I have often been asked about my “sketches.” Now, it really doesn’t bother me (that much) when someone refers to my drawings as sketches. But really, a piece that takes 40-60 hours of work can hardly be called a sketch. To me, my drawings are my attempt to communicate to the viewer a thought – a story – or a feeling. Very much like a writer. Other comments I get, include something like, “the subject seems to ‘pop out’ from the background.” When that happens, then I feel like I am on the right track and have connected with the viewer. But, this does not happen by accident.
The techniques I employ can be lumped into a French term: Repoussoira –loosely translated, “to push back.” This is clearly illustrated in the photo here. There is no question that the mountains are far back in the distance behind this magnificent Mountain Dog. The drawing just would not look right if the mountains were rendered in the same detail as the subject. The eye would be confused. And here is the communication part. When the eye is confused, so is the message. But, the real interesting part here is that absolute accuracy is not necessary, because even though our brain will pick out the contradictions, as long as your follow certain rules, the eye and the human brain will fill in the gaps.
Most of us know the basic rules:
- Large figures in front (geometric perspective)
- Less detail in back
- Overlap objects
But, we may not know why. As an artist develops a piece of work that has a lot of depth, he or she knows that the objects in the back have less contrast, they are dimmer and their borders become blurred (il mezzo confuso). And here is the most interesting part of all—where the border between science and art also becomes blurred.
What we see and experience is the result of a trick our atmosphere plays on us. Something known as “Rayleigh Scattering” – named after the 18th century physicist Lord Rayleigh (go figure). The greatLeonardo DaVinci (artist or scientist?) knew all about this and referred to it as aerial perspective. Objects in the distance are lighter, less defined, more tightly clustered. Contrast is reduced in the background. And the more atmosphere between the viewer and the object, the more pronounced the effect. Well, it all has to do with those little tiny particles of stuff (smog, dirt, water, etc.) carried in the air and their size in relation to what is know a wavelength of light.
This is why contours are softened – the light “information” is degraded by the earth’s atmosphere – particles in the air smaller than the wavelength of light and there fore they scatter or diffuse the light.
And yes, here lies the reason why the sky is blue. The color BLUE is scattered most (therefore we see it more) because it has a very short wavelength – and is most pronounced closer to the ground because the heavier particles sink (such as fog, smoke, pollution) and there are more of them.
So, are they sketches. Ok, if you like. But to me they are much more. They are explorations in perspective – an effective use of techniques to deliver a message. Take a a look at some of my pieces. What do you see? Is it science or art? Let me know if you get it. Enjoy