Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drawing Meets Design: Line & Shape

What is the relationship between drawing and design? The Renaissance term disegno binds them together as a kind of thinking-through-drawing.

My students are working with just such a drawing/design problem right now. The project sheet has informed them that the distribution of line, shape, tone and pattern are primary. But what does it mean? "The distribution of line, shape, tone and pattern are primary." It sounds like Beginning-Design-Class pablum. Which it can be. (Zzzzz.)

It sez here: the language of forms rewards investigation.

The Seymour Chwast ink drawing from Pushpin #21 (above) integrates strong black shape and a husky brushed line to hold the page. But the angular rhythm of those legs makes the thing work, by preventing the white/black, white/black, white/black march of the costumes from becoming insistent. That and the visual syncopation of the last black shape; it works off the dotted half note of the second black figure. The image fuses description and form.


In some cases, well-used contour line and a strong sense of shape is enough to generate interest. Ed Benedict's character sheet is a study in drawing and design. Look at the geometry of the second figure from the left. Check out the pinwheel created by the forward edge of his hat, right jowl and chin. Ponder the elegance of the shape of his hat brim--like a response to Noguchi or Calder. Below, a series of shapes I isolated from that pencil in Illustrator.

Below, another piece of cartoon language with surprising design sense.

Mostly line, but for the black pants-legs-feet-shoes. Note that the information for all that is compressed into one exquisitely elaborated positive shape that activates negative space all around it. And the second line color adds interest but also keeps things under control. Nice pattern, too.


Just in case you're thinking this is about "style", think again. Above, an ink drawing by Eulalie Banks reproduced with machine-shaded screentone passages. The line does 90 percent of the work. She creates interest through distinct passages offset by negative space: the birdcage; the windowpanes; the curtains; woodgrain on the table; the gathered cloth below the waistband on the apron; the dots in the hat; the banding on the bowl, the stonework along the right edge. Etcetera.

Here's a case where line and pattern are used within a defined format to create positive and negative form. Within the rules of the depiction and the limits of the medium (woodcut), no opportunity is wasted. To wit: the profile of the horseshoes and metalwork on the hooves; the attenuated triangles on the right figure's stockings above the knee; the diagonal gesture of the scabbard that breaks the negative space between the same figure's legs. In general, look at all the negative spaces; that's where the money is, so to speak.


A contemporary cousin of those playing cards, by Toby Thane Neighbors.



Above, with details below, an allegorical panel by Karel Spillar in Gerlach's Allegories. (That's Music, Poetry, Painting). Most edifying. Here some lovely line has been reinforced by "coloring in" the negative space. Works just fine.


Please note two things: first, how about the active use of the figure to build composition, especially Tambourine Girl at left, and second, consider the role that non-figurative elements play in building form. The tree and the foliage are major structural pieces of the puzzle.


Gesture + props + setting elements + foliage = positive/negative composite.



While we're thinking about black and white (which helps to isolate these questions) here's a purely tonal vocabulary that exploits negative space delightfully. There's no box as a container for the picture; the edge of the format is created optically.

And then there's the relationship between line and supplementary shape. This mother hen is mine, a spot illustration for a book project from last year. I include it in this set because of the simple relationship between the black line and three sets of shapes: blue, white and black. The blue and white collaborate to create a set of supporting shapes that add interest and body to the image: the blue mass of the bird; the white breast and face detailing; the intimation of a white butt. That the blue is a low chroma, middle value is important; it balances the light and dark.


Here are some character studies in a sketchbook painting from a few years ago. The question of what's a line and what's an edge is critical, as is the issue of adjacency: what value is next to what other value?

Below, an Alex Steinweiss record album cover from 1946. Here's a case where the line/shape relationship takes a different turn.


The shapes are superimposed on networks of line: sometimes to complete a shape suggested by those lines (the pine trees) and sometimes to establish a contrasting form which is more or less indifferent to the linework.


The application of the shape and the color is seemingly casual in both cases. (But only seemingly. The disegno has a rakish touch.)


And sometimes, there are scarcely any lines at all.

These are all edge. We group things together through association, especially the pieces of the prone boy leaning on his elbows in number 2.

Above and below, color maquettes or design comps (short for design comprehensives, which nobody ever says) by the Swedish graphic designer Olle Eksell for a children's book with a title that I can't read, either in Swedish or in the Japanese caption provided by the publisher (Pie Books, Tokyo). 1958.


How smart and confident!


See above. She would be easy to dismiss. But not to the discerning formalist. Check out the subtle "lace" linear gesture above the Dutch Girl's right (rear) foot, and the way that it's echoed by the scalloped edge of her apron. Or the way that the calligraphic contour line that describes her shoes bows out in spots, leaving orange access to yellow.


Finally, two examples in which shape and edge are used to establish characters and forms, but within which line and supplementary shape articulate interior information. Above, Harry Beckhoff, and below, Jim Flora.


