Monday, January 21, 2008

sketchcrawl SF

A friend suggested we go to sketchcrawl this past weekend. It was a great idea! The last time I went was in 2005 I think. I loved it, but I never managed to do another one until now. This one was held in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. A sizable crowd showed up (hey look! We all have New Year's resolutions about drawing more!) and it was really fun.

A lot of talented artists out there validated my obsession with hording pencils and sketchbooks. It was great to see how different artists interpreted the same subject matter. Some people stylized heavily, others played it straight. Some focused on people, others on environment. I was inspired to play more in my composition, subject matter, drawing style and also to work on color skills.

I am also humbled by how focused and well laid out a lot of artists' work was. I would like to improve my layout skills, so that's a resolution too. (Let's just put that in my big pile of goals that I have...hey look laundry!) A lot of people drew these 4 old ladies on the bench. They were famous that day.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

London Trip, part two

One of my favorite museums in London is the the V&A. I like the mix of paintings, sculptures, clothing, and historical objects. Many of the exhibits have well-written explanations of how the works were accomplished, often including the original sketches. It's the museum I would go to, if I only had time to go to one.

However, I actually didn't do that many sketches there, relying quite a bit on my camera. It's a great place for gathering reference, and has a long sculpture gallery which contains a Bernini.

I took perhaps a dozen pictures of that Bernini. When I see something that is so clearly superior to the works around it, it really makes me want to throttle those artists who claim that art is subjective, and judging one piece as superior is pointless. All it makes me think is that he or she is unhappy with his/her own work. But rather than strive to do better, it is easier to actually just say the everything else that exists, isn't that great. is subjective, but some people are really better at something. You might say that the idea that someone is "good" is subjective too, dependent on cultural standpoint. Yes...of course. I'm sure to an anti-Semite, Hilter was a better person than Mother Theresa.

After a certain point "subjectivity" equals deliberate stupidity.

Ok...onto the Tate!

I didn't really do that many sketches of art at the Tate. It hosts the collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings that got me through my romantic, nerdy years as a high school and college student., including Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot.
However, I went there to draw the people looking at the paintings (and escape from the rain, as the original plan had been to sit out and draw people in cafes) Museums are an excellent place to sketch people, as they tend to hold their pose for a bit, giving me a better chance of capturing it. Sometimes, I start with the head and move my way down, but lately, I've been blocking out the general shapes to get the feel of the pose first, and then filling in the details. I've found that if I've been drawing for a bit, I'm generally loose enough to be able finish the details even after the model has shifted (or left the room altogether). Drawing moving people feels like evacuating a burning building, I'm grabbing whatever I can, as quickly as I can, and hope the things I get are important.
This last drawing is from when I went to Oxford on a daytrip. Most of it is a combination of people that I saw while having lunch at the pub and people I saw while having hot chocolate at a cafe.
There is a specific type of face that does look very English, in exactly the same way that someone looks Chinese or African. I noticed it before the first time I went there, but it is funny how obvious this is when you're actually surrounded by them. I suppose it's because culturally, we tend to dump all people of European descent into the category of "white" which doesn't allow for much distinction of features within that group. But French people definitely look French, Italians do look Italian. I realize this is not an original observation at all. I'm not sure if being P.C. has simply beat out our ability to say things like "Hey, that guy has a really Italian face!" However, it's impossible not to see the continuity of features when you observe ancient Roman busts of famous dead people. Some of them definitely look like people you know.

London Trip

So I decided to go to London to end the year. Samuel Johnson has said "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."

I like London, but I'm not sure I agree. In any case, he was biased, being that he was an Englishman, and don't all homogeneous cultures tend to think of themselves as the best and the brightest? I'm sure the Chinese probably have a variation as to why their cities are the best. This may be an old joke, but certainly the food must be better. When I was first in England over 10 years ago, the food was pretty bad. Now it's just okay. The potato chips however, are fantastic, if you like meat-flavored potato chips. Which I do. Sue me.

I did a lot of sketching in the National Portrait Gallery, which is just off to the side of the National Gallery. I like the portrait gallery better. I suppose because I'm more into pictures of real people, and also because there are several good Sargent paintings there. What's funny is that in the National Gallery, there are romantic depictions of historical events. One of my favorite paintings there (or as the British would say "favourite") is "The Execution of the Lady Jane Grey". Jane Grey was executed by Queen Mary (a.k.a "Bloody" Mary). There was a romantic movie that came out about the event sometime in the 80's I think, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes (Welsey from "The Princess Bride").

Here's the National Gallery painting of Lady Jane Grey
And here is the National Portrait Gallery portrait of her (i.e. what she really looked like)I think this is the reason why the British go slightly crazy when one of the aristocracy is born and he/she isn't hideous.

The National Portrait Gallery is a fun place to see what England's historical figures actually looked like. Sometimes it's also fun because of all the wigs the men used to wear. There is one room that is full of men in wigs. They were the cool kids of their time, politicians, philosophers, and were called the Kit-Kat Club. All-titled, and I really do think, uniformly ugly. But who needs looks when you have money, right?

There is also a very large painting done by Sargent depicting the officers of WWI. It's an impressive painting in that it was done at all, but in terms of a work of art, it really didn't do anything for me. However, the sense of what WWI did and what was lost, was clear. Because in the same room as this:

there is a sculpture of one of the pilots of WWI. The sculpture, which was probably only about 3 feet tall, there is the sense of determination and joy of life that maybe you can only have when you're 21. Which is how old this man (boy?) was, when he was shot down.

And it made me think about all those old men's faces, with their solemn, proud, "we are the serious men doing serious work" expressions. Perhaps they were heroes too, perhaps they did understand the gravity of the choices they were making. But every single last one of them was too old to go to the front.

So there you go.