Modified Contour Drawing First drawing on the picture plane

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What you ll need:

• Your clear plastic Picture Plane

• Your felt-tip marker

• Both of your viewfinders

Before you begin: Please read through all of the instructions before starting your drawing. In the next section I will define and fully explain the Picture Plane. For now, you will be simply using it. Just follow the instructions.

What youll do:

1. Rest your hand on a desk or table in front of you (the left hand if you are right-handed, and the right, if you are left-handed) with the ringers and thumb curved upward, pointing toward your face. This is a foreshortened view of your hand. Imagine now that you are about to draw that foreshortened form.

If you are like most of my students, you would simply not know how to go about doing that. It seems far too difficult to draw this three-dimensional form, with its parts moving toward you in space. You would hardly know where to start. The viewfinders and plastic Picture Plane will help you get started.

2. Try out each of the Viewfinders to decide which size fits most comfortably over your hand, which you should be holding in a foreshortened position with the fingers coming toward you. Men often need the larger, women the smaller-sized Viewfinder. Choose one or the other.

3. Clip the Viewfinder you have chosen on top of your clear-plastic Picture Plane.

4. Use your felt-tip marker to draw a "format" line on the plastic Picture Plane, running your marker around the inside of the opening of the Viewfinder. A format line forms the outer boundary of your drawing. See Figure 6-4.

5. Now, holding you hand in the same foreshortened position as before, balance the Viewfinder/plastic Picture Plane on the tips of your fingers and thumb. Move it about a bit until the picture-plane seems balanced comfortably.

6. Pick up your uncapped marking pen, gaze at the hand under the plastic Picture Plane and close one eye. (I'll explain in the next segment why it is necessary to close one eye. For now, please just do it.) See Figure 6-5.

7. Choose an edge to start your drawing. Any edge will do. With the marking pen, begin to draw on the plastic Picture Plane the edges of the shapes just as you see them. Don't try to "second guess" any of the edges. Do not name the parts. Do not wonder why the edges are the way they are. Your job, just as in

Fig. 6-3.
Planes Name That Start With
Fig. 6-5.

Fig. 6-6. Albrecht Durer

(1471-1528), Hands in Adoration. Black and white tempera on blue paper. Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Fig. 6-6. Albrecht Durer

(1471-1528), Hands in Adoration. Black and white tempera on blue paper. Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Fig. 6-7. Vincent Van Gogh,

Sketches with Two Sowers. St. Remy, 1890.

Fig. 6-7. Vincent Van Gogh,

Sketches with Two Sowers. St. Remy, 1890.

Upside-Down Drawing and in Pure Contour Drawing, is to draw exactly what you see, with as much detail as you can manage with the marking pen (which is not as precise as a pencil).

8. Be sure to keep your head in the same place and keep one eye closed. Don't move your head to try to "see around" the form. Keep it still. (Again, I'll explain why in the next segment.)

9. Correct any lines you wish by just wiping them off with a moistened tissue on your forefinger. It is very easy to redraw them more precisely.

After you have finished:

Place the plastic Picture Plane on a plain sheet of paper so that you can clearly see what you have drawn. I can predict with confidence that you will be amazed. With relatively little effort, you have accomplished one of the truly difficult tasks in drawing— drawing the human hand in foreshortened view. Great artists in the past have practiced drawing hands over and over. Observe the examples by Albrecht Durer and Vincent Van Gogh, Figures 6-6 and 6-7.

How did you accomplish this so easily? The answer, of course, is that you did what a trained artist does: You "copied" what you saw on the picture-plane—in this instance, an actual plastic plane. I fully define and explain the Picture Plane in the next section. For now, you are simply using it. I have found that the explanation makes more sense after students have used the plastic plane.

For further practice: I suggest that you erase your felt-tip pen drawing from the Picture Plane with a damp tissue and do several more, with your hand in a different position each time. Try for the really "hard" views—the more complicated the better. Oddly enough, the flat hand is the hardest to draw; a complex position is actually easier. Therefore, arrange your hand with the fingers curved, entwined, crossed, fist clenched, whatever. Try to include some foreshortening. Remember, the more you practice each of these exercises, the faster you will progress. Save your last (or best) drawing for the next exercise.

This brings us to a crucial question—that is, an all-important question in terms of your understanding: What is drawing?

The quick answer: Drawing is "copying" what you see on the picture-plane. In the drawing you did just now, your own hand in foreshortened view, you "copied" the "flattened" image of your hand that you "saw" on the plastic Picture Plane.

And now, a more complete answer to the question, "What is drawing?"

In art, the concept of "the picture plane" is extremely abstract and difficult to explain, and even more difficult to comprehend. But this concept is one of the most important keys to learning to draw, so stay with me. I'll try to be clear.

