Blog 10 – a censored show

 

Last spring I applied for a drawing project and exhibition in the UK – to draw again at Oxford’s famous John Radcliffe Hospital, and this time to show in their gallery as well. There was much positive correspondence,  and I got a grant from Tegnernes Fornening (the graphic artist’s association in Denmark) to frame and ship my drawings, and to cover a 5 weeks’ working stay.

I decided to exhibit childbirth and baby drawings,  my usual subjects.  Among those I framed were my best childbirth drawings.

Here are some of the drawings I framed: a series of 10 with a father supporting a mother through labour and birth, a drawing of a child waiting to “catch” her baby brother, and 3 from a series of a woman in labour – her face drawn during contractions and rest.

 

I  had however overlooked a note in the hospital gallery information slip: “the Gallery does not accept images containing nudity.”

After some letters to and fro, I realized they meant it – no nudes was the policy and that included birthing mothers and even newborns. The show was ready, and this meant changing and reframing the childbirth half almost entirely. Only clothed or discreetly sheet-covered mothers and diapered babied would be allowed.  Of the iffy copies I sent by email for approval, nearly all my most beautiful drawings were refused –  all these above. I was told definitively that “No women with their legs open giving birth, nowhere most of a female nude body is shown.” In fact: anything even nearing the vagina would not be acceptable.

 

Nudity? Childbirth?

Look back at the drawings. Is your perception of them changed? Unfortunately it has, for me. The drawings are repetitive, of movement, made at full speed. Each is contained and complete, all its lines are important and integral to the whole.  I have an intimate series of a mother’s face during labour, as she went through through strong contractions and intermittent rest. Looking at them again, I realized that several must be left out because of swift lines that some prying, nasty eyes with their own agenda had deliberately searched for and interpreted as prurient, salacious!

From this series, showing a mother’s face in labour, during contractions and rest: Of this series,  Only the first and second were accepted.

 

 

 

 

 

And the little Danish girl waiting excitedly to “catch” her baby brother – censored because of some abstract lines – the innocent subject of her attention. In  the top corner, the midwife’s words in Danish: “you’re ready to receive him, right?”

 

 

 

I came to Oxford and exhibited what I was allowed to. I had some idea of indignantly picketing the gallery, or publishing the “censored” drawings in the local press.  Almost I am sorry I didn´t. But there are other galleries – and maybe the chance to tell the story in a small, nicely produced illustrated catalog. Watch this page.

 

The next blog tells of my Oxford drawing experience, and why drawing on the neonatal wards is, for the very best of reasons, over forever.

Blog 9: reading the smile, in photos and in drawings

I mean here by reading: recognizing an expression – a universal ability.

These are blog speculations about the illusion of the smile, the fixed smile, the difference between how we look at photos and at drawings. Up to now I had not thought about it so much; usually, if parents wanted me to draw after a widely grinning photo of their child, I would just say, “you realize the eyes are squinted” – and then they’d go for a more serious one.

In a smile, particularly, what is seen is fleeting and in motion – the “held” smile waiting for a photograph looks forced and wrong, the caught “flash” of a smile in a photograph works only because we have unconsciously trained ourselves to see it in glimpses.  Adults who have never seen photographs cannot read them, it takes training. During the last generations, we’ve learned to look at the camera’s “caught” expression in quick spurts. I am convinced that looking longer at such a photograph if it is to continue to work – I mean, to affect us – must still be interruptive. It could be measured (number of saccades, returns etc.). I haven’t read about it yet, but I can hope.

This was confirmed for me recently. I was asked to draw a beloved father for an obituary. I was sent several photos and told them I would sketch the one where he was lively and smiling. As we corresponded, one adult daughter wrote: “To me, this (photo) doesn’t look like him! He looks happy, but tired.”

I wrote back: “This is normal, don’t worry! If you stare steadily at a smiling photo, it will stop working and start to look ‘fixed‘ (or as you say, tired).  A smile is passing, and we see it in a glance. Somehow or other, after the invention of the camera, we have learned to look at smiling photos in short glances – and I suppose one can also see a smiling drawing this way, but it gets more muddled now – how we see is so fascinating. I guess a smiling drawing is one we might have on the wall but we would not gaze at it.”

