An Intersection of Drawing and Sculpture

One of the aspects of being an artist that I really enjoy is the surprises that occur within the creative process that you can never predict.  When I started this series of drawings of elderly figures, I never anticipated that these drawings would eventually become so sculptural. I have a lot of experience in figure modeling and casting, but I still consider myself to be largely an artist who works in two-dimensional media.  This project is an exception in that I’ve been able to combine sculptural qualities directly into the context of drawing.

Graphite Drawing on Tissue Paper by RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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Anticipating a New Drawing Project

ART PROF Teaching Assistant Casey Roonan and Prof Clara Lieu

Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Assistant Casey Roonan


Now that our Kickstarter is over, we are entering a new phase here at Art Prof. While we prepare for our launch, we’ll keep releasing new Crit Quickies on our Instagram, new interactive video critiques and tutorials on our Youtube channel, and also blogging regularly here. For many years, this blog was written only by Clara Lieu. In this new phase, our 6 Teaching Assistants will start contributing blog posts.  We hope you enjoy getting to know all of us in the near future!

Rodin Sculpture

Rodin, The Helmet Maker’s Wife


by Clara Lieu

I’m just now starting to “recover” from running the Kickstarter campaign. I know that I have a monumental work ethic, but this campaign pushed the limits of that. This was definitely the most intense amount of work I have ever done since my freshman year at RISD-except that now I have a family to take care of and a full-time job.

So today I had my first day off in months, I went swimming for the first time this summer. You would think on a day off I wouldn’t want to think about work, but I did.  Not Art Prof, but my own studio practice, which has not been active for 2 years while I developed Art Prof. As I floated on my back in the water, I started anticipating a drawing project I first thought of back in June. The project is going to be drawings of elderly nudes.  When you consider art history, the elderly nude is rarely portrayed.  The only pieces from art history that come to mind are The Helmet Maker’s Wife by Rodin, (see above) and the Old Market Woman from Hellenistic Greece. You can read more about my inspiration for this project here.

I set up a time to work with an artist model next week, which got me really excited to start considering how these drawings might come together.  A huge part of my practice has always been a long, comprehensive search for the right materials to match the project.  I am sure this project will be no different.  My first thought was graphite, which struck me as odd because out of all the drawing materials out there, graphite is probably my least favorite drawing material. However, in order to show the textures and surfaces of an elderly figure, I’ll need a drawing material that can achieve a high amount of detail and refinement.

Actually, what takes much longer for me to determine is the drawing surface. I want the drawing surface to be slightly translucent and also quite thin and frail.  Perhaps tracing paper, tissue paper, or even a thin fabric like silk could be really interesting to draw on. In the past, all of my two-dimensional work has been the traditional rectangle shape, but I like the idea of torn edges or even fabric with frayed edges so that the drawing is an irregular shape. Just thinking about doing some small studies on these various drawing surfaces is wonderful, I can’t wait to get started.

Clara Lieu, Portrait of Pearl, pencil drawing

A pencil drawing of Pearl I did when I was a senior at RISD in 1998.  Pearl was an artist model when I was a student.  She was 85 years old at the time, and was incredible to draw. Pearl is one of reasons I want to make these drawings.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Our Kickstarter campaign hit its $30k goal on July 19!  Get info on our future launch by subscribing to our email list.

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Ask the Art Prof Live #5: Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches


00:00
“I got accepted into my top choice of art schools this year.  I’m super excited, but I’m also really nervous and don’t really know what to expect. The art program at my high school wasn’t very good, and I’m worried that I’m going to be really inexperienced compared to the other students. What are your tips for starting art school?”

03:04
Work with other students on your art school projects, be a cheerleader for each other!

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

05:30
Talk to your professors, and ask for help.

09:08
Learn to separate yourself from your art in a group critique.

11:46
Start early, avoid the marathon the night before, spread out your work over several days.


15:15
“What are common cliches and design mistakes you see in students? How do you think those can be worked on or avoided?”
Mentioned: Leon Golub, Kathe Kollwitz, Delacroix

Image_Leon Golub    images    Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple


17:22
Research your art media
Mentioned: Rodin, Bourdelle, Degas, Giacometti

hb_11.173.3    45686-12    hb_29.100.395    download


18:20
Get the cliches out of your system, and then eliminate them.