The picture plane is a mental concept. See this in your "mind's eye": the picture plane is an imaginary transparent plane, like a framed window, that is always hanging out in front of the artist's face, always parallel to the "plane" of the artist's two eyes. If the artist turns, the plane also turns. What the artist sees "on the plane" actually extends back into the distance. But the plane enables the artist to "see" the scene as though it were magically smashed flat on the back of the clear glass plane — like a photograph, in a sense. Put another way, the 3-D image behind the framed "window" is converted to a 2-D (flat) image. The artist then "copies" what is seen "on the plane" onto the flat drawing paper.

This trick of the artist's mind, so difficult to describe, is even more difficult for beginning students to discover on their own. In this course, therefore, you need an actual picture plane (your plastic Picture Plane) and actual window frames (the Viewfinders).

These devices seem to work like magic in causing students to "get" what drawing is—that is, to understand the fundamental nature of drawing perceived objects or persons.

To further help beginners in drawing, I asked you to draw crosshairs on your sheet of plastic (the plastic Picture Plane). These two "grid" lines represent vertical and horizontal, the two constants that the artist absolutely depends on to assess relation-

It might help your understanding of the picture plane to realize that photography grew out of drawing. In the years before photography was invented, artists generally understood and used the concept of the picture-plane. You can imagine the artists' excitement (and, perhaps, dismay) to see that a photograph could, in an instant, capture the image on the picture-plane—an image that would have taken an artist hours, days, or even weeks to render in a drawing. Artists, deposed from realistic depiction, began exploring other aspects of perception, such as the effects of light (Impressionism). After photography became common, the concept of the picture plane was less necessary and began to fade away.

The picture plane is an imaginary vertical surface, like a window, through which you look at your subject. In this way, you copy your three-dimensional view of the world to your two-dimensional surface onto your drawing paper.

Three Dimensional Vertical Nor

ships. Early on in my classes, I used a grid of many lines, but I found that students were counting up—"two spaces over and three down." This is just the kind of L-mode activity we didn't want. I then reduced the "grid" lines to one vertical and one horizontal and found that was sufficient.

Later on, you will need neither the plastic Picture Plane with its gridlines nor the Viewfinders. You will replace these technical devices with the imaginary, internalized mental picture-plane that every artist uses, whether consciously or subconsciously. The actual plane (your plastic Picture Plane) and the actual Viewfinders are simply very effective aids during the time you are learning how to draw.

Try this: Fasten your Viewfinder, the one with the largest opening, on top of the Picture Plane, using your clips. Close one eye and hold the Picture Plane/Viewfinder together up in front of your face. See Figure 6-8.

Look at the "framed" image, whatever is in front of your eye (singular). You can change the "composition" by bringing the Viewfinder closer to or farther away from your face, much as a camera viewfinder works. Check out the angles of the edges of the ceiling, or perhaps of a table, relative to the crosshairs—that is, relative to vertical and horizontal. These angles may surprise you. Next, imagine that you are drawing with your felt-tip marker what you see on the plane, just as you did in drawing your hand. See Figure 6-9.

Then turn to see another view, and then another, always keeping the picture-plane parallel to the front of your face. Don't slant it in any direction! One way to practice not slanting the plane is to bring the plastic Picture Plane right up to your face, then quickly extend your arms straight out together.

Next, choose a view that you like, framed by your Viewfinder on the plastic Picture Plane. Imagine that you are "copying" what you see on the plane onto a piece of drawing paper. Remember, all of the angles, sizes, spaces, and relationships will be just what you see on the plane. See Figure 6-10.

These two images, your (imagined) drawing on the paper and the image on the plastic Picture Plane will be (approximately)

Fig. 6-10. 101

"Dear Theo,

In my last letter you will have found a little sketch of that perspective frame I mentioned. I just came back from the blacksmith, who made iron points for the sticks and iron corners for the frame. It consists of two long stakes; the frame can be attached to them either way with strong wooden pegs.

"So on the shore or in the meadows or in the fields one can look through it like a window [the artist's emphasis]. The vertical lines and the horizontal line of the frame and the diagonal lines and the intersection, or else the division in squares, certainly give a few pointers which help one make a solid drawing and which indicate the main lines and proportion ... of why and how the perspective causes an apparent change of direction in the lines and change of size in the planes and in the whole mass.

"Long and continuous practice with it enables one to draw quick as lightning—and once the drawing is done firmly, to paint quick as lightning, too."

From Letter 223, The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Greenwich, Conn.: The New York Graphic Society, 1954, p. 432-33.

the same. If perfectly drawn—very hard to do!—they will be identical. At its most basic level, that is what drawing is. To reiterate, basic realistic drawing is copying what is seen on the picture-plane.

"If that is so," you may object, "why not just take a photograph?" I believe one answer is that the purpose of realistic drawing is not simply to record data, but rather to record your unique perception—how you personally see something—and, moreover, how you understand the thing you are drawing. By slowing down and closely observing something, personal expression and comprehension occur in ways that cannot occur simply by taking a snapshot. (I am referring, of course, to casual photography, not the work of artist-photographers.)