In a persuasive experiment, subjects were photographed as they exchanged a neutral look for each of the 6 universal expressions – joy, sadness, surprise, anger, fear and disgust. Next, the features were blanked out. A third series was made from studying these: just blank ovals, with arrows showing only the direction of movement between features. Everyone is still able to recognize the expressions – try it.  It is the movement and direction of the expressive muscles that we read so impeccably.

Some photographs cannot be read at all, because the difference between the expression of pain and of joy must be seen in motion, or it is unreadable.

pain (injured man), joy (released hostage)

Drawings of big smiles made after photographs, with all the teeth minutely traced in, cannot work.  Everyone recognizes such a drawing – it looks obviously wrong, amateurish and uncomfortable. In reality, we see the flash only – never the details;  it passes too quickly for even the fastest artist to record, unless it is repeated.*( see note)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*note: But in fast drawing, repetition is the key: I can draw smiles and other changing expressions if I see them repeatedly, as here, with writers listening or conversing animatedly at festivals.

Blog 9 more smile: photo and drawing

Blog 2 reading the smile in photos and in drawings

I mean here by reading: recognizing an expression – a universal ability.

These are blog speculations about the illusion of the smile, the fixed smile, the difference between how we look at photos and at drawings. Up to now I had not thought about it so much; usually, if parents wanted me to draw after a widely grinning photo of their child, I would just say, “you realize the eyes are squinted” – and then they’d go for a more serious one.

In a smile, particularly, what is seen is fleeting and in motion – the “fixed” smile waiting for a photograph looks forced and wrong, the caught “flash” of a smile in a photograph works only because we have unconsciously trained ourselves to see it in glimpses. Adults who have never seen photographs cannot read them, it takes training. During the last 3-4 generations we’ve learned to look at the camera’s “caught” expressions in quick spurts. I am convinced that looking longer at such a photograph so that continues to work, must still be interruptive. I have not seen this investigated yet, though I would like to. Some photographs cannot be read at all, because the difference between the expression of pain and of joy must be seen in motion, or it is unreadable. photo 1 and 2 find

This was confirmed for me recently. I was asked to draw a beloved father for an obituary. I was sent several photos and chose to sketch the one where he was lively and smiling. As we corresponded, one adult daughter wrote: “To me, this doesn’t look like him! He looks happy, but tired.”

I wrote back: “This is normal, don’t worry! If you stare steadily at a smiling photo, it will stop working and start to look ‘fixed‘ (or as you say, tired). Jan photo A smile is passing, and we see it in a glance. Somehow or other, after the invention of the camera, we have learned to look at smiling photos in short glances – and I suppose one can also see a smiling drawing this way, but it gets more muddled now – how we see is so fascinating. I guess a smiling drawing is one we might have on the wall but we would not *gaze at it.”Jan sketch

Drawings of big smiles made after photographs, with all the teeth minutely traced in, cannot work because in reality we see the flash only – never the details. Everyone recognizes such a drawing – it looks obviously wrong, amateurish and uncomfortable.* (see note)

In a persuasive experiment, subjects were photographed as they exchanged a neutral look for each of the 6 universal expressions – joy, sadness, surprise, anger, fear and disgust. Next, the features were blanked out. A third series was made from studying these: just blank ovals, with arrows showing only the direction of movement between features. Everyone is still able(try it), to recognize the expressions – It is the movement and direction of the expressive muscles that we read so impeccably. COPY DIAGRAM

*note: But here, repetition is the key: I can draw smiles and other changing expressions if I see them repeatedly, as with these writers conversing animatedly at festivals. 3-4 Cheltenham sketches

some pics in SMILE, some in BLOG

Drawing the smile – Blog 8

A mother ordered several drawings from photos taken in hospital of her stillborn son. The baby alone, with his four-year-old sister, her with the baby or with both children. She had chosen eight.

