grid

Several years ago (Could it be more than 20?), while looking through an art magazine, I came across an interesting studio tool. The piece of equipment was based on the Albrecht Dürer image above, and consisted of a wooden frame with table-top supports and a grid-work of strings across the middle.

Ostensibly, the Dürer Grid is a device which enables more accurate drawing through a comparison and measurement system similar to the process of "gridding-up." This transfer-grid method is used to translate a two-dimensional image from its source to a working surface by breaking up the original reference into more manageable sections from which to render. Usually, this technique is used to make an enlargement from a study or sketch, but can also be used to transfer a photograph, piece by piece, to the canvas.

John Singer Sargent: Mural sketch for Apollo

Kenyon Cox: Fabric study for mural

The practice of gridding-up is easy, and for two basic reasons: all squares are proportionately related, and the more points of reference, the easier it is to measure. The method begins with the placement of a grid overlaid on the source material, and a second, similar grid drawn on the canvas. This second grid must have the same number of rows and columns of squares as does the first, though the squares in the second grid can be larger, smaller, or the same size as those in the reference grid. Significant points of intersection between the image and the reference grid are then identified (eg. "the bridge of the nose crosses the line between rows 3 and 4, column 2, nearly ¼ of the way from the left-side corner"), and those points are transfered to the grid on the canvas. When these points on the canvas are connected, there will be a fairly accurate outline drawing of the reference image, where proportion and placement are preserved even if the image has been altered in size.

This is a centuries-old practice, and we have all probably made use of this system at some point in our lives. As an exercise, the use of the transfer grid is so familiar, that it can be found nowadays in such mundane places as children's coloring books and roadside diner place mats!

Gridded photograph used by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret for his painting
Horses at the Watering Trough, 1884

When I studied under Marvin Mattelson, he suggested to his students that we all make handheld grids to improve our rendering from the model. Like the Dürer Grid, these handheld grids are used in judging shapes and proportion in a three-dimensional source. However, without the benefit of a rigid support, these grids were a bit more tricky to employ.

Examples of grid viewers I made from matte board, foam core, and elastic or "jelly" thread (used for making beaded bracelets)

To obtain the best results from these measuring devices, it is important that the subject always be observed through the grid from the same viewpoint. Standing in a consistent spot at your easel, hold the grid in your hand at the fullest extension of your arm. Make sure the plane of the grid frame is parallel to the picture plane containing your subject: do not allow the grid to be skewed, or the relationship between the grid viewer and the gridlines on your canvas will be lost. Locate the points on the subject which define the larger dimension between height and width, and align those points with either the top and bottom or left and right inner sides of the grid frame (this depends on orientation- portrait or landscape). When these two extremes are plotted, a third point will be needed to establish more reliable measuring. If you are viewing a standing figure, for example, the top and bottom extremes will be the apex of the head and the point where the foot contacts the ground: the third point might be an elbow, shoulder, fingertip, etc. What is important is that the third point is reasonably stationary, and that it defines the farthest point distant from the main axis (in this example, the line from the tip of the head to the bottom of the foot). Slide the viewfinder perpendicular to the main axis until the third point aligns with an inner side of the grid frame. If you always return the frame to this position defined by the three points, you will have a reasonably consistent grid overlaid on your subject, and from there, measuring and comparing are much the same as in gridding-up from the two-dimensional subject.

Above, used by permission, is a page from the painting packet Marvin Mattelson has prepared for all of his classes and workshops. He has gone to great lengths to organize and simplify these lessons, and it was wonderful to receive a new packet each semester (he was always looking for ways to make improvements!).

