Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thinking Gesture in figures and animals

Here is a short post on thinking gesture as it relates to not only people but animals as well.               

The focus of this post is to highlight an understanding of animal anatomy/drawing which will emphasize design. As always my hope is that the techniques used in drawing a figure are understood to be flexible and as such able to adapt to designing animals, characters, or creature(s).

Gesture drawing at its core entails the simple usage of line (shape, value, etc.) to capture a very complex reality about the subject being depicted. Specifically when using line, asymmetry and curves provide a visual pathway from which movement is exaggerated and the workings of passive and active anatomy develop (see below examples).

The intention of this is to build an understanding of how and in what ways, through gesture, figure(s) and animal(s) can be treated consistently. This is completely possible since through the process of abstraction, gesture highlights the same qualities in animals as it does it the figure. Further, for the purposes of drawing both animals and figures, gesture serves to initiate the image thematically/theatrically and lay the groundwork for the remainder of the drawings development.   

The drawing of animals and figures alike depend on a clear and purposeful idea to establish the integrity of that drawing as a instrument of communication – this could be a mood, emotion, narrative prompt, character/creature archetype, etc. Among other things, a gesture can allow for a more classical, studied interpretation of the natural design of the form. The latter will be the focus of our current study.

Figures and Animals can be compared within gesture by considering similarities in the following areas:

Story - (Idea!) The animal/figure should always become a vehicle for a establishing mood, emotion, expression, action, etc. I usually consider story to be concerned primarily with the narrative impact the drawing/design should take. 

Weight/Balance – Figures and animals alike need to feel as if they are drawn according to the influence of gravity. This is additionally an important theme in the construction/design of the 8 parts of each. A main difference is that figures are more of a vertical balancing act while many quadrupeds  show a variation on a bridge design.

Movement – An obvious and inherent quality to animals and figures. This becomes more important to analyze when studying the variety of animal types, qualities and types of movements, etc.

Proportion – the relative organization of the 8 parts

We might consider the act of making a gesture drawing the interpretation of these 4 categories as expressed through a rhythmic organization of the 8 major masses. Below is an image showing some basic differences (among the 8 parts) between the horse, big cat, and human. The goal in this initial survey is to understand the form entirely as the result of function.

Introduction to the Spine and differences between figure and animals

As the gesture is dependent on the positioning and or attitude between the 8 parts, this section will focus on the most important of the eight: the spine. Notice the varying lengths, height, and positioning between the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. 

The spine is the most important part to consider and where one should begin a study of comparative anatomy or gesture. What the spine allows us to understand is the inherent design of each anatomical form/machine. Each spine is built from the 3 groups – cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. However, each animal can have variation in these groups: through an increased number of vertebrae, angle, and or stability of the spine (bracing ligaments), etc. What is important to keep in mind is that the spine determines the kind of design we ultimately experience. An important principle, as it will allow us a technical constant in objectively analyzing a number of different types.

Gesture drawings begins with a studied interpretation of the spine, those qualities are then synthesized into asymmetrical rhythms. In the figure, the gesture begins with a very simple oval/sphere for the head and then moves from a line representing the cervical, through the thoracic, and finally into the lumbar. From this point the legs are integrated favoring the weight bearing side (if one exists) and lastly working into the arms. With this as a basic constant, an animal can be observed in the exact same sequence. Just remember to tailor the approach for variations to reflect unique differences such as direction of the spine, length of different parts of the spine, particular types of movements, etc.

Below is an example of the same sequence of lines used in a gesture drawing of a cat, horse, and human. See if you can match the lines used from one subject to the next to see the unity in the approach, but variation in describing types.

Notice when comparing the figure and horse the similarities resulting at this stage in the gesture. While the horse has the same 3 basic rhythms (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) notice that the gesture has taken in to account the variations of those types by extending the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar as well as making this a horizontal passage. After establishing the torso, the rear legs are developed, beginning with the weight bearing side (if applicable), and then the forelegs.

Hopefully this helps in seeing continuity between these two subjects through a consistent approach to gesture. If you're interested in looking further into it, I might recommend checking out work by Joe Weatherly or Jonathan Kuo.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bernini study

Since seeing it in Rome I've been fascinated by Bernini's The Rape of Proserpina. Here are a few lecture images playing around with attempting to break down the space, movement, and composition from a few angles.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why should we care about construction? Part 5 - Conclusion

Hey All, this is the last entry for my brief investigation into the historical practices of construction. I think this is the last kind of historical survey I'll do for a while. Hopefully you found something of interest or thought provoking in it. Comments and thoughts are appreciated as always.

