Friday, 28 April 2017

Technical Drawing

Daniel Lebeskin

Re-visiting the post on Daniel Lebeskin's drawings reminded me that I had a draft post on technical drawing that needed adding to. I am always interested in how small differences in appearance can mean a lot when constructing a drawing and this is the same when dealing with technical drawing as it is with more expressive drawing conventions.

Most technical drawing systems were determined by draftsmen who needed to ensure their drawings could be read by the people who worked from them. Therefore one of the key issues was that measurements could be transferred accurately. 
In a perspective drawing things get smaller as they recede away from the picture plane, this gives a powerful and convincing depiction of objects moving away from us, but for an engineer this is far too 'emotional' to have any direct use value. A technical drawing focuses on 'the object' of the drawing, whilst a perspective drawing is orientated towards the viewer and highlights the relativity of the viewer/object duality. 

One way of thinking about the difference between the types of technical drawing systems is where the initial visual interest lies. Plans, sections and elevations  (orthographic drawings) indicate two dimensional thinking, whilst axonometric drawings use the three axes of length, width and height for measurement and all measurements in these directions are made parallel to these axes. They are literally three dimensional. 

A plan is also about shaping up an idea, a plan reduces three dimensional complexity and by reducing the amount of information allows you to concentrate on specific aspects of an idea of something. 
T.N. Architecture

The drawing above by T.N. Architecture is concerned with an idea of 'narrative cities'  stories about a city's formation, function, and ideology. The city is seen from above and events are moving, lines contact one another and each line has a different character expressing a different function or idea. It is a plan, an idea of a possibility and both artists and architects understand how powerful plans are.

Bruce Nauman: Exhibition plan

The drawing above is by the artist Bruce Nauman and is a plan for an exhibition. He is thinking carefully about how to articulate the spaces and where projectors need to go. The plan view allows him to focus on the problem. 

In an isometric projection the focus is on the edges of a shape, and by drawing the sides moving off at 30 degree angles, an equal emphasis on both sides of a space or object is maintained.  If you look at the drawings below you can get a very clear idea of their three dimensional shape and both sides of these objects are given equal visual weight.

In the drawing below by Osbert Lancaster we have an 'almost' isometric drawing. There is a touch of perspective added by shifting the drawing slightly off the underlying parallel lines. If you look at the angle made by the back edge of the drawing it would eventually meet at a long away vanishing point the angle coming from the front edge. This compromise is fine for a cartoonist but would be of no use for an engineer. The point here being that as an artist you can merge or blend together different types of visual projection in order to achieve the type of space that works for your idea.

Isometric: Osbert Lancaster


The image above by Escher uses the spatial ambiguity of an isometric projection to allow him to develop spatial paradoxes. See more thoughts on these issues here

Oblique: cavalier projection by Chris Ware

In the oblique projection used by Chris Ware the emphasis is placed directly on an entry into the space from the front edge of the image. As you move into the space it is cut into by slices making it harder to read what is in spaces further back in the drawing than it would be if an isometric had been used, but Ware is aware of this and his spaces are made to control and host uncomfortable psychological narratives. Oblique projections are usually drawn using either  45 or 63.5 degree angles. There are two sorts, cavalier and cabinet projections. In the drawing above we can enter the space from the front and the right hand side. In comparison the Osbert Lancaster drawing feels a little less constrained and regimented. 

In a Cavalier projection the direction of projection is at 45 degrees to the horizontal and line lengths are as measured. 
In a Cabinet projection the direction of projection is at 63.4 degrees to the horizontal and dimensions parallel to the third axis of the object are shortened one half to overcome apparent distortion. 

Of course an engineer would prefer a cavalier projection because all measurements are as measured, but cabinet projections were developed for joiners who preferred to work from the look of the drawing rather than working from exact measurements. 

Oblique projection

Claes Oldenburg using a plan driven isometric drawing system.

The Oldenburg drawing above shows the shapes of the Micky Mouse head in relationship to the interior spaces made by the building, in particular clearly locating the 'tongue' entrance. The plan view of Micky's head drives the overall concept of the building. 
Typical tiled space in a computer game with isometric buildings

In computer and video games isometric projections were used because of the ease with which 2D sprite and tiled graphics can be made to represent a 3D gaming environment. Because parallel projections of objects do not change size as they move around the game field, there is no need for the computer to scale sprites or do the complex calculations necessary to simulate perspective. This allowed older 8 and 16 bit game systems and handheld devices to work with large 3D areas easily. 

Paul Noble

Paul Noble often uses cavalier projection to organise his large drawings. He has this to say about why. 

