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How did the old masters do observational drawings/paintings of certain subjects that wouldnt keep still (children, animals) or mass quantity of subjects in various poses, etc. I know they couldn't have used photography and the paintings themselves look too 'from life' to be done by imagination.
Or were they done by imagination?
Just wondering if there was a technique they had to capture a scene without photography or freezing time itself.
They sketched from life and used construction techniques when needed. They did tens to hundreds of preparatory studies depending on the complexity of the scene. They start with the idea for the painting, roughed it out from imagination and then refined with life studies for gesture and then refined it some more. You don’t need photography to draw something if you train yourself properly and work hard enough to get the result you want. They also didn’t have someone telling them to do it in a week. A little art history really helps for this. There are thousands of books on the subject.
Last edited by dpaint; February 24th, 2012 at 09:43 AM.
Any recommended books to start with?
This is a good place to start
Also most biographies on artists contain information on working methods including models and their use. There are monographs on Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Ruebens, Carravagio, Velasquez and others that will show their working drawings and preliminary studies. They also talk about how long it took to create their major works.
Last edited by dpaint; February 24th, 2012 at 11:13 AM.
Also, "the old masters" are not one group who did one kind of painting with one set of methods at one time.
**Finished Work Thread **Process Thread **Edges Tutorial
Crash Course for Artists, Illustrators, and Cartoonists, NYC, the 2013 Edition!
"Work is more fun than fun."
"Art is supposed to punch you in the brain, and it's supposed to stay punched."
I can't speak for the old masters, but I know a lot of wildlife artists are proficient at sketching moving subjects. It's just something you have to practice: making a "mental snapshot" of the gesture, then filling in the details.
James Gurney did a post about posing animals back in January:
Also, a lot of wildlife artists have a solid understanding of animal anatomy... So they're able to get the gist and attitude of animals from a brief pose while drawing from life, and then fill in the gaps with a combination of short-term memory of the pose they just saw (the "mental snapshot",) and knowledge of how the animal is built.
I often do something similar while sketching animals, dancers, parades, etc... If you're focused, you can get a pretty good mental image of a split-second pose in just a glance, and use the mental image to flesh out a minimal gesture. (Though I think I need more of that there anatomy and structure to be really good at this sort of thing...)
Many of the "old masters" also had a solid grasp of anatomy and structure and perspective and so forth, so they could draw on that to flesh things out. Some of them did a fair amount from imagination, many of them combined imagination/life studies/constructing things. If you see a big group of people in a painting, they usually were NOT posed all at once - more often, the artist would do a lot of sketches from imagination to work out the general grouping and poses, and then do lots of individual studies from life of various figures in the group, and then use those studies as reference to draw a final group shot (which would likely involve more tweaks from imagination...)
Raphael would be good to look at to get a general idea of this sort of process, because there's a lot of material available to show both the working drawings and the final paintings. Da Vinci is always fun to study because he left piles and piles of drawings for all stages of work, including rough thumbnails. There was an exhibit recently of Bronzino's drawings, which are interesting to look at for process as well, you might look up the book for that. And Rubens is always a good bet, a whole wealth of material there. Ingres and David both have rather interesting process, you might try to find their studies as well just for larks (Ingres paints a lot of alternate fragments of figures from life and then gloms them together to create something "ideal", David has a ridiculously meticulous process of drawing everyone nude separately, then together, then adding clothes...)
Anyway, there's a lot of different approaches, but it often comes down to some combination of observation/imagination/construction. The best thing is to look at as many different artists as possible. It's fun and educational.
John James Audubon was a crack shot; his bird paintings are from dead specimens. To get the sense of life and movement back...that was the art part. Wildlife painters are good at getting that visual sense of movement and holding it in their heads.
AND YET, it was not until the late 19th C that Muybridge's photos proved once and for all whether a galloping horse ever hand all four hooves off the ground at once (yes).
I was once on the receiving end of a critique so savagely nasty, I marched straight out of class to the office and changed my major (sketchbook).
True. And you'll notice a lot of pre-photography pictures of horses (and other things) have rather conventionalized poses... Sort of what you would get if you took a whole running cycle and distilled it into one pose that says "look at me, I'm running"... You don't really get those weird poses that happen in a split-second until after photography.
I have some reading to do
Here's a good place to start: Joaquin Sorolla...badass. All painted in the early 1900s...around 1904-1909.
And the painting..."Horse's Bath".
Still can't take photos that capture light like this..."Afternoon Sun".
Wait, how did we get this far without mentioning Imaginative Realism?
Others have mentioned good stuff, but people also used aids like sculptures and mannequins. It's worth noting that these are infinitely more useful when combined with a solid understanding of constructive drawing. But they didn't will everything forth from their imagination honed on one million hours of working from life. Well, not all of them, anyway.