DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Fan Brush

Fan Brushes, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

These brushes, with their bristles splayed out in the shape of an unfurled hand fan, are used by both makeup artists and oil painters.  With makeup, they’re often used to blend powders and eyeshadows, or to gently remove fallen eye shadow from the cheeks.  Oil painters generally use them dry, flicking them crosswise across still-workable paint to obscure visible brush marks or to blend tonal transitions to perfect smoothness.  Some also use them to apply paint, especially to simulate textures like hair or grass.  Bob Ross, the happy host of the 1980’s “Joy of Painting” TV shows, was a fan-brush enthusiast, using it for many landscape effects such as trees and clouds.  I always hated his painting style, but Bob Ross probably provided my first exposure to this versatile tool.

I’m not an oil painter and am temperamentally opposed to blending.  I generally use fan brushes not to make things smoother or less brush-strokey, but to make them rougher and more brush-strokey.  I like using them with sumi ink, straight up.

Silvana Dance, 2000, by Fred Hatt

Changing the angle at which the brush contacts the paper makes a thinner or thicker mark.  Applying one edge to the paper gives a thin but bold line.  Turning the brush flat to the paper causes the bristles to spread out and lay down thin parallel strokes over the width of the brush.  These lines are particularly delicate when the brush is fairly dry.  I’ve done a lot of drawing from observations of moving dancers.  The fan brush gives a feeling of movement, and also can fill in shadow areas or create a feeling of the volume of a body with very simple, spontaneous strokes.

Des, 1999, by Fred Hatt

Ground, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Open and Coil, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Ceremony, 2006, by Fred Hatt

The fan brush works this way with any kind of ink, including colored inks.

Invoking, 2006, by Fred Hatt

It’s a very quick way to make cross-contours, giving volume to a line-drawn figure.

Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt

For more traditional observational drawing, the fan brush is not an easy tool to master, but I like to challenge myself sometimes.  It’s like trying to eat soup with a fork.  I’m pretty sure both of the sketches below were drawn using the fan brush only.  The edges are drawn with the corner of the brush, and the shading, hair, etc. are done with the flat.

Standing, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Ryan, 2008, by Fred Hatt

I like to use the fan brush with body paint, too.  It can quickly depict flowing textures such as flames or feathers.

Blue Heron, 2004, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The swirly parallel strokes of the fan brush suggest the energy within the body.

Blue Raynn, 2004, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Fiery Back and Hand, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Fire Heart, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

That last one is a detail of the body painting featured at the top of the post “Fire in the Belly“.  Now that I’ve shown you what to look for, you’ll probably be able to spot the tell-tale stripes of the fan brush elsewhere among my body paintings and ink brush drawings, on this blog or at my portfolio site.


Books for Artists

Most artists could name a few books that have helped to light the path for them.  Here I’ll share some of those books that have been important to me as an artist, with brief excerpts to give you a little taste of each.  I hope you will be inspired to seek out and read some of these books, or to comment here on books that have been important to you.  Excerpts appear below an image of the cover of each book, in regular type.  My own comments are in italics.

One of Annie Dillard’s great themes is learning how to see – a subject far deeper than it might initially seem.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard (1974)

“When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.

“It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”

Kimon Nicolaides writes with great passion about the art of drawing, and his approach is about a method of learning that helps you develop your own way of drawing, rather than about imparting his own tips and tricks, as most drawing instruction books seem to try to do.  Nicolaides would be the second thing I’d recommend to a beginner in life drawing study, after James McMullan’s excellent introduction to learning the art of drawing in “Line by Line“, his recent series of posts on the New York Times website.

The Natural Way to Draw, by Kimon Nicolaides (1941)

“YOU SHOULD DRAW, NOT WHAT THE THING LOOKS LIKE, NOT EVEN WHAT IT IS, BUT WHAT IT IS DOING.  Feel how the figure lifts or droops – pushes forward here – pulls back there – pushes out here – drops down easily there.  Suppose that the model takes the pose of a fighter with fists clenched and jaw thrust forward angrily. Try to draw the actual thrust of the jaw, the clenching of the hand.  A drawing of prize fighters should show the push, from foot to fist, behind their blows that makes them hurt.
. . .
“To be able to see the gesture, you must be able to feel it in your own body.  You should feel that  you are doing whatever the model is doing.  If the model stoops or reaches, pushes or relaxes, you should feel that your own muscles likewise stoop or reach, push or relax.  IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND IN LIKE MANNER TO WHAT THE MODEL IS DOING, YOU CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU SEE.  If you do not feel as the model feels, your drawing is only a map or a plan.”

