By Juliette Aristides, 2013 -- Continued from The Vocabulary of Line: Part 1
Art… has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things.
-William Steig, Author of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
The vertical- horizontal framework remains inherent in visual composition, just as the measured beat down in music. Obliqueness is always perceived as a deviation, hence its strongly dynamic character. –Rudolf Arnheim
Most of our physical environment is dominated by vertical and horizontal elements: both form the backdrop of our lives. These lines are balanced and rational, and compositions based on these formal directions exist in art as in life.
The vertical line is an element of resistance against gravity; as such, it embodies far more energy and vitality than the horizontal line. We stand upright and square our shoulders to face challenges; our waking, active life is spent on our feet; and buildings rise from the ground in confidence. In art as in life, the vertical is a strong line direction that denotes a measure of power and assurance.
In Jusepe de Ribera’s Clubfoot Boy, the figure has been placed in a tall rectangle. By utilizing this format, our eyes travel up to see him in a position of strength and confidence. Imagine the difference in the message if he was shown reclining in a long horizontal rectangle.
Hans Holbein’s The Dead Christ in the Tomb was shocking due to its feeling of claustrophobia and hopelessness. This earth-bound, rectangular composition seemed to make the Christ’s subsequent resurrection all the more miraculous
We are now led to the energetic line that denotes movement and directionality: the dynamic diagonal. This line creates tension because it is inherently unstable; it teeters and lunges to add an unpredictable element to a composition; it cannot be sustained in one place without pushing the eye ahead to the next area of the work of art. Artistic movements like the Baroque period are a celebration of emotion and passion—therefore, the diagonal is the main line motif of this era.
In Rubens’ The Raising of the Christ, the dominant line of the central Christ figure takes the eye from the lower right to the upper left of the composition. The complementary strain of the bodies on either side of Christ point our eyes up to him, while the radiating diagonals extend down from the cross like a grim maypole. This organization of line allows the composition to be dynamic without becoming chaotic.
In Ludolph Backhuysen’sThe Eendracht and a Dutch Fleet of Men-of-War before the Wind, the use of the diagonal conveys the tumultuous movement of wind and waves. The diagonals are not consistent in their attitude and the different angles do not seem to lead us anywhere in particular. The artist has achieved flux by not coordinating his diagonals-- everything feels slightly off and works to create a feeling of seasickness.
We can intensify the experience of reality in our work by identifying a dominant sensation. Creating a simple pictorial hierarchy with our line direction is a good first step to orchestrating a riveting experience for your viewer: we are able to transcend accuracy and build a dialogue that will endure throughout the passage of time.
This piece will also appear in the Artist Daily blog. Please look for another article on this subject in the March 2013 issue of Artist Magazine.
By Juliette Aristides, 2013
“A line is a path that can offer an interesting and varied journey, rhythmic and with occasional, pleasurable surprises. Thus is one tempted to take the journey again.”
-Krome Barratt, Logic and Design: In Art, Science, and Mathematics
Creating representational art is challenging; a satisfying visual event requires more from the artist than simply transcribing nature directly. With the many technical hurdles to be surmounted in order to get an image to look “right,” artists often tend to focus keenly on accuracy alone. However, our job is not to simply copy what we see but to form an emotional bridge to the viewer. An effective work of art is dependent upon many elements working together to create harmony between the content, mood, and composition.
It is important that artists use the vocabulary of our craft in order to distill our message and communicate with the viewer on an emotional level. By utilizing one of the most fundamental elements, line, we are able to construct pictorial scaffolding on which to support mood and feeling. The vocabulary of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines is so stable and ubiquitous that it is linked to sight itself; and by utilizing these few simple line directions, we can create a design that heightens the emotion in a work of art.
The horizontal line is a bedrock element in both life and art. We are deeply dependent upon this steady foundation in order to walk without falling or to build structures upward. Our eyes sit horizontally across our face; we more easily see side to side than up and down; the solidity of the floor beneath our feet balances us when we stand. This line is the least moveable and most stable part of a composition, be it in the form of a horizon line or the top of a table: it is calm and secure, passive and foundational, peaceful and predictable. Creating a counterpoint to excessive movement, the horizontalaffords us a base note of security from which we may venture forth.
A long, uninteruped horizontal can fall prey to banality. In Sanford Gifford’s Long's Peak, Colorado, we have so much predictable regularity that the image becomes strangely blank and hypnotic.
In The Road by the Sea - Palermo, Italy, Gifford added the verticals of a house, small figures, a curving pathway, and the diagonal line of the water. The horizon line is omnipresent and provides rest to the eye, yet there is enough dynamism to add interest and tension to the overall composition.
Titians’ Bacchus and Ariadne depicts a frenzy of activity, but this motion rests upon the stable, strong ground of the horizon line; and without the few ticks of horizontal line, the work’s sense of depth would be lost.
By using the simple horizontal, we can add solidity and a sense of peace to an otherwise instable or agitated composition. In appealing to our physical environment and psychological understanding of the world around us, line-oriented design elements allow us to build a bridge between our own world and that of the viewer. One is able to impart mood to a work of art without relying on accuracy alone.
In the next installation of this piece, we will explore the confidence and strength found in the vertical line and the oft-tumultuous energy of the diagonal line.
This piece will also appear in the Artist Daily blog.
In celebration of Juliette Aristides's highly anticipated third book, Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier, Gage Academy of Art was thrilled to host a release party, book signing, and a gallery exhibition that highlighted works both from the book and examples of drawings that put the fundamental drawing principles into practice.
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Introduction/History (Why we love it)
A year after beginning my first charcoal drawing, I’ve been inspired to write a series of articles on charcoal rendering for students who are looking for some concrete answers to help them get started.
Rendering is the second stage in the drawing process, after the block-in has been completed, during which the artist uses value to describe form. Creating a finely rendered drawing in charcoal requires high quality materials and finely honed technique.
Paper is the support on which a charcoal drawing is made. There are numerous brands of charcoal paper available, but many are too delicate (and too expensive!) to be very helpful to the beginning student. Each type of paper has its own personality, with pros and cons.