Illustrating the Iliad by Jane Pack

27, February 2009 § 10 Comments

Paris takes Helen from Mycenae

Paris takes Helen from Mycenae

My recent work has been occupied with investigating and rendering  three dimensional space using vegetation and tree branches. Deep space, as in landscape, is not difficult to capture, but dealing with space a mere 6 inches to a foot is a more difficult proposition. I have been looking at Japanese and Chinese  screen painting for inspiration and what I have learned I can now apply to other work.

This winter I decided to undertake a new project which I  had dreamed of doing for many years. I want to illustrate the Iliad. This meant rereading Homer’s epic–I am using the Fagle translation–and thinking again about figurative work which I have not done in years.

Greek vase paintings are one of the high points of draftsmanship and one I return to often for inspiration. Their lively line work and human quality are incomparable and their deceivingly simple style shows a complex understanding of the human form. I wanted to use them as a resource without imitating them. I looked at John Flaxman’s work of the early 1800’s which take vase paintings as their starting point and are clear and accurate, dated now however, too stiff to our modern eyes.  Browsing the internet for additional resources of more recent work I found little other than photos of the Hollywood movie “Troy” and some bad comic versions of the story.

Idea Sketches from Greek Vase Paintings

Idea Sketches from Greek Vase Paintings

Studies for battle scenes

Studies for battle scenes

Sketchbook ideas

Sketchbook ideas

First I had to make a decision  as to the look of the armour and weapons as this is the most identifiable element to the story. The historically accurate type, of which there are few examples, are not familiar to the general public.  The boars teeth helmets and figure eight shields of 8th c bce Mycenae are, wrongly, not associated with the romantic ideal of the Greek warrior of the Iliad.  The vase paintings illustrating Homer in the 6th century bce  used the classical style armour of the time which became the conventional model. The heroes are frequently seen fighting nude which probably did not reflect reality but which gave the Greek artists a chance to reveal the human form as it was being perfected in the canon of the time. I  have chosen to inform my work from the vase painting style, so being guilty of historical inaccuracy myself.

The Greeks meet the Trojans in battle

The Greeks meet the Trojans in battle

Another consideration was the depicting of characters which every reader has developed in their own inner eye.  I felt it was necessary to keep the faces vague in many cases so as to leave as much as possible to the imagination of the viewer.  And painting Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, poses problems which every generation has grappled with. See the story of Zeuxis for his version of the problem.

Aphrodite leads Helen to Paris

Aphrodite leads Helen to Paris

I wanted to use the printmaking press and do some monoprints just to generate ideas, but I liked the images I was getting and  decided to stick with this process.  Inking the plate entirely I then wipe out the image with cloth, fingers, the back of a brush, a stick for line.

Making a monoprint

Making a monoprint

This method enables me to design in a very loose way the composition and re-sketch and wipe out innumerable times.  The process is so limited that it forces me to stretch my handling  but I like the small scale and the expressive quality I can get by dragging the ink around.  I have been adding tempera paint on top with a palette of just four colors, an earth palette essentially with black, white, raw umber and small amount of yellow ochre. These limited colors on the black ink give me control over opacity and transparency, warm and cool, and value.  I try to use these tools to vary the character of the illustrations but also to add space, movement and volume.  The limits I am imposing on myself demand a higher level of creativity, something I always try to stress to students; do more with less.

I will probably go on to do some oil paintings and mixed media drawings around this same theme.  Time is always in short supply but I hope to continue this project into the summer when classes are over.

-Jane Pack

Apollo kills the dogs and horses of  the Greeks

Apollo kills the dogs and horses of the Greeks

Development of a Painting: Herakles and the Nemean Lion by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

19, February 2009 § 2 Comments

DetailThis blog post was originally published in junpierre.net/words.

I am currently working on a series of paintings based on Greek myths that have been a lot of fun to work on. The myths are exciting and dramatic and they lend well to personal interpretation. It’s no surprise that artists through out the ages have been inspired to recreate the myths in their own eyes — Titian, Velazquez, Caravaggio, and Botticelli just to name a few.

Among the paintings I am working on are the twelve labors of Herakles. The twelve labors interest me because of the wonderful array of challenges that Herakles faces. Each adversary is so colorful, often times more interesting than Herakles himself. It also fascinates me how Herakles, the greatest of heroes in Greek mythology, takes on so many different roles throughout the twelve labors. Whether he is a hulking brute, a cunning strategician, a sly charmer, an overwhelmed underdog, or a menacing predator Herakles always comes out in the end as the heroic champion.

Herakles first labor is to hunt and kill the Nemean Lion. Of course, Herakles is successful in his mission, and from then on wears the lion’s own impenetrable pelt (which he skinned by using the lion’s own claws) for his subsequent adventures.