If I had to pick one all time favorite book about the work of the artist, it might be Salvador Dali’s “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship”.  This book is, in part, a hilarious parody of such classic handbooks of master techniques as Cennino Cennini’s “Il Libro dell’ Arte“, but its suggested techniques, while preposterous and described in overblown language by a supremely conceited madman, manage to convey a great deal of real nitty gritty craft knowledge, along with a sense of the odd mixture of discipline and calculated derangement that drives many of the great artists.

50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, by Salvador Dalí (1948)

“The apprentice’s Secret Number 22 is that of the drawing of the geodesic lines of his model.  Nothing will reveal itself more useful for the understanding of the mysteries of the nude figure than the knowledge to be derived from the assiduous practice of this method.  Preferably you must choose a plump model, the curves of whose flesh are as turgescent as possible.  The best poses for this are the recumbent ones.  You need a provision of strings of back cotton which have been previously soaked in lnseed oil to which venetian turpentine has been added, in a proportion of five to three.  these strings should be hung up the day before using them, so that they may drip off the excess oil, but without drying altogether.  Once the model is lying down in the pose which you desire you begin cautiously to lay the strings on the model’s body in the places where you wish a clearer indication of the forms.  the curve which these strings adopt will naturally be the geodesic lines of the surface which you want made clear.  You may then draw your nude, but especially these geodesic lines which, if they are in sufficient quantity, will suffice – even should you efface the nude – to imprint its absent volume.”

Qualia, the subjective aspects of experience, have become a major problem in the philosophy of mind.  For example, a physicist can tell you that different colors are simply different wavelengths of light, and that theory can be proven by experiment, but a difference of wavelength does not account for the very different impressions made on us by red and blue.  Wittgenstein was one of the first philosophers to tackle this subject.  This posthumously published book consists mostly of question after question about what we can know and what we should doubt.

Remarks on Colour, by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1978)

“‘The colours’ are not things that have definite properties, so that one could straight off look for or imagine colours that we don’t yet know, or imagine someone who knows different ones than we do.  It is quite possible that, under certain circumstances, we would say that people know colours that we don’t know, but we are not forced to say this, for there is no indication as to what we should regard as adequate analogies to our colours, in order to be able to say it.  This is like the case in which we speak of infra-red ‘light’; there is a good reason for doing it, but we can also call it a misuse.  And something similar is true with my concept ‘having pain in someone else’s body’.”

Josef Albers’ “Interaction of Color” is based on his course for artists, a series of experiments that powerfully demonstrate the relativistic nature of color perception.  There are many books for artists about understanding color, but none are as illuminating as Albers.

Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers (1963)

“Imagine in front of us 3 pots containing water, from left to right:
WARM        LUKEWARM        COLD
When the hands are dipped first into the outer containers, one feels – experiences – perceives – 2 different temperatures:
WARM (at left)                (at right) COLD
Then dipping both hands
into the middle container,
one perceives again
2 different temperatures,
this time, however,
in reversed order
(at left) COLD – WARM (at right)
though the water is neither of these temperatures, but of another, namely
Herewith one experiences a discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect called, in this case, a haptic illusion – haptic as related to the sense of touch – the haptic sense.
In much the same way as haptic sensations deceive us, so optical illusions deceive.  they lead us to “see” and to “read” other colors than those with which we are confronted physically.”

Here are a pair of classic books of art appreciation.  John Berger’s writings aim to expand the ways we think about the artwork we see.

Ways of Seeing, by John Berger (1972)

“Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is.  Even a reproduction hung on a wall is not comparable in this respect for in the original the silence and stillness permeate the actual material, the paint, in which one follows the traces of the painter’s immediate gestures.  This has the effect of closing the distance in time between the painting of the picture and one’s own act of looking at it.  In this special sense all paintings are contemporary.  Hence the immediacy of their testimony. Their historical moment is literally there before our eyes.  Cézanne made a similar observation from the painter’s point of view.  ‘A minute in the world’s life passes!  To paint it in its reality, and forget everything for that!  To become that minute, to be the sensitive plate . . . give the image of what we see, forgetting everything that has appeared before our time . . . ‘  What we make of that painted moment when it is before our eyes depends upon what we expect of art, and that in turn depends today upon how we have already experienced the meaning of paintings through reproductions.”