'I use the devices of technical drawing. These devices help shine the sharpest light on the things I depict. I am against hierarchies and perspective. I arrange the objects of my drawings on a spatial plane using cavalier projection. The origins of this projection lay in military cartography - fore, mid and background are got rid of and everything depicted is equally close and far. The viewer becomes the architect and the drawing, an architectural plan. He or she is no longer earthbound but hovers like an angel over the described scene, taking in the entire design'. Get full article here.

In comparison it's interesting to look at how architects think about space. A very good book to read is:

EnvisioningArchitecture: An Analysis of Drawing by Iain Fraser and Rod Henmi (1993), the book deals with the technical differences between approaches as well as opening out the debates surrounding philosophical and conceptual reasons for choosing different types of drawing projections. For example in a discussion relating to Suprematist uses of technical drawing, El Lizzitsky stated that "Suprematism has shifted the top of the finite pyramid of perspective into infinity". Like Noble he also pointed out that axonometric constructions are spatially non-hierarchical.
These are old problems, and Chinese artists faced a similar set of issues when working on scroll paintings. They use both isometric and oblique projections in their work.
As an introduction to these issues watch and listen to David Hockney reflecting on the Chinese scroll painting A day on the grand canal with the Emperor of China.

In the section taken from a Chinese scroll painting above you can see the use of oblique projection, because the artist didn't have to make things smaller in the distance it allows the image to be peopled in both near and far space. By using oblique projection the artist is also able to 'open' the front of the room spaces of the buildings, so the people can inhabit them. Notice the way that the bridge is distorted into the space. Because of the 'awkward' compression, it generates considerable spring-like dynamism into  the flat surface. In comparison a bridge in perspective would simply create a deep spatial recession. The curves of the boats in this case echo the curve of the bridge, which is then echoed by the small curves that represent the water.

Computers and the drawing tools they bring with them have now been around for quite a few years. The Autocad systems that I had to learn during the 1980s have now all been superseded but the basic idea of constructing around an x, y and z axis and linking to co-ordinates remains the same. SketchUp is perhaps the easiest and most useful of the new range of software. The use of SketchUp is now so common within the art community that there are artists' residencies dedicated to it. 

SketchUp has very good 'how to' videos that you can use to get a grip on how to use the software, it's a pretty easy learning curve and you can get downloaded trial versions to try out. It seems as if both the architectural profession and science fiction illustrators have capitalised on SketchUp's ability to build complex solids by joining surfaces and pushing and pulling various combinations of volumes in and out from them. 
I have seen SketchUp used by a variety of artists, sometimes to visualise ideas for public art installations and at other times to provide gallery walk through models to get an idea of how an exhibition might look. It can of course be used as a tool to make visible any sort of idea that can be carried within technical drawing conventions, and SketchUp does allow you to move from one convention to another. 

The artist Avery Singer uses SketchUp to develop ideas for paintings. This is a very old idea and like so many drawing issues goes back to the Renaissance concept of 'disegno', the Italian word for 'fine art drawing'. 'Disegno' implies that drawing is not just about a certain type of draftsmanship, but that it is also a 'design' or plan for something else. It is an intellectual concept, whereby ideas are made visible, therefore it comes before and is the foundation upon which the arts of architecture, sculpture and painting are built. 

Avery Singer

Avery Singer

Avery Singer has also recognised the power and fascination that drawing systems have held over artists over hundreds of years and her images are direct references to those made during the early development of perspective systems. 
Compare her paintings above with the drawings of Erhard Schön and Luca Cambiaso.

Erhard Schön 

Erhard Schön 

Luca Cambiaso
Luca Cambiaso

As I've pointed out before, if you want to try out some ideas using technical drawing conventions, why not download some graph paper to print off and then put that under some big sheets of tracing paper and freehand draw or use a ruler, whilst keeping your eye on the grid beneath. You will find both perspective and isometric graph papers here.   

There is an earlier post dedicated to the technical aspects of drawing in perspective and the artist Jenny West who teaches at LCA has a practice that is focused on perspective.  ThVenezuelan artist Rafael Araujo uses perspective to explore the dynamics of natural forms and often starts with plans and elevations of spaces within which to develop his complex perspectives. Although perspective is about viewpoint, it can also be very technical and you can use plans and elevations to drive the construction of these drawings, when you do, you are also bringing together into one technical drawing format a rich visual language capable of holding within it very sophisticated concepts. 

Rafael Araujo: Perspective of a butterfly flight path

A ruling pen is something many people have forgotten how to use, but they are still worth exploring if you are to take technical drawing seriously. The image above is simply there to show you what they look like, its great advantage is that you can mix your own ink and paints to draw with and quickly adjust the thickness of your lines. The disadvantage is that they are very hard to control. But with practice they can be very useful.

