Archive for the ‘Drawing and painting’ Category

PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS Gallery Addition

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I’ve just completed Panel 2 of Darling Godsonny Stalin – which will eventually be a very large 5-panel piece, 14 feet wide.  Images, including close-up details of parts of the panel, are below.  For close-up details of Panel 1, please scroll down to previous post or click here.

Check back soon for more information on the content and meaning of Panel 2 (The Bolshevik Clans).  Meantime, you can read about Panel 1 (Ivan the Terrible’s Noble Clans) here and about other polyptychs in my PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS series here.

DETAIL Panel 2 DARLING GODSONNY STALIN

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DETAIL Panel 2 Darling Godsonny Stalin – Far Left Side

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DETAIL of Bolshevik Clans, DARLING GODSONNY STALIN Panel 2.

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DETAIL – Panel 2 Darling Godsonny Stalin – Peasants

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DETAIL Shaped wood top of DARLING GODSONNY STALIN, Panel 2.  Map portrays Russia’s Civil War in the years following the 1917 Revolution, including White Armies and invasion routes.

 

Please continue with the following post to see the complete PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS gallery.

Action Figure Drawing Tutorial #2: Measure, Grid, and Negative Space a Kick Boxer

Monday, February 6th, 2012

In this series of drawing tutorials, we turn to drawing the human figure in moments of intense action (my previous series sketched the hand in many different positions).  

I began these action sketches as my own “notes” for a satirical PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS canvas I’m painting, picturing medieval Russian noblemen and women viciously competing with each other for influence with the Tsar.  When I create my actual painting, I’ll dress the people I’ve sketched in rich, historic Muscovite costumes.

Meanwhile, I’m also using my preparatory sketches here as tutorials to demonstrate my easy method of drawing.  Today I’ll show you how to measure, create a custom grid, and visualize negative space via “right brain mode” to see your subject as a series of easy-to-draw, flat shapes. 

Detail (upper half) of this tutorial's kick boxer sketch

Intro

Photo of kick boxers used as model for sketch

For more info about the basic why and how of this series, please see my introductory post.

Today’s demo is my sketch of a photo of kick boxers.

This pose appealed to me partly because of the super-active twist to the body and kicking leg.   I’m also looking for “models” of faces being savagely pushed.  I’m not a violent person!  But I am very interested in painting visual manifestations of people’s most powerful and basic emotions.  Because we often keep such emotions hidden, I use satire in my PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS artwork to convey them in physical form.

Setting up to sketch the tutorial

Please see the relevant sections of this post for set up and materials.

Composited and trimmed photo used as model for this tutorial

I often begin by “cutting out” the action figures I want to sketch, so I can see them clearly and vividly as I work.

I always want full-body photos because I don’t yet know how much of each person will show in my final painting.  But often the most exciting sports photos focus in on the core details of the action, cropping out part of the bodies.  Then I just have to work with what’s available.

In this case, I had found two images of the same photo, cropped differently. So I combined the two in my computer, to see as much of each body as possible (above).  I’ll ignore the boxing-ring ropes as I sketch.

Beginning your sketch with a negative space and a few measurements

I often begin by drawing a negative space at the upper left of my sketch (for the basics, scroll down to “negative space” here and here).

Negative spaces in KickBoxer sketch

Detail of my sketch in progress, with hatching over two negative spaces I used to draw accurately.

But in this particular pose, the smallest easy-to-draw negative space is in the upper right corner.  So I began there.  You can see this space in the detail of my sketch (right).  You can also see another very useful negative space I used later, between the arm and leg of the kicking boxer.

How can you set down that very first space accurately?  One way is to begin by measuring its edges – often artists use their finger on their pencil to create a “unit” of measurement.  You can also eyeball the edges of your paper to divide it into thirds, say, or quarters, then check you’ve done that accurately by using your finger on your pencil as a measure.

When you watch the video below, notice in the first frame that I began by dividing the right margin of the page into thirds – then the top  third into fifths.  This may sound technical as you read it, but it will become natural as you practice it because this technique helps so much to shape your first few lines accurately.

Throughout the video below, I marked arrows on my paper so you can see the size comparisons I made to judge accuracy.  I usually make these size measurements only in my mind’s eye.  In the video, I’ve drawn arrows (and later erased them) to make them evident to you.  You may want to go through the video several times, at least once just focusing on these measuring devices.

Creating a custom grid to help your drawing

Perhaps the most useful tool I use is to note the horizontal and/or vertical relationship of any line I’m about to draw to other elements I’ve already completed.  Example: the edge of the kicker’s forehead is directly over the outline of his chest.  I represented this in the sketch detail above by a vertical dotted line.

Still of sketch in progress shows dotted lines, hatching, and arrows used to aid drawing.

Again, I often envision these spacial relationships only in my mind’s eye.  In the video at the end of this post, I marked the relationships I used with dotted lines (later erased) to make them obvious to you.  For example, the left corner of the kicker’s shorts ends almost directly under the upper end of his glove.

As you watch the video, you’ll see how doing this creates a “custom grid” that helps me sketch accurately.  Grids are an an almost magically helpful artists’ tool (for more on grids, see this post).

You may want to go through the video at least once just watching when and how I used these dotted lines to show me exactly where to place my next pencil mark.  Play a game with yourself to see whether you can figure out why I envisioned each dotted line at the particular moment I did:  Which body part of the kickboxers (or their clothing) did it help me complete?

Kicked Boxer face

Faces are drawn the same way as everything else: by seeing all the features via "right brain mode" as flat shapes that are easily drawn using measuring and grids. Can you spot the subtle differences between the top version of this face and the bottom one? Which do you find more expressive?

Using negative spaces

In the sketch detail above, you can see that, rather than e. g. drawing the boxer’s kicking leg, I drew the “negative” space between the top of this leg and the bottom of his arm.  It’s often far easier to draw a shape between parts of the body than it is to draw the muscles, knees, or elbows themselves.  The reason for this is explained here (and in more detail here).

Usually when I’m drawing, I envision a lot of these negative spaces in my mind’s eye.  In the video below, I marked some of the negative spaces with line- or cross-hatching, so you can see them.

But in fact, I constantly view all parts of my sketch as negative spaces to help me draw them more easily.  For example, the bit of the boxer’s waist that’s visible can be more easily drawn if you see it as a simple dark triangle: the negative space between his arm and his waistband.