19:38
The “Layers” assignment in my RISD Freshman Drawing class.

neal_uno


21:20
Ask for feedback early on, several times, before the group critique.

Final Crit
22:53
A self-portrait becomes a penis.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#7: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
#6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#2:  Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs

Ask the Art Prof: How Do Visual Artists Manage To Get their Soul Out into Images?

Accordion Bookbinding Project

“I am a self taught visual artist, and don’t have anyone to ask, so I have kept going and working hard, experimenting with different mediums etc. And trying all the time not to think too hard. But your gallery makes all the questions start swimming around again. Your article which gave advice on what is the most important thing for an artist being different for everyone got me thinking.

I want to be a great me, I don’t want to paint just pretty pictures, I want to say something. I don’t really want to talk about pain , though it is powerful, is joy and compassion not powerful too? I do want to be real and raw in my work but find it hard to not play it a bit safe, although I yearn to, I wait for confidence and do studies. I finally picked up the courage to try more portraits but struggle to break with the bonds of safety. How do artists manage to get their soul out so strongly into the images they create ?”

Two essential things need to happen in order to “spill your soul” into the art you create:

1) You have to have a personal experience that you know intimately and are willing to talk about publicly through your art

2) You need to command strong technical skills that allows for fluid visual communication of those emotions and experiences.

In visual art, technical skills and content have to work together to form a symbiotic relationship in which one cannot survive without the other. You could possess astonishing technical skills in painting, but if you have nothing to talk about, those skills won’t matter.  On the other side of the spectrum, all of the content in the world won’t compensate for poor technical execution.

LeonGolub

Leon Golub

I’ve always believed that the most emotionally potent images throughout art history have been those which originated from an artist’s personal experience. (Certainly, there are exceptions to this. Painter Leon Golub was known for his powerful images based on the Vietnam War, an event that he didn’t directly participate in himself.) Nothing can substitute the pure, raw, emotion that comes from one person. Personal experience makes broad topics real for viewers.  Without that intimate perspective, large themes feel generic, impersonal, and watered down.

German artist Kathe Kollwitz created artwork about gigantic themes like war and grief through her own experiences.  Kollwitz lost her son during the war, and eventually created this piece below as a memorial for her son. Although the work originated from her intensely personal emotions, it reflected the depth of grief suffered by many people during her time. Even today, this work speaks to universal themes that people across cultures and time can understand and connect to.

Die-Eltern

Kathe Kollwitz, “Die Eltern” (The Parents)

The problem is, talking about personal experiences openly can be extremely hard for many artists.  Going public with personal experiences is one of the greatest risks that you can take, and overcoming that fear can feel overwhelming at times. Additionally, you have to be prepared to think about the topic intensively as you make the artwork, and you have to learn to live with those images for the rest of your life.

I’m no stranger to this experience:  a few years ago I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, a condition that I’ve lived with since I was a young child. After treatment, I finally saw myself separate from the disease for the first time and decided that the time was right to make work about this experience.  That decision was hard for me: I was petrified of revealing that I had a disease that carried a social stigma, and also of making work that was so close to me emotionally. On the other hand, I had this exhilarating topic that I couldn’t let go of, so I took a deep breath and just did it.  In making this work, all of the brutal, ugly emotions that I had been hiding my entire life came to surface in a series of 50 portrait drawings and 50 portrait sculptures.  I’ve had many people tell me that this project, “Falling“, is my most powerful work to date. 

Self-Portrait No. 31

Clara Lieu, “Self-Portrait No. 31”, from “Falling

Finding and committing yourself to the content is the most difficult part of this process. Once you have the content, you have to work on developing the technique that will allow you to communicate your ideas. The stronger your technical skills are, the more likely you’ll be able to express what you want to say more fluidly.  Expanding your visual vocabulary will arm you with many more options that you can experiment with. Gaining solid technical skills is a simple matter of discipline and patience which involves concentrated, sustained practice over a long period of time. Be prepared for this process to take years before you truly have mastered your techniques to the degree that is necessary for making your work. For “Falling“, it took me nearly two years of experimentation with my materials and techniques before I settled on an approach that I felt was appropriate for my content.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Ask the Art Prof Live: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
Ask the Art Prof Live: Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
Ask the Art Prof Live: Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


Related articles
“How do you keep pushing yourself to get to that next level?”
“Would you improve more if you took art classes than just studying on your own?”
“How do you break out of your comfort zone?”
“How do you get out of thinking you can’t get any better?”
“How do you develop patience for learning curves?”
“When do you let go of an idea?”
“How do I help my daughter reach her potential in art?”
“How can I study to become a professional artist on my own?”
“How do you begin to think conceptually as a visual artist?”
“How can I balance planning and spontaneity in my artwork?”

Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Find Your Own Individual Art Style?

Accordion Bookbinding Project

“How do you find your own individual style?”

Style is important as a visual artist, it’s essentially what distinguishes you from other artists, and what keeps your work looking professional, cohesive, and focused.  The greatest artists throughout history had styles that were incredibly distinctive and unique. Think about someone like Hieronymus Bosch, who was so far ahead of his time in the 15th century with his surrealistic scenes densely packed with human figures doing all sorts of strange and bizarre acts. Once you’ve seen one Bosch painting, you can spot another a mile away.

the-garden-of-earthly-delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch


Or, consider an artist like Giotto, whose frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel revolutionized the way that emotions were articulated through the form, lighting, and color of the gesture of the human figures. Many times, the cultural context and time period has a lot to do with whether art artist’s style is distinctive. Giotto’s frescos may not seem so unusual to the contemporary viewer. However, within the context of his time period, by comparison, no other artists were painting faces that expressed such an intense, outward pouring out of emotion. In this way, his paintings distinguished themselves from all of the other artwork being created in that time.

giotto-lamentation

Frescos at the Scrovegni Chapel, by Giotto


In an artist’s style, there are usually defined characteristics, a specific means of handling a media, or repeated strategies in an artist’s style that are consistently visible in every artwork.  When I think about the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, whimsical, expressive, black and white portraits drawn with fluid, organic lines are signature visual features of his work. Once you’ve seen a few Al Hirschfeld drawings, his style is so distinctive that you can spot them from a mile away.

ella_full

Ella Fitzgerald, by Al Hirschfeld


Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio was known for his startlingly realistic oil paintings which used chiaroscuro lighting and bold gestures in his figures to create an atmosphere of intense drama. Compared to the idealized and sanitized versions of figurative oil paintings that preceded Caravaggio’s work, Caravaggio’s oil paintings emphasized a grittier, more flawed view of figures.

For example,  Caravaggio’s depictions of Christ portrayed him as an ordinary man, looking as if he lived in our world.  This was a direct opposition to previous depictions of the time period Caravaggio lived in, where Christ was always painted to appear as an otherworldly figure who did not look like an real person. Caravaggio depicted the “ugly” side of real life:  he took the time to paint the dirt on someone’s foot, and heightened unflattering wrinkles in someone’s forehead with tremendous detail.  Given the environment and time period Caravaggio lived in, these visual decisions were incredibly different, and greatly distinguished his paintings from other works created during the same time period.  Think about any notable artist from art history, and it’s usually fairly easy to sum up their style with some key adjectives.

st-thomas

The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Caravaggio


This may sound like a contradiction, but I strongly believe that the best way to find your own individual style is to try out as many different ways of working as possible.  I teach freshman drawing at RISD, where I encourage my students to explore and try out different identities for themselves.  Many students arrive at art school with very little experience working in diverse media and approaches, so this foundation is critical towards laying a premise for their artistic careers.

I push the students to dramatically shift their approaches within one semester. One week they’re learning how to make highly detailed and rendered images, the next week they’re working in a loose, painterly style. If you were to hang up all of the drawings by a single student onto one wall at the end of the semester, you would swear that you were looking at drawings by ten different people. For a first year art school student, that’s a wonderful accomplishment because what they’ve done is they’ve essentially learned multiple visual languages that they will have access to for the rest of their lives. This set of drawings below were all created by one student within a single semester, you can see that there is an incredible range of different styles, even though the pieces are all by the same student.

I want my students to achieve a versatility that will empower them to become anything that they want to be.  By directly experiencing all of these different languages, you can build an overall understanding of everything that is out there. Only by exploring the range of options can you then narrow your focus onto what it is you want to be.

If you’re looking for ideas for art projects, check out our Monthly Art Dares, where we assign a prompt to create an artwork each month. Often times many students who are interested in studying art have a strong desire, but are at a loss for where to even begin.  That’s why our monthly Art Dares are a great place to start:  we provide the launching pad and you decide where your final destination will be.


