Block Forms Planes Foreshortening And Lighting

The transition from outline and specific construction to tlie figure rendered in light and shadow is quite a hurdle. Often the student is unable to make this jump. The difficulty arises from a lack of conception of the solid. Yet there are intermediate steps that can make the rendering of the third dimension (thickness) fairly simple.

How can a solid form be set into space? How do we conceive of it so that we know it has bulk and weight—that we can pick it up or bump into it? The answer is that our eye instinctively recognizes the solid by the way light falls upon it. As far as the artist is concerned, when there is no light there is no form. The only reason an outline drawing-can suggest the solid is that theoretically a drawing represents the form in a light that comes from directly behind the artist; hence the form casts no shadow visible to us. As the contours and edges turn away from us and the light, they tend to darken until they begin to look like lines, sharp at the edges and softening as they approach the middle or closer part of the form. We call this "Hat lighting." It is the onlv wav that form can be rendered without

shadow, but it does include "halftone," which is the next step between the full light and the shadow. The shadow is really there also, but we cannot see it from our viewpoint.

When white paper is used for the drawing, the paper theoretically represents the greatest light—that is, the plane which is at right angles to the source of light. In all cases other than flat-front lighting, the form is rendered by the correct interpretation of the direction of the planes away from the right-angle planes, or the turning away of the form from the source of light.

The first and brightest planes arc called the "light planes."' The next planes are the "halftone planes," and the third planes, which are unable to receive direct lighting because of their angle, are called "shadow planes." Within the shadow planes may be those that are still receiving subdued, reflected light; these are called "planes of reflection." Form cannot be rendered without a clear grasp of this principle. The planes arc worked out in the simple order of: (1) light, (2) halftone, (3) shadow—which is the darkest and is at the point where the plane parallels the direction of light, and (4) reflected light. This is called "simple lighting." It is unquestionably the best for our purpose. When there are several sources of light, the whole composition becomes a hodgepodge, inconsistent with natural light and highly confusing to the student. Sunlight naturally gives us the most perfect rendition of form. Daylight is softer and more diffused, but the principle still holds. Artificial light, unless controlled and based upon the sun principle, is the fly in the ointment. The camera may be able to get away with four or five sources of light; the chances are that the artist cannot.

Before you plunge into the intricacies of light and shadow, it would be well to know what is going to happen to form when light strikes it. Since the light can be made to come from any direction, the organization of the light-to-dark may start with any plane as the light plane. In other words, in a top lighting slightly to the front, the plane across the breast would be the light plane. Move the light to the side, and that plane would become a halftone plane. Set the light below, and the same plane is in shadow. Ilence all planes are relative to the light source.

Let us start, tlien, with the form in the simplest possible terms. By drawing block forms we cut out the extreme subtleties of halftone. Continuing a plane as a single tone 011 a surface as long as we can before turning it in another direction is simplification, or massing. Actually the figure is very rounded. But rounded surfaces produce such a delicate gradation of light and shadow that it is difficult to approach without a simplification and massing of these tones. Strangely enough, the simplification is a good deal better in the end than the exact photographic and literal interpretation. It is somewhat like trying to paint a tree by painting every leaf instead of massing the foliage into its big forms and working for bulk rather than intricate detail.

After we have mastered the larger plane, we can soften it at its edges to mold it into the more rounded form, while Yetaining all wc can of the bigness of conception. Or, we can start with a big block, as the sculptor would start with a block of stone or marble. We hew away the excess and block in the general mass that we want. We then subdivide the big, straight planes into smaller ones until the rounded effect has been produced. It is like going around a circle with a scries of short, straight lines. You may question why wc do not at once procccd to the finished, smooth, and round form. The answer is that in a drawing or painting, something of the individual procedure and structural quality should remain. When it is loo much smoothed down and polished, it becomes entirely factual. The camera can do that. In a drawing, however, "finish" is not necessarily art. It is the interpretation and process of individual conception that is art and that has value. If you include all the literal facts and actualities, the result will be boring. It is your selection of relevant facts that will create interest. A sweeping conccption carries with it vitality, purpose, and conviction. The more detailed and involved we get, the less forceful and powerful is our message. Wc can take a compass and draw a circle perfectly, but we have left no trace of ourselves in what we have set down. It is the big form that does the job—not the little and the exact.

On pages 70 and 71 I have tried to give an inkling of what 1 mean. Here the surface is conceived of as having mass and bulk. The effect is sculptural. It is looking at our mannikin a little differently. If we are to compose the mannikin of simplified blocks, how shall we shape those blocks? Your way is as good as mine. Shape them any way you will to arrive at a massed or bulk effect. This is the real approach to "solidity" in your work: actually thinking of the mass, bulk, and weight of it.

With this approach, we take the art-store wooden mannikin and use it as a basis for setting up a figure (page 72). We go a step further with the mannikin on page 73 and attempt to eliminate the stiffness of the jointed parts, still thinking though in terms of masses.

Retaining these terms we take solids (page 74) and tip them, remembering at all times what each section of the mass would be and where it belongs in relation to the whole. We must depend chiefly upon line to render the form, or that part of it which goes back into space, as seen by the eye of the observer. This is foreshortening. Actual measurement of length cannot lie made, since viewing the form from one point is like looking at a gun barrel aimed directly at you. Wc must think of the contours and form as sections lined up one behind the other. An outline is rarely sufficient, however, to represent the receding sections; most often halftone and shadow are needed as well, as shown on page 75. Pages 76 and 77 are an interpretation of the rounded figure flattened into planes that go a step further than our simplest block forms. On pages 78 and 79 we place the simplified form of the head under various kinds of lighting.

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