Monday, December 18, 2017

Portrait of Berthe Morisot

I finally finished the Berthe Morisot portrait that I wrote about a few posts back. It's somewhat large (about a meter tall). I'm happy with it. However I was slightly disappointed with the texture of the paper for charcoal (it's meant for etchings, I think) because it didn't allow me to manipulate the charcoal as much as I'd like once I laid down the original lines. Next time I'm going with something smoother. Suggestions are welcome (not that toothy Ingres texture though please. The physical sensation of drawing on that gives me the heebie-jeebies).
The finished portrait of painter Berthe Morisot, by Ciana Pullen.
The original photo of Morisot that I worked from. I also looked at other photos of her over her life to get a better idea of what she looked like, since I had to fill in and make sense of a low resolution image.

A detail of the shoulder. I like the texture of the erased lines.

Detail of the face and hand.

Detail of the fringed blanket. The blanket didn't exist in the original photo but the composition needed something black in that shape. I suppose I could have made it anything; a backpack, a roofing shingle, a large sheet of nori. But I went for the obvious. The fringe was fun, especially the white spaces between the threads which took on an unexpected stained glass effect.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sketch in Progress of Berthe Morisot

I mentioned a few days ago that I was having some trouble in the studio and planned to simply draw a portrait of Berthe Morisot from a photo. It's been slow going; first, because it's quite large, and second, because I had to build myself a support wall for my studio space, and I don't have a car. Which meant walking down to Bauhaus (which is like Lowe's, except they don't finance the Republican Party) and carrying back my supplies in 2 trips. I'm proud to say I built a strong support out of foam, which I can easily disassemble when/if I move studios. I'm making only one change, and that is to replace the very squeaky top foam layers (the blue stuff) with a cheap roll of cork (which is sold to go under wooden floorboards to stop them from squeaking).
The back of the support wall in my studio space (look at the cool arched ceilings!)

The support wall with the very beginning of the Berthe Morisot sketch stuck to it with bulldog clips and enormous staples that function like tacks. The system works!

Anyway, here is a detail of the portrait in progress.
Portrait in progress of Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot, drawn from an old photograph. By Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Don't Forget the Spine, Neck and Shoulders (from the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture)

This post has been adapted from an older post, Upright Citizens: The Importance of Head, Neck and Shoulders in Portraiture. It is part of the series, Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see also How to Paint an Eyebrow).

Here are two lookalikes I'll bet you've never considered: Don Knotts and Mick Jagger. Not twins exactly, but they could be brothers.
Don Knotts and Mick Jagger
Donn Knotts (as Barney Fife) and Mick Jagger.
Ingenious blogger Scott Fertig noticed the similarities between the facial features of Don Knotts and Mick Jagger-- fish lips, pronounced folds at the barrel of the mouth, flat brows over heavily lidded eyes-- and superimposed Don Knotts' face on Mick Jagger's body. Yes, it's freaky. It's also a perfect example of just how much difference the neck and shoulders make: put Don Knott's face with a different neck, shoulders and posture, and he looks like a completely different person.