Seeing an entire drawing as a series of negative spaces is what led to my concept of a jigsaw puzzle as a tool to help you draw.  Seeing your subject as a series of small, easily drawn flat shapes – each of which fits into those around it, like a jigsaw puzzle – is  paradoxically the best way to create vividly three-dimensional-looking drawings.

Video drawing demo

You may want to watch the following demo a few times, looking for different elements each time:

Arrows indicate equal measurements

Dotted lines indicate elements directly horizontal or vertical to each other.

Line- or cross-hatching indicates some of the negative spaces I used.

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Action Figure Drawing Tutorial: Stomping a Man Who’s Down

Monday, January 9th, 2012

In this next series of drawing tutorials, we’ll turn to drawing the human figure in moments of intense action (the previous series sketched the hand in many different positions).  The goal of this “action figure” series is to create quick sketches that you may later incorporate into more finished pieces.  

Detail of the two faces of soccer players in this action figure sketch

In these tutorials, I’ll teach you to use “right brain mode” to see your subject matter as a series of easy-to-draw, flat “jigsaw puzzle pieces.”  Paradoxically, sketching these small, “flat” areas produces a vividly three-dimensional-looking drawing.

 At the end of this post is a short video of how I drew the sketch below, using my “right brain” to visualize the drawing as a series of small, simple jigsaw puzzle shapes and creating a “custom grid” to help me draw them accurately.

Sketch of soccer players

Finding models for drawing human beings taking extreme action

Like many artists, I often want to draw people striving to achieve something they want very badly.  These are dramatic moments of life in which people’s deepest longings surface in their body language.

Unless you have a skilled model continually available, who can replicate what’s in your imagination and hold poses of extreme physical effort, you’ll rarely be able to draw these moments from life.  Yet as an artist, I always want to sketch from some kind of model, not from memory.

Drawing from memory means drawing a preconceived image of what a given action should look like.  For me, the thrill of doing art is falling in love with some new and very particular live body movement each time I draw.  Since I don’t have an always-available model who can embody the highly-specific scenes in my imagination, that means finding photographs that can serve as my models.

I often want to sketch some vivid action I can’t even find a photo of.  For example, I’m working on a new painting about Ivan the Terrible in which various members of the 16th century Russian nobility attack each other.  Since my style in these triptychs is satirical, the assaults are stylized, not strictly realistic.  In my current painting, noblemen and women will stomp on each other, kick, pull hair.

Photo used as model for this action figure tutorial sketch, "Stomping a Man Who's Down"

Often the best place to find images that at least approximate motions like this are sports photos.  Professional athletes give their all.  They’re not stiff or self-conscious, they’re completely in the moment.  Their bodies are often clearly visible, not hidden by a lot of clothing.  And because of the money and resources devoted to sports, you can always find high-quality, high-resolution images to serve as your models.

Action sketch tutorials

I chose the photo above for my own sketch because, at the moment it was taken, one player appeared to be stomping the other, who had half fallen to the ground.  For your own tutorial practice, either try your hand at this photo  or find another one that appeals to you.  My right-brain-mode “jigsaw puzzle” method applies to anything you choose to draw.

Detail "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth"

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

For my own painting – and in these tutorials – I’ll be making a whole bunch of these action sketches. Later I’ll integrate them into my large Ivan the Terrible painting, which will portray a lot of noblemen. When I finally paint these guys on canvas, I’ll dress them up in Russian noblemen’s duds. For now, I just want to quickly sketch their movement and their facial expressions.

Above is an example of the finished product in my work technique.  Each of the fleeing Russians, Mongol warriors, and horses in this detail of a larger painting were based on photos I found to use as models.

Materials you’ll need and how to set up your work space

Please refer back to the relevant sections at the beginning of this drawing tutorial for information on how to set up your work space and the materials to use.  For my preparatory sketches, I use simple printer paper and an everyday Papermate Sharpwriter #2 pencil.  These aren’t art materials, just ordinary items that are always at hand.  I want to keep everything simple – my goal is to capture the action scenes as quickly as possible and then move on to combining them into a larger artwork.

Photo trimmed of background to make clearer for sketching

Be sure to have your paper upright, not lying down or at an odd angle, which will distort your drawing.

Have your “model” photo as close as possible to you and your sketch, because “right brain mode” insights about shape and size last only a split second in the brain.  If you have to turn your body or move your eyes over a distance, you’ll lose that insight by the time you get your pencil back onto your paper.  (See this explanation for how the brain works in “right mode.”)

I always stand up when I’m drawing because it enables me to move back and forth to see the drawing from various distances.  These different perspectives help me see the drawing afresh each time I look at it so I can evaluate and improve it as I go along.

“Where do I start?  What do I draw first?”

People often ask me where to begin drawing on the blank page.

When I first took life drawing lessons many years ago, I was taught to begin with a very basic line describing the overall form of the model.  This was partly to be sure that the entire figure would fit into and fill the paper.  The second reason was that it was supposedly easier to add the details of the drawing once the basic overall shape was laid out, like a sculptor carving an approximate shape, then progressively more and more precise ones.

However, in the type of quick action sketches we’re practicing here, I’ve discovered over the years that for even the very first pencil (or charcoal) mark, it’s always easier to draw a small, simple shape than to draw a big one.  I often begin with whatever shape is in the uppermost lefthand corner, usually a negative space.  In this sketch of soccer players, I first drew the negative shape formed by the upper edge of the stomping player’s arm and back of his head.

Left: First negative space as I envisioned it in my mind's eye, indicated in red on the photo (along with measurement to determine its size). Right: My paper with the first shape as I drew it (pencil). Measurement added on side in red showing how I determined size.

Well, you might say, of course it’s easier to draw that small shape rather than the big one of the entire body.  But how can you be sure to draw it the correct size to fit both people on the page?  If you don’t pay attention to the overall size of the two men, how can you be certain you won’t make that first corner so large that when you get to the bottom half of the drawing the legs won’t fit in?

The way you can still be sure to fit your sketch on your paper is to take a single quick measurement (I use my finger against my pencil to measure) to observe that the stomper’s hand sticks out to a level a bit less than one-third of the total height of the sketch.  Every shape you draw in this sketch will relate to and be measured by this first one.  So as long as you draw this corner of your first shape slightly less than one-third down the side of the paper, you’ll end up with the rest of the drawing correctly sized.

Drawing in “right mode”

In future tutorials, we’ll delve more into the concept of seeing your model as a series of flat “jigsaw puzzle pieces.”  For now, please look back at the video and text in this tutorial to grasp the basic idea.

