From the Sketchbook

Chris Rywalt, William by Dad, 2009, ink on paper, 8.5x5 inches

Chris Rywalt, William by Dad, 2009, ink on paper, 8.5x5 inches

Last weekend the Boy Scouts went on a ski trip, so William went on a ski trip, so I went on a ski trip. I've never in my life desired to go skiing -- it never even occurred to me as a possibility -- and now I can firmly state I will never desire to go skiing again, either. I'm certain there's skiing in Hell.

After our time on the slopes we waited in the lodge while the other Scouts straggled in from the mountain. I'd brought my pad and sketched William with my brush pen. Never leave home without it.

Recently I read David Hockney's Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. Hockney's thesis is that the use of mirrors and lenses entered art in the early Renaissance and completely changed, almost instantly, how artists drew and painted and how audiences related to art. I'm not sure I buy his thesis entirely but he makes a convincing argument for how lens-based art -- realism -- has become.

That book freed me in a very real way. I realize now that I am an excellent draftsman, whereas before, I felt that I was pretty bad. Because I was comparing myself to artists like Ingres. But by Hockney's reckoning Ingres and others used optics extensively -- the visual evidence is pretty compelling -- and when you see the unaided work of artists down through the years, suddenly I look really good. That is, catching a likeness with something like a camera lucida, while not strictly easy, is definitely easier than trying to eyeball it without aid. I'm not saying here I'm up to Ingres' standard by any means. But I realize now that, by working without optics as I do, I'm working with a different set of tools, and so I should compare myself to those artsts working the same way. Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse. And pre-Renaissance artists, too. And when I compare myself to them, I feel pretty good about my draftsmanship.

It also made me realize that the direction I've been naturally going in -- that of trying to see, with my own eyes, rather than use photos or projections or other aids -- that my goal of capturing what's there rather than what one thinks is there based on generations of lens-based art and photography -- that that direction is a worthy one, and a good one, and, most importantly, that I'm doing well in it.

It's a good feeling.

One of the results is this entirely eyeballed, non-lens-based portrait of my son William, tired after a day of skiing. It took me less than ten minutes to get this down freehand, and I must admit, I'm inordinately pleased with it.

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This page contains a single entry by Chris Rywalt published on February 25, 2009 6:09 PM.

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