Don Knotts face on Mick Jaggers Body
"Mick Knotts," via ScottFertig. [Image: Black & white photo of Mick Jagger posing with undershirt and low-slung jeans against a brick wall, one hand resting on the opposite shoulder with his arm across his chest. But his face has been replaced with Don Knotts's smirking face under Mick's feathered rock-star hairdo.]
Let's look at the real Don Knotts as Barney Fife, and his own neck, spine and shoulders. He gives the impression of a turtle.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife. [image description: moving gif of Barney looking out the police station window through the blinds, then turning around, leading his body around with his nose and craned out neck. He starts back in surprise to find a cartoonish mobster pointing a gun in his face.]
That's because he rounds forward in his lower-mid back (where a bra would fasten), while his shoulders are narrow and sloped, all creating the illusion of a rounded "shell." His thin neck attaches to the front of this structure rather than sitting tall atop his spine. His receding chin and high, sloping forehead create a smooth curve from his collar bone to his crown, just as a turtle's head would be jutting forward and curving up. The posture allows his characters to appear bedraggled and exasperated, even though he was a very high-energy performer. Without his characteristically large ears poking out over his tapered neck and thin, hunched shoulders, he just wouldn't be Don Knotts.
Now contrast his posture and spine with Mick Jagger's. Where Knotts was a turtle, Jagger is an open Jack-in-the-box, as if his spine is a spring attached to his hips, full of coiled tension and always ready to snap back the other direction. He even emphasizes his spring-loaded posture with the actual tension of skin-tight clothes.
Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger, 1972, photo by Bob Gruen, via MorrisonHotel, via AnthonyLuke. [Image description: Black & white action shot of Jagger performing live against a black background. His upper torso is shown in profile, leaning forward, arms reaching out to grasp the microphone, his head thrown back and turned toward the camera with his mouth open in mid-song and his eyes cast downward.]
Though his shoulders are narrow like Knotts' they appear square because of his posture. He also differs from Knotts in that his head is extremely large for his shoulders and his big hair exaggerates it. To support his big old noggin, he has a thicker more muscular neck. He isolates his jaw forward and tilted up, as if the bottom of his mouth is filled with liquid he doesn't want to spill. Besides giving him an insolent appearance, the habitual upward tilt of his chin emphasizes the width and tension of his neck, reminding one of the tense throat of his screaming onstage persona.
Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger. Can't find the photographer, via artsmeme.com [Image description: black & white shot of Mick Jagger sitting in a casual suit shown from crotch upward, with one knee up and to the side, one wrist leaning on the knee, the other hand near his hip with his elbow out. A backward C-shaped curve is formed by the fly of his pants, the buttons of his shirt, his open jacket and lapels, his spine and neck, and extending through his head held at an angle. His mouth is open and brow kind of scrunched like he's thinking hard and in mid-speech.]
Have you ever noticed how goofy a cutout photo of a head looks, floating in space without its neck and shoulders?

Have you ever had to recognize a faraway person without your glasses, based only on their fuzzy outline and quality of movement, as a brown shape with points?

Then you already know how crucial the gestures of the neck, spine and shoulders are to a person's look. Maybe a portrait only alludes to the neck and shoulders with a sketchy line, maybe the curve of shoulders is only visible under a puffy coat and scarf, but what is alluded to has to be correct. When the rest of the body isn't shown, it's only through the neck and shoulders that we get a hint of a person's physical condition (muscular or soft, stocky or lanky, young or old). Even more telling are the person's habitual body gestures: tight or relaxed, meek or aggressive, withdrawn or wide open. After all, our lives are written on our bodies.

Learning how to really see the neck, spine and shoulders isn't only a matter of rigorous draftsmanship. It's what makes people say, "wow, you really captured this person!" The secret is noticing the unique characteristics of how a person holds themselves, then re-creating that energy on paper with pose, linework and composition.

If you're drawing from photos and you've never observed the subject in person, then you're already at a disadvantage. You've got to practice with live subjects so you can interact with them and see them in motion. If you're too chicken to try that, then at least draw from a video or gif instead of a photo. YouTube clips of singers are great for this purpose, as they are especially expressive and active.

Here, give it a try. Watch this video of Nina Simone performing, and really look at her neck and shoulders. Notice how her head leans forward with an intense concentration on an imaginary horizon, then she levels the audience with a direct stare, every so often throwing her head back and to the side impatiently. Her chin recedes into her neck, creating the general appearance of a serious frown and accentuating the striving forward thrust of her face. The sides of her long neck descend in sinewy muscles into strong rounded shoulders.

[Video Description: Black & white 1960 video of Nina Simone performing live, "I Loves You Porgy," at a piano. She wears an open tank top dress and plays a lingering soulful version of the song, then when she's done she leaps up from the piano bench, bows, and raises her arms to the audience.]