Faces of the two soccer players

By the way, to quickly sketch in the faces of the soccer players, I use exactly the same technique.  I see each face as a series of shapes whose form and size I need to replicate.  It’s important to avoid thinking of what you’re drawing as eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, forehead.  That will engage your left brain and make drawing much more difficult.  You can read more on why this is here.

Creating a custom grid as you draw

In an earlier post, I described how I create a “custom grid” as I draw, which enables me to correctly gauge the placement and size of each “jigsaw puzzle” piece of my drawing in relation to other pieces I’ve already drawn.

You can see this “grid” illustrated in the video below, where I’ve drawn in lines showing how I envision this “custom grid” as I work.

(My apologies for the jerky quality of this video.  Future ones will improve!)

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Playground of the Autocrats in Terrain.org

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Playground of the Autocrats: The Russian Empire and How Terrain Shapes Society

A wonderful article about my Playground of the Autocrats Russian history triptychs was published in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Terrain.org, A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments.  It boasts lots of images and even audio recordings of the original lyrics I wrote to the tune of Kalinka, probably the most popular folksong in Russia.

There are separate hypertext selections about each of my triptychs:

Most Exposed Terrain on Earth: Portraying Human Vulnerability on the Endless Steppes

Home Security At Any Crazy Price: What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year For Centuries?

Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes: Stalin Builds on the Flatlands Past

… and other sections about the vast Russian flatland (steppes), which made the Muscovite state vulnerable to Mongol invasions and the massive trade in Slavic slaves, giving rise to a garrison state:

Landscape Form and Military Defense

The Immense Russian Flatland

Mongol Occupation and the Slav Slave Trade: the “Harvesting of the Steppe”

Terrain.org.While you’re there, please check out all the other great articles in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Terrain.org, whose editor-in-chief is Simmons Buntin.  Terrain is, in the words of its wonderful About page,

a twice yearly online journal searching for that interface—the integration—among the built and natural environments that might be called the soul of place.

It is … a celebration of the symbiosis between the built and natural environments where it exists, and an examination and discourse where it does not.

The literary, journalistic, and artistic works contained with Terrain.org are of the highest quality, submitted by a variety of contributors for a diverse audience, including some of the finest material previously appearing in Terra Nova: Nature & Culture. The works may be idealistic, technical, historical, philosophical, and more. Above all, they focus on the environments around us—the built and natural environments—that both affect and are affected by the human species.

Terrain.org strives to be both a resource and a pleasure, a compass and a shelter…

 

 

What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year for Centuries?

Friday, July 15th, 2011

“Home Security At Any Crazy Price” 

Long before 9/11, I had written early drafts of lyrics for what would become one of my mixed media artworks about Russia, Home Security at Any Crazy Price.

At the time I thought my theme was very specific to Russian history, a bit too esoteric for most Americans.  It was about Tsars building their dictatorship by taking advantage of popular fears from centuries of brutal enemy onslaughts.  I planned to paint Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great singing to each other:

Darling Ivan, our Founder (Darling Peter, my Scion),
How fortunate it has been
That the Russian populace is deeply traumatized
‘Cause barbarian onslaughts lay waste their paradise.
Now folks want home security at any crazy price.         (Continued below image)

“Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal . 36″ x 40″ .  Acrylic and digital images on canvas and board . 2009

Then came 9/11.  Many Americans’ response – their sudden willingness to give up personal freedoms if the government could only keep them safe – revealed that a similar dynamic to Russia’s can play out wherever people come under attack and feel profoundly threatened.

All at once, my planned artwork seemed absolutely current and relevant to the US today.                                                                                                                    Continued below image

Detail of center panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Americans have relaxed a bit since 2001, having experienced no further attacks on the scale of 9/11.  We’re no longer as ready to trade our civil liberties for a strong government to protect us from seemingly imminent terror.

But what if…

Detail of right panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Haja

But what if the US had had repeated assaults every year since 2001, in which thousands of Americans were killed?  And if yearly onslaughts continued indefinitely?

What if we lived in a land so vulnerable that we had a 9/11 every year for over five centuries?

Then what kind of government would we be willing to tolerate?  One that abridged our personal freedoms constantly in order to keep us ever-mobilized and battle-ready?  Would we accept our entire society being organized like a military hierarchy, with a single tsar at the top commanding us into position to survive our unending state of emergency?

What can our 9/11 experience help us fathom about Russia?

Few Americans are aware that Russia was born and forged in terror from outside its borders: constant devastation by enemies and the kidnapping into slavery of hundreds of thousands of Russians, from the 13th century till the 18th.

Detail: Right upper panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

First, ferocious, brilliantly-skilled Mongol raiders pillaged, sacked, brutalized, and occupied Russia for a couple of hundred years.  For centuries after that, the Mongols’ descendants, the Tatars, swept across Russia virtually every summer, abducting 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 or more people each year to sell in the Black Sea slave market, a straight shot across the steppes to the south.

In fact, our word “slave” derives from “Slav.”  No population in the world other than Africans have been enslaved more than Slavs.  (For more on the reasons, see “The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth.”)

In short, Muscovites were traumatized by terror, as were New Yorkers on 9/11.  But  Russians were terrorized again and again for hundreds of years.

Well, haven’t all countries been attacked throughout history?

Every country in history has been repeatedly attacked.  Their people too have had to drop normal life to run inside inside the walls of their local castle for protection.

What was different about Russia was the frequency of assaults.  Slave raids occurred not once in 10 or 25 years – but every year.  Because these raids occurred every year, they earned the moniker “the harvesting of the steppe.”  Every member of the Russian gentry was responsible for military duty at the frontier for one half of every single summer to protect the vast southern border against raids.

Detail of center panel from “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

The frequency of attacks on Russia was partly due to its lack of natural protective barriers along a longer open border with powerful enemies than anywhere else on earth.

The only geographic area comparable with Russia’s southern frontier might be the American Great Plains frontier (north/south orientation) in early US history.  But next to the US frontier lay the remnants of native tribes nearly wiped out by disease spread from Europe to the New World.  Next to the Russian frontier, in contrast, were large, flourishing, major powers of the day: the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire.

It would be as if the early United States had had the equivalent of both El Qaeda and Akhmedinezhad’s government living along its frontier.

Tsarist autocracy was military rule

The tsarist state was military hierarchy writ large (above).  The entire society could never relax from war preparations and fighting.  Centers of power independent of the tsar couldn’t develop because the military chain of command always had to be in effect society-wide.