Finally I have mentioned aesthetic protractors before so perhaps it might be useful to see what they look like. In this case we have a traditional technical drawing instrument calibrated in such a way that an artist can make direct links between a chosen angle and an emotional measurement. By using this instrument you can find the angle of naked pain and other nerve patterns. Find out more here

James Elkins The Poetics of Perspective is a very good read if you are interested in these types of issues.

The way that technical drawings used to be printed is an aesthetic in its own right. You can explore some of the methods here

See also:

Euler spirals
Abstraction and metaphor
Bezier Curves

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Drawings as exhibition proposals: Lines by Jackie Ferrara

At this time of the year 3rd year students have to submit proposals for their final exhibition spaces. This can sometimes feel like a chore but if seen as a challenge the act of putting a proposal together can lead to interesting work in its own right. Jackie Ferrara has published a book that reflects on the development of her work ‘Lines’, a wall drawing piece, made in collaboration with the Drawing Centre: New York and it is at the moment available onlinehere.

This is how the Drawing Centre introduces Ferrara’s work:

‘Lines consists of eight wall drawings, each anchored by imagined architecture or architectural elements along with lists of film titles rendered in Morse code. The Morse code acts as a foundation or band, interrupting the drawn architecture or adding another layer over the entire surface. The underlying theme of the individual drawings is reflected both in the architectural element or shape dominating the drawing as well as by the Morse code text, which consists of curated lists of films Ferrara began compiling in 1993 that reflect her life-long passion for film. Vampire Towers, for example, depicts nine abstract, dark towers that emerge out of a foundation of vampire film titles veiled in Morse code. This commission reflects the ongoing evolution of Ferrara’s work, incorporating elements of the established language of her sculpture and public art works and bringing them to the walls of The Drawing Center.’

The possibilities inherent in thinking about proposals for the exhibition of your work as works of art in their own right are very rich. From artist’s books to wall pieces, there are many opportunities to extend the processes behind your work out into the exhibition itself. This also gives you the opportunity to address your audience and help them come to terms with what your work is about. If people have a better grasp of the working processes that lie beneath your work, it is more likely they will appreciate it.

Pages from 'Lines' by Jackie Ferrara

See also:

Drawing and Isolation Includes links to easy to build virtual gallery
Drawing for site specific proposals

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Drawings of Egon Schiele

There is a large exhibition of the drawings of Egon Schiele on at the moment over in Vienna, open until June the 18th. Schiele is one of those artists that continues to have a very powerful influence on our visual imaginations but one I sometimes have difficulty with. 
I think his drawings are much better than his paintings. By the time his images are worked up into paintings they feel overly mannered and they lose the directness of the drawings. However the 'directness' of the drawings is sometimes awkward to take, especially when he is dealing with some of his sexual inclinations. 
His view of life is one that communicates a heightened awareness of sex and death. He doesn't hide the difficult issues that he has had to face. He has this to say about children and sex. "Have adults forgotten how corrupt, sexually driven and aroused they were as children? Have they forgotten how the frightful passion burned and tortured them when they were children? I have not forgotten, for I have suffered terribly under it." This view of what it is like to be a child is very alien to the one we prefer to aspire to, but for an artist working out of Freud's Vienna it's very appropriate, an artist dealing with what were normally suppressed emotions and desires, in a city and time where you feel there was a lot of suppressed desire about. This is about an artist owning up to what actually goes on. Drawings of prepubescent and adolescent boys and girls, would come across very differently in our current moral climate. The debate surrounding the work of Sally Mann perhaps opens out some of the issues we would have with similar work now. This review of Mann's work from the New York Times is a useful contextualisation. 

There is an excellent review of the exhibition by Thomas Michelle here. Michelle can turn a good phrase and the paragraph below seems to get pretty close to my own thoughts.

"Schiele worked quick and dirty. A close examination of his surfaces reveals no erasures, and his many stylistic quirks, such as the lacerating strokes denoting musculature and the squiggles indicative of body hair, are less observational details than they are notational shorthand for the artist’s overriding attraction to/repulsion from the animalistic nature of the human body. For the most part, his nudes are rank, bristly, and bruised, animated corpses whose life force emanates from their genitals". Thomas Michelle 2017