One she wanted was a “selfie” – the three of them lying close together in bed, with the baby in the centre. When I saw the photo, I was surprised:  it was too intimate and intense to hang on the wall, because of her expression. Here was the ultimate face of grief, of someone who has cried till no more tears are left. All the expressive muscles were neutral, as if erased. It is very seldom one sees this look, which is both beautiful and very private.

But she wanted it, and I made the drawing*.

with changes

THE FACE OF GRIEF

When I emailed her a copy for approval, her response was that she liked it very much, but – could I just draw her with a smile?

The mouth is the most difficult feature to draw; everyone can read the smallest of changes very closely and accurately. I was pretty much convinced that the change she wanted was beyond me – that any change of the mouth – widening it, altering the corners – would ruin the drawing. I wrote and told her I wasn’t sure I could do it, but that I would try it out on a copy, and send her that for approval or advice.

I printed a copy to work on. I knew already I would not touch the mouth. AlI I did was rub in 2 small shadows (indicating 2 faint depressions) one on each cheek, there were dimples appear on children’s faces when they smile or, on any face, a visible, passing shadow shifting upwards, caused by the contraction of the elevator muscles – the zygomaticus major  muscles where they insert into the skin. I also took a bit of chalk and covered a slight smudge under the left-hand corner of the lower lip.

face copy smile 2

CHANGED DRAWING

I dared not change the original drawing.

But she wanted a smile.

When you do a commission you have to please the client. And it was, after all, only a drawing from a photo.

When I sent her the altered copy, she agreed that this was exactly what she wanted -“Now I am smiling.”

In the original, I also erased 2 tiny lines between the eyebrows, so light they do not show on the copy – these lines of anxiety (minute contractions of the corrugators) are invariably read by everyone – giveaways in any face that smiles and does not quite mean it.

I am more and more convinced that there is no such thing as “intuition” involved when we see and respond  to another person’s face – what we sense about the person is visual (and to lesser extents audible/olfactory).  If we are uncomfortable there is some masking, some disharmony in the facial muscles – and, even when we are not conscious of it, we are all experts at picking it up. Our brains are programmed and trained in this incredibly complex task. A large portion of the visual cortex – the fusiform gyrus – is devoted to recognition and to reading expression.

This work  taught me that it is not the features themselves we are reading, when we look into another human face. Giacometti said the eye has no expression: “The eye is always cold and remote. It is the surroundings that determine the expression of the eye.” And the mouth on its own is not the source of the smile .

(*With her permission I have included the images:  the drawing of the face before I changed it, and then the drawing with the smile.)

Drawing Bell Ringers

Blog 11 – Drawing bell-ringers

Thanks to Tegnerne’ (Graphic Artists’) Copyright Fund  I was able to take an exhibition to Oxford and spend 5 weeks there in August and September 2016. My birth- and neonatal drawings were hung in the gallery at the John Radcliffe Hospital. I also planned to draw there, but administrative haggling about permissions took time, so instead I started drawing bell ringers – something I had long wanted to do.

Thus I got to experience Oxford in a very special way. By climbing up into the beautiful bell towers I was entering a centuries-old tradition which still thrives in England. As a subject for drawing it was perfect for me – human figures in concentrated motion, fast, beautiful and very difficult to draw.

The bells are reached by narrow, almost vertical stairs or ladders, or  spiral stone steps with a rope to cling to. Up there is the belfry with its great, heavy bells, and the space is limited indeed. I stood in a corner or sat on a stone sill, careful to avoid the bell ropes which hung through holes in a half-loft to insulate the sound. Each bell has its own name and tone  – there can be 6 or even 11 – the sullen, latent ropes hung bound over in loose knots, and the ringers ecognized each one. Ready, they loosened the ropes and stood in a circle, each grasping a taut rope over their heads. The Master of the Peals under his certain bell called, ”Treble’s going – she’s gone!” and at the last word he pulled downward  with all his strength, everyone followed in order, and the loft was filled with an enormous and earsplitting – yet known and defined – clamor.  The ancient well-known melodies each have a name and difficulty.