Home Security At Any Crazy Price visualizes the impact on civil liberties of the unending threat of attack.                                                                                       Continued below image

Detail of lower left panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Why didn’t civil liberties blossom after the slave raid threat ended in the late 18th century?

Institutions which have been forged over a period of five centuries don’t change overnight.  New autocrats make use of earlier institutions – controlled press, secret police, patronage – to maintain and strengthen their power.

Detail of right panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Since the fall of Communism, Russia is again becoming more centralized.  Putin has asserted control over the media.  No non-Kremlin newspaper can garner significant circulation.  Journalists who report stories the government doesn’t like are murdered.  Real opposition political parties aren’t allowed to run candidates.

Will Russia ever become a fully pluralistic society?  I don’t know, but I’m interested in watching to see.                                                                                                       Continued below image

Detail of lower right panel, “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal.

What can Russia and our own experience of 9/11 teach us about ourselves?

The US experience of terrorism on 9/11 can help us better grasp why Russia developed an autocratic state.  A nation of people who experienced almost yearly trauma for centuries adapted to their society’s being permanently organized like a military chain of command with no insubordination from the ranks.

We can also learn from Russia’s experience the terrible consequences of sacrificing civil liberties for security over the long term.  Russian history can serve as a cautionary tale for what could happen to us if we’re too ready to trade personal freedoms for powerful government. ■

Below image are links to more posts about PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS triptychs.

Detail: Top center panel of “Home Security At Any Crazy Price,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

An introduction to the PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS series is here.  Other posts about these triptychs are:

Portraying the Vast Flatland of the Playground

The Most Exposed Terrain On Earth

Designing the Character of Peter the Great

Catherine the Great: A Satirical Visualization of Russian History and Society

What is Catherine the Great Singing in Her Triptych?

How I Painted and Composited Catherine the Great (and Stalin)

“The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth:” A Satirical Visualization of Russian History

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

How does an artist portray a grand sweep of centuries?

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Russian history is full of high drama.  Mongol raiders thundering across the endless steppes toward small Muscovite towns.  Human terror and suffering.  Tsarist defenses and brilliance, ambition and intrigue.  Russian culture’s astonishing splendor and beauty.

It all makes a perfect subject for art.

But how can a painter visualize a grand sweep of centuries?  What recipe can be cooked up to entertainingly portray a millenium of Russian history?

That’s the challenge I set for myself in my series of triptychs collectively entitled PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS.  The first in the series is The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth.

A detail of my “recipe” to convey this triptych’s story is to the right.  I use satire, color, action – and song lyrics (see images below).

But my most important ingredient for each triptych is visualization of a historical process.  The centerpiece of my visualization of The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth is a tsar-type figure (above) lifting his skirts to gather in lots of Russians underneath.

Hmm, the viewer might ask.  Who is this guy labeled “AUTOCRACY,” and why is he grinning with malevolent glee?  And what’s going on with all those frantic people running to hide inside his robe?

Just what historical process am I visualizing here?

"The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth" . 24" x 48" . Acrylic and digital images on canvas

The true story behind my triptych

Detail of Mongols in middle panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Muscovy – later Russia – arose and was forged in an inferno during the 200 years when ferocious, brilliantly-skilled Mongol warriors pillaged, sacked, brutalized, and dominated it – and the centuries following, when the Mongol’s descendants – the Nogay Horde, the Crimean Khanate and others – continually raided and plundered it.

The Mongols’ war organization, tactics, and composite bows were the great military advances of their day.  “The level of organization of the Mongol army was not seen elsewhere in the Middle Ages and stands in marked contrast to that of the feuding Russian Princes.”

If Russia was to survive, its fractious princes needed to whip themselves into a unified fighting force under a single central command, and fast.

Painting the Mongol peril to Russia

To portray Mongol attacks, I painted a battle scene filled with fierce Mongols terrifying Russian peasants and nobles.                                                   Continued below image.

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

 

Detail of center panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

 

For the models I needed to paint from, I collected photos of present-day archers shooting Mongol-style bows from horseback, and drawings of Mongol battle-wear.

I painted Russians of all classes running for their lives, and used color to differentiate between them and the invaders: indigos, purple, blue for the Mongols, and warm oranges, reds, yellows for the Russians.  This make the two combatant sides immediately “readable” by the viewer.

I wanted to convey the tragedy and terror experienced by individual victims, so I conceived a Russian peasant woman (right) and a noblewoman (above) each holding a wounded child.  I balanced color and composition in such a way that the peasant woman stands out from the crowds of people running and shooting.

But what does that red-robed guy labeled “AUTOCRACY” represent?

The necessity for Russians of all classes to unify beneath a single commander presented the tsars with an opportunity to amass vast power and wealth for themselves. Russians of every level of society, desperate for protection against enemies, ceded independent power bases to their defender, the state.

The state leveraged this situation to its own fullest benefit.

Detail of central panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

So my triptych’s AUTOCRACY character is a satirical visualization of how the tsars as a group took advantage of five centuries of nonstop attacks on the Russian people to secure their absolute rule: autocracy.

But wait a minute…

Europeans, too, sought protection against enemies from their monarchs.  Yet tsarist dictatorships didn’t develop there.  What was different in Russia?

A land wide open to Mongol pillage and Tatar slave raids

Even after the Russians threw off the long Mongol occupation, they were far from safe.  The economy of the neighboring Crimean Khanate and other nearby Hordes was based on the slave trade: abducting and selling Slavs.  So virtually every summer, Tatar raiders rode north across the steppe into Russia, kidnapping thousands of people to sell into slavery in the Black Sea slave market.

These raids occurred not every 10 or 20 years, but essentially every year. Over several centuries, hundreds of thousands of Russians were seized as slaves.

Geographic relationship of Russia to Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire

Our very word “slave” derives from “Slav.”  No population in the world other than Africans have been enslaved more than Slavs.

Why was Russia so vulnerable to these raids?

A glance at a map (right) shows why Russia was so vulnerable to yearly attack.  There was nothing but wide open steppe between Russia and the Crimean Khanate with its slave market (and Ottoman slave-purchasers directly across the Black Sea).  Highly mobile, skilled raiders could pour across the steppes each summer, capture thousands of Russians, and head back to the huge international slave market, Caffa, a straight shot across the unobstructed plain.

Russia is by far the largest wide-open plain on earth.  Glance at the world maps toward the end of this post if you have any doubts.  No mountain barrier protected the Russians.  For their state to survive, they had to build their own human barrier.

