Complex forms in light

Complex forms in light

This next section of Understanding Loomis will begin to address the essential question of how an artist can create realistic shadows when a subject matter is not a regular geometric shape, for instance such as in the case of a woman’s face.

Loomis begins his answer to this important question with a short word regarding theory.  He starts with the observation that laypeople cannot tell the difference between talent and knowledge.  He means that when most folks perceive a person of skill executing his craft – be it drawing or drywall- the product may seem like the result of an immaterial gift, rather than the exercising of an integrated, practiced knowledge base.  This is a mainstay of fine-art, where the ‘myth of talent’ seeks to delineate a line between craft and art.  The position being held by the talent advocates states that artists are geniuses, and their work is akin to revelation.  These elect few ‘geniuses’  are not craftsmen, but vehicles of expression who’s concepts (opinions and ideas) are purportedly the seat of their greatness.  Loomis being an illustrator reveals this as a myth with the straight-forward observation that talent really is a mis-appellation applied to what really is a practiced craft.  This confusion and elevation of the discipline into the realms of fine-art is done by those who lack knowledge of the pursuit, onto those who have knowledge of that pursuit; that is the ability to draw and paint.

Loomis defends the position that drawing and painting well, is a matter of understanding the terms of how such a skill is done and that there are specific areas of technical knowledge needed in order to manifest the illusion of reality on a 2-d surface.

Now he goes into the nuts-and-bolts of shadows and complex forms.  Loomis begins this section by indicating that when a drawing or painting is being done, and a smooth tone is chosen to be interrupted by the artist, there are only two ways an observer can interpret that change in tone.

  • That the change in tone represents a change in the character of the surface which is trying to be represented (say for instance, a few small rocks on a wide stretch of beach)

OR

  • That the change in tone is a smudge on the surface of the art, and not part of the image which is trying to be represented.

The interpretation of a dark tone as being a change in surface character within the picture, vs it being some sort of surface smudge is exclusively within the domain of the placement of that mark.  A properly placed, grey mid-tone mark, will read as perfect sfumato of light on a woman’s cheek, where a misplacement of that same mark by a matter of degrees will make it now appear as a dirty spot; a mistake where your hand disturbed the charcoal.

This is a very useful distinction to keep in one’s mind when making a picture, in that many artists are compelled to ‘fill-in’ areas with various marks and tones.  The naive illustrator overly relies on hatching and details because he does not know where the exact place surface changes should naturally occur given the object and the light he is attempting to draw.

Unfortunately, many naive approaches in art can be interpreted as elements of style, and therefore also intentional on the part of the artist.  This conclusion is generally false, and such art is really most often the product of the artist trying to ‘fill in’ the work.  People usually have a good enough eye to see that something is wrong in a picture (see earlier posts on intelligent observation), but they lack the knowledge of why.  When this happens to an artist regarding his own work, the common natural response is to fuss over the area, adding random marks and tones in order to address the error in intelligent observation the artist is experiencing.  For instance, Loomis indicates elsewhere that the appearance of a receded or distended jawline in a portrait, which causes the artist to keep refining the contour of the face, is most often nothing wrong with the jaw, but actually the effect of the artist having misplaced his subject’s features, such as a too-low mouth, or too-wide eyes.

Naive art is often given a pass, and even loved by consumers and the audience in some cases.  Whether intense, ‘stylized’, ultra-detailed and highly-rendered art is your cup-of-tea or not does not change the fact that there is a particular place where surface character changes in regard to light, and knowing those particulars is better than not knowing.

Drawing is only difficult to those who don’t know what information to hold onto when representing a subject.  The placement of contours and changes in the nature of surface character are measurements and nothing else.  When one knows how to measure these properly, the matter of placing them is made simple.

Knowledge over talent.  Know how to do it, don’t try to guess because you can’t.

Moving on, Andrew Loomis declares that to find the planes of an object is to watch the angle of the surface as it changes, then record the tone or value caused by the angle.  I think this is most easy to understand when put in the context of drawing a face.  Loomis wants us to recognize that areas of light on form, always fall into a shape.  So do the dark tones and the half tones.  To be able to represent a face in light is to know these shapes, and place them together properly.

