Thursday, July 19, 2012

You know what really grinds my gears

Posted by: Dave

So two rants in one month isn't too bad, right? No you say?  Good, here goes.  Like a flesh eating bacteria from Thailand, this particular issue has been eating away at me for years.  I have noticed a recent trend in some art academy students in regards to their school studies.  Now for the record, I am not saying this is true of all academy students or any one academy in particular,  I am just saying there's just enough out there to really grind my gears. The aim of these students in drawing has become a game of who can fill in the weave of the paper the most with an extremely sharpened pencil point. After The Game of Mousetrap, this is perhaps the dumbest game in life to play.  Some of these students will spend a year, even up to two, on a single drawing exercise, just meticulously filling in the small pores of the paper with a needle sharp graphite point.  Next to torturing small animals, this sort of obsession is the stuff serial killers are made of.  Might as well just get out the old lotion basket and hose. 

This eventually makes their drawings "hyper" rendered and therefore allows them to be competitive somehow without actually knowing how to draw or knowing what a good drawing should even look like.   Ironically, the drawings really never even have any more form or depth.  What really annoys me is when these same students then condemn other artists who don't do this in their drawings.  I remember once seeing a figure drawing brought in by my friend that was honestly incredible.  Then some smart-ass student took a look at it and said "it's ok, but the paper is not filled in enough."  After doing a spinning roundhouse kick to the guys skull for disrespecting his sensei, I carefully explained to him why the drawing worked so well.  He was passed out on the floor so I guess my explanation really didn't matter anyway.

I feel people really need to look more to the past for information if they really want a resurgence in classical realism.  Many, though not all, students nowadays seemed to be simply too obsessed with particular technical elements while missing the big picture. Hyper rendering is NOT part of an academic tradition.  If there is one thing I have discovered in drawing, it's more about putting the right strokes and hatches in the right places rather than simply putting more of them.  The same issue can also be seen in painting.  For example, look at this painting by Dagnan Bouveret.  Super rendered right?

Wrong answer punk, look at the paint quality. It's how a piece reads from a distance that is most essential. 

Keep in mind as well that academy exercises in the 19th century ateliers took as little as 1 week and almost never more than 3 weeks to execute.  The blending came not from the point, but from stomps and other blending tools.  This is what actually allowed for efficiency.  See some examples of 19th century student work below.

I guess a lot of people are wondering what prompted this amazing rant.  Lots of academy students have been looking to me for advice recently (though I don't know why considering what a jerk I am) and I thought I would address this particular issue and give some advice.

One thing I would recommend to do is invest in some hi res images of great paintings and drawings.  If you live next to a good museum, that's even better.  Substantial knowledge can be gained just by looking at masterworks. If you really want to see how things were done in the 19th century or whenever, go look at that particular work and try to figure it out.  Don't just assume the student next to you is doing the same thing as the 19th century ateliers simply because the school advertises it. 

Go to to have your mind blown for image resources.

NOTE: Hyper rendering does have its place, but it's in photo realism, not classical realism.   The two are equal but totally different things.


  1. Pffft.. hyper makes everything better. Ever try hyperpancakes? Hyperbacon?

    1. You mean extra egg whites and thick delicious!

  2. I'll bite. I really like hearing stuff like this becasue there's a little part of me that wonders if I'm missing something in my training by not participating of such extreme rendering. I've been at times very ambivilent about whether I should be studying in a quick-type way of learning like say, 3 hour or less poses. Or if I should be working more in the longer 15-60+ type of poses. It's been a source of madness(Buffalo Bill "madness" not angry "madness")for me to say the least. But living in San Diego, I don't have much choice. It's definitely the opposite mindset towards length of studies or poses down here. Here, if the pose is longer than 20 mins it's often called a "long pose". Very annoying. The able teachers I do learn from admit that they;ve tried having longer pose classes, but nobody shows up. So there's my whine. Waa.

    Do you have any suggestions or opinions on what you've found to be an ideal length of pose to get the most learnin' from? Without any longer pose options available, do you think working from photos like the ones on for practice would be useless or even harmful? I know you're not opposed to photos but what about for learning when there's nothing else available? Anyway I'd be stoked to hear your answer, even though you are a Canadian.

