One of the ways I design koi images now is by combining little sketches in different, somewhat random arrangements to discover which overall pattern of fishes provides the most appealing composition. In these small drawings the goal is to get a large pattern established. Particulars of color, surface, anatomy or generalization, paint texture, etc. will all be sorted out later.
The finished painting might turn out to be quite large. So I spend time giving the drawing ideas a good stare to imagine how the imagery would look if expanded into a much larger format.
The fish placement isn’t really much different from putting fruits on a table to draw still life or to decide the relative positioning of anything that will create two dimensional movement across the picture plane.
An image from the Rouen Book of Hours takes us down another path in the journey away from Ellsworth Kelly, while staying inside the land of little squares. One could easily suppose that squares lack meaning, particularly in an exercise such as I described in the last post. However, the square itself (along with the imperfect, but square-ish box) is an intriguing shape and one that does not occur in nature — so far as I know — at least not on the scale of things visible to ordinary sight. If it exists in the microscopic world of small scaled things, or in the subatomic world of the structures of things perhaps some scientist will let me know.
However, the square as an idea — as a perfect form — holds a certain fascination for some people, and in the medieval world, squares play a very prominent role in images of divine events. Squares appear in medieval art in a variety of ways. The image posted here shows how three squares are used to decorate the left side of a page illustrating the Kiss of Judas. Each of the three squares has illuminations within it of patterned flowers.
I can’t say why the squares are there or what the particular significance is of three squares — whether it relates to the Trinity or to something else — why two squares are colored pale gold and one is red or why the squares are decorated with flowers — or why these squares share so much of the page with the narrative picture which is quite small in comparison. All I can say with certainly is that squares have an important, playful/serious role in the art of very early times.
This post is part of a seriesof short essays related to answering why Ellsworth Kelly is not a “real” artist, while I take the reader into a meditation on the meanings and “true” uses of squares in art.
Thus the “sterile” use of Kelly’s squares has had a vibrant, adventurous life elsewhere in art’s long history. But stay tuned for more squares.
Squaring up: the technique of copying that uses a grid. Comparing the squares of the source image to the drawing underway helps an artist draw the relationships between visual elements correctly. It’s especially useful when an image needs to be enlarged.
And that’s why I used it. I was painting this bridge into a large portrait and needed to get the architectural structure right. I made this little version from a photo, then enlarged this image by making a similar grid on the canvas I was painting. So it had this very practical purpose.
Still I think the gridded drawing has a unique charm of its own. It turns each square into an abstraction and heightens the abstraction of the image as a whole. The order that it imposes is also comforting somehow. Having these grid lines here, I feel confident that this little bridge isn’t going anywhere. It’s locked down on the page.
[Top of the post: Little Bridge by Aletha Kuschan, colored pencils]