Art -- Drawing, Painting, Photography



Table of Contents

1. Personal Context

Dabbled a bit in drawing and painting. Somewhat more serious about photography. In both cases, the difficult part is to see what is actually there, not what I vaguely think is there.

2. Theory

Light is abundantly available on Earth during the day, reflects (or re-radiates) in many directions from nearly every surface, and has little impact on the object being illuminated. It is thus a convenient mechanism for sensing one's surroundings from a safe distance. This is convenient for animate creatures, both predator and prey. It is no surprise that animals, mammals, primates, and humans evolved to see via light.

For humans these evolved mechanisms include ability to focus on near or far objects, detection of many colors and many levels of intensity, and stereoscopic vision. They also includes brain functions (innate and trained) able to infer real-world objects from sketchy/incomplete/distorted visual images.

For reasons not entirely clear (but see my analysis in CreationMyth), humans react strongly to artificially crafted 2 dimensional (2D) visual stimuli. Sometimes these are intended to appear as real as direct sight (photo-realism, tromp d'oeil). Sometimes they are indicative, with the details to be filled in by the viewer's brain (impressionism). Sometimes they are abstract, and the viewer's brain reacts directly to abstraction layers (e.g., abstract).

In all cases, the artist creates the static 2D image and the viewer (perhaps hundreds or thousands of years later) responds to it. The artist's job is to so construct the image that it elicits the expected response.

This suggests the artist has some response in mind, and has the skills to make an image to elicit it. In other words, Message and Mechanics.

For examples of what hand-drawn art can do to trick the mind's eye, see seckel2004

3. Drawing

Using a simple surface (e.g., a sheet of paper) and a simple drawing tool (e.g., a pencil), draw lines and shaded (stippled, lined, crosshatched, smudged) areas. The trick is draw the right lines and shadings in the right place.

There are many books purporting to teach how to draw. For me they merely demonstrate that the author can draw -- they have no effect on my own ability. The only book that actually made me a better freehand draftsman is nicolaides41. It does so by providing exercises (contour drawing) which force you to see what it there, not what you think you see. Other exercises (action drawing) force you to see the whole composition, without reference to details. The two together

edwards1999 tackles the same problem (seeing what is there). She mixes in some psycobabble, but if you just to the exercises, you can get results. She provides many relevant quotes, notably:

Gertrude Stein asked the Fnech artist Henri Matisse whether, when eating a tomato, he looked at it the way an artist would. Matisse replied:

"No, when I eat a tomato I look at it the way anyone else would. But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently."

4. Textiles

There are two major uses of textiles: Personal clothing and home furnishings. Both require flexibility. Both usually require some insulating properties, and tolerance to moisture. Materials have been skins (with and without fur), pounded bark, and knotted/spun/woven fibers. Fabrics for personal use (soft underwear, waterproof raingear, durable riding jeans, danceable leotards) must be fitted to the body and its actions. Fabrics for furnishing (floor rugs, wall tapestry, window curtains, table linen, bedding sheets and blankets, etc.) must serve their functions. In both cases the fabric must withstand years of use/wash/dry/store cycles.

Once those basic requirements are met, textiles may be decorated to pleasing effect by choice of raw materials, dyed raw materials, woven patterns, knotted patterns, sewn patterns (e.g., quilting), dyed patterns (e.g., batik), dyed finished goods, and embroidery. See speicher79 for mechanics.

Each of these skills can be an artform. See, e.g. duke1987

If the purpose is to show-off/enhance feminine allure, an excellent start point would be the costumes worn by (and sometimes designed by) Sophia Loren. As teenager, young woman, mother, grandmother; as war refugee, siren, housewife, concubine, princess, grand dame; on film and in personal appearances -- Deirdre Donohue captures and explains Sophia_Style

5. Art Appreciation

We mean here drawings and paintings. See also Architecture, Sculpture, and Photography (below).

5.1. "Fine Art"

There are museums and galleries all over the world. Massive books of photos from the best-of-the-best are available. Everything from generic "art history", to a specific region (African), specific period (post-WWII), specific genre (Japanese woodblock prints), or specific artist (da Vinci).

Seeing the works in person is a substantially different visceral experience from seeing photos in a book. It is worthwhile going to museums in whatever urban center happens to be nearby. On the other hand, you can get a good sense of subject, style, skill levels, etc from books. Further, the books typically provide far more narrative context than a pamphlet in museum's gift shop. Do both.