Details of left panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

In short, Russians lived in the most exposed terrain on earth.  They could never stand down from battle-readiness.  Their society had to be permanently organized like – indeed it was – a military chain of command.

Portraying the most exposed terrain on earth

One way I’ve visually conveyed the relationship between landscape and autocracy is through painting the Mongol battle raging on a flat plain. And I painted AUTOCRACY towering in the midst of this wide-open battlefield, skirts held open to receive the terrorized Russian people.

Another way I conveyed the flatness of Russia’s endless steppes is through song lyrics “sung” by characters I designed for Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible.  I wrote these lyrics to the tune of the ubiquitous folksong, Kalinka.  Images of the lyrics are above and below.  (For more about the characters who sing the lyrics and how I designed them, please see here, here, and here.)

Detail of lower left panel of "The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

A last way I conveyed the endless, wide-open flatness of Russia – the largest on earth – was through a border around the center panel of the triptych.  I created this border from digital images of paintings by the great 19th century Russian painters called the Peredvizhniki.  You can find much more detail on my process of building this border here.

*        *       *

Other posts about PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS triptychs

Posts about other tryipychs in the series are here:

Catherine the Great: A Satirical Visualization of Russian History and Society

What is Catherine the Great Singing in Her Triptych?

How I Painted and Composited Catherine the Great (and Stalin)

What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year for Centuries?  “Home Security At Any Crazy Price”

The Most Exposed Terrain On Earth

Portraying the Vast Flatland of the Playground

Designing the Character of Peter the Great

Playground of the Autocrats

What is Catherine the Great Singing in Her Triptych?

Friday, July 8th, 2011

An introduction to “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes” is here; the artistic process behind it is here.

“Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. Triptych is 7 feet by 6 feet.

PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS is a series of artworks that – like comic books and graphic novels – tell stories through pictures.  PLAYGROUND’s tales are about modern Russia, “narrated” in song by the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great.

My whimsical imperial characters sound off through original lyrics I wrote to the tune of the famous Russian folksong, Kalinka. The lyrics are about the “gifts” Stalin received from Tsarist history, the foundation on which he built his country’s most powerful dictatorship ever.

If viewers wish, they can navigate their way through PLAYGROUND’s arias in sequence by following the numbers I’ve painted on each panel.

My most recent PLAYGROUND triptych, Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes (above), is “sung” by Catherine the Great, one of Stalin’s three “fairy godparents.” In Panel 1 below, Catherine gives her blessing from Russia’s past to the delighted, mustached baby Stalin.

Detail: center bottom panel (1) of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

My inspiration for this scene was my childhood memory of a Sleeping Beauty picture book.  The story began with an illustration of Sleeping Beauty as a baby princess, her three fairy godmothers flying in a circle above her cradle.  Each fairy godmother bestowed a personal blessing for some life bounty for the little princess.

This fairy-godmother memory came to me as I was originally pondering how to visualize Russia’s past as godparent to its present. So I imagined that in each PLAYGROUND triptych, my whimsical Russian “godparents” – Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great – would bequeath historical blessings on the infant Stalin.

I’ll let my character Catherine speak for herself through her lyrics in the following images, beginning with Panel 2 in which she sings:

You’ll want to bring back serfdom quick so you can reign non-stop!
But you can’t call it serfdom, Joe, ’cause that would be a flop!
So dress it up in resplendent clothes to hide the hideous facts.
I know about espousing good that veils your nasty acts!

Detail: top center panel (2) of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Catherine advises Stalin (Panels 3 and 4) that new European ideas championing the lower classes can be used to muddy popular consciousness of what the ruler is really doing (a closeup of the Russian peasants is in this post).

You’ll spout ideas from Europe
About the people’s smarts.
In my day it was Montesquieu,
In yours it will be Marx.

Detail: Left lower panels (3 & 4) of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Catherine counsels Stalin in panels 5-6 about serfdom, the fundamental economic engine of Russian society – or as Stalin renamed and reinstituted it, “collectivization.”

You’ll dub it collectivization.
You’ll never call peasants serfs.
Just bind them to the land by law
And take all their grain to your turf!

Detail: Left top panel (5) of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Collectivization was essentially serfdom by another name – with the addition of tractors, as in Panel 6 below.

Detail of upper right panel (6) of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

The last verses:

You’ll promise people’s sovereignty and say that they’ll get rich.
But then you’ll screw the people!  It’s one big Bait and Switch!

Don’t call it tsardom!  Say their boss is the mighty Workers’ State.
That so-called Worker’s State in fact is JOE, our POTENTATE!

Detail of right panels 7 & 8 of “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” by Anne BobroffHajal

Details of other Playground of the Autocrats triptychs are here and here:

Home Security At Any Crazy Price

The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth

 

How I Painted and Composited Catherine the Great (and Stalin)

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

You can find more about the images and ideas behind “Dress it Up” here.  Closeups of each of its images in sequence are here.

Virtually everyone who sees “Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes,” my new 7-foot  triptych about Catherine the Great, asks me which parts are painted and which are digital.  The answer to this question is as complicated as the finished triptych looks.

Anne Bobroff-Hajal: gallery talk about techniques used to create "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," partially visible in background.

So I’m going to use this post to describe my process, which involves a series of layers:

  1. First I paint the highly-detailed individual panels larger than they’ll be in the final triptych.
  2. Then I photograph what I’d painted and print it (on paper), combined with  digital photos of e. g. the Russian Imperial symbol (the double-headed eagle).
  3. I paint on top of this print, then have it photographed and reprinted, and paint again on the print.  I repeat this process as many times are needed to get the effect I want.
  4. Finally, I composite reduced-size versions of all these components into the final triptych and have it professionally printed on canvas.
  5. On the final triptych, I spend another month or two painting additional images and many adjustments on the canvas to balance the whole composition and get the effects I want.

“Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes” took over a year to complete.

Why did I develop this layered work process?

An experience I had while painting my previous PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS triptych moved me toward this process.

Detail of "Home Security at Any Crazy Price," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

In the detail (left) of that triptych, “Home Security at Any Crazy Price,” notice the row of peasants I painted along the bottom. As my “models” for these serfs, I had collected a lot of old, low resolution black and white photos of Russian peasants.  I was in love with their sheepskin coats and bast sandals – but most of all with their profoundly expressive faces.  I’d been looking forward to painting them.

