Notes on Drawing According to Harold Speed

It is the expression of form, rather than color, on a plane surface. It isn’t enough to meticulously reproduce the indifferent appearance of objects; in order to express form, we must be moved by it first.
↳ "emotional significance"

The beauty of things seems to only be perceived in flashes, and the ability to hold onto the impression of one of these moments during the labor of a carefully crafted drawing is rare and belongs to the realm of genius.

Emotional expression is transmitted to the viewer through empathy. Thus, art allows us to sample life through others. Some examples of emotional expression are:

The expression of largeness, magnitude or mass, impresses us and makes us feel small faced with the superior and more lasting #MichelangeloThe expression of lightness is enchanting, a delicate and fragile feeling of life #Boticelli

There are two forms of accuracy:
The artistic → emotion | expression
The scientific → reason | description

Drawing deserves more than accuracy; it must represent vitality, the vivid nature of things. Beauty in artistic accuracy is achieved with the balance of artistic expression —whose extreme is ridiculousness—and scientific expression —whose extreme is cold indifference. They are complementary, not contradictory styles. The "finish" has nothing to do with the details, but rather with the intention of emotional expression.

[Excerpts from the book Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed]

Learning to See

Vision is not the first sense we consult upon looking at something. In ancient drawing, it is sight, not touch, which is consulted; we feel visually. The sense of touch does not concern the eye, but rather an association of reference points and associations that are dramatized when we get excited or are moved; the expression of feelings through these emotions enriches the work. 

Our sense of sight has been neglected and first one uses a mental image that is projected as standard symbol and geometry. Sight is an auxiliary sense, utilitarian, and we do not perceive that much through it. We lack cultivating "visual poetry."

An artist is a catalyst that teaches the observer to see through his work, creating new and unexpected associations that enrich the observer's mental perception, that which is based on shortcuts to previously established knowledge rather than emotion.

[Excerpts from the book Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed]

A Quote from William Morris

"Art is man's expression of his joy in labour."
—William Morris

Fundamentals of Charcoal Drawing

These are, in my opinion, the basic rules for drawing with charcoal:

→ For blending, we use the beveled part, never the tip, of paper blending stumps. The stumps are not sharpened and should only be used for shadows since they can make lights look dirty.

→ To blend the dark parts, we can use a cheap paintbrush with short, stiff bristles. To extend soft values in the lights and do blends, we'll use a softer and longer nylon brush.

→ To bring in light we use soft synthetic rubber erasers. To remove charcoal dust from time to time, we use a malleable eraser. It can be molded into the required shape and is employed through use of pressure, not friction. White erasers (such as from the brand Milan) serve to open up defined and clean gaps and require the use of friction.

Basic rules:

  • Conceptually and formally separate the lights and the shadows.
  • Do not use rounded shapes, but rather sequences of straight lines.
  • The lightest value in the shadows should never be lighter than the darkest value of the lights. And vice versa.
  • Work with values and modeling hierarchically: from the general to the particular. 

70x50cm / 27,5x19,5"
charcoal and  y gum tempera on Ingres paper
Oikoumene Gallery, Ibiza, Spain

Frame - 100x80cm / 39x31,5"
Spanish cedar wood carving (19th century). White lacquer.

Frank Porcu on creativity

"Ignorance is not a prerequisite for creativity.”

Frank Porcu. Professor of Anatomical Drawing at the Art Students League, NY.

Thomas Couture quote

Concept of Light and Shadow

Below I've quoted the theory of Howard Pyle, brought together by Andrew Loomis. The texts are as confusing as they are interesting. There are only a few excerpts here:

All objects of nature are made visible to the sight by the light of the sun shining upon them. The result is that by means of this we see the colors and textures of the various objects of nature.
From this it may be seen that color and texture are the property of light and that they do not enter the property of shadow. For shadow is darkness and in darkness there is neither form nor color. Hence form and color belong distinctly to light.
As the object illuminated by the sun is more or less opaque, so when the light of the sun is obscured by the object, the shadow which results is more or less black and opaque, being illuminated only by the light reflected into it by surrounding objects.
By virtue of shadow all objects of nature assume form or shape, for if there were no shadow all would be a flat glare of light, color and texture... but when the shadow appears, the object takes form and shape.
If the edges of an object are rounded, then the edges of the shadow becomes softened; if the edges of an object are sharp, than the shadow is correspondingly acute. So by means of the softness or acuteness of the shadow, the roundness or sharpness of the solid object is made manifest.
Hence, it would follow that the province of shadow is to produce form and shape, and that in itself it possesses no power of conveying an impression of color or texture.
I have tried to state these two facts because they are the foundation of all picture making: for in the corresponding mimic separation of light and dark, the mimic image of nature is made manifest. So the function of all art instruction should be to teach the pupil to analyze and separate the lights from the darks, not technically but mentally. That which a pupil most needs in the beginning is not a system of arbitrary rules and methods for imitating the shape of an object, that what he needs to be taught is the habit of analyzing lights and shadows and of representing them accordingly.
• Halftones that carry an impression of texture and color should be relegated to the province of the light, and should be made brighter than they appear to be.
• Halftones that carry an impression of form should be relegated to the province of shadow, and should be much darker than they appear to be.
 This is the secret of simplicity in art. The equation might be represented thus: 

LIGHT — texture, quality, color
highlight — 1
tint — 2
halftone — 3 (painting lighter)

SHADOW — form, solidity (?)
halftone — 3 (painting darker)
reflection — 2
shadow — 1

This is, as I said, the foundation of technical art. And, until the pupil is entirely able to separate those two qualities of light and shadow from one another in his perception, he should not be advanced beyond the region of elementary instruction, no matter how clever and “fetching” his work may appear to be. And, during this progress of instruction that people should be constantly encouraged with the assurance that what he is doing is not mere drudgery but it is a necessary process by means of which – and only by means of which – he may be able to manifest the beautiful thoughts that lie dormant in his imagination.
I may say here, in this connection, that the pupils who come to me are always so confused as to those two qualities of light and shadow, and their habit of exaggerating the halftones has become so confirmed, that it takes often times several years to teach them analysis and simplification, yet without this power of analysis and simplification, it is, as I say, impossible to produce a truly perfect work of art. For that separation is fundamental to the laws of nature, and until it becomes a habit of thought, no spontaneous work of art can be produced. 

