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Joe's Creative Journal

1998, Year 1
No. 4, Aug 13

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This series is not intended to be a university course. I am not an art scholar, I am just a painter. I will tell you some secrets I stumbled about - as I later found out, I was not the first, of course, you can even find them in books. Nevertheless, it is hard to decipher them, so I will take the pain to spread the word. My motto will be, as always: Als ich kan (from a painting of Jan van Eyck, found as a citation in a modern mathamatical book, meaning: as good as I might).

Your appreciation will give me the power and strength to endure. It is for you and all the great masters that I do this work, and I hope you will enjoy it. So don't hesitate to send me your feedback in order to help me with that goal! This kind of journal is new to the net, so please tell me if the size is ok (images are great, but big!).

As I am writing in a foreign language, I am not sure to express myself correctly, but I hope you will be able to guess what I mean any time.

Also, I invite you to join in my effort. Send me your articles and comments to be published in this journal.

Yours truly,

Working towards Montparnasse

Today, in our fourth lesson, we will do some serious work you can eventually earn a living with. There are lots of people who will adore you if you can draw realistically, so you can really turn that capability into a money making machine. There are lots of people doing just that on the net, and in addition, you can empower your self esteem, too. So let's go for it!

To prove it, I'll use some photographs I took back in 1981 during a course in high school. The students could make propositions, and they wanted a course in portrait drawing. None of my formally trained colleagues was eager to take that course, so I made it. I thought it would be fun and satisfying, and indeed it was, both for me and the students. Without exception they considered themselves as not being gifted. They had to do a course in some artistic discipline, and this one was the least troublesome. The students were about 18 years old.

Now when school began things did not look that bright anymore. They felt quite uneasy when I explained the program to them. They wanted to get along at no cost, but I explained that we would really work and achieve something. They did not believe me.

I closed the first lesson with homework. They had to pick someone as model, and if they could not find anybody, put themselves in front of a mirror, and draw a portrait. They pretended they could not do it. I demanded to do it anyway.

First portrait
First portrait
Next lesson they showed their results. They felt ashamed. They knew it before. They simply could not do it. Ok. I explained them they were here to learn it. Otherwise they would not be here. They did not believe me. No matter. See the signature on this first drawing? Peter Müller. A common name. Like Pablo Ruiz in Spain. Or John Miller in the US. (The name of Pablo's mother was Picasso.)

Peter Müller felt ashamed. He knew that no one looked like this. His drawing was typical. There were more embarrassing drawings than his. Nobody could do any better. I had expected this result. In fact I was glad. This way I could prove that they would learn something. Like with math, people think you got to be gifted to draw. This is not true. I'll prove it to you.

I became good in math because our new teacher was so bad. I was the only one in class who could understand him. Hence before long, I improved from being less than average to being the best. This eventually made me loose years of my life studying math. (Well, I sure learnt something these years, too.)

Second portrait
Second portrait
Now what about this second portrait? See the signature in the lower right corner? It's small, but on the photograph I made from the original slide you can decipher Peter Müller, you can even sense it from the scan. It took him 2 lessons to do this, so you can see that he worked very slowly, he didn't have time to finish the ear, the head, the hair, the neck, the shoulders. But that doesn't matter. You know from what he's done he would make it all right if only he got time.

But that's not the problem, it never is. Whenever you do something, and you do it over and over, you inevitably speed up. So the only thing to do before earning some money on Montparnasse would be more exercise. Tourists are more patient than web surfers, but not much. They'll give you some 20 minutes, no more.

Now let's adore this portrait for what it is! Look at this beautiful nose! The sensuous lips! The fine chin! The lock of the hair! You might even think you know this person! Ever seen the drawings of Hans Holbein at the court of Henry VIII? This reminds me of them. So there's quite some quality in this drawing.

First portrait
First portrait
Now let's look at the first attempt again! What is it that makes it so awful?

It is mainly proportions. Look at the lips! Remember last lesson? You draw what you know, not what you see. Look at the lips in the second drawing! Peter draws what he sees and not what he knows. You can compare the noses as well. Same thing. Or the eyes. Or the forms of the head. Or the chins.

But it is not only proportions. It is sensibility, too. The way Peter works with the pencil. You can feel he lets his hand be drawn rather than draw a stroke at will. His attention is with the object, he looks and does not care how he does it - he just does it all right, and if it's not, he erases quietly and draws again.

There is no sense in being impatient. Of course your hand is not very sensible when you begin, of course your eye is not very clear, but by applying the simple principles from the last lesson and just doing it you will improve from time to time. Remember, this was the outcome of a semester, two lessons a week. Well, I guess it is pretty obvious now. Time to show how you get there.

These are two studies of the same model. At right you see the attempt to get the general masses. Remember the trick holding your arm straight measuring the distances with your pencil?

Ok, this is what Heink de Groot did (living in Ostfriesland then, I enjoyed the peculiar names very much). You can see at right how he tried to find out about the width of the face in the region of the eyes, the height from chin to eyes and so on.

The more you exercise with proportions the more you just see and draw them, so you have to resort to the measuring method less often. Compare the left to the right! You see how he improves once the general line is clear.

Another sheet of Heink. 5.5 ears, some lonely eyes and mouths, two half faces and one complete face. Look at the asymmetry of this face! Compare with what you learnt about proportions last time. No wonder this face looks quite real. Ok, one ear is missing. Ran out of time.

Now don't take me wrong. You don't have to work this way. It is his choice to approach the problem. You could do without studies, delivering perfect drawings any time. There are masters like Picasso resorting to this method still at old age. I never saw such a thing of Rembrandt. Whatever he sketches, it's perfect. The same applies to me. I never sketched anything. I'll show you an example.

Portrait in the seminar
Portrait in the seminar
This is the scan of a piece of paper written to on both sides, dated 12-03-72. On one side lots of formulas equally wild and meaningless to me nowadays as to you. The other side shows a portrait of Dr. Christian Siebeneicher, assistant to the professor in the seminar. It is drawn with a fountain pen, so you can't erase anything. I was bored in this seminar, obviously.

We met this spring for the first time since 10 years at least. When I showed the sketch to him, he said: "Hey, this is the sweater my mother-in-law knitted for me. I dumped it last year." And his son said: "I don't like you with that moustache." He is shaved now. And some 25 years older.

Is this a story of true love?

A couple behind a curtain ... Kate and Megan ...

Announcement: Gallery Daguerre at Art Quarter added artist Robert A. Schaefer, Jr. from New York, NY.

Robert A. Schaefer Jr. is a renowned photographer having received numerous awards, his works being present in private and public collections. He exhibits in USA and all over Europe at galleries (one being the eminent Gallery Raab, Berlin) and museums (one man show at Huntsville Museum of Art, Alabama, next year). He concentrates on people and architecture. We will be adding more of his pictures soon. Click here for a selection.

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Proportions and portraits

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What is art?

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