I learned something of the special jargon or vocabulary of bell ringers, and gradually came to feel a powerful sense of the long, unbroken tradition these dedicated musicians share.

Afterwards we went to the pub, where I enjoyed their stories and their pride in being accomplished ringers.

To draw there? For me it was that first reach and grasp, the physical effort of pulling the great bell down to strike, that captured me – I wanted to learn this, to see it and draw it, while all was in movement around me.  The old bells are very heavy and it takes strength and concentration – and that was visible.

Through the nearly 100 drawings I managed to make, you can see how I had to look with all my attention – the first drawings show many repeated lines – in the last, made just before I had to go back to Denmark – have become more simple. I was just beginning to catch it.

At the start one can ask oneself, “How can you draw motion, effort, so it doesn’t just look like someone standing there holding a rope?”  I could go on about how the artist’s line, our divine tool, is the pefect intsrument to convey motion. But that is another story.

Dégas wrote: “Art is not invention, art is repetition.” And it’s true.

For this reason it is pretty hopeless to go out into the world to draw (favorite places are a park, a gallery, a train station or a café) where people move around in a boring way and you just have to hope that someone will sit or stand still. Only through repetition can one draw the human motion we love to capture  – this is how Dégas and the other great artists drew. To show students one out of hundreds of a master’s drawings and say “This is how you should draw” is cheating, and “gesture drawing” is a waste of time.

Rodin as an old man saw the first Cambodian dancers to visit Paris, and fell in love. He drew furiously, and was heartbroken when they went away. “I followed them to Marseilles. I would follow them to Africa – I  would follow them to the ends of the earth.”

This is what it was like for me to leave Oxford, the city with the golden towers. Drawing in the midst of all that movement and tumult, in full concentration, I realized I was completely happy. And that is rare.

I feel as if I have just begun.

Blog 6 – Round Drawings – an exercise from The Creative Eye

1. The day before

The Danes have a new way of entertaining their employees at get-togethers.
Today I am off to teach 40-45 people to draw the nude model in 1½ hours. They are staff at a discoteque and this is their annual Christmas party. It is to be a surprise – they have not been told what the “event” will be. The first time I called the boss, who is arranging it, he was hung over and wanted to put off the call, but I did nail him down the second time. He has agreed reluctantly to go along with my drawing exercise . I told him I could not teach people to draw a nude model in 1½ hours, any other way. He says there must be 2 models.

CH7 p168 2 round drawings, colour and black

CH7 p171 The round drawings

So we are going to do Round Drawings, going from one to the next and gradually developing the one pose from all angles , returning to our own drawing at the end to put in details. I’ll show them copies of drawings made this way in adult life drawing classes, where I have taught this exercise successfully many times.

As we are so many, we’ll need to form 2 circles. The boss said no, it is on an old stage and it has to be a horseshoe in front of the bar, with people at tables. We ended up agreeing on the horseshoe. The models will hold the same pose but it will be seen – and drawn – from every direction.
I have to persuade them to draw very little – just a short vertical mark – in the core of a tense, standing pose where the arms are away from the torso. I’ll will give them stumps of coloured chalk-pastel. After the first 5 drawings (they will move to the right) I‘ll let them extend their marks – into the head, through hips and thigh, shoulder and upper  arm. Always extending from the core.
I will draw too, show them everything.
The other time I did this – a similar event with 35 actors – I gave them too many dark chalks and the drawings got overloaded and heavy. But it worked well. Today, with over 40 drawing, I have chosen light, bright colours.

Chalk drawing in light bright colours CH7-Y1

Chalk drawings CH7-U1

It may be a terrible failure.
My son, also an art teacher, says “If they won’t listen to you, just leave.”

Maybe it should be like Musical Chairs and anyone who won’t comply (which usually means, draws too much) has to leave the game.
Why did the boss insist on 2 models? It may not matter. Now the female model tells me on the phone that she can’t lift her arms and is bringing a broomstick to lean on.

I am excited.

