Historically drapery has been used for centuries by artists and studied by students and artists apprentices. One has to go no further than the drapery studies of Leonardo da Vinci to see it was an integral part of their research.
There are three drapery projects that are a fundamental to widening our visual literacy, and compressed charcoal is the medium that is most appropriate for this.
Many artists in the past would use drapery as compositional device to create an underlying structure for their work. This process was devised to guide the viewer's eye through the composition.
One of these methods was to create the idea of movement across and through the picture plane using certain effects with drapery to create this illusion. Nicholas Poussin (1593-1665) and El Greco (15411614) both used this process very successfully to effect this illusion. What one must realise here is that these effects were not by any means being used naturalistically. Instead they where formal visual constructions to effect away for us to read the picture.
1/ To make a study of this type of work one should first formally set up your drapery still life. Do this by getting a large sheet and twist it tightly and also loosely around a tall object (I use an easel for this purpose). By doing this we have given a sense of movement to the still life. In essence, it is the type of movement you would describe when you see and try to explain a spiral staircase. In setting the group up in this way, we have constructed the idea of an upward motion.
2/ Now set up to draw with a large piece of paper - the larger the better for this drawing. Firstly, draw the outlines of the folds of the drapery using your compressed charcoal. Immediately you will see that you have created the sense of movement up the picture plane through the nature and direction of the line.
3/ We can now give the drapery a feeling of volume that will also emphasise the sense of movement up the picture plane. We do this by adding tone in a very particular constructed way. This process is referred to as front or top lighting and was used by the pre-Renaissance artists such as Cimabue, and Duccio. In the finished drawing, the tone is applied in the same way as you can see in the detail. It enables us to read the simple sense of form. It works in this way. The surface of the drapery that appears nearest to us is left white, and as the surface moves away from us and into any recesses you gradually make the tone go darker until it reaches black at what appears to be the furthest point away see detailed example. The illusion of a shallow sense of depth is created. As you might have guessed this process is very mechanical and theoretical and at this point can be executed without looking any further at the drapery subject matter.
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