The most common mistake that I see all the time is people trying to force a style on themselves prematurely. I went to art school with a peer who was remarkably talented and seemed capable of doing just about anything. Throughout his time in art school, he experimented with many different media, and worked fluidly in contrasting styles. Everything he did was original, inventive, and beautifully crafted.  However, when he graduated and started working professionally after school, all of that changed immediately. He quickly forced this very commercial style on himself and did some of the worst work that I had seen him do in years.  The work lacked the same original spirit and enthusiasm and looked generic and derivative.

Style doesn’t develop overnight, it’s a gradual process that can take years to emerge.  The process of finding your style is very slow, and you need to develop serious skills in patience.  Allow your style to naturally evolve.  Attempts to force a style on yourself will end up looking contrived and dishonest.

Below are several videos that discuss how I developed my stylistic approach to a series of drawings of elderly figures.


Keep in mind that style is not just about the way your artwork looks, the subject matter that you communicate and represent in your artwork is just as important.  Artists are known throughout history for the interaction of their technique and the ideas they wanted to communicate.  The visual look of an artwork is meaningless if there is no concept, motivation, or purpose behind the creation of the artwork. That’s why it’s important that while you experiment and hone a diverse range of skills, that you also work on your ability to brainstorm, develop, and ultimately execute a finished artwork that has a solid and intriguing subject.

Below is a video tutorial where I demonstrate how to get started brainstorming an idea, transitioning an idea into thumbnail sketches, and then realizing that idea into a finished drawing.

Once you do find a style that works, it doesn’t mean that the creative process ends there.  If you only stick to that one style forever, you may as well be a trained monkey who can only do one trick. It certainly does work for some people, and there are definitely people out there who are very successful doing that one trick. Historically, the most compelling artists have been the ones who are constantly reinventing and transforming themselves.

matisse

Collage by Matisse


Look at Picasso:  even after the smashing success Picasso had with Cubism, he kept innovating, experimenting, and pushing new ideas.   He created new pieces that were vastly different from Cubism, like his bull’s head made from a reconfigured bike seat. Matisse went from oil paintings to paper cut outs at the end of his life. Degas switched from pastel drawings and oil paintings to figure sculpture when he started to lose his eye sight at the end of his life. These artists weren’t satisfied to be limited to one way of working for the rest of their lives, and were willing to take major risks with their work to transform into something new.

ce8a8ef910f6161c27d48d2e1eb64f65

“Bull’s Head” by Picasso, 1942


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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Sculpture Study: Clay and Sand Experiment

I made a small study to test out a combination of plastilene and sand as a means of facilitating surface texture in these sculptures. To my surprise, the plastilene held up well when mixed with the sand, and provided the crumbly and gritty surface I was looking for. The next step will be to troubleshoot how this material will hold up on a larger scale sculpture.

I’ve been using sandpaper to create a textured surface in the drawings, so it seems to make perfect sense that sand would make an appearance in the texture of these sculptures.

Sculpture Study

Michelangelo’s Unfinished Slaves

Medardo Rosso, sculpture

Sculpture by Medardo Rosso

I’m getting closer to being able to define the approach I want to take with these figure sculptures. A large part of this process is finding multiple references to get more specific with how I want to articulate the form. At this stage, I’ve referenced Medardo Rosso’s head sculptures, the figure casts from Pompeii, and today I started thinking through Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures of slaves.

Pompeii figure casts

These unfinished marble sculptures are incredible for what they reveal about Michelangelo’s work process; it’s like seeing a three-dimensional equivalent of a preliminary drawing where all of the evidence and mistakes are bare and exposed. Even in their incomplete state, the form quietly emerges out of the marble in a manner that is both mysterious and powerful. There are practically no details in these sculptures, yet they command a weight and sense of mass and movement that is beyond their actual physical weight.

left: St. Matthew, middle: Bearded Slave, right: Young Slave by Michelangelo

In relation to the sculptures I’ll be working on, Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves are an excellent example of the kind of the articulation I’m thinking about: form that slowly emerges and remains at times elusive and ambiguous. I want the sculptures to focus on an internal sense of structure, with a highly textured surface with devoid of highly articulated details. The form is at times undefined, inviting the viewer to want more.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.