There is a lot more to drawing than measuring, however you need to be able to have everything in the right place. The grid can be used in many ways. Remember, you are gridding the figure, not the canvas. By gridding the figure you are teaching yourself to measure and compare, the two most essential aspects of drawing. The grid can help you to divide things and find center points. It is also very useful to see if the different parts of your drawing are aligned. It forces you to look more objectively. As you become more attuned, your reliance on the grid will decrease. Whether you use the grid to plot the location of every point on your drawing (as shown in panel #8) or simply use it to verify the correctness of your proportions, it can save you countless hours of frustration.
-Marvin Mattelson

I have only experimented with the gird once in which I used it to plot every salient point on the figure. It was a slow, tedious process, and I really felt it interfered with the drawing process; there was no rhythm in the linework. However, I did use the grid often, when, after placing my drawing on the canvas, I realized that there was something wrong with the proportions. The grid was useful (and at times surprising) for revealing where I had gone wrong. As such, it is a wonderful tool, in the same way as a reducing lens or a mirror are useful in re-examining your work for errors from a new standpoint.

Grid viewers made by Kurt Anderson, a graduate of the Atelier Lack

¹Kurt Anderson, Realistic Oil Painting Techniques (Cincinnati, OH; North Light Books, 1995) p. 58.



Suppliers selling Dürer's Grid: Natural Pigments, Nasco
Portrait Artist Marvin Mattelson

Marvin Mattelson Sabbatical

For those of you interested in studying with Marvin Mattelson, you should consider registering soon. Beginning in May 2010, Marvin will be taking a sabbatical from teaching classes and workshops, and will not return to teaching until 2011.

Registration for his Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting class, through the division of Continuing Education at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, begins December 7, 2009.
Marvin will again be offering a twelve-session studio class on both Friday and Saturday of the spring semester. Classes begin January 22, 2010.

To enroll, visit SVA online, or call the Continuing Education Department at 212 592-2050.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Early Work by Richard Schmid

The above image is from the current issue of Illustration Magazine. Schmid's artwork accompanies part two of an excellent article on The American Academy of Art by Aron Gagliardo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pre-Order the Richard Schmid Landscapes book

Stove Prairie Press is now accepting pre-orders for Richard Schmid's The Landscapes book. The 11" X 14" book contains over 300 images, and should be ready to ship in late November. Three versions are available: softcover ($75.00), hardcover ($135.00), and autographed hardcover ($160.00). I ordered my copy yesterday!

Color Palettes: John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

The following examination of the colors present in John Singer Sargent's paintings was conducted by the Conservation Department of the Tate Britain, London.

The information we do have has come from examination of his pictures and direct analysis of his paint. The same commonly available range of pigments is seen in virtually all of the Tate's later portraits and on existing palettes. The range is quite wide but does not include every pigment available at that time. He regularly used Mars yellow (a synthetic iron oxide) and cadmium yellow; viridian and emerald green, sometimes mixed; vermilion and Mars red, both alone and mixed; madder; synthetic ultramarine or cobalt blue; and ivory black, sienna, and Mars brown. The dark backgrounds of many portraits include a mixture of ivory black, Mars brown,and a generous quantity of paint medium: a combination that produces a color similar to the traditional Van Dyke brown. A pale shade of chrome yellow, cerulean blue, red lead, cadmium red, and cobalt violet were found on occasion, but not in every portrait examined. There is a more limited selection of blue and yellow pigments in the later portraits than in the earlier ones. This narrow range of blues, yellows, and greens in his palette went some way to create a color harmony and to fix a cool or a warm overall tone to each painting.

Sargent mixed lighter colors such as flesh tones by adding to lead white, vermilion, and a selection of other pigments including bone black, on occasion rose madder, and even green viridian. Mixing them together roughly on the palette, he then worked them into and onto adjacent brushstrokes on the canvas to give more subtle variations in tone.

(Jacqueline Ridge and Joyce Townsend; "How Sargent Made it Look Easy"; American Artist magazine; August, 1999, page 29)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Upcoming Auction Preview: Christie's

On September 29, Christie's New York will be having their auction of important American Paintings. Artworks for sale include pieces by Emile Gruppe, George Inness, Thomas Anshutz, Guy Rose, Richard Schmid, Emil Carlsen, William Trost Richards, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Carlson, Charles Courtney Curran, William McGregor Paxton, Haddon Sundblom, and Howard Pyle. Previews will begin September 25th, and will run through the 28th, and, as always, it's free!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Carolus Duran

