Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creating studies for final work

The other night in one of my drawing classes, I was working on a rendering of a dog. I often draw my class assignments before my students arrive, but this term, I've been working along side them at my studio. It's been fun and rather spontaneous, that is, until last night. 

For the life of me, I just couldn't get this cute little dog down on paper. I'd lay down one sketch, then pull the sheet out of my book. The second page went in the same direction. By the third try, I was feeling very frustrated and maybe even a little embarrassed. After all, I'm the teacher—the one who's supposed to show how “easy” it is to draw. Fortunately, I didn't have egg on my face too long. My fourth attempt was satisfactory. But it wasn't until everyone went home that I finally drew another (my fifth try!) and achieved what I wanted—a decent rendition of a darling little pooch.

My point? Perfection cannot be achieved immediately. We sometime struggle to get what we want--guess that's why they call it art "work."  Indeed, many artists develop studies before they commit to a final piece. Georges Seurat was one such artist. Born in the mid-1800s, he is credited as the inventor of pointillism, although Johannes Vermeer had dabbled with the concept years earlier. Similar to stippling in drawing, one uses small dots to create the subject. But unlike stippling, pointillism uses small dots of color that blend to give the illusion of another color. For instance, Seurat would not mix yellow and blue on his palette to create green, but place both colors together to create an “optical” green. A very difficult task.

One of his greatest paintings is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte (in French: Un dimanche après-midi à L'Ile de la Grande Jette) shown below (click to see a larger view):

Notice that this entire piece (measuring 6ft X 10 ft 1 in) is entirely created by placing one colored point next to the other. Displayed in 1886, the painting took Seurat two years to create. But more importantly, he visited the park —the Grand Jatte—day after day to create studies, both drawings and small paintings before he created the final product.

For example, here are a few drawings he created in Conté crayon in preparation for the painting:

Notice the woods on the right hand side of the painting.
Can you find this woman in the final painting? 
And what about this little girl?
And here's une femme fishing (left-hand side)
But Seuret didn't just stop at drawing (which by the way, he practiced drawing in black and white for an entire year). He also did study after study on small canvases. Notice the similarities and the changes that appeared on these studies.

Getting closer, don't you think?
And one more look at the final work:

So don't get frustrated if you have to do a drawing over and over again. I can guarantee the subsequent drawings do get easier and you also find yourself adding and subtracting as you go along, which ends up being a true “work” of art!

(Note: many people wonder about the monkey that the ever-so-proper woman has on a lead in the painting—especially when in the 1800s monkeys were symbolic for prostitutes. Any theories???)

Next month, I'll be talking about the art of Santa Claus....

1 comment:

  1. Very encouraging, about not worrying about getting it right the first - or even the third - time! Great advice.

    I just googled "Seurat monkey" and found this interesting analysis, which covers the social satire and color aspects of this famous painting:

    One of my favorite musicals is Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George" (Mandy Patinkin). I highly recommend the video if you haven't seen it!