Images: Seymour Chwast, illustration in Pushpin #21, 1959; Ed Benedict, character sheet for Deputy Droopy, MGM Animation directed by Tex Avery, 1955; Designer unknown, Marty Mayrose advertising character for Mayrose Meats, circa 1967; Eulalie Banks, Chicken Little in the children's book of the same name, for Platt and Munk, 1932; Jehan Volay, publisher, Playing Cards with Spanish Suits, 18th century (reproduced in the Dover book Antique Playing Cards, 1996); Toby Thane Neighbors, illustration for Faesthetic No. 13; Karel Spillar, Music, Poetry, Painting in Gerlach's Allegorien, 1898; Ruth Chrisman Gannett, illustration for My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, 1948; D.B. Dowd, Mother Hen, from In Pursuit of God's Kingdom, by the Rev. James F. Dowd [my uncle] 2011; Dowd, Characters Waiting, sketchbook painting, 2009; Alex Steinweiss, album cover design for Respighi: The Pines of Rome, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, Columbia Records, 1946; Olle Eksell, children's book design comps, 1958; Designer unknown, Dutch Girl advertising character, 1956; Harry Beckhoff, You must take this thing out of here, fiction illustration for Collier's June 12, 1941; Jim Flora, album cover design for Redskin Romp, Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra, RCA Victor, 1946.

22 comments:

sunilo said...

"The disegno has a rakish touch." You have a way with words, Mr. Dowd. I just repeated the 100 Figures project, this timely post will help me process the results!

I stopped by to order a copy of SH, looking forward to reading it!

DB Dowd said...

Sunil! Great to hear of your figurative exploits. Will you post the results? How did it go? In the meantime, keep an eye on your mailbox. The fulfillment elves are hard at work...

Ariella said...

The illustration that strikes me as most relevant to my progress on this assignment is the Marty Melrose image. This image consists of interlocking shapes created by either only line, shape or pattern and together they create a gestalt shape. The notion of the gestalt is one we've discussed as a class previously regarding design work for the zoo poster--considering both the macro and micro of the design problem. As I continue to visually brainstorm and think through this illustration problem, it's important that I keep in mind macro and micro to create a both clear and interesting image.

CordL said...

Love the Ed Benedict study. There's a reason why I loved those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons so much. It's interesting to see the shapes created by the contours out of context, for they are quite confusing and don't make much sense until they are combined into a working unit. Going to try and experiment with some strong contour lines as shape in my sketches. Genndy Tartakovsky definitely took a page out of Benedict's book.

miki said...

The strong brush line of Seymour Chwast and the play of line, pattern, shape, and value in Marty Mayrose are two that have echoes in my exploratory sketches. I'm also interested in Olle Eksell's combination of solid shape and pattern. Disembodied shapes danced through my dreams last night....

Alison Davis said...

One thing I noticed about the illustrations here is that they tend to use color in a casual or unconventional manner. If used strongly enough, color creates shapes that virtually replace line. This particular technique seems most successful when constructing the image with digital media. One thing I tend to do is to make a drawing focused entirely on line and to fill the colors in last. With this project, I would like to explore use of color more throughout the process as an element of construction.

Max Temescu said...

It seems that the most successful images here to me are the ones that utilize a couple different formal qualities to show whats they're trying to show. For instance images like the Beckoff that use line and tone and pattern to create shapes and edge. There seems to be in most of these images a sense of a primary means of communication though, through which most of the design is accomplished through a system within one element of the drawing. Those that are mostly using line are the ones that I feel most inspired by for this project.

Lauren said...

The Dutch Girl advertising character really intrigues me. Line and shape are married together in a way where both are necessary to communicate her form, an idea that's decisively non-coloring-book-like. I know that when I illustrate, I find it very easy to slip into drawing solely in line and then filling that in, all the while convincing myself that that counts as creating shape. The Dutch Girl works because both principles of design are pulling their own weight, acting as primary information in some places and pulling back into secondary information in others.

Carmi Cioni said...

I must echo Lauren and say that I have a crush on the Dutch Girl. Her hemline is awesome. This image as well as the Jim Flora album cover will be particularly relevant to me as I move forward with my mainly silhouetted images. I realize now that a silhouette does not have to simply be a black shape on a white background. There is so much room for negative shapes within as well as supplementary shapes on top, whether minimally as in Dutch Girl or liberally as in Redskin Romp.

Cut paper has been invaluable to me for this project, because sometimes it is the only way I can prevent myself from sketch-sketch-sketching back to my old ways.

Hanna said...

I think the Olle Eksell piece use of shape and line are really interesting. The piece is really loosely illustrated but conveys the story. I'm actually really interested in the backgrounds too, since I have very little elements for the world of my pieces. I was more focused on the figures. The dragon guy is very nice too. It's obviously an antagonist, but it goes with the story. I was having problems with my spider.

Chris said...

I think the executions of the woodcut playing cards(?) and the Dutch girl are closest to what I envision would come about in my illustrations. The attention to gesture is especially pertinent to what I plan to do since right now I'm thinking more in terms of character and need to think more of their place in space and interaction with each other. The details in the Dutch girl are also how I need to think about making Little Miss Muffet, since they are very pared down but still provide interesting information.

sunilo said...

