Going back to NGA- undercover

September 4, 2011

Ok, those that follow the blog (yes, I know I’m only talking to two moms, a wife, a sis-in-law, one nosy lawyer, and a couple of ex-co-workers) will remember the post about my run-in with a rent a cop at the National Gallery. Despite that experience, I snuck back into the museum and attempted to do a little sketching. I kept to the main rooms, and tried to be quick about it. Part of me didn’t want to attempt this, but I felt I was only hurting myself if I didn’t.

As much as I enjoy life drawing (see previous post) my one gripe is that they never drape the figure. It would be so much fun to face the challenge of a robed figure. I know there are those who are against it on artistic principles – we’re there to study the form, you can’t draw clothes without understanding the form – Yea, but you also can’t draw drapery if you don’t practice drawing it either! Folds are organic and they never happen the same way twice. They’re altered by the thickness of the material, the humidity in the air, how the body is shaped, and the slightest variation in motion when creating the fold.

One of the things I enjoy most about going to the National Gallery is studying how the great, classically trained, artists resolved problems of drapery. By doing sketches the way I do, it’s not so much about copying their work as it is forcing myself to examine what it is they were doing.

Being fearful of another confrontation, this was more of a guerilla run into the gallery. Quick and straight to the point.

First was this painting by Adriaen Hanneman of Henry, Duke of Gloucester from 1653.



Notice the folds in the slashed sleeves, I’m not an expert on terminology of fashion, especially not of post-Tudor times; but it’s apparent that the outer garment sleeve is of a thicker material, where the under/interior shirt is of a lighter, thinner fabric. These are the types of challenges that you don’t normally get in a figure drawing session, and for illustrators, I think it’s incredibly important to know these differences. A linen shirt, a tweed jacket, and a thick wool overcoat, will not form folds in the same way, nor will they react the same when wet, or worn. Thick wool will make fewer, larger folds, and linen will make smaller, multiple, finer folds. It sounds obvious, but the visual contrast can be stunning, and when those same materials are wet, they are even more dramatically different in their response to creasing. Again, something you never get to experience in a simple, figure study class.

One of the best, and traditional practices in art is to draw from sculptures or plaster casts. It was a way for young artists, who couldn’t afford a model, to draw “in the round”. You could see the image from multiple angles, and therefore get a better understanding of how the image changed depending on what your vantage point was. One of my favorite sculptures to do this with is by Albert-Ernest Carrer-Belleuse’s Bust of a Veiled Woman, from 1865. I love this one for several reasons, obviously a beautiful woman, but I love being able to study the drapery from various angles. I’ve drawn this one many times, and will probably do so again. Next time I do, I’ll post it so you can see how a simple turn can change an image so dramatically.