Even actresses who fit into Hollywood's cookie-cutter definition of conventional beauty have individually distinct ways of carrying their head, neck and shoulders. Let's compare the posture and physiognomy of Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence's neck is nearly the same width as her face, and though long, is unusually thick for a Hollywood woman. It also sits squarely atop her shoulders and stretches straight up and down, the kind of posture our moms are always wishing we had. Her head is centered atop her neck and her face is usually lifted and facing straight forward, giving her the appearance of a noble cadet. Her thick upright neck and posture are likely what makes her appearance credible as an athletic and proudly defiant participant in the Hunger Games. It also likely plays a part in her forthright public persona (people like to say, "she's so real!") This posture of integrity makes it seem righteous rather than sleazy when she flips the bird at a formal event.
Jennifer Lawrence flips someone off at the Academy Awards.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.

Jennifer Lawrence's typical posture.
Now, Kristen Stewart. Her neck is shorter but thinner. Her shoulders are also square but slightly narrower, hinting at the overall sporty-but-delicate look of her frame. Most importantly, though, is the way she holds her head forward and tilted. When caught candidly, the line between her shoulders are typically at an opposing angle to her head. She also holds her head forward from her shoulders but tipped back at an angle, as if weighed down by her curtain of hair. Her hair actually plays a part in a habitual Kristen Stewart gesture since famously flips it all over to one side. Her jaw is sharply delineated from her neck and ends in a pointed chin that appears to jut forward with contrariness because of the forward thrust of her neck. The limp outstretched neck, jutting chin and jaw, and opposing angles give her a lazily rebellious look that, combined with her naturally down-turned mouth, I find appealing (but apparently rubs a lot of people the wrong way). Kristen Stewart, for instance, would come across as sleazy or disrespectful if she flipped the bird on the red carpet.
Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart looking straight ahead with shoulders askew.

Kristen Stewart [Image Description: Stewart leans forward with her elbows on a table (out of frame), her mouth open mid-speech]
Here she is posing on the red carpet with a very typical posture for her. Notice how her jaw is jutting to the side but her head is upright, as if she is being pulled offstage in one of those old Vaudeville shows with a shepherd's crook around her neck. It is markedly different from any of Jennifer Lawrence's typical red carpet poses. An astute portrait artist would also note that her ears are unusually high up on her head; the size and position of ears help identify a person, too!
Kristen Stewart at some red carpet thing

I find that even when you cannot really see the clear shape of the ears, neck and shoulders, the visual hints are still there:

-What kind of shadows do the chin and jaw cast on the neck? The deep shadow of a jutting shelf-like chin and jaw? or the soft shading and under-lighting of a chin that melts into the throat?
Left: At the Railroad, by Manet. Middle: Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer. Right: Frank Gentile, by Alice Neel.
-What kind of shadow is formed at the base of the neck, where it attaches to the collarbone?
Left: Head of an Arab, by John Singer Sargent. Middle: Madame X (detail), by John Singer Sargent. Right: Clara J. Mathers, by Thomas Eakins
-Do the ears, if covered, affect the structure of the hair in a way that hints at their position? Can you see the earlobes or earrings? How does the jaw attach to the ear? Is there a shadow?
Left: portrait by Alice Neel. Middle: The Blue Room, by Suzanne Valadon. Right: Princess Albert de Broglie, by Ingres.
-Where do the shoulders intersect with the neck and jaw (and how far down from the earlobes)? If they're slouching they should intersect close to the ears and jaw and the neck should appear in front of the shoulders. If they are back and down, they'll intersect with the base of the neck.
Left: Self Portrait Staring, by Rembrandt. Middle: Portrait by Mary Cassat. Right: Portrait of Berthe Morisot, by Manet.
-Where is the collarbone? Imagine the base of the neck is a flat circular plane from the knob at the spine between neck and shoulders to the collarbone (the clean disc left by a guillotine, maybe?). When slouching, the spine-knob is thrust upward and the sternum down, pitching the imaginary disc forward and vertical. Thus the collarbone will be low and form a down-arrow shape. When sitting upright and level with the viewer, however, the disc is horizontally level and the collar bone is lined up right in front of the neck-knob and only slightly below the intersection of neck and shoulders.
Left: At the Theater, by Mary Cassat. Middle: Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, by Artemisia Ghentileschi. Right: Detail of a portrait by John Singer Sargent.
-Do the shadows at the sides of the neck describe its width and breadth? Often hair will dangle around the neck, obscuring the sides. But the shadows it casts can be deep on a thin neck or shallow on a broad neck. How does the hair fall around the neck and shoulders? If it falls straight down from the head, the place where it lands on the neck and shoulders can help indicate that the head is in front of or straight above the collarbone.
Left: Nogeeshik, by Andrew Wyeth. Middle: Portrait by Mary Cassat. Right: The Repentant Mary Magdalene, by Georges Quentin de la Tour.
-Do the shadows at the sides of the neck describe its width and breadth? Stiff collars can obscure the neck as well, but the way they fit around the neck, snugly or loosely, can be described by the shadows they cast. The degree of forward pitch of the collar can also be very descriptive of posture.
Left: Portrait of Joseph Antoine Moltedo, by Ingres. Middle: Self Portrait by Rembrandt. Right: portrait by Modigliani (I cannot locate the title, sorry).