See, e.g. gowing1995 for a general overview. Individual great collections have their own overviews, e.g., lacotte1993 for the Louvre. See campbell1985 for the sort of context and insight you can't get from the museum or gallery brochure. Finally, pick your favorite artists and get familiar with their ways (e.g., wyeth1995).

Moving next to the Far East, we again have a generic compilation (lee. Individual regions or periods can be addressed (turner1979.

5.2. Fantasy

These might appear in museums and galleries, but are more likely to show up in storybook illustrations, on a teenager's wall, or tucked in with someone's collection of fantasy fiction novels. Faeries, dragons, sorcerers, demons of the underworld, etc.

See larkin1974 for historical context, and then see Frazetta (frazetta1975, frazetta1978).

5.3. Cartoons and Comics

For static comics, mccloud1993 explains what needs to happen, and how to make it happen. There are also good documentary films on the history of comics (See Scarecrow Video, animation section)

For animation, there are good documentary films of historically important animations (again, Scarecrow Video). For a history of Disney Studios (and thus a good deal of animation evolution), see thomas1981

6. Photography

Historically, photography was more a matter of optics and chemistry than art. "Real" artists looked down their noses at the upstart. While it could instantly capture a complex landscape, it couldn't make a patroness of the arts look 30 pounds lighter, take a wart off the nose of a man of wealth, or invent a fantasy world.

Over time photographic tools and techniques conquered the mechanics, and photographers could devote their energies to the art. This might be the nuanced greys of Ansel Adams, the quick moment-of-life of snapshots in a war zone, or the sensuality of a Weston bell pepper. These days, with high resolution digital cameras and post-processing, photography is as capable as any art technique -- and just as incapable of making a duffer into a master.

As always, art is in seeing the scene, not in the mechanics of rendering it. Photographic cameras record what the photons say is there, not what your mind says is there.

Here is a good illustration. One day my wife and I went on a cross-country ski trip. We took several pictures of falling flakes. We bracketed for exposure and tried various shutter times because we had no idea what the right settings might be.

When we picked up the prints, we found we had a full roll of snowflakes, at various exposures and accuracy of focus. In every one of those shots, what caught the eye was a outhouse filling 2/3 of the frame. At the time we hadn't even noticed the outhouse.

6.1. Theory and Mechanics

There are many books on basic technique, and others on specifics such as portraits, wedding photos, nature, photojournalism, fashion, macro/microphotography, etc. They all depend on understanding and using laws of optics (e.g., depth of field), the practical limits of your equipment (f-stops and shutter speeds), sensing mechanism (silver grains, color emulsions, CCD pixels, etc.). They all depend on then conceiving photos which can be accomplished with the available tools, and doing so. See moldvay

Alternately, you can just take zillions of photos and throw out 99% of them. With chemical film, the rule of thumb was that you are not a photographer until you've spent more on film than on the camera gear. With digital cameras, it isn't so much cost as effort expended. If you have taken 100 shots, with the normal bracketing and variations in composition, you may have 1 shot worth saving on your harddrive. Even so, it helps to understand *why* that shot worked, and learn to improve the odds of more working in the future.

For still lifes and landscapes, you have the luxury of choosing your camera location such that the subject is nicely composed and the background either enhances or at least does not detract. Following the Ansel Adams system (schaeffer1998), you can then design and take the perfect picture.

For animate subjects (active adults, children, pets, wildlife, storms), you have to anticipate the likely future location of the subject and plan accordingly. Find a location (e.g., a blind) where you can frame the subject against a non-distracting background, at a distance and in lighting that your equipment can handle. Focus the camera, set the shutter speed, and wait. Shoot whenever the subject appears -- long safety shots, medium long establishing or context shots, whole-animal shots and action shots, and closeups. Art Wolfe provides the details (wolfe1986)

6.2. Art Appreciation

Some of the earliest photos were of current events (wars, fires, etc.). A long history is collated in lacayo1995.

Anthropology was another early subject. Edward Curtis (curtis1972) built a monumental collection of photos of American Indian life. Yes, the scenes were posed and heroic, but so were photos of Aunt Maude and Uncle Jeremy in the parlor.

National Geographic mixed nature (e.g., forests, volcanos) with anthroplogy (livingston1988). Life magazine concentrated on US current events (sherman1973). While these were not originally intended as "art" photos, fierce competition attracted the best photographers and their best work.

In a mixture of art photography and photojournalism, the Family of Man and Family of Children collections (mason1977) demonstrate human commonality worldwide.

7. References


Alistair Campbell et al. "Techniques of the Great Masters of Art". Quarto Books, 1985. ISBN 0-89009-879-4.