For this painting I had the idea of the two figures of Herakles and the lion interlocked in some type of circular formation that would somehow fit nicely in the rectangular compostion of the frame. I first started off with a few thumbnail sketches:

First thumbnail sketch

First thumbnail sketch

Prepatory Sketch 2

Third thumbnail sketch

Third thumbnail sketch

For the lion, I wanted to show that it was a powerful, formidable foe with clearly defined musculature. I looked online for some images of feline anatomy and did some sketches. The best reference I could use however was from the book ANIMALS: 1419 Copyright-Free Illustrations of Mammals, Birds, Fish Insects, etc. A Pictorial Archive from Nineteenth-Century Sources by Jim Harter.

Jane Pack, my fellow painting and drawing teacher at the Aegean Center (as well as former professor here and current studio mate) lent me the book. It is full of wonderful etchings and drawings depicting all kinds of animals. It’s been a wealth of reference material for my myth paintings (as there are so many animals through out the myth stories).Here are some sketches I did from the book:

Sketches of big cats

With this in mind I went to YouTube.com and spent some time looking at some short videos of judo wrestlers. In judo there are so many amazing throws and takedowns that I thought they would lend well to a wrestling match between a man and a lion. While watching the videos I would pause on a particularly interesting frame and do a quick sketch. Here are a few:

Judo sketch 1

Judo sketch 1

Judo sketch 2

Judo sketch 2

Judo sketch 3

Judo sketch 3

I continued this and tried to substitute one of the figures with a lion to see how that would look.

Judo sketch 4 with lion

Judo sketch 4 with lion

Judo sketch 5 with lion

Judo sketch 5 with lion

I liked the very first judo sketch so I tried to place it in a composition with some aspects of a surrounding environment around the two figures:

Judo sketch 1 with surrounding environment

Judo sketch 1 with surrounding environment

For the surrounding environment I had the beautiful scenery of Kolimbrithes in Paros, Greece in mind:

Kolimbrithes in Paros, Greece

Judo sketch 1 with lion and more detailed background based on Kolimbrethes

Clearly I had moved away from the circular idea for the composition, but the figures were still considerably intertwined. Also there was a lot more movement and energy which I liked. After this last sketch, I was ready to start the painting.I didn’t take any pictures as I was actually making the painting, mostly because I worked too fast. Since I was painting pretty loose with a lot of paint thinner, I had to work fast because although it was an oil painting it actually was drying quickly. I ended up doing the painting in one shot over the course of a day. My objective was to move and push the paint around in a way where it didn’t seem too controlled and it retained the energy of a sketch, while having the resolution and impact of a finished painting.

Here is the end result (or at least the end result until I feel like I may need to tweak it, which I might do at any time):

Hercules_Lion

Herakles and the Nemean Lion, oil on canvas, 2009

Jane Pack on Robert Beverly Hale

26, January 2009 § 9 Comments

robert-beverly-hale-blog-2

I have long appreciated and recommended for students the books of Robert Beverly Hale on drawing and anatomy. Robert Beverly Hale (1901 – 1985) was an artist, curator of American paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and instructor of artistic anatomy at the Art Students League of New York. I found his books many years ago and they transformed my teaching of life drawing. I don’t think students ever saw me coming to class without one of them tucked under my arm. The best of his books is “Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters”, but all the books are clearly written and packed with information.  Mr. Hale’s droll sense of humor and his passion for his subject are evident in the quotations in the side bars and the illustrations of master works are excellent as well as annotated. I believe they are the best books available about drawing technique on the market. This was obviously a man who knew his subject.

Last winter I purchased the DVD set of Lectures on Artistic Anatomy which were taped during the classes at the Art Students League with Robert Beverly Hale. There are ten discs and each contains one lecture with focus on one area of the figure such as the rib cage or the shoulder girdle.  The quality of the black and white video image is not very good as it is an amateur tape from over 30 years ago. Even so the lectures are well worth watching. It is a joy to see this man effortlessly create large scale drawings in charcoal while wearing a suit jacket and tie. He simplifies the vast subject of anatomy into manageable and  comprehensible segments while keeping things lively with the occasional joke.  Hale teaches a system which harks back to the Renaissance masters and emphasizes that drawing is a rational, decision making process.  He simplifies masses into geometric shapes and stresses how line is a magical tool to reveal those shapes in the drawing.

figure-drawing-3
The DVDs are available for the students to view and many took advantage of this last term, showing up with their sketch books in hand  to view them.  In combination with the life drawing classes there was a great deal of progress in draughtsmanship over the semester. I learned an incredible amount from him and have adapted his methods by putting up an extra large drawing board for demonstrations. Students are asked to draw on top of projected master works to help clarify the knowledge of anatomy that we study with the live model. And we often share our favorite Bob Hale anecdotes in class.

figure-drawing-1
I like the following quotation from Hale which is still appropriate though it refers to art education in the late 60’s.

Good drawing has declined tremendously in recent years, because if anyone draws well he is attacked as being sentimental or anecdotal. The result is that many teachers cannot draw well and neither can their pupils. Therefore they are doomed to create what I call geometrical or biological abstractions—Scotch plaid or turkey-dinner paintings.

Robert Beverly Hale interviews, 1968 Oct. 4 – Nov. 1, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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