*   *   *
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→ My interpretation:

Light bathes, defines and emphasizes shapes giving them opacity, texture, and color. The light brings color, tone, and texture to objects, which take on volumetric shape by way of modulated absorption of these properties through shadow. Any object within the light’s reach, halts and reflects it to some degree, defining the object. The involvement of shadow defines objects through opposition, making them round by contrast to there being a heterogeneity between light and shadow (the absence of light, technically the absence of white).

Lights are opaque and shadows are transparent. Light is only transparent when it can penetrate a material (liquid, glass, steam, etc..). We can’t see beyond light as our vision is limited to illuminated surfaces. Shadows are mysterious and undefined, and the objects immersed in them are revitalized. Balance is the key.

This effect is enhanced thanks to the dramatization of the effects and countereffects of light. It’s not about imitating light, it’s about conceptualizing it. 

Howard Pyle understood the true pictorial value of an organized composition. Studying his work we see that he always was careful that the lights, halftones and shadows remained differentiated in large areas. In some paintings he placed lights and shadows on a common gray background; in others he placed lights and halftones over a black field. Using four key values he shows the following combinations:

• Halftones and shadows against an illuminated background.
• Light and dark parts against a light grey. 
• Light, dark, and light grey parts against a dark grey. 
• Lights and greys against a dark background.

These are the keys that teach us how to establish planes in a painting. In a painting we must work the planes heterogeneously, and be clear that at least one of these three planes should be dramatically simplified in favor of a greater effect. Since it is not possible to accurately reproduce what we see, talent is measured by our ability to differentiate, harmonize, or contrast the composition’s planes. A good artist even resorts to distortion when this enhances the idea’s value.

Well, let's look at some references to the concept of light and shadow. According to AndrĂ© Lhote in order to achieve a satisfactory effect there must be a solid hierarchy among the three predominant colors –or tones– like this:

Color #1 → to raise the drama / to enhance
Color #2 → to evoke
Color #3 → to reduce / to soften

... which reminds us for a moment of his theory of the perceptual division of a work in three steps; it reads as follows:

1. Distribution of large light and dark areas (screens), and of the general halftone.
2. Distribution of large color areas, in addition to gray zones and areas of contrasts.
3. Ornament and hierarchy.

According to Lhote to obtain maximum drama (which Reilly called effect), we must consider this rule: "Anything that is not fiercely supported in the work, should be left out." Lhote also cites Rubens, who theorized about the ideal ratio of lights, shadows and halftones:

• 1/3 of the work is for dramatization of lights and shadows (and bright colors)
• 2/3 of the work is for the halftones (grays, muted colors)

For Rubens the ideal ratio between the three light values would be this:

Understanding light and shadow:

“Shadow is a relative absence of light, and therefore also a relative lack of definition. Form within shadow is quiet and soft, like a whisper. Be careful not to mark out too much detail in the shadows. The use of hard and highly contrasted edges can disrupt the quiet, nocturnal nature of shadow.” 
—Anthony Ryder

“It is permissible to do anything you wish in paint. Nobody stops you. One can only like or dislike what you do. If you base your pictures on big basic truths and understanding you will do good ones. If you sit and putter with effects, allowing yourself to guess rather than going out to find the truths you want, you will do bad ones.”
—Andrew Loomis

The way I see it, light and shadow must differ dramatic in a compelling and dramatic way, not only formally, but conceptually. When we distinguish light and shadow as different ideas we must by necessity reflect that qualitative difference in the painting. This results in, for example, working with opaque lights on a bed of transparent shadow, differentiating the degree of definition between light and shadow, differentiating movements and brushstrokes, etc..

Conceptually, it’s a Platonic statement:

→ Shadow is amorphous, undefined and chaotic. Being sensuous and mysterious, it invites speculation→ The light is volumetric, defined and orderly. Being cerebral and honest it suggests truth.↳ Dramatization of the concept light ≠ shade produces texture and vividness in contrast simultaneous among vectors of heterogeneous nature.

Note: Please forget about New Age and other hippy-related childishness. Here we seek tangible implementation, not leisure in search of some deep universal truth.

My experience:

Let's imagine that light and shadow are in the middle of battle, like good guys and bad guys in a film, and that thanks to a good script they tell a story. If your script is not that great, your movie will be bad and it won’t matter how much good and evil kick the crap out of each other.
Personally, when I plan to paint a piece first I think about how I'm going to resolve the following sequence. I like to think of it as if it were a movie script (setup, confrontation, and resolution):

Shadow (uniformity and uncertainty) → gradation (maximum intensity of color) → light (variety and definition)

And I wonder ...:
- What is the effect I intend to achieve?
- What relationship will the three parts maintain?
- What proportion will they maintain among them?
- How will they be different from each other?

Think about it, because if something deserves to be painted, it deserves be well thought out.

About Me

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Human figure artist, looking though the past
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