Essays on techniques (supplies, drafting, layering, brushwork, etc.) of specific great art works, 1300-1980.


Edward S. Curtis. "Portraits from North American Indian Life". Outerbridge and Lazard, 1972. ISBN 1-57912-680-4.


Deirdre Donohue. "Sophia Style". Friedman/Fairfax, 2001. ISBN 1-58663-126-8.


Betty Edwards. "The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". Tacher/Putnam, 1999. ISBN 0-87477-424-1.

A fair amount of psycho-babble on right-brain/left-brain, but comes back to the issue addressed by Nicolaides and others: That drawing requires a careful act of seeing.


Frank Frazetta. "The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta". Peacock/Bantam Book, 1975.


Frank Frazetta. "Frank Frazetta: Book Three". Peacock/Bantam Book, 1978.


Sir Lawrence Gowing, ed. "A History of Art". Barnes and Noble, 1995. 1-56619-872-0.

Massive effort, covering the whole world.


Richard Lacayo, George Russell. "EyeWitness: 150 Years of Photojournalism", 2nd ed. Time magazine, 1995. ISBN 1-883013-06-2.



Michel Lacotte. "Treasures of the Louvre". Abbeville Press, 1993. ISBN 0-89660-037-8.


David Larkin, ed. "The Fantastic Kingdon". Ballantice Books, 1974.

Fantasy drawings and paintings. Pyle, Rackham, Parrish, Heath-Robinson, Lathrop, etc.


Sherman E. Lee. "A History of Far Eastern Art". Prentice-Hall, (date?).

My copy is old, has no date, and has no edition notation or ISBN. Currently available in 5th ed, 2003.


Jane Livingston, ed. "Odyssey: The Art of Photography at National Geographic". Thomasson-Grant, 1988. ISBN 0-934738-45-9.

1870 and on.


Jerry Mason, ed. "The Family of Children". Grossett and Dunlap, 1977. ISBN 0-448-14412-3.


Scott McCloud. "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art". Harper Books, 1993.

This is an incredibly informative book on how to do comics... written as a comic book.


Albert Moldvay. "National Geographic Photographer's Field Guide". National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-87044-395-X.

A small, very practical handbook. Remember, National Geographic is in the business of traveling to far off places, taking photos, and bringing back the negatives to be processed. They can't (or couldn't) afford to say "Oops, that didn't work. Let's go back to the Congo and get that ceremony from a different angle and better lighting."


Kimon Nicolaides. "The Natural Way to Draw". Houghton Mifflin Co, 1941.

Exercises to a) improve ability to see what is actually there, and b) capture appropriate gesture. These seem to be antagonistic objectives, and both need to be nourished independently before attempting a unified exercise.


John P. Schaeffer. "The Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Techniques of Photography: Book 2". Little, Borwn and Co, 1998.

Mostly the nuances of black-and-white chemical film and printing. Some attention to color and to digital processes.


Al Seckel. "Masters of Deception: Escher, Dali and the Artists of Optical Illusion". "Sterling Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4027-0577-8.


David B. Sherman, ed. "The Best of Life". Times, Inc, 1973.

"Life" magazine's photojournalism 1936-1972. Many of these photos are iconic in American culture.


John Spiecher, project director. "Crafts and Hobbies: A step-by-Step Guide to Creative Skills". Reader's Digest, 1979. ISBN 0-895770-63-6. Skills we now think of as hobbies were once essential life skills -- and may become so again. Spinning, dyeing, weaving, sewing. Candle making. Pottery. Basketry. Leatherworking.


Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston. "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life". Abbeville Books, 1981.

History, evolution of technique, backstories on the major releases. Pre Eisner butchery of Disney's good name.


Diana Turner, ed. "5000 Years of Korean Art". Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1979. Exhibition catalog.


Art Wolfe. "Photographing Nature". Passage Publishing, 1986.

Equipment, film, composition, technique.


Andrew Wyeth. "Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography". Konecky and Konecky, 1995. ISBN 1-56852-654-7.

Wyeth is my favorite painter, and I've had several books of his work. This one provides his own interpretations, and the evolution of skills and interests through his life. The atmosphere is almost aways overcast and grim, but the human subjects have a determination to make it through the day. In other words, the weather is about like where I've lived all my life, and the quiet inner strength that goes with it is a part of life. On the other hand, around here we *really* appreciate sunny days, and I'd like to see Wyeth's skills used for the pure joy of a community picnic on a fine summer day.

Creator: Harry George
Updated/Created: 2008-05-26