Also, your style of line, choices for emphasis, and subconscious mental processes—your personality, so to speak—enters the drawing. In this way, again paradoxically, your careful observation and depiction of your subject give the viewer both the image of your subject and an insight into you. In the best sense, you have expressed yourself.

Use of the picture-plane has a long tradition in the history of art. The great Renaissance artist Leone Battista Alberti discovered that he could draw in perspective the cityscape beyond his window by drawing directly on the glass pane the view he saw behind the pane. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's writing on the subject, German artist Albrecht Durer developed the picture-plane concept further, building actual picture-plane devices. Durer's writings and drawings inspired Vincent Van Gogh to construct his own "perspective device," as he called it, when he was laboriously teaching himself to draw (see Figure 6-11). Later on, after Van Gogh had mastered basic drawing, he discarded his device, just as you will.

Note that Van Gogh's device must have weighed twenty pounds or more. I can picture him in my mind's eye laboriously dismantling the parts, tying them up, carrying the bundle—along with his painting materials—on his long walk to the seashore, unbundling and setting the device up, and then repeating the whole sequence to get home at night. This gives us some insight

Van Gogh Perspective

Fig. 6-11. Vincent Van Gogh's perspective device.

Fig. 6-12. The artist using his device at the seashore.

From The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Greenwich: The New York Graphic Society, 1954. The drawings are reproduced by permission of The New York Graphic Society.

Fig. 6-12. The artist using his device at the seashore.

From The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Greenwich: The New York Graphic Society, 1954. The drawings are reproduced by permission of The New York Graphic Society.

Fig. 6-11. Vincent Van Gogh's perspective device.

into how resolutely Van Gogh labored to improve his drawing skills (see Figure 6-12).

Another renowned artist, the 16th-century Dutch master Hans Holbein, who had no need for help with his drawing, also used an actual Picture Plane. Art historians recently discovered that Holbein used a glass pane on which he directly drew images of his sitters for the overwhelming number of portrait drawings required of him when he lived in the English court of Henry VIII. Art historians speculate that Holbein, one of the great draughtsmen of art history, did this to save time—the overworked artist could then quickly transfer the drawing on glass to paper and get on to the next portrait.

One more important point: "Drawing" means drawing a single view.

Recall that when you drew your hand directly on the plastic Picture Plane, I asked you to keep your hand still and your head still in order to see one view only on the Picture Plane. Even a slight movement of your hand or a slight change in the position of your head will give you a different view of your hand. I some-

Professor Elliot Elgart of the University of California at Los Angeles Art Department told me in conversation that he has often observed beginning drawing students, presented for the first time with a reclining model, tilt their heads far to one side while drawing the model. Why? To see the model in the position they are used to, which is standing up!

Seeing perspective drawing as depicting three-dimensional space is apparently a learned percept, culturally determined. Individuals from remote cultures sometimes do not decipher photographs or realistic drawings.

times see students bend their heads around to see something they couldn't see with their head in the original position. Don't do it! If you can't see that fourth finger, you don't draw it. To repeat: Keep your hand and your head in an unchanged position and draw just what you see.

For the same reason—to see one view only—you kept one eye closed. By closing one eye, you removed binocular vision, the slight variance in images, called "binocular disparity," that occurs when we view an object with both eyes open.

Binocular vision allows us to see the world as three-dimensional. This ability is sometimes called "depth perception." When you close one eye, the single image is two-dimensional—that is, it is flat, like a photograph. The paper we draw on is also two-dimensional or flat.

Here is yet another of the paradoxes of drawing:

The flat, two-dimensional image you see (with one eye closed) on the picture-plane, when copied onto your drawing paper, miraculously "looks" three-dimensional to the person who views your drawing. One necessary step in learning to draw is to believe that this miracle will happen. Often, students struggling with a drawing will ask, "How can I make this table look like it's going back in space?" or "How do I make this arm look like it's coming toward me?" The answer, of course, is to draw—to copy!—just what you see flattened on the picture-plane. Only then will the drawing convincingly depict these "movements" through three-dimensional space (see Figure 6-13).

You may be wondering, "Is it always necessary to close one eye while drawing?" Not always, but most artists do quite a lot of one-eye closing while drawing. The closer the viewed object, the more eye-closing. The farther away the object, the less eye closing, because the binocular disparity referred to above diminishes with distance.

In this next exercise, you will use your technical aids (your plastic Picture Plane and your Viewfinders) to enable you to do a realistic drawing of your own hand—a "real" drawing depicting a three-dimensional form on a flat sheet of paper.

Frustrated Student Drawing

Fig. 6-13. Brian Harking.

Students often become very frustrated at the start of a drawing— perhaps because the starting of a drawing is always difficult. Also I think students beginning in drawing believe that drawings just "flow out." They don't. You will be making numerous intense relational calculations at the start, and it's only after the drawing is well started—in fact, nearing completion—that it begins to "flow."

Fig. 6-13. Brian Harking.

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  • Isengar Zaragamba
    How to use glass for a picture plane?
    8 years ago

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