There is a different 'aesthetic,' you must remember, for each epoch in the history of art. It is misleading, therefore, to place one school above another or to suppose that we ought to imitate the great masters who have gone before us. There are great masters at every epoch. The aesthetic of the pre-Raphaelites was suitable to and a product of its period. It would be out of place to-day. It is out of date. As much as I admire the great masters of former times, I have neither imitated them nor been influenced by them. I might express the opinion, however, that among them Velasquez... was the most complete; Rubens had the greatest imagination, and Rembrandt the greatest soul. THE PAINTER MUST GO STRAIGHT TO NATURE; THE STUDY OF NATURE ALONE WILL TEACH HIM HIS BUSINESS. My own art may be summed up in two words; I seek to give the impression of things which touch and surround me. WE MUST KNOW NATURE FIRST, BEFORE WE CAN HOPE TO IMPROVE UPON HER.

- Carolus Duran

From an interview conducted by Rowland Strong, and printed in The New York Times, March 17, 1900. (Emphasis added.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Random Inspiration: Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942)

Prolific American painter, Charles Courtney Curran, was born in Hartford, Kentucky, February 13, 1861, but spent the latter part of his youth in Sandusky, Ohio. At the age of 20, he began studying art at the Cincinnati School of Design with Thomas B. Noble, but after a single year of advanced training in his home state, Curran moved to the nation's artistic hotspot, New York City.

In New York, Curran studied with Walter Satterlee at the National Academy of Design, and by the age of 23, held his first public exhibition of art at the Academy. In 1886, Curran was elected an Associate of the Academy, and two years later, became a full Academician. At age 28, Curran won the Academy's Third Hallgarten Prize for the painting Breezy Day, considered then to be the most "meritorious painting in oil."

After following his instruction at the Academy with a brief schooling at the Art Students' League in New York, Curran decided to continue his studies overseas. From 1889 to 1891, he completed the "proper training of an American artist" by doing the "prerequisite" study of painting in Europe. At the Académie Julian in Paris, Curran worked under such notable instructors as Benjamin Constant, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, and Henri Lucien Doucet, and within only a few years at Julian, he achieved recognition at the Paris Salon.

Curran returned to America, and continued his success. His work at times showed the influence of Jules Bastien-Lepage, who motivated Curran and his contemporaries to paint scenes of everyday life (though Curran's were less "gritty"), and at other times, the influence of the Symbolists, who rallied against the Naturalists in order to promote scenes of imagination and spirituality. In 1903, however, with his introduction to the Cragsmoor Art Colony, Curran's oeuvre coalesced into the theme which the artist would pursue for the rest of his career: modern women, usually dressed in white, painted against blue skies and standing upon flower-covered mountain tops.

Evansville, nestled near the Shawgunk Mountains in Ulster County, New York, and which became known as Cragsmoor in 1893, was discovered by artists in the early 1870s and was founded in 1879. The small town with its "stimulating air, its distant horizon, its wide expanse of landscape, valley and mountain, the brilliancy of its sunset skies, and the grandeur and awfulness of its summer storms"¹ was the perfect escape for New York City artists seeking to "pursue nature in a place not yet touched by industrial progress."² The colony attracted such artists as Edward Lamson Henry, Eliza Pratt Greatorex, John George Brown, William Holbrook Beard, Helen Turner, Austa Sturdevant, George Inness Jr., and Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, the man responsible for introducing Curran to the area.

In 1910, work was completed on Curran's home, Winahdin, and he and his wife, Grace, settled happily into the congenial Cragsmoor Colony. This environment, which one journalist described in 1906 as "a harmonious community... active-minded and deeply interested in the best art, literature, drama and music,"³ was a constant source of inspiration for Curran's Impressionistic canvases. He spent the next 30 years of his life painting the land around his home, and participating in the overseeing of the colony.

November 9, 1942, the artist passed away in New York City, leaving behind a large catalog of paintings which can still be seen in many of the nation's great collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

¹ Steve Shipp, American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: A Historical Guide to America's Original Art Colonies and Their Artists (Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 25.
² Shipp, p. 25. (Quote attributed to Judge George Brown).
³ Shipp, p. 25. (From an article from The Cragsmoor Journal, 1906).