Schiele is a difficult artist to confront, especially as his work has often been appropriated as a style and his life portrayed as another of those mythic artist narratives that have romantically distorted the idea of what an artist actually is.
One of his most quoted sayings is, "To restrict the artist is a crime. It is to murder germinating life". An interesting quote that could be a title for an essay on ethics. Is Schiele right? It seems a very difficult claim to me and could lead to all sorts of misuses. Does the artist have no moral responsibility? Is everything an artist does an attempt to portray some sort of truth? The idea of 'truth' as we have seen recently is a difficult one to define. I sometimes think that politicians want to define 'truth' for us, and in an age of 'post-truth' at least create enough of a confusion about what is right and wrong to be able to take actions, using what Naomi Klein called 'shock doctrine', while we are off balance. This age of uncertainty does ask questions of an artist. What can an artist do when the world appears to be out of balance? How can an artist operate in such a climate?
Keats put it like this:
When old age shall this generation waste, 
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
  Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

He was writing about an Grecian urn, and had an idea that there was something longer lasting and deeper in the Classical ideal, a pure centre to a historically inflected concept of art. Our age seems a long way from those certainties but in order to make art we need some kind of ground on which to build our concepts. Keats is for me a welcome antidote to the current post truth debate, which I find ugly and in its total relativity unsettling and dispiriting. My own mantra for practice is, "Look hard and honestly at what is around you and reflect back what you see". Not very quotable but hopefully workable.

Find details of the exhibition at the Albertina here

Friday, 14 April 2017

Michael Kenny drawings for Easter

As it's Easter I thought I'd put up a post about the continuing resonance of the key moment of Christianity. Christ's death and resurrection can also be read as the struggle to reconcile the idea of the sprit and the body. For artists working with images this event strikes right at the core of what it is to try and capture life through the act of drawing. Whether you are a Christian or not, for artists working in the Western European tradition images of the crucifixion are central to how the connection between matter and space are thought about.  
I have posted on this issue before and don't want to repeat what I wrote then, but the issue that keeps me interested in this is central to why I continue to make drawn images. When you are faced with a blank piece of paper it is as if you are facing the void. Any empty space that is pregnant with possibility has an aspect of the spiritual to it. As soon as you make a mark life is initiated and the forms that arrive, although simply marks, will be read as complex ideas and given weight beyond their simple physical traces. This battle to retain something of the life of experience and yet at the same time keep an awareness of the simple fact that the moment of drawing is simply just that, a being at one with a piece of paper and a mark making implement. It is in many ways an experience not too far away from some meditative states as described by various religious devotees. 

So for Easter I am leaving you with Michael Kenny's 'Stations of the cross' drawings.

See these earlier posts for further reflections on this topic. 

Drawing and the spirt
Drawing and life

Thursday, 13 April 2017

SKETCH exhibition submission

I recently posted up a link to the forth SKETCH exhibition submission. I decided that I should put a submission in myself and the two sketchbooks I submitted have been accepted. I use sketchbooks in a variety of ways. The first one I sent for consideration was a recent observational sketchbook. These are the books I carry round with me all the time and which I use to keep my looking fresh and to build up a catalogue of images that I often use in the background of much more 'constructed images'. They are all pen, ink and wash drawings. I like to use a very narrow format as it forces me to be compositionally selective. 

Sketchbook 1

The second sketchbook is a much larger one, A3 and is one of the books in which I develop images out of my head. Quite a few images in this sketchbook relate to some ceramics I was making at the time. I also have other types of notebooks, some are used to help me think about composition, others are just rough graspings of vaguely formed ideas. I don't send off for competitions very often, but it's good to know work will be seen. 

Sketchbook 2

The image above is one that came from the ideas that were being developed in sketchbook 2 but which began with an observational drawing of a block of flats, the last drawing taken from sketchbook 1. You can get an idea of what the drawing was like from this view of a recent exhibition. The image of a tower block in sketchbook 1, was drawn while I was also talking to people coming out of the flats. These flats are now used by the city council as temporary housing for migrants coming into Leeds. The stories told to me were of awful migratory experiences and the fact that people felt very lucky to have managed to get some form of roof over their heads, but at the same time they were already having problems with these modernist high rise developments. Residents of high rise blocks it is well known are more liable to stress and mental health difficulties. Their initial concept was based in a modernist optimism as expressed in the work of Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, but what worked well when used to design a house for a multi-millionaire or a working space for artists, was a failure as living spaces for ordinary working people. I therefore had not only an observational drawing of a block of flats, but I had the beginnings of an allegorical idea. In sketchbook 2 the initial images are simplified and boiled down into more iconic forms. I had the idea of the building being hollow, (hollow promises of modernism) and dropping from the sky. It eventually also became 'red'. Not just the red of blood, but the red of revolution. The falling man was initially suggested to me by Peter Bruegel's 'Fall of Icarus', a painting in which a tragic moment is unfurling and yet no one notices. Although not photographed, the observational sketchbook was also one of which I used to undertake drawings of the sea. I did a lot of sea drawings, eventually having to come up with a language for the shapes I was seeing. I have blogged on this issue before, so will simply leave you with this link.