Finally, if you pay attention to the neck and shoulders before you start, you can manipulate the pose and angle so that any personally identifying characteristics of their posture can be highlighted. Take, for instance, the flower-stalk-like neck in the Bust of Nefertiti. Why draw her from this angle, with her hair hanging down in a wig (just imagine it)...
Bust of Nefertiti [Image description: a color photograph of the famous ancient Egyptian painted sculpture of Queen Nefertiti viewed from the front, with what appears to be a thin but average length neck and upside-down-trapezoidal hat]

...when you could choose this other angle, with her long neck exposed and a big hat creating a visual X marking the spot of her regal eyes?
Profile view of the Bust of Nefertiti. [Image description: photograph of the same sculpture, taken from the side in profile. Reveals an extremely long neck pitched forward to an upraised jaw and chin. Viewed from the side, the hat extends up and back at an opposing angle to the neck, creating an imaginary intersection right at her eyes and a sense of elegant balance. The trapezoidal tulip shape of the hat contrasting with the long thin neck also creates the illusion of a flower on a stalk.]

And, for a different take, here's 1980s Arnold Swartzenegger. He had a famously thick neck and body-builder muscles; the protruding barrel of his mouth resolutely marked the spot where the wad of muscles stopped being neck and started being face. So why pose him like this...

Arnold Swartzenegger, c. 80's [Image Description: color photo of Arnold's face, shoulders and upper torso at a three-quarter angle facing the viewer. His shoulders are rounded forward and his face lifted and at a bowed angle, obscuring much of his neck.]

...when you could choose this angle and pose? It's so much more "Arnold."
Film still from or promotional image for The Terminator. [Image Description: color photo of Arnold's face, shoulders and chest in character as the Terminator. He wears sunglasses an holds a gun straight up in front and to the side, echoing the width and position of his neck. He wears a wide-lapel leather coat with a popped collar that sits flush against the back of his neck and skull, creating a visual X at the lumpy barrel of his mouth. The sides of the coat's neck opening extend down over his chest, continuing and emphasizing the line of his neck. Lazers in the background radiate outward from a point visually marking his collar bone.]

What about the rest of the face? Stay tuned for the rest of my Notes on Portraiture series.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Women in Architecture

Places Journal ran this article by Despina Stratigakos about the massive erasure of women in architecture, both historically and ongoing. It's an interesting read, and a frustrating one. There is no art form quite so married to political power, wealth and elitism as architecture, simply by virtue of what and who is needed to build a building. It's impossible to imagine architecture ever divorcing itself of the rich and powerful, so it is inexplicable to my why anyone would feel threatened by a more democratic approach to its study. But now that I've said it, I'd like to imagine architecture suddenly running rogue, with school basketball teams commissioning monumental museums and the lady behind the counter at Walgreens taking a day off to commission a public park and monument in the old industrial waterfront.

Thekla Schild, an early 20th Century German architect.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Horrible Day in the Studio

I thank my lucky stars to have a studio. It's been a long time coming, but two months ago I finally (FINALLY) secured a small space to work. A basement space with dim two windows that I share with another artist, and a honeycomb of other studios leading off in either direction. I wouldn't say it's a "community," because no one seems to talk to each other, unless it's about the rent. Which is ok I guess; after all, not all communities are a blessing.

