I thought I’d share some of the drawings by Osamu Tezuka that I referred to several times to try to work out doing nature with ink. All three of the main pictures I’m showing here are from his Buddha series. The one above is from Volume 8, the last one. Now, when I look at that I’d call it fairly realistic. But when you start looking at the individual parts we can see how he’s combining abstract patterns and textures to construct it.
Before I say anything else, if you’re an artist you should go buy both of James Gurney’s books about painting. If you like the approach this blog takes to analyzing paintings, you’ll love Gurney’s approach in these books. The one this painting is from is Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, and his first one is Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. (As a former technical writer I also like the presentation – each topic is a 2-page spread with a summary up-front, clear text, and a number of illustrations.) OK, plug over, but they’ve both helped me out tremendously.
This analysis is all about contrast. Not just contrast between values, but all sorts of contrast. If you want to create a focus – an area of interest – you need to set up some sort of pattern and then selectively break it. The contrast between the rest of the pattern and the special part draws the attention. That contrast can be values, but in this painting we’ll also look at contrast in lines of direction, saturation, and hue. In his book, Gurney uses this painting to illustrate several points about lighting conditions at dawn or dusk. The first thing that jumped out at me, though, was contrast in the direction of the edges.
In 1992 I was just starting graduate school in visual perception. One of the things they showed us in our first days was this painting by Salvador Dali. The professor showed it on a slide projector, and asked us what it was. Of course, we all described the woman looking through the window. With a flourish, he spun the focus on the slide projector’s lens, and we suddenly saw something else – Abraham Lincoln as seen on the U.S. $5 bill.
Today we’re used to seeing things like photomosaics that take lots of individual photographs, shrink them, and put them together to create a completely different picture. It’s the same principle at work here, but Dali did this in 1976. How did he do it without computers to do all the figuring for him? Even more, how did he do it while at the same time creating a painting that follows principles of composition, the golden section, and values to create a painting that works whether it’s blurred or not? That’s what we’ll look at in this analysis, and we’ll wrap it up with lessons that apply to all painting, not just tricks or optical illusions.