But as it turned out, I was under time constraints preparing for an exhibit.  And I realized that the tiny size of the peasants (the tallest was under 3 inches high) in this triptych was going to make it impossible to paint them in any detail.

The less-complicated peasants actually work better in “Home Security” than a more detailed version would have.  The triptych was selected by curator Nan Rosenthal for her “Contemporary Confrontations” exhibit at the Katonah Art Museum and singled out in the NY Times review of the show.

Detail of line of peasants from "Home Security at Any Crazy Price," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. The actual size of the tallest peasant painted is under 3 inches.

This made me wonder whether I should let go of my tendency to paint so precisely.  A freer interpretation is sometimes better.

But then I kept thinking of those faces gazing out of the past.

Haunted by faces from the past

So once the exhibit was over, I decided to paint the same row of peasants again, this time larger so I’d be able to convey their expressions and the textures of their clothing more fully.  I spent the next two months painting them (you can see and scroll over the entire row of peasants in the finished painting here.)

Three images demonstrate the difference size made.  First is the detail above from the the row of peasants as they appear in “Home Security.”

Next is a detail of the same peasants as I painted them roughly twice as large.

Detail of "Still With You," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. Actual painted size of tallest peasant is 6 inches.

Reduction of detailed peasants to size of those in "Home Security at Any Crazy Price" (small image with red background, above)

 

If I had then chosen to photograph and digitally reduce the larger painting to “Home Security” size, it would have looked like this (right).   As you can see, this way of working generates a lot more detail in small images.  It began to make me feel the possibilities of painting images larger and then reducing them digitally to fit into the final triptych.

Whether “looser” or more precise is better stylistically, I have to accept that as an artist, I’ll always tend to be attracted to finding ways to express more detail.

The influence of animation techniques on my process

Animation is created from hundreds or thousands of carefully-designed drawings passing in front of your eyes so quickly that they give the illusion of movement.  Whether at 24 frames per second or 12, animation requires huge numbers of drawings.

In the days before computer animation (and probably still today to some extent), animation artists cut down on their nearly-impossible drawing work load by using bits and pieces of previous drawings.  If Minnie Mouse’s hands moved from one moment to the next but the rest of her body didn’t, her body drawing could be reused and only the new hand position drawn.  In the next few frames, if her leg moved but not her hands, the old hand drawings would be merged with the new foot drawings.

In addition, backgrounds were reused through many frames, with characters drawn moving in the foreground.

My involvement with and love for animation as an art form brought this influence to bear on “Dress It Up,” as you’ll see below.

Catherine the Great and Stalin speechifying to the Russian people

The left panel of “Dress It Up” portrays Catherine and then Stalin each sucking up lofty ideas from Europe and spouting them out over the Russian people in billows.  For Catherine, the European ideas were from the French Enlightenment; for Stalin they were Marxism (as the lyrics in the image describe).

The two images below are the final realization of what I saw in my imagination as I began working on visualizing this historical repetition.  (For a close-up of all those peasants, scroll down to the last image of this post.)

How did I realize my vision?

Detail of left panel of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. Actual panel image is 18" wide.

Map I created for left panel of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes." Actual width: 18"

I began by painting a roughly globe-like map  focusing directly on Russia, with Europe visible around the curve of the earth.  Finding a map like this turned out to be impossible: most maps aren’t centered on Russia.  None have a peripheral Europe around the bend in the background.

So as my model, I ended up using my actual world globe placed in the position I wanted.

After painting it, I had it photographed so I’d have a digital image.

How could I portray a country full of peasants?

I pictured Catherine and Stalin speaking to untold numbers of peasants in Russia.  How could I convey the effect of so many peasants?

First I imported my digitalized painted map into my computer.  Then I began to experiment with various ways of using multiple copies of my paintings of peasants to fill the white “RUSSIA” space.  But I just could not get what I wanted.  I kept periodically coming back to this problem for almost an entire year, without success.

Finally, as I was playing with manipulating multiple, layered copies of another painting I had done of peasants (see below), I made one of those lucky mistakes – and suddenly had what I’d been struggling to find for so long.

Detail of "Serfdom," upper left (round) panel of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal. This was my painting which I manipulated digitally to fill "Russia" on the map for the lower left panel.

 

Map with digital images of my painted peasants composited in.

For a close-up look of the peasants in the map, scroll down to the last image of this post.

Why work digitally?  Why not paint everything the old-fashioned way?

Why didn’t I just paint those peasants, you might ask?  Why did I create this look digitally?

There are two reasons.  One is that painting these serfs the first time – finding models for the scythers and other field workers, drawing and arranging them to fit into the composition, working out all those chains (each serf has a chain attached to a specific point at the bottom of the image), and then painting the whole thing – took a couple of months.  Painting them all over again would have been prohibitive time-wise.  If I’d spent time doing that, I couldn’t have created other parts of “Dress It Up.”

The second reason I worked with my painted serfs digitally is that it enabled me to play around limitlessly with layering of copies of my painting, fades, and color changes.  This play is what eventually led me to the multi-layered look in the final triptych.

(Parenthetically, I do almost all the huge amount of planning for my triptychs in the computer.  Integrating all the bits and pieces of my artwork into a coherent whole would probably be impossible without this.)

Next, Catherine and Stalin

Now that I had my map complete, I needed to create Catherine and Stalin as orators speaking words from Europe to the Russian people.

My process here was similar to classic animation procedure: I used a single background twice, with two different characters in the foreground.  Again, the reason was the same as in animation: repainting this very complex background twice would have been prohibitive time-wise.

I had already designed my Catherine the Great character.  Now I needed to create a Catherine who looked the same but airily orating.  And she needed to face the opposite direction, toward Russia on my map and away from Europe.  Both her head and her arms needed to be different.

I created my orating Catherine the same way an animator might.  I began with my painted character.  I had her photographed so I could manipulate her digitally in my computer.  In Photoshop, I flipped her horizontally to make her face toward Russia and away from Europe.  I had this version printed.  Then I painted a new head and new arms on the print.

Upper left: my character design of Catherine the Great (head and wings are digital photos; I painted most of clothing and the serfs). Lower left: close up of character design face, taken from an actual portrait of Catherine the Great. Upper right: my 2nd version of Catherine, orating. Lower right: close up of face I painted, along with new arm.

Stalin as an orating wolf in sheep's clothing, by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

I created my orating Stalin as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  This design went through a number of iterations along the way as I debated how wolf-like Stalin’s body and posture should be, how he should be clothed, and whether his face would be human or wolf.