To provide one final example, I will consider a few of Michelangelo's sketches. Specifically, I'll be looking for examples of this transformative form language (discussed in prior posts) acting as a conduit between ideas of architecture and anatomy. 
Michelangelo’s relationship to anatomy stood in contrast to Da Vinci’s, being much more focused on the external anatomy or surface anatomy. While Michelangelo was involved and participated in anatomical dissections (some sources indicate three separate locations that Michelangelo practiced human dissections), his interest was more the design and variation of the surface anatomy, as well as its potential for movement.[1] In other words, Michelangelo may not have studied the internal muscles, organs, and deep tissue that Da Vinci was clearly preoccupied with. Michelangelo, while not making his thoughts widely available/clear on the subject, did write in a letter circa 1560 that "there is no question but that architectural members reflect the members of Man and that those who do not know the human body cannot be good architects."[2] This quote gives us another consistent view on the subject of the study of man and its benefit to the architect. Further, consistent themes from above are present, primarily the idea that architecture and anatomy are the result of the same learned process or form language. The achievement of this skill and/or artistic vision is what leads one to a superior sense of composition or design in architecture. This design is one which balances ideal forms or proportions while attempting to align the audience with a highly rational frame of mind. We might also be understand Michelangelo’s criticism of Antonio da Sangallo as one who may not have understood these design principles of the antique manner. As Sangallo was primarily an architect, and without the anatomical knowledge that Michelangelo possessed, may have lacked this greater sensitivity to design and too literally or didactically applied Vitruvian principles for Michelangelo’s tastes.

Fig. 1 Michelangelo, Design for Laurentian library door, c. 1526, pen and brown ink over stylus, 28.4x20.9cm, The British Museum.

Fig. 2 Michelangelo, Male Nude

Fig. 3 - Detail Comparison

To provide as example, I have paired Michelangelo’s Sketch of Doorway into Library (fig. 1), a study for the doorway/entrance into the Laurentian library (at San Lorenzo) next to that of an anatomical study of the front view of a male figure. The front view of the figure (fig. 2), specifically the torso, shows a striking similarity in shape, proportion, and design to that of Michelangelo’s doorway. The doorway almost mimics the proportion and design of the anatomy of the torso part for part (fig. 3). The curving arch above the doorway may be thought to mimic that of the trapezius, the proportion beneath and straight bar under, the design of the clavicle and pectoralis. On either side of the doorway stand columns that in size and proportion closely resemble the surface anatomy of the midsection, primarily that of the external obliques and serratus anterior. Lastly, the central opening in the doorway itself clearly reflects the proportion and overall shape design of abdominal wall (fig. 3). Like da Vinci’s rib cage transforming into a dome, Michelangelo has here used the abstracted proportion and design of the surface anatomy to inform his design of a doorway.

Fig. 4 - Michelangelo, bases of pillars for the New Sacristy, red chalk,1519-20.

My final example is a drawing of the bases of pillars for the New Sacristy (fig. 4). In this sketch, Michelangelo shows three columns at the base in profile. The last of the three deserves special interest as it appears to have an eye, nose, and mouth shown in profile. It appears as if Michelangelo has used a scream or dramatic expression in order to resolve his silhouette. In this final example, there is no extended transformation as both architectural motif and figure exist as one thing and seem to embody or be the other directly.  Once again, this speaks to his ability to have synthesized principles central to philosophies of antiquity with a geometric order through which those principles are made manifest. As the human figure continues to read as central to the architect's practice, it follows that this was the subject on which these principles are exercised and/or developed.
In conclusion, the study of anatomy stands as central concern to the practice of the Renaissance architecture. This is not exclusively the study of functional or even surface anatomy, but rather that of the design and proportion from which most everything else will be assessed and measured. It is my belief that the Renaissance artist/architect studied the figure primarily for this abstract exercise which when understood and distilled into a universal language of form, would then be applied as a compositional logic to that of architecture. I have shown anthropomorphic examples of large (domes/floor plans) to the smallest occurrences (doorways/colums), to highlight the point that what mattered most was the ability to see and think this abstraction and to not project a standardized plan or method. 

[1] Laurenza, 17.
[2] Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism: A study in the History of Taste (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914), 155.