But I've been avoiding my studio space because Friday I had a really, really bad day painting. The promising piece just got worse and worse, and now I'm very much stuck. Things snowballed, I felt like I couldn't do anything right, and all my art ideas were stupid. Which makes it difficult to regroup and try something else, no?

Saturday and Sunday rolled by, and I reasoned that since it was the weekend I didn't need to go in and work. Right? Then Monday I tried to gather source material to go in another direction before heading off to the studio, and instead I had a bit of a breakdown. Feeling awful about my art was piled on top of a steady drip horrifying world news, and to top it off I got some pretty bad news about the German tax system-- that is, the amount of money that I could expect to earn with art if I work my butt off is exactly the amount of money you can't make without going into debt to the German government. You have to earn either less than $4000 or more than about $25,000. What is the deal with that, Germany? What are you trying to do? I ended up crying, then spent the evening fixing some old broken CSS on my blog.

Today I'm ready to head to my studio again (after posting this). I'm gearing up to do a big charcoal portrait of the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot from a photograph (with a few other old photos, for reference). It's almost too basic. I don't usually draw from one photo; drawing from life is best if I can manage, but I usually form a composite from several photos or draw from a video snippet to avoid simply copying someone else's flat image like a human Xerox machine. And there's no particular concept, it's just a portrait, which is What I Do Best. But maybe that's what I need right now.

Berthe Morisot.
When I was a Junior in art school, a Senior got pregnant, which really derailed her thesis work. She got pretty stuck and panicky, so she started knitting a lot just to get her mind back to basics. Her thesis ended up being a massive abstract sculpture made of yards and yards of knit fabric. It was pretty good, too. That has always stuck with me.

So, here I go. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 1, 2017

How to Paint an Eyebrow (from the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture)

This post is part of the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see Neck, Shoulders & Spine here).

When I was 13 my popular friend from camp told me that if a boy saw a stray hair between a girl's eyebrows, even one, he would actually vomit with disgust. I believed her for about 5 minutes, then reasoned that if this were true surely I'd have seen it occur. Especially considering the company I kept.

But long gone are the days when a breezy beauty writer could flabbergast their audience by commanding, "Put down those tweezers..." The brow renaissance (brennaissance?) may even be inching like two bushy caterpillars toward its dénouement. I will miss the delicious twistedness of seeing otherwise normal looking faces with maniacal black brows painted onto them. During the scant four years since I applied my first ever brow product, I tried a few looks in the privacy of my bathroom, like brushing all the hairs straight up and gelling them in place á la "Olsen twin natural look" or outlining them with pale concealer to make them "pop."

It is only now that I appreciate the forbidden natural flaws of the brow. They grow in swirly patterns, like the hair on our scalps! Sometimes they have no real edge, like two nebulae. Sometimes they're wizard-like.

Since most of the great Western portraits of the past depict at least somewhat natural brows-- unplucked, unfilled and timeless-- they show something important that fashion photos often don't: you can see the curvature of the skull underneath the brow hairs.

When we look at brows, we're seeing not only the color of the hair but also the skin in between those hairs. The hairs cast a shadow on the skin, so the skin will look lighter where the hair is sparse and where the skin curves out toward the viewer:

Carolus Duran (detail), by John Singer Sargent
They wrap around the lumps of the skull like a mountain trail. As the perspective shifts, their shape can change drastically:

Emily Sargent (detail), by John Singer Sargent
A Spanish Woman (detail), by John Singer Sargent
Brows can be both lighter and darker than skin. Pay close attention:

Admiral Augustus Keppel (detail) by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The density of hairs can form swirls like calligraphy-- especially at the inner corners. They aren't a solid shape that's filled in. Look for the planes and patches of color that the hairs form as they undulate like schools of fish:

Young Girl Wearing a White Muslin Blouse (detail), by John Singer Sargent
Often the tail of the brow is indiscernible and melts into the valley between the brow and the outer corner of the eye:

Caspar Goodrich (detail), by John Singer Sargent
 Sometimes the inner corners melt into the shadows at the bridge of the nose:

