Saturday, January 9, 2010

Composition Workshop - Marshall


People were asked which shape is named Kiki and which shape is named Buba? Everyone seemed to have the same answer. The one with pointed shapes in named Kiki and the one with rounded shapes in Buba. All pictures including realist pictures are abstractions. Abstractions evoke feelings. Human beings are the only animals that gasp at a sunset. Spirals have certain feelings. Life is like a spiral . There are no phobias for guns only spiders. We respond on a gut level. A green room is different from a red room. Do a page for of abstractions. Think of a word and work on an abstraction of it. Examples to look at are Daumier and Matt Frantz.

Don't start working with literal things - just start scribbling. A drawing will be stiff and contrived if you start with anatomy.

We call this painting "Whistler's Mother" but the real name is "Arrangement in Grey and Black." This painting is a wonderful combination of concrete and lace. It is the color scheme of an old woman.

If you study the masters and rehearse successes - it heightens your sensitivity. Great masters are inspired by nature.

Don't start off by critiquing your work.

He put up a slide of Magritte's - "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" He said how every picture is abstract even if it's a realistic painting/ even before it is a thing that lay people can name. Flat surface with colors assembled in a specific order. Everyone has a different type of abstracting.

Even Andrew Wyeth who is a realist said a painting needs to be good without a likeness. So we must design an abstract piece even if it's "realistic." We need to ask ourselves - How does it work as an abstract design? We find through our personality what will work best. Knowing what our niche will be through our temperment.

Some people are more a painter and some people are more a drawer. Few people are both. If you tend toward tone you are a painter if you tend toward line you are a drawer. Verisimilitude takes skill to do. On thing can help you is if you can see it as something other than what it is. Be aware of negative shapes. See it fresh. He mentioned the book by Dondes - "Primer of Visual Literacy."

The 1st question can be - How does it work as an abstract?

Design your picture as an abstaction. Think of stativ vs. dynamic.

The 2nd Question can be - What feeling am I going for? What emotion? What do I want it to feel like?

Marshall put up this slide of Cotman's "Storm at Yarmouth Beach" 1831 to begin a discussion about comp studies.
He says that it should take 3 to 5 minutes to do a comp study. He said NC Wyeth said that "Composition is the thing that haunts." The composition is the design. Again he said when you do a comp study you are rehearsing successes. If you rehears enough successes you will succeed. He talked about a little about how we are trained not to see composition but I am not clear on my notes here.

Marshall talked about Kathe Kollwitz and how she evokes mood. My grandmother and dad always loved her.

Marshall talked about evoking mood. He showed works by Fuseli, Blacke, Hillingsford and Edward Hopper. He talked about how Hopper plays right angles against straight lines and obliques.

Marshall talked about tenebrism as a style of composing. He said it's about separating lights and darks and can be seen in the works of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. He also said it's about dramatic lights and darks.

This is what wikipedia says:

Tenebrism, from the Italian tenebroso ("murky"), (also called dramatic illumination) is a style of painting where chiaroscuro, or using violent contrasts of light and dark, becomes a dominating feature. The term is less used by art historians in recent decades, and lacks a clear definition; it is most often applied to Spanish painters, especially of the 17th century, when it is capitalised by some art historians, and not by others.

Marshall likes Howard Pyle a lot. He talked about how Van Gogh praised Howard Pyle's work "Old Time Life in a Quaker Town."

Marshall went over this painting by Norman Rockwell - "The Problem We All live with" (1963) and showed his different placement of the girl and the different variations of use of color. He suggested reading "Rockwell on Rockwell" or "How I make a Picture"

When studying composition it's good to look at Bernie Wrightson, N.C. Wyeth and Justin Sweet they aren't as subtle as Degas and Rembrandt.

N.C. Wyeth says composition is the thing that haunts. Some N.C. Wyeth examples

This workshop is an abreviated version of Marshall's course at Cal State Fullerton called "Drawing from the Masters."

Formulas are helpful but of course a great cook doesn't follow a recipe. There is a such thing as talent - talent is raw material - you have it or not.

Teaching is like sharing fire - some students are like paperr and some are like a solid lof that burns for a long time - some students are like rocket fuel.

You need to get in shape as an artist which means a lot of work without seeing results.
You can't rush puberty - we just do what we can fo. Exercise is necessary and hard. If you try to apply the principles or composition it helps a lot. If you explain it to someone else it also can help/


There are three areas of mastery for picture makers
1. TECHNIQUE (way of doing, manner or style) it is the way we apply the medium. For example - washes, cross hatching. It's the tactile thing on the surface.

- technique is important but it's not enough.

2. DRAFTSMANSHIP (correct drawing). Perspective is either correct or not correct. Anatomy is either correct or not correct. It's like grammar. Draftsmanship encompasses a. perspective b. anatomy and c. rendering. It is like knowing the scales in music. It is the creating the illusion of a 3D world on a 2D surface. But draftsmanship is not enough. Correctness can be boring.

3. COMPOSITION (it's about making choices. Design in synonymous with composition. Designers make choices. Composition is organization from/for feeling. WE study it from a number of different people who are great and then we extract a principle. The beauty of drawing lies in composition.


1. the TECHNIQUE is the board and the pieces
2. the DRAFTSMANSHIP is the rules
3. the COMPOSITION is the strategy

- never compose analytically first
- you have to just start, remember that you can't steer a car that isn't moving
- compositions come out best when they come out as a kind of improv
- an illustration must be made by inspiration

- Bernie Wrightson never went to art school
- He does thumbnails that are the size of playing cards
- You solve big parts of composition by working small
- You should have no room to solve little problems
- Work the size of a postage stamp, business card or playing card.

- artists use to do thumbnail drawings on their thumbnails.

- Professional jargon includes - comp studies, comprehensive studies, and roughs - traditional people also make line drawings and add color later.



Good People for looking at Compositiona are Bernie Wrightson, Justin Sweer and N.C. Wyeth their compositions are subtle so the are easier to look at. They are not subtle like Rembrandt and Degas.

Marshall mentioned how Vincent Van Gogh praised Howard Pyle in a letter to Theo - he praised his picture "Old Time Life in a Quaker Town". Howard Pyle was a student of Loomis. N C Wyeth was a student of Pyle.

"Do you know an American magazine called Harper's Monthly? There are things in it which strike me dumb with admiration, including sketches of a Quaker town in the olden days by Howard Pyle."

Marshall talked about Tenebrism which is a style of composing using lights and darks

Evoking Mood

- Look at the works of Fuseli, Blake, Hillingsford and Hopper, Kathe Kollwitz.

We study the masters because we are rehearsing successes. If we rehearse successes enough we will have successes.

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