Monday, March 14, 2011

The Joy of Foreshortening

     "The Joy of Foreshortening" is the title of a book someone should write. In my years of modeling for art classes, I see foreshortening as the concept that makes possible the representation of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. It also makes for great comic book art: where would action comics be without fist-in-your-face foreshortening? 
     Want to see some extreme foreshortening? Consider a baseball game on TV. Put a long-lens telephoto camera out in center field, looking toward home plate. It must be a couple of hundred feet from here to the batter, catcher and umpire, but those three are crunched up against the pitcher, the second baseman and the center fielder in the camera's view. You KNOW it's a couple of hundred feet, but the gang of six guys is all bunched up in a tight line. 

     Mike Ananian, Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing at UNC-G for just over 15 years, loves teaching foreshortening. In the class illustrated by the photos here, he specifically asked me for a reclining pose that would "give everybody a foreshortening exercise." 

     It is the kind of pose I can easily hold for 30 minutes, or even an hour, before taking a break. After about an hour, he called a break for the students - but not for me. He asked me to hold the pose, asked the students to turn their easels around, and conducted a crit that lasted a good twenty minutes while I continued to lie there, naked, in the middle of the room. No big deal for me: getting naked is an essential part of the job. 
 But there is a sense in which it "feels" different when no one is drawing, but people are still looking at me, naked, in the middle of the room full of clothed people. You can see me in the foreground of the first photo above. 

      A fuller view, surrounded just by the drawings, is at the bottom, for those who dare such a foreshortened view. Note some of the "tools of the trade" on the platform: a digital timer, because I have learned not to trust a teacher to keep the time, some pads to soften the surface, masking tape to mark my position, so I can resume the pose after a break, my robe, which must be worn when off the posing platform, and an Indian flute, which I use as a prop in other poses. Note that each drawing has a note from Mike's lecture about the foreshortening process, such as "fighting the urge to draw what you know." The greatest trick to interpreting foreshortening onto the paper is to be able to draw what you SEE, not what you know, or think you know. The length of the foot equals the height of the head (or at least it does on my body), but if the foot is a lot closer than the head, it's going to look bigger than the head.

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