About Looking, by John Berger (1980)

(On Grünewald’s Altarpiece)
“. . . the European tradition is full of images of torture and pain, most of them sadistic.  How is it that this, which is one of the harshest and most pain-filled of all, is an exception?  How is it painted?
It is painted inch by inch.  No contour, no cavity, no rise within the contours, reveals a moment’s flickering of the intensity of depiction.  Depiction is pinned to the pain suffered.  Since no part of the body escapes pain, the depiction can nowhere slack its precision.  The cause of the pain is irrelevant; all that matters now is the faithfulness of the depiction.  This faithfulness came from the empathy of love.”

Finally, recommended for artists’ models, artists that work with models, people that book models for life drawing classes or groups, or students that attend such groups, at this site.  This book is the real deal about the profession of modeling for artists:

The Art Model's Handbook, by Andrew Cahner (2009)


Utility Belts

Filed under: Artists' Tools and Resources — Tags: , , — fred @ 19:00

Batman's Utility Belt, detail from Batman #203

As a kid, I was a big fan of Batman, both in the comics and the campy TV show starring Adam West.  One of Batman’s many cool tools was the bright yellow utility belt, keeping crime-fighting implements close at hand.  Batman’s utility belt was a fantasy version of the duty belt that police officers all over the world use to keep hands free and tools within reach while walking a beat or chasing down suspects.

Police Duty Belt, from Merriam Webster Visual Dictionary Online

The tool belts used by construction carpenters and electricians are among the most elaborate types of utility belts.  There are so many tools one might need at any moment, and you can’t just set your hammer down if you’re standing on a peaked roof.

Carpenter's Tool Belt

Pro photographers on location always have a plethora of gadgets and accessories.  Not only are they easier to find quickly in a photographer’s vest than in a camera bag, but the weight is more evenly distributed on the body than when everything’s in a shoulder bag.

Safari Photographer's Vest

Hikers and bikers have to carry the items they need in the most efficient way possible.  You can’t have things dangling or interfering with your freedom of movement.

Mountain Biker's Belt

A makeup artist often has to work standing up, touching up a model or actor on the set.  An apron with pockets keeps brushes and supplies accessible and keeps you from getting makeup all over your pants.

Makeup Artist's Brush and Tool Apron

A full bib apron combines many of the advantages of a belt or waist apron and a vest:  easy access to tools, comfortable weight distribution, and clothing protection.

Gardener's Apron

I’ve taken to wearing a short waist apron with pockets whenever I’m out and about in the city.  I use it to carry everyday practical items and tools I use in my freelance jobs.  It’s easy to repurpose the pockets to carry art supplies, photography accessories, or travel stuff like reading material and earplugs.

Fred Hatt wearing his everyday utility belt

I started using this apron when I was at the festivals at Brushwood Folklore Center, where I often do body painting and teach workshops.  In that setting, I usually wear a wrap skirt rather than pants, and the there was a need for pockets.  The black canvas apron filled the bill, like a sporran with a kilt.  I can’t remember where or when I originally got it, but mine is made by McGuire-Nicholas Workwear.  Below is a typical arrangement of the apron for everyday use:

Fred Hatt's utility belt with contents labeled

I have a camera always ready at hand for the kind of street photography I often post in this blog.  I have my digital voice recorder that I use to record thoughts, ideas and info while on the go, and to keep track of my expenditures.  The flashlight and tools are often needed when I’m working in a theater or on a photo or video shoot.  The monocular is a small telescope, useful for fine-focusing projections from a distance, another type of work I do.  An umbrella can be tucked in behind the waistband of the apron.  Everything is right where I can reach for it without thinking, and I keep my hands free.

I know this post is a bit of a departure for this blog, but I often write about the techniques and the creative process of drawing and photography.  Every artist needs good tools and supplies and equipment, and part of the artist’s journey of discovery is figuring out what items work well and how best to organize and maintain them.  All artists and craftsmen love their tools.  I hope this will be of interest to some of my readers.  I’ve created a new post category, “Tools and Materials”.  Please let me know if there are specific things along these lines you’d like me to post about.

The illustrations here were found on the web.  Click on any of the pictures above to link to the source of the image, excepting the last two, which are my own photographs.

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