Consider this drawing I have done, presented below:

woman contour face loomis

A face is drawn as any other surface by following the angles of the surface and with each change of plane, noting the change of value.  Highlights are found on the highest parts of the form, and nearest point of the surface to the light.  As you can see in the image above, there is no need for complicated and intense detail.  The value of the shadow tones are limited to only 2 in my picture; full black for shadow, medium grey for half tones.  The brightest parts of the face are represented by no pencil work- it is the paper colour.  Squint your eyes at my drawing and you will see a generalization of the values, and recognize that the mid-tone is basically uniform.  With the magic of photoshop, I reduced my image to only 2 tones and the white ground.  You can still read this as an attractive woman’s face.  This is because the placement of the shadow tones is correct .  We read this as a face, and even an attractive face because the marks are in the correct areas.  If they were moved about, the image would become less attractive.

small contour

Here I have taken the shapes of value, and moved them around a bit, then added a red filter to indicate the distortion.  This example shows how the positioning of the value-tones is the essential variable which artists need to get correct.  The actual ‘prettiness’ of the particular eye or nose drawn is not what makes a woman’s face look attractive.  It is the knowledge of how form creates shadow, and the proper measurement of where the artist chooses to place those values.  

distortedsmall contour

You can see in the red version, the masses of tone when slightly moved, also move in our interpretation of them from descriptions of value to random marks.  The tones appear like surface blemishes.  Look for instance in the halftone mark which describes the edge of the woman’s cheek where it meets the muzzle of the face. The correctly placed one looks just like a shadow, the incorrect one is an unreadable mark -a smudge.

adistortedsmall contour

The obvious next question is how does one learn these various shapes, which represent light on form in regards to the multiplicity of facial angle and quality of light?  The answer will be outlined in the next posting, which will go into the principle that light on form is related to the basic, and memorizable way that light falls on the sphere and the cylinder.

We will discuss this next monday.  I hope you join me.

 

Perspectival Shadows cast from Before

Last time, we considered the method of showing a proper shadow cast from a light source which is behind the viewer.  This lesson today will demonstrate the opposite situation, where the light source is before the viewer.

Andrew Loomis in his book Successful Drawing shows us the method of solving how to draw shadows in proper perspective.  The first point which needs stating is a concept hinted at from 2 postings past, which I hope to make concrete by the end of this lesson.  The aforementioned idea is that if the light source is Behind, the angle of light is below the horizon.  When the light source is before the viewer, the angle of the light is above the horizon.  Hold onto this thought, and I will review it at the end of the lesson, where I am sure it will form an integration for you.

Here are the steps for casting a perspectival shadow from a light source which is before.

  1. Set up your horizon and the object using proper perspective.  Establish the Vanishing Points for the object’s sides, and draw the appropriate angles.  Draw the guidelines for the perspective on a separate layer of vellum or digitally, then remove the guidelines when the object is perspective. Save the layer.Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.22.41 AMScreen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.24.58 AM
  2. Since the light source in this exercise is before the viewer, it is proper to next establish the position of where that light is coming from specifically.  This should be done with precision within the layout phase of your drawing.  Even if the light is not going to be within the boundaries of your finish crop for the illustration, you must lay it out with exact placement, or else your shadows will appear unconvincing.  Drop a line vertically down at 90 degrees from the centre of the light source to the horizon line.Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.25.15 AM
  3. The point where the vertical line crosses the horizon will be the VP of the shadows. This is a crucial step, so pay close attention to it.  As a rule, the Vanishing Point of shadows is directly below the light source when the light is cast from a Before placement.  The blue lines below represent the projection for the  Shadow VP.  Please not that these guidelines cross through the corners of the object you are drawing, laying on the ground plane.   Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.26.13 AM
  4. Next we will cast the lines of light, which will fall like a triangle from the light source.  Each corner of the object you are drawing will interrupt the light, but the perspective you have chosen may conceal certain corners.  In this drawing there are 3 corners which will cast a shadow we can see, so there will be 3 lines.  If your object and perspective yields more corners which will cast a shadow, use the appropriate amount of lines.  Note how the light lines emanate from the centre of the light source, not its perimeter.  Cast the light lines further than where the Shadow VP lines lay on the plane.  Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.26.28 AM
  5. Now, turn on the layer with the original perspective lines showing.  These perspective lines will give us the other half of the information we ned  regarding where the shadow’s perimeter will lay. Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.29.02 AM
  6. Where the red light lines cross either the blue Shadow VP lines or the black object perspective lines with demarcate the corners of the cast shadow your object will make, given the perspective you have chosen, and the placement of the light source.  I have numbered these 1-4.  Numbers 5 and 6 are the points where your object touches the plane it rests on, and from these points the shadow will originate.Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.28.44 AM
  7.  Outline the cast shadow perimeter, then fill it in with the value appropriate for the light intensity you are describing.  The darker the shadow, the brighter the light.  Add half-tones to the shaded sides of the object (the sides facing away from the light) Flat planes have even shading, curving planes will appear as a gradation.  Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.29.25 AM
  8. Remove the guidelines to reveal your illustration of a properly done shadow, in perspective, with the light source before the viewer.  Congratulations!Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 8.30.37 AM

