Many children in America learn to play baseball early in life. One of the first principles commonly taught is to not choke the bat. Choking the bat means gripping it too close to the top. But there are situations when choking the bat may be a good thing and some players routinely do it. The way an artist grips their instrument is as important as a baseball player’s grip on the bat. And as in baseball, it’s important to know when to choke the bâton.
Memorable Expressions of General Truths
Dozens of aphorisms have come down to us from previous artists. This collection of articles contains explanations of those which are traditionally heard in ateliers that teach Sight-Size.
“It will be like scales falling from your eyes” was a statement I frequently heard during my years in various ateliers and it is something I tell my own students. That’s fairly straightforward. But let’s look a little closer to better understand how it applies to learning to see.
Finishing one area at a time is death to relational seeing. It interferes with your ability to compare relationships, whether that’s between shapes, values, color, or edges. Better is to keep everything moving along at the same pace. That not only eliminates the risks of piecemeal seeing, it also helps to assure an accurate representation. But how do you keep everything moving when nobody can effectively do more than one thing at a time?
One of the directions often given by Mr. Gammell was that the student should “See the big shapes. See them truthfully and then move on.” This is vitally important advice because if your big shapes are not correct, any additions will also be in error.
“Nature deals in broken color everywhere, but she never deals in broken values. The color dances, but the values stay put.” That aphorism, or a version of it, is something that every student should regularly hear mentioned in all Gammell-based ateliers.
At their most basic levels, drawing and painting are initially all about creating the correct shape in the correct place. On their own, neither a shape nor placement suffice. To be completely accurate, both must be correct.
All too common among self-taught artists (as well as some trained ones) is a lack of edge variation in their work. Although the opposite also occurs, this error is most often made by representing all edges as being equally sharp. But to make an accurate representational statement you must use the full range of edges and this begins with finding the extremes: the sharpest sharp and softest soft.
Context is everything, or so the saying goes, and it’s so familiar that it’s easy to quickly skip past it. But stop and think about it for a minute. In any given scene all values are unconsciously perceived relative to every other value.
Depending upon how deep you want to go, the principles of light and shade can be quite complex. Nevertheless, everything hinges on the fact that light travels in a straight line. Upon hitting a surface light also reflects back in a straight line. How much of that light reflects back to your eye is dependent upon whether the surface is in the world of light or in the world of shadow.
Keep your shadows flat, flat as a hat, flatter than that, is a saying of which Mr. Gammell was quite fond. At first glance it might seem like nonsense, but that assumption would be incorrect. Flat shadows are integral to creating the illusion of depth.
After spending enough time on this site, or at an atelier that comes down through R. H. Ives Gammell, you will soon notice phrases like, the big-look and piecemeal seeing. The former is always deemed to be good and the latter, bad. The surest way to avoid the bad and pursue the good is to work on the farthest back straggler first.
As a student of Charles H. Cecil’s, one of the directions you would regularly hear was to stand back a “heroic distance.” In my mind, along with the command, I see Charles walking forward towards the student’s setup and at the same time swinging his arm back behind him. That gesture was meant to push the student back while Charles pointed out something on their artwork or on the model.