Saturday, November 7, 2015

In The House/Field Trippin': Firehouse + Greenhouse

   Recently it was time once again for an art drill: when during the course of the semester my posse of prospective talents saddles up and we all take a quick little field-trip to do some reference sketching at the university fire house. One of the many interesting places on campus that contains lots of stuff to draw, not to mention the basic truth that fire trucks are cool. Drawing chrome however, now that can be a challenge.

   The exercise doubles not only as a break from the routine, and a chance to get away from the fluorescent fixtures in the classroom studio, but it's also an opportunity to flex the mental muscle-memory: to rapidly and artistically assess any situation and distill a scenario down to its simplest, underlying elements. So practice sessions like this are analogous to a fire drill: an alarm goes off, we scramble for our gear, rush to the scene, and draw.
   One variation on the exercise is to gather raw material for backup usage in a potential illustration assignment, especially on the offhand chance that a model bails out on us in the upcoming several weeks of figure drawing. That said, most of the participants do a great job coming up with compositions and filling up their required sketchbooks to boot. Not to mention I can work a bit on the ongoing demo that plays with imagery off a favorite song of mine.

   Speaking of demos, here's a couple quick ones done to show how one can cull elements from the sketchbook and assemble an simple spot illustration afterwards. These were based on roughs after spending approximately an hour in the firehouse, then after returning to the classroom we worked up a contour drawing in graphite (just line - no shading), which takes on the average another hour or so, and then finish the session with adding a value using the wash pencils for the final hour of class. Two preceding in-class exercises underpin this experiment: one is the art department studio study, where students practice "visually sampling" and then "remixing" the foreground, midground and background elements in a composition of their own creation. The other exercise that helps set this up is the Famous Artists one, which also utilizes variations on arrangement of items on the picture plane by emphasizing foreshortening and overlapping to enhance pictorial depth.

   With these under their belt the class can now begin to focus on their "visual note-taking" skills while out on field trips, observing and recording their impressions, and finding solutions to overcome any missing information later - in other words making stuff up, but still based on reality. Very rarely does life itself give you the perfect shot, with all the elements perfectly composed, and here's where the artist can improve upon reality to create an picture that, in this instance, says"firehouse." Too many beginners when tasked with, say, drawing a firetruck for example, would set about attempting to draw the whole damn firetruck. You don't really need to do that to get across the impression of a firetruck - just assembling the pieces of excerpted information harvested in the sketchbooks is often more than enough to trigger the associations in the viewer's mind, and then they fill in the rest of the story to construct a simple narrative that says "firehouse."

    Lastly, here's a couple demos done on-site, each in one sitting, while out on the perennial greenhouse expedition with beginning drawing classes. As in the case with the firehouse excursions, it's been covered here before in detail on these previous posts as to the why-fores ("Harvesting Art" in 2009, "Greenhouse Study: Observations on Observations" in 2010, and "G-House Studies" in 2013), and so I'll add this to the mounting bonfire of my scorched-earth razing of writings that are over and done with. In other words over the next few months you'll see a trend of effectively tying off topics that have been around since this blog's inception, but signal a shift in content + pace, as in, been there, done that, not gonna do it anymore.
   Put in the larger context with both teaching and making art, returning over and over and over again to a set of topics reinforces basic lessons while revisiting standard themes and techniques and would get old real fast if it wasn't for the inexorable evolution that takes place with repeated exercise, not to mention long-term changes in style. That's a perspective borne from the rewards of simple discipline - or is it creating a nice, comfortable rut?

   Another way to look at it is how there's always usually something new to be seen, and usually there's also an accompanying instance of a successful drawing (in theory those odds increase over time as well), and in conjunction with a host of new faces and fresh, aspiring talent from the continually refreshing groups of individuals that comprise each and every class for every new semester, well, that is probably the best bulwark against boredom there is. Maybe not so much blogging about it, to say nothing of reading it?


  1. I'm sure you've noticed how foreground and background elements can flip back and forth even in a good rendering, if you scrutinize it long enough to flatten it out. There's an impressionistic element to all 2-D art in that it takes place on a flat plane. Even more fun is to try to get foreground and background elements to reverse in the field. This can be disconcerting and even downright dangerous when it happens by itself due to fatigue, atmospheric or lighting conditions, or simple unfamiliarity with whatever one may be looking at. It's also just trippy.

    1. THAT would explain the works generated for the 8am class.