Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pieces in Charcoal

 “You’ll be surprised to see it when it all comes together.”

I didn’t really think about what he was saying.  Pencils, erasers, sketch pad, and other paraphernalia I continued to lay out, ready for this class I’m enrolled in, my first ever in the art of drawing.  After three weeks I’m learning a good bit, some of it well beyond technique. 

As for technique, charcoal proves to be as interesting a medium as it is messy.  Scott Hutchison is an adept.  He puts his expertise to good use, modeling for his students the way to measure, reproduce shapes, create on paper what the eye actually sees rather than what the mind anticipates. 

Scott collected sheets of sketch paper from the dozen or so students, carefully measuring and cutting them into 12” squares.  He carved up a photograph into 2” squares, laying them out on a table, numbered on their backsides.  There was no way of telling what the undivided image had been.  It lay in pieces in various shades of white, black, and gray, random streaks and swirls here and there.  We watched.  He explained step by step what he was doing as he chose one little square and began to replicate it on one of the larger squares.

First he took a very thin piece of charcoal and with it rapidly coated the paper.  Then he shocked me by smearing the whole thing with his palm until the paper was a shade of light gray.  With an eraser he created white spaces.  With a thicker piece of charcoal he gradually darkened the grays to blacks as dictated by the section of the image he was copying.  A piece of face began to appear, although I don’t know I’d have figured it out if he’d kept it a secret. 

“Now, go to it,” he directed."  I chose one that I could tell had a section of eyeglasses.  Other than that, it was completely abstract.  The job was to pay attention to shapes, lines, values, paying attention only to the details relative to each other, translating the small image to one ten times larger.  I felt reasonably good about my creation, finished in about forty minutes or so.  I began working on a second, simpler piece that interestingly was harder to reproduce than the more complex one. 

In the last quarter hour of class, each completed square of the twenty was put up on a wall in the pre-numbered order.  Before our eyes emerged the billboard-size photo of an elderly man, remarkably like the original photograph posted beside it. 

click the image to compare with the original
the finished product
“I kept thinking that I was doing it all wrong,” commented Mazie.  “I couldn’t imagine how what I was drawing could possibly fit anything.  But it does!”  Confessions of pride and awe followed the initial surprise.  The finished product looked to me quite like a cubist’s work.  Each square was distinctively different, yet everyone’s style was consistent with the whole.  Some squares matched up uncannily well.  The mind, in viewing the image, corrected the mismatches so that the whole metamorphosed into more than the mere sum of parts. 

“Life’s a bit like that, Mazie,” I said, quoting an old comedy routine of “Beyond the Fringe.”  We think we must be messing up, doing something wrong, certainly something that cannot possibly be what is intended.  In the end, we find that what we have done was exactly right.  The picture is whole.  Every piece mattered.  It all hangs together.

It always does and always will. 

Trust the process.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016

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