 

As a last comment, think back the the idea of the angle of light above and below the horizon which I mentioned at the beginning.  If you think about it, it is natural to recognize that the angle will come from above when the light is before, because when standing on the earth, you perceive the horizon above you.  If the light is coming from behind, the angle must come from below for the same reason.  It is possible, tho rare that one’s point of view can be distorted, such that the horizon is perceived as below you.  This could occur if you are inverted or suspended in the air.  Such points of view will break this rule.  Luckily, there are limited calls for illustrations of that type.  I will cover such considerations at a much later date, due to their peculiarity.

There are many more subtleties related to cast shadows, but I believe I will go onto showing organic cast shadows in perspective next week.  It will be a difficult one!

Light on Basic Forms

The third main section of Successful Drawing deals with the techniques artists use when rendering  light and shadow on the basic forms. (Please see my previous postings regarding how illustrators simplify the many organic shapes in nature, down into a handful of basic geometric shapes.)  Here again, Loomis articulates a principle of representational art which is easily overlooked when an artist is attempting to represent a subject.  He states that light and shadow are the phenomena which delineate what we call form.  Furthermore, he reminds the reader that the entirety of the visible world is light falling on form.  What our eyes perceive as a shape, or colour is actually the effect of light striking a 3-dimensional mass.  Comic artists who work in line are sometimes forgetful of this truth. Although line is a fine method of describing light on form, too often does the line-based illustrator become fixated on the particularites of design when drawing, rather than acknowledging that perceived form is actually a phenomena of light.

Next, Loomis indicates that Nature is too complex for any artist to memorize or even attempt to fully translate into a piece of representational art.  He reaffirms the aforementioned concept of relying on a system in order to understand the infinite variables found in Nature.  Frankly stated, Loomis indicates that one must simplify light and form.

To warm his readers up to the concept of form being a phenomena of light, Andrew Loomis considers the heavenly bodies in the solar system, drawing attention to the general shape of such bodies -the sphere.  When one imagines the full moon on a very clear night, generally the shape pictured in the mind’s eye is a white circle.  Yet, if you really look at the moon, you will see that there is actually a gradation of bright white to light grey on the mass.   The section which appears brightest, is that area of the Moon’s surface which is at right-angles to the Sun.    As a short hand rule, one can consider the highlight as the shortest distance between the lit surface and the light source.  

This highlight curves around the face of the Moon, and diminishes in value to least amount of light, at a point 180 degrees opposite the highlight.  The shadow begins to form on the sphere where the light is at a tangent to the surface.  This phenomena of shadow always begins at the halfway point between the surface nearest to the light and the opposite face, which is furthest from the source.

Andrew Loomis provides for his readers a Set of Laws which can be pulled out as summative facts regarding Light on Form.

  1.  LIGHT TRAVELS IN A STRAIGHT LINE.  This Law shows why a single light source is not able to reach more than halfway around any round form.
  2. SURFACES ARE LIT AT ANGLES RELATIVE TO LIGHT.  This Law is meant to awaken the artist to the phenomena that any surface which is represented, is lighted according to the angle of its surface in relation to the direction of the light source.  When one begins to think in these terms, determining value is made accessible.
  3. RIGHT ANGLES ARE BRIGHTEST.  Planes which are fully flat appear brightest, and on curving shapes, that piece of surface area which is at 90 degrees to the light source likewise appears brightest.
  4. GRADATION = CURVING.  This law is easily forgotten when inventing value representation.  The curving plane is rendered with gradations of light to dark.  The flat plane is not.  The flat plane is lighted evenly, relative to its degree facing the light source.

This fourth Law is really the father of the others, and it is the secret of lighting.  To restate, flat planes are also flat in tone or value.  They appear even; even in colour and lacking variance.  Rounded masses on the other hand are described with modelling of value and gradation of tone.

Thank you for reading this week’s blog.  Next posting will go into a further consideration of the effects in value related to an object’s relative degree facing the light source.  See you in 7.