A larger image of this design can be seen in this post.

Last, the speech bubbles

The last element needed for my “spout ideas from Europe” panel was speech bubbles.  In fact, the entire composition of map and orators was planned at every step to accommodate speech bubbles that would represent Catherine and Stalin sucking in ideas from Europe and spouting them out again over the Russian populace.  (Catherine’s bubble sucked in from France; Stalin’s from Marx’s Germany.)

Below is one of my many, many planning images.  In this one, I composited my pencil sketch of Stalin into my map and began to play with how I would shape and size the speech bubbles.  I did this to check whether all of Stalin’s parts would fit properly into the map without blocking any crucial bits of it.  I also needed to be sure that legibly phrase-filled bubbles could fit from Europe to Stalin’s mouth.

Planning image for Stalin's speech bubbles, by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

 

I approached the other panels of “Dress It Up” in the same way.

Completing the final triptych

Once all the images for “Dress It Up” were completed by this process, I reduced their sizes to fit into the 7-foot width of the triptych.  I composited them and had them printed on canvas.  I then spent roughly six weeks doing additional painting on top of the canvas.  For example, I painted the large portrait of Catherine’s face in the center round top panel, replicating her historic portrait.  I painted Stalin as a baby directly on this canvas – that character doesn’t exist anywhere except on the final triptych.

Catherine the Great: a Satirical Visualization of Russian History and Society

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

My PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS triptych’s bag of tricks….

Anne Bobroff-Hajal gallery talk on "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," June 2011.

I don’t usually focus on my own artwork in this blog.  But for the moment, I’m throwing modesty to the monsoons to celebrate completing my latest satirical triptych about Russian culture and history.

My series of icon-like Russia triptychs is collectively called PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS.  In them, Peter and Catherine the Greats, Ivan the Terrible and Stalin host viewers on romps through the wild and wooly forces that have shaped Russian history over the centuries since the Mongol invasions to the present day.  It’s a saga of Tsarism and Soviet Communism (more or less the same dictatorship by different names): the past as godparent to the present.

Below is the character I invented for Catherine the Great.  She’s the star of my newest, 7-foot wide visual/historical spectacle titled Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes.

My character design for Catherine the Great, who takes viewers on a romp through Russian history in my triptych "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes." Acrylic paint and digital images on paper . 2010

Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes took me well over a year to complete (more on my process of creating it is here).  It’s currently being exhibited at the Blue Door Gallery in the Arts District of Yonkers, NY, just north of NYC.  (If you’re in NY and want to check out the exhibit, you can have a bite to eat nearby afterward – walk over to Peter Kelly’s X20 on the Hudson River pier, or to Zuppa the next block over from the gallery.)

(Continue reading below the image for more about Dress It Up.)

"Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes" . 7' x 6' . Acrylic and digital images on canvas and board . 2011

What do I hope you’ll find in these insanely-elaborate artworks?

My first goal with my triptych’s bag of tricks is to amuse and amaze you.

"Stalin in Sheep's Clothing" . 12" x 15" . Acrylic on paper . 2010 . (Appears in lower left panel of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes")

But if you decide to keep gazing around the pageant I portray, I also want to horrify you, and make you cry, and show you some of the vast historical forces that sweep up hapless human beings in their powerful gales.

So #1, bring you a smile.  After all, Russia has fantastic history, a lush and glorious culture, enchanting and powerful characters.

If you choose to go deeper, I hope to enrich your experience and understanding of the extremes of the human condition.  Tragedy.  Joy.  War.  Deception.  Terror.

You’ll find War and Tragedy in my first triptych, The Most Exposed Terrain on Earth. The second triptych, Home Security at Any Crazy Price, features Terror and Manipulation.

In Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes, Catherine brings Disguise and Deception.

All in the spirit of fun, mind you!

Catherine the Great, Our Heroine

Many Americans have several associations with Catherine the Great.  Tales of her sexual adventures.  Her fabulous art collections.  Her reputation as a beacon of the French enlightenment in “backward Russia.”

Anne Bobroff-Hajal gallery talk about "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," June, 2011.

She’s famous for having corresponded with the leading European thinkers of her time: Voltaire, Montesquieu, D’Alembert, Diderot (you’ll notice above that I’ve painted her holding letters she’s written to them with that feather pen in her other hand).

Less often noted are some very unenlightened policies Catherine enacted.  Every time she dumped a lover, she’d give him a new estate or two along with thousands of serfs to boost his wounded self-esteem.  She extended serfdom in general.  And she instituted the Jewish Pale of Settlement, which confined Russian Jews to living only in specified territories along the western border of her Empire.

How do I paint Russian history?

My triptychs use a technique common to icons, comic books, and animation story boards: they’re made up of a series of pictures that tell a story.  Below is one of the images I painted of Catherine the Great.  It forms the upper half of the left panel of the triptych.

Left panel detail of "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal: Catherine speaks words of the French Enlightenment while the Russian peasants live in serfdom. 18" x 12" . 2011

Below is a detail of Catherine’s captive audience, my depiction of her Russian serfs.

Detail of Russian serfs from "Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes," by Anne Bobroff-Hajal

There are many more scenes that make up the story I tell in Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes, many more chapters to my tale.   Stalin is involved, as the inheritor of the tsarist system and the history of serfdom.  Oh, and the story is told in lyrics which I wrote to the well-known, beloved Russian folk tune KALINKA.  The music and lyrics are all in the tryptich, too.  You can see closeups of each panel here.

One Artist, Two Worlds

How did I get myself into the years of research, planning, writing of lyrics, and painting it takes to create each PLAYGROUND triptych?

I am an artist.  But for about a decade of my life, I was under the impression that I was an academic historian, so I went to grad school to earn a Ph. D. in Russian history.  The thrilling part was living for a year in the USSR, that great hall of crazy mirrors, doing dissertation research.  My dissertation was later published as a scholarly book, Working Women in Russia Under the Hunger Tsars.

But ultimately I became aware that I was seeing history in pictures that were more compelling to me than were academic debates.  I set off on a long and twisted journey to find a path combining my two worlds, art and history.

The result, finally, has been PLAYGROUND OF THE AUTOCRATS.

Closeups of each “Dress It Up” panel in sequence are here; more on my process of creating it is here.

Hand Drawing Tutorial #14: Creating a Custom Grid as You Draw

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Hand Tutorial 14 Final Drawing

 

Artists often use grids to help them draw.  A common example is when an artist is re-drawing a small sketch they’ve completed onto a larger canvas or onto a wall for a mural.