Re: 100 figures. I think it went well, made some interesting discoveries. I haven't had time to post anything yet, but I'll let you know when I do.

Grace said...

I think the allegory pieces you mentioned will help me a lot and are really relevant to my drawing. I usually think of lines and shapes as being two different ways to construct something, but these prove that they can be integrated very gracefully. Not necessarily everything has to be outlined even if the work is line-based, and leaving some parts not fully rendered helps the parts that are to shine more.

Susie said...

I keep looking at the illustrations of Eulalie Banks and Karel Spillar, which are consisted mostly of lines but both utilizing and activating the negative spaces as well as the positive spaces. It is amazing that how much you can achieve with restricted usage of tonal values. To fill the absence of tones, lines are purposefully exploited to give the texture and shade as well as rendering the contour of a form in both of them. I am particularly drawn to the allegorical illustration--the contrast between the well-rendered figures and abstracted, flat spaces is very elegant. I would love to try to create delicate line drawings that activate every space in pictorial field.

Alex said...

Ed Benedict's character sheet speaks volumes to me about the importance of the "design" of an illustration, and why "character design," is called character design not...character drawing. Every cartoon character and animated character that I've seen can be broken down into shapes. That's also where the most expression and visual interest stems from, I think. As I continue with this project, I'll keep in mind the spatial composition and whether or not both the positive and negative spaces are well constructed.

Sophia B. said...

Several design elements you brought up in this post were things I needed to be reminded of as I work on my nursery rhyme illustrations. For example, the image from your sketchbook that uses value adjacency to structure the illustration, rather than simply value rendering, is something I haven't really considered before. And the concept of using no line at all -- just edge -- is another way to construct an image that I tend to forget about when I start sketching using what you call "beaux arts" techniques. These different ways to construct images made me realize how many different types of exploration interest me. I'm really inspired by the way the tonal illustration you included forms its own frame -- I'm going to try to imitate that in my sketching over the next few days.

Margaret Flatley said...

I think in general this post has shown me a great range of different ways in which illustrations can be executed. Too often I get stuck in pencil mode depicting small dainty characters without fully considering shape and contour and how the mass of the figures in the image will read both large and small. Ed Benedict’s, in particular, interested me because I tend to draw most of my preliminary sketches with pencil and while I do prefer to use graphite it doesn’t always provide me enough strength to really create characters with mass. However, Benedict’s character sheet I think is an excellent example in which I could use graphite in a more informative and effective way then I have in previous sketches.

ElinWojciechowski said...

I am immediately drawn to the Karel Spillar piece. I rather like how the plane of color exists in between a sort of positive and negative space. I mean, it's technically negative space but it just works so well in calling out the gentle touch of the lines in contrast to the natural paper. This is enforced by the way the black lines continue to the edge and act as a frame for the figures. The props work fantastically without an actual ground to stand on. There is just enough weight and tone to suggest an object without physically showing it. Spillar took the line just far enough.

Jack Herzog said...

In absorbing this blog post I was able to understand to a greater extent the formal relationship between line and shape. The idea of using shape to dictate a field can be quite effective especially when a drawing is filled with fairly delicate line work, like in that of Spillar's work. The texture of the line in relation to the shape is also fairly important. In your mother hen you utilize a more gestural brush stroke contrasted by graphic blue shapes. Being aware of such relationships can help an illustrator give new life to his or her drawings and help give greater consideration to how they r designed.

Katherine McCarter said...

The illustrations that seemed the closest to how I have been working are the ones that shape and edge are used to create the characters. I like the idea of the main shape being enclosed with more detailed information being added as another layer on top of the general shape. I think I have been working similar to Harry Beckhoff but I think working in a way more similar to Ed Benedict, still using the anatomical understanding from before while accenting certain features, would be the most interesting method for me.

KGagnon said...

There were a lot of points made in this post that seemed extremely relevant to our current Classic Rhymes project that I thought were important to note. It's true that after being taught in classic drawing classes where success is coupled with having the most photo-realistic composition it's a challenge to stray away from those guidelines and focus on what is actually important. I struggle with that myself but I found this to be really helpful because with each new illustration example in this post, key elements were brought up that can help refocus my illustrations toward a more successful composition. Simple things like filling in shapes with solid color versus pattern, carefully choosing setting elements, considering how the positive and negative space interact with one another, and adding subtle detail are all things that can take an illustration to the next level. By confining yourself to perfect anatomical representation you limit the potential success of the illustration you're creating.

Eden Lewis said...

I love the mayrose man and jim flora's album cover. both utilize graphic shapes to enclose patterns in a way that is at once dramatically simplified and quite complex. The use of pattern in Flora's work especially is integral to the interest of his images. The strong, graphic shapes work beautifully with the more delicate dots and lines that form the patterns on the native american's costumes. Definitely something to strive for.