2 The day after

It was a disaster  – but everyone was happy so I was the only one who suffered. Got up there by train in the windy cold to a little street in Elsinore with the 2 sweet models and the stuff, and it was all dark and we could not get in. Finally the proprietor heard us and opened a gate and took us up a metal outside stair – it was indeed a discothèque – the one they all work at – and it just was dark, and pounding with music and happy shouts and laughter. There were my “students” all 43 of them, sitting around tables having eaten and still drinking steadily. Both the boss and my models tried to persuade me not to bother trying to teach them but I was stubborn and still hopeful. The boss would not have the tables cleared, as people would need their drinks, though he agreed to turn up the lights a bit and even turn down the background pounding. He had told me there was plenty of light, but “plenty” in a discothèque means just enough to navigate. Everyone was tanked and gleeful, rising off and on to ‘skål’ and shout. I laid out the materials and waited to be introduced but the boss explained that he had done so (it was impossible to hear him ) and just to go ahead.

The uproar was continuous. I did manage a few instructions before I realized it was not going to work. The models were cool, standing in a narrow space between the tables, and the kids respected them, anyway. Me they scarcely noticed past goodnaturedly putting up with my presence. Towards the end, half the people were wandering around and no one noticed the prize drawing I chose. Everyone was sweet tempered. They enjoyed marking up the painstakingly prepared blue paper with the bright coloured chalks.

I am mad at myself that I forgot to photograph at the end. Afterwards as I was trying to find my bits of coloured chalk and stack the boards, some soaked with spilled wine, what lights there were went off and the music and strobes went on and I just wanted to get out. On the train back we three talked about various disasters in our trades of teaching and modelling.

blog 1blog2The next morning, Looking back at my pretentious plans and instructions, I can only sigh.  Two drawings that came back with me by mistake show the separation into objects that is the brain’s pleasure. In the first, one can see a very good attempt at the “core”, but the curls on the model’s head came next – to the brain they were important- so they were added to the drawing, away off on their own.

The line drawing shows how the brain wants us to draw well-known objects  – arm, leg, head, torso with its sub-objects, breast and bum – on their own, and even includes the broomstick, and they are joined together by the contour. It is really a good likeness of the chunky model.

blog3

The third drawing certainly moves through the legs up into the torso in a beautifully accurate way, though the looped arms. like 2 handles on a jug, have been seen for themselves.

If only I had collected them all! These drawings also have the enormous plus of being “thrown off” just for fun, without shyness or ambition.

PS for serious  information about this exercise, and how to draw the whole, flowing body without being snagged and sabotaged by known, named, salient objects, read  The Creative Eye, chapter 7.

 

 

Blog 5 On the Visual Field – about the peripheral exercises.

 

The Physical response

You’ve been  learning about the visual fileld and making some drawings of the edges of the field –Peripheral drawings. This last blog about the visual field is about that happens physically when you draw in this way

Some people end up feeling extremely tired,  others experience a kind of wooziness, even nausea. I feel heat at the outside edges of my eyes – the skin towards each temple. Photophobia – an adverse reaction to light – is noticed by many. In a room with neon lighting it’s specially difficult –– you are hyper-aware of reflections and glare. This may not be on the periphery, but it is a constant irritation. The plant begins to blur, or tremble – some people notice a white halo forming around it.

On the positive side, you may well become conscious of the immense depth, as well as the size, of the field – how far the cursor has to travel across and into a deep background to reach the peripheries. The room became like a huge, gray swimming pool – perhaps the way a very small child, if you sat her down at the door, would see it, and want to crawl out and explore it. If you’ve allowed yourself, you  can even go a step farther and draw the entire field in using this kind of seeing – you exerience what is called  ‘visual flooding’   and the results are wonderful.

CH2. p.44 student peripheral drawings

CH2.G1

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are student drawings.  Look too at these drawings by Rembrandt and Giacometti  – I am      convinced that they saw,  and drew, this way.