    PS I was listening to "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lasserus while writing this.

    1. Ha, awesome. Hmm, hard situation. I work from life almost exclusively when I do my figure studies, but it is extremely difficult to find a good figure drawing group nowadays. The best advice is to dig up some art friends that want to do a longer pose and find whatever space you can. Something like 25-35 hours is more than enough to fully render a figure to study form and value. 3-6 hour studies are ideal for small studies or realized block ins to study proportion, gesture, etc. One thing I found helpful was to copy Bargue figure drawing block ins. This helped hone my skills quite a bit and was much more useful than photos of models where distortions takes place. I honestly haven't done a figure drawing in over a year because there simply isn't the opportunity for me here on Vancouver Island. In addition, they truly are just studies upon completion, and I cannot sell them through my gallery unfortunately.

      I should also say that there really isn't a problem with longer poses (60hrs). I am really just addressing those who take it far beyond this. I have seen students spend 60 hours filling in just the background of their drawing, which to me, is overkill.

    2. Thanks for the advice man. It's very helpful to hear. For now I think for my longer studies I'll have to stick to copies. They can get pretty difficult to finish if it's for nothing more than a study tho, ha.

      Oh and congrats to both of you on the recognition for your paintings in the ARC salon thing thing. They're awesome!

  3. I am so glad you have addressed this. When I went to school, we basically were learning to see. We were taught the Loomis method of rendering, which has more to do with turning the form and getting the lighting to read correctly rather than a focus on erasing the texture of the paper. Over the years trends have changed - now it's all about classic pre-impressionism methods. So does that mean all that time I've been spinning my wheels? I don't think so.

    In the interest of understanding, I have tried various methods out. Basically, I've found that all of them are more or less tools that help the artist SEE. If an artist wants to spend a lot of time rendering, that's great - but that's not the only way to depict the form, and other ways are not *bad*.

    The idea in the end is to be able to have the freedom to express your subject accurately while also retaining the artist's expression, in my opinion. I like to see the artist's hand in any work - I like to see the thought process and decision making. As for learning, I think it's more important to understand what your own intentions are, try out various schools of thought, and to also hone critical thinking rather than focus intensely on "the ONE way".

  4. You said it.
    I also find that a lot of these people tend to be career students, rather than artists. (Of course, we must never stop learning... but, you know what I mean.)


    You know what really grinds my gears? Where exactly in the bible does it say that a man can't fire off some knuckle-children in the privacy of his own neighbor's living room while his neighbor's at work because I don't have a DVD player?

  5. You still use DVD's? Geez man, they invented the internet for a reason.

    And yes, career students are becoming a bit silly. I have seen people actually graduate 3 different academies. That's a pretty big investment, and you have to ask yourself how much value they are getting for their buck (or most likely their parents buck)

  6. I love the way you Rambo a sacred topic and say what you think. It's funny you suggested looking at Hi-Res images to detect what the artist is doing with his strokes. In viewing the ARC winners, I clicked on high-res and was amazed at how loose the paint strokes were applied (including yours). Although you seem to be writing about drawing, I believe the same applies to painting. My goal for the next ten years is to say more with less strokes. Keep on being bullish.

  7. I think I've commented on this issue more broadly, and I'm glad you raised this specific instance of it. It freaks me out completely that the current vogue in realist training is so slavishly devoted to rendering at the expense of drawing. If I had a kingdom, I'd happily forfeit it to someone teaching realism in the tradition of Titian or Velasquez, who beat the panties off Bouguereau according to every conceivable worthwile measure of awesomeness, except in, like, the teaching system at every single realist art academy out there today.

  8. I get so much enjoyment out of this blog. You two are both funny and real in the pursuit of the work of painting...and all that it entails...and all of the silliness that surrounds it...And all in all...I enjoy immensely the process posts of what your are doing and how it is coming along.
    I could go on...but it is not necessary or warranted. You have been saying well for some time. Thanks...
    Question...Do you ever do any private tutoring via the internet. As much as I like to paint...I am just not well off to go jet setting to workshops (as much as I would love to). Thanks for sharing. James