Portrait of Victorine-Louise Meurent (detail), by Eduard Manet
Don Sebastian de Morra (detail), by Diego Velasquez
They can look thinner or thicker, shorter or longer depending upon how the light hits them:

The Daughters of Sir Edward Darley Boit (detail), by John Singer Sargent
Brows are three-dimensional. They have highlights and shadows when they stick out:

Portrait of Victorine-Louise Meurent (detail) by Eduard Manet
Brows describe the bridge of the nose:

Portrait of a Negro Buttoning His Shirt (detail), by Maurice Quentin de la Tour
The edges of brows melt into the skin-- there's rarely a harsh line. The color blends, and often the brushstrokes pull the colors together:

Juan de Pareja (detail), by Diego Velasquez

The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano, Called "El Nino de Vallecas" (detail), by Diego Velasquez
Even the darkest brow is rarely as dark as the novice painter believes it to be. Too stark of a contrast with the skin (the "wooly worm effect," as my high school art teacher called it) can be the tell-tale sign of an amateur:

Self Portrait (detail), by Sir Joshua Reynolds
What about the rest of the face? Stay tuned for more in this series of posts called Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see Neck, Shoulders & Spine here).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Coloring Book

For the last several months I've been collaborating with my friend Anna Guengerich, who works in the Anthropology Department at Vanderbilt University. Many people are familiar with the ancient Chachapoya of the Andes because of their stunning, gravity-defying tombs built into cliffs above the clouds. Less well known are their daily lives, which Anna's archaeological team has recently uncovered in rural Peru. It turns out their houses were as surprising as their tombs, and the weavings that survive are extremely impressive. The Chachapoya were eventually conquered by the Incan Empire, like many other cultures of the Andes.

Where the Chachapoya once lived, today the Museo Leymebamba houses their artifacts, reconstructed buildings, and the famous huddled mummies. Unfortunately looting of the ancient sites in the area is a major problem. Adventure tourists and amateur archeologists still hunt for new sites and rediscover existing sites, often with the help of unofficial local tourguides. Even when the participants remain respectful of the discoveries, locals in a desperate economy often follow in their wake and loot the items to sell.

Anna and I have been collaborating on a coloring book that the Museo Leymebamba and local educators will use not only to share what Anna and her team have discovered, but also to educate kids about the importance of protecting ancient artifacts and housing them safely. Anna wrote the story, then gave me a crash course in the daily life of the Chachapoya so I could accurately illustrate it. I really enjoyed figuring out how to convey a world where it's normal to grill up a guinea pig, footrace barefoot in the cold, and for your grandma to heal you with magic when you're sick.

The book hasn't yet gone to press, but I'm sharing a frame here. The main character's dad has just gotten a job as a guard at the Museo Leymebamba, and she's sitting at the edge of a lake wondering what's so special about the artifacts, and who the Chachapoya were. Little does she know it's a magical time-traveling lake....

Page from a Chachapoyas coloring book by Ciana Pullen
A frame from a coloring book about the ancient Chachapoya, written by Anna Guengerich and illustrated by Ciana Pullen.

If you'd like to know more about the book, feel free to contact me.

Classical piano and video

I ran across a German contest (whose deadline I'd long missed) to create a video to accompany the classical music provided. I was impressed by two of the previous winners. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Impossible Voyage

I did this sketch of a famous scene from the 1904 movie The Impossible Voyage, for an exhibit about science fiction and architecture in Glasgow, Scotland.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Travel diary, Amalfi

Breakfast in Amalfi, by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros
Breakfast in Amalfi, Italy, by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros. It seems Italians don't "do breakfast" any more than a pastry and espresso. Which is the only reason we were drawn in by an ad for a "full English breakfast" obviously for tourists only. But when morning rolled around, it was nowhere to be found! We settled on a profoundly bad breakfast at this place, watching groups of English tourists carrying cottage-floral print umbrellas and complaining about small cultural differences, followed by German tour groups using sparkling new walking poles and wearing coordinating neon sport-raincoats, probably not intentionally. Luckily, we finally got our full English breakfast in England earlier this year.