Albrecht Durer's grid. A physical grid made of wood and wires is placed between the artist and the subject he's drawing. He's sketched a corresponding grid on his paper. The vertical instrument in front of his nose is a guide to keep his head in the same position each time he looks through the wire grid, so he always sees the identical view through each grid square.

Grids are so helpful that historically, people have rigged up ways of applying physical grids to the real world when drawing from life.  See the picture to the right for Albrecht Durer’s set-up.  Betty Edwards says dozens of versions of such devices have been recorded in the US Patent Office (New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, p. 100).

Why are grids so helpful in drawing?

As I’ve said in previous tutorials: it’s always easier to draw a small, simple shape than to draw a large complex one.  Artists use grids to chop up complex images into small bits that are easier to draw.

In earlier tutorials, I’ve used the concepts of constructing a jigsaw puzzle and seeing with the “right brain” to help you “chop up” your drawing into little easily-drawn pieces,

I haven’t yet talked much about the fact that, while constructing the “jigsaw puzzle,” in my mind’s eye, I’m applying an imaginary grid to help me draw the pieces in their proper places, sizes, and shapes.  More accurately, I’m imagining bits of a grid only where and when I need them.

What is a “custom grid?”

What do I mean by drawing “a grid where and when I need” it?   I mean that each time I’m about to draw a new line in my sketch, I run my eye over other lines I’ve drawn, to see which might end or begin at the same level as the bit I’m about to draw, and so serve as a compass to guide me.  I look to see whether the hand-part I’m about to draw is, for example, at the same level as the middle of the joint on the finger I’ve just drawn.  Or which previous hand-part is directly above or beneath the bit I’m sketching next.

In my drawing for this tutorial, I’ve actually sketched many of the lines I usually just envision in my mind.  You’ll see that this technique helps me build up an imaginary web of lines and reference points that enable me to pinpoint where each new line of the hand should be drawn.  I don’t put a wire grid between me and my hand, nor do I pencil an entire grid on my paper.  But the effect is close to the same.  I’m imagining the pieces of a grid that I need at any given moment.

The video at the end of this post will demonstrate how I do this.

Tutorial 14 Hand Pose

This is the first tutorial in which we’re drawing our hands from the standpoint of some one facing us, instead of from our own viewpoint.  In my last post, I showed how to take photos to use for these poses if you have to do it entirely on your own.  If you haven’t taken photos that will work for this tutorial – or don’t have some one willing to pose for you – please go back to see how to do this.  Try to replicate roughly the same pose as the one above for your own drawing.

First hand tutorial pose "A Simple Drawing of the Hand"

Since this is the first drawing from “the outside,” I’m using the simplest pose of the group of photos I took in Tutorial 13.  This pose mirrors the simple pose from our own vantage point which began this series of hand tutorials.

Natural subtleties in photos

Interestingly, we’re adding one small complexity in this pose compared to that very first one, in which our hand rested on a table (see right).  All the fingers in the first tutorial relaxed onto the surface of the table, so all were supported in the same plane.

In Pose 14, though, I held my hand in the air as I took a photo.  As a result, my pinky was poised at a different angle than the rest of my fingers.  So I was drawing it from a slightly foreshortened perspective.

This hand pose looks relaxed and natural in a way many of the ones I’ve drawn from life don’t.  This is because it’s not easy to hold a relaxed pose for a long time while you draw (in addition to which I have to keep reaching around the tripod to take photos of my drawing in action).  It’s really tough to hold your hand in the air in a natural position for very long, so it’s easier to draw the hand resting on a table.  But that really limits the number of poses available to you.

What I love about working from photos is you can freeze fleeting poses that in life couldn’t be held naturally for very long (this is why life drawing teaches you to draw incredibly quickly, sometimes in 10-second or 30-second poses).

Work materials and set up

Refer back to the relevant sections of this tutorial for your work materials and set up.  When drawing from photos, use the vertical set up.  Drawing with your paper vertical always gives you a better angle; the only reason we’ve used a table in the past is as a place to rest the hand when drawing from life.

Be sure you’re seeing see both your drawing and your model straight on!  If you’re seeing either from an angle, shift your setup until you’re seeing them properly.

Stand up while you’re drawing!

Whatever your setup is, it’s always best to stand up while you’re drawing so you can move back and forth to see your work from different distances as it progresses.

Standing up also helps you see both your model and your drawing straight on.  When you sit down, you’re almost always seeing your drawing at a slant.  This will distort your work.  You’ll end up being very upset if you’ve produced something that looks gorgeous from your sitting position, but is skewed when you look at it from any other angle (e. g., when you display it on your wall).

Hand Tutorial #14 video

As you watch the video below, notice the guidelines I’m constantly sketching in.  (I usually don’t actually draw most of these guidelines; I simply picture them in my mind.)

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All of the vertical and horizontal lines I make are like a standard grid.  But early on, before I have many lines done that I can use for reference, I often begin by looking for triangular shapes at the top of the hand.  (The beginning of any drawing is always the most difficult part, because you have no anchors created yet.)  So at first my “grid” contains more slanted lines than straight ones.

Late in the drawing, I erase the guidelines.  By this point, I usually have the hand completely sketched in, so I can now see its parts in small enough pieces to continue without needing guidelines.

At one point (by Frame 24), you’ll see that I realized I’d made a mistake in my judgment of grids and shapes.  This happens all the time!  Don’t let it upset you.  Just correct your error and keep moving forward.

My hand in Tutorial 14 pose.

I realized in Frame 24 that I’d made a mistake somewhere because that pinky was going to be very fat!  I didn’t know right away where my error was – on the pinky side of the hand or the forefinger or where.  As always, I believe in continuing to move forward sketching other areas, in order to help orient myself to figure out where my mistake happened.

By Frame 37, I’ve decided I’ve placed my middle finger too high (in negative-space terms, I haven’t made the negative space between pointer and middle finger a wide enough triangle).  I corrected that, making a big erasure in Frame 39, and moved on to finish the drawing.

How did I figure out where I made my error?  In Frame 35, I drew in the bottom line of the pinky.  This line intersected the hand in a place that would have shaped the hand incorrectly.  I was going to have to do major surgery on my drawing!  In Frame 36, I used the shadow along the bottom of my hand to judge the proper placement of all the hand parts, then moved ahead with the surgery in Frames 37-42.

Have fun drawing!