Giacometti space

Rembrandt sketch

 

 

 

This is because actual, physiological changes occur in your eyes when you use your peripheral vision. And when you get back into ordinary seeing mode, something else has happened that isn’t ordinary at all – there’s a very real intensification of depth vision or stereopsis.  For those who have depth vision and never, or hardly ever, use it, the aftermath of this exercise is a revelation. It is a new way of seeing the world.

Right after these exercises, get up and move around the room – or take a walk. You will find that everything stands out in space, as if furniture, people, trees were cut out of cardboard. This intensity of depth vision will last a while and gradually fade. 

The structure of the eye   CH2-F

The eye is a sphere. Light enters the pupil and strikes the retina, the layer of receptors at the back.

These cells, like the cells in the cortex  itself, are devoted to certain visual attributes and indifferent to others. At the back of the eye, the location of each cell is of prime importance – they form a kind of map of the visual field; it’s obvious that a cell would have to be in the direct path of light from a specific part of the field to be activated by it.

 

Rods and cones

The retinal cells are called rods and cones because of their shape, and have different functions. The cones are concentrated near the centre. Here the main focus of the light is concentrated. In normal vision, fully 80% of the visual brain busies itself with information from this area, which actually receives input from only 10% of the whole retina.

These 6 million cones are specialized for wavelengths that we see as colours – yellows nearest the centre, others spread across the retina and blues farthest out. The cones decrease in number the farther out they are located, and there are none at the peripheries.

The rods are much more numerous, numbering 120 million. The further from the centre, the more they gain the monopoly, and out towards the peripheries they take over completely.

What were you doing?

When you paid attention to the peripheries, you were activating the rods of your eyes. And if you felt physical discomfort in doing so, there were physical reasons.

Rods are not happy in bright light. They do best with twilight or a dimly-lit room, so it’s no wonder you felt irritated by the light when you drew. The rods are most comfortable with ‘gloom’- twilight, moonlight, half-darkened interiors. Blues and greens, detected farther away from the centre, tend to become more intense in the dusk. Rods are also slower to respond to bright light, and can easily get overloaded – this explains your photophobia. Rods are also slowest to recover from a flood of brilliance – going out into bright light ‘bleaches’ the world of colour and tone for a short time, and has to be adjusted to. The reverse is true when you set off at night into the woods and have to wait for your eyes ‘to get used to the dark’. The rods pick up the mist of steady background luminance. They like being taken for a walk along the river at dusk, when everything is in shades of gray. Maybe you didn’t notice the lack of colour as you drew – you were using black and gray on white anyway – but if you think back, you might realize that no, you didn’t notice any colour out there. There was none .Check it out if you like.

 

Place a bright-coloured object (say a red shirt) at right angles to a mirror Stand back so the shirt is in the centre of your visual field and the mirror (with the shirt in it) is at the periphery. Check out the peripheral shirt.

 

Those who claim to be able to see auras have probably trained themselves to deactivate their focus, and if the long rods of their eyes are particularly well-adapted, perhaps genetically predisposed, the central shimmering created by the unfocused cones can be perceived as colours. This kind of seeing has a moral association – it cannot choose and judge so it is more likely to avoid being distorted by personal preconceptions.

Simone Weil equated attention with prayer (attender means to wait in French). She wrote that it is ‘a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go in search of it.’

What was going on?

By removing your attention from the focal point, you were de-activating the cones, denying them their customary top-dog position. You could not actively go in search of the periphery – that would have meant moving your eyes and would not work. So you set your heart upon it by paying attention – that special way of waiting upon truth.

When attention takes over, the chatter of the mind is stilled. Think back to your experience as you drew the peripheries, how the room became remarkably silent. You can also remember other experiences in your life, and in your art, when you have paid attention. The ability to step aside, to be empty, to disappear, is the essence of creativity.

In Castaneda’s Tales of Power the sorcerer told the apprentice to walk for hours in the chaparral, gazing before him with his peripheral vision, until the chatter in his mind was stilled.

When I read this, I wondered what would happen if one were to draw this way – the result was the peripheral drawiing exercises.

For more about vision, read  ‘The Creative Eye,’  the book these exercises are taken from.