Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day two 2015- I could get used to this!

Spent our first real day in Italy trying to get back what the travel demons took away- a little bit of sleep, a fair amount of exercise, and an excessive amount of good things to eat.

Started out by sleeping in after a fairly toss and turning night. Must be all the adrenaline produced by having to meet all kinds of deadlines and keeping our stuff from disappearing. We took 6 different trips yesterday via different modes of transport, each one with its own set of possible failure points. I was very glad we had negotiated the Roman buses before, because that might have been a very challenging end to a long day of travel had we not done it already.

Bus queue at Heathrow Airport. We had to transfer to Luton Airport, about an hour north, to catch our flight to Rome.

As I said, we slept in a while, and were about to slip out around 11 when our friend Erica (whose place we are staying at) texted to say she was coming home soon and would we be there. So we hung around a bit longer to chat and finally hit the streets around 1:30 to stroll up and meet their six-year-old daughter Xanthe, who goes to a school above the Spanish Steps. First stop was a delicious bakery where we picked up some nutty cookies. Almonds and hazelnuts, to be precise. So much Italian food is simple: unrefined things, sugar, eggs, but put together so as to be as complex and compelling as anything Nabisco or Keebler could ever come up with. They just won't last 3 years in the package. Thank God!
Panorama of the market at Campo di Fiori- here every day!

We then crossed the busy Corso Vittorio Emanuele and entered onto the Piazza Navona in full afternoon sun, which won't be possible in a month, but wasn't too bad right now. Having been studying the table model of Antique Rome last week, I could see in my mind's eye the structure of the underlying stadium of Domitian, and the Egyptian obelisk still standing there, having been brought from the Circus of Maxentius to top Bernini's writhing  Fountain of the Four Rivers, a masterwork of Baroque sculpture. Rome is like a giant onion of historical layers, each one revealing something distinctive about the next.

Marianne in the Piazza Navona, built over the site of  the Stadium of Domitian.

As we munched our cookies and strolled the Piazza, I kept thinking of how much a space like this would work in a city like Los Angeles, if bottom line oriented developers could ever devote that much open space to a non- commercial endeavor, let alone allowing the water in the fountains to evaporate, at least this summer of drought.

Water coming and going in the Piazza Navona.

We hugged the shade as we slipped over to the Pantheon,  a favorite stop of Marianne's, though the tourist flow was so heavy we decided to postpone entry until later in the day, and instead went around the side to the ever cool and shadowy Santa Maria sopra Minerva, so-called for its construction atop a site formerly occupied by a temple to Minerva. The church has a beautiful melange of Renaissance and later decorations, including Philippino Lippi's wondrous Carafa chapel, with some of the earliest grottesca panels in Rome.  Lippi, then in his 30's, interrupted his work on the Strozzi chapel in Florence, at the behest of Pope Alexander VI, the notorious Borgia ruler, to come to Rome for this commission, completed by 1493. (How could he say no?) The church also has some really elegant trompe l'oeil work decorating various chapels.
Outrageously good trompe l'oeil work in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

We also stopped in at the the church of Sant'Ignazio di , with Andrea Pozzo's stunning quadratura ceiling that seems to break down all normal laws of space, with figures that spiral upwards off trompe l'oeil architecture, and some that actually seem to enter the real space of the church (though they'd be mighty large if they did!) 

Giant feet from Andrea Pozzo in the church of Sant'Ignazio
Then we walked up the hill to pick up our friends' daughter, Xanthe, from the French run school on top of the Spanish Steps. It was fun to tell the guard we were picking her up, making us feel like locals, and then walking down the steps with her to go find her dad at the Piazza Colonna, where he was filming a bit of a TV show. Darius is an archeologist of some renown, having appeared a number of times on shows about Roman history on the Discovery and History channels. As it turned out, we just missed his shoot, so we ambled towards their house, stopping briefly to go inside the Pantheon for a taste of the one intact Roman temple space that has never fallen into disrepair, having been adopted as a church early on in the Christian era.

Walking with Xanthe down the Spanish Steps

Made it home and reunited the family (Erica was working on the web from home) and after a bit, we left (again with Xanthe) to meet up with Eli Baird, who is coordinating the Roman program for the Beaux-Arts Academy, which recently relocated to Salt Lake City from New York. The BAA is a multidisciplinary arts program (modeled on the French Ecole des Beaux Arts) that is deepening and broadening the education of (mostly) architectural students with an emphasis on knowledge of the history of architecture and art (including ornament) and drawing, painting and sculpture. 

Marianne and Xanthe waiting for Eli, who mysteriously avoided being in any of my photos!

We met up with Eli and went to get a gelato (of course!) and then went to a park to let Xanthe run off some of her sugar induced energy. We saved a bit of it to hike up the hill and check out the Tempietto of Bramante, a touchstone classical building that sits in the courtyard of a church with a great view of Rome from the other side of the Tiber river on the Janiculum hill. 

Bramante's Tempietto, built at the beginning of the 16th century
Descending as the swallows began to emerge for their dusk exercises, we said goodbye to Eli and went back to the house, turning around quickly to get a bite of Roman style food at a homey Campo di Fiori taverna called Lucifero. Eggs with white truffles, some fondue, roasted vegetables, and some tartare for our hosts, then heading back to the house to crash in time to be up to catch the train tomorrow for Lecce. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thus it begins- the Odyssey part four!

Uh oh! Has it really been six months since my last post?

Well, now's as good a time as any to get  started again, I guess, having just arrived in the magic kingdom (Italy, NOT Disneyland!) for my fourth time. It's funny; my heritage is German and Scots Irish, and a little French tossed in on the side, but I feel like this is where I belong. The sights, the sounds, the smells (well, mostly) and the food all stir my blood. Just flying over it last night on the way in, catching a glimpse of the Colosseum and the Wedding Cake (the monument to Vittorio Emmanuele) gave me such a thrill, and not just because it was the end of another standby odyssey that began almost 48 hours earlier.

So, to begin at the beginning, which is where all good odysseys begin, we were flying standby, courtesy of Marianne's aunt, who used to be a United Airlines employee and scored these transferable flight privileges as part of her severance. All of our travel here (and elsewhere) has been predicated on this fact, for those who have wondered how a lowly artist and a school nurse can afford to take off for weeks on these journeys.

In the beginning, our passes were like vouchers, usable by anyone, which allowed us to do our first trip here with all four kids in 2007.  After United merged with Continental Airlines, they changed the passes to two designated flyers who can use the passes unlimited for each year they are assigned. Fortunately for us (but not for our kids), we are the travelers of choice. Unfortunately, over the past few years, as anyone who travels a lot will confirm, computer booking of flights has become wayyyyy more efficient, with oversold flights becoming the norm, and making it more and more difficult for standby flyers to get on. When we took the kids with us in '07, we got bumped up to first class for about 75% of our vouchers! Sadly, I can tell you that does not happen anymore! Instead what we encounter has been longer queues, longer waits in airports (like our 30 hour stint last month trying to get to DC!) or getting creative with routing, as we did this time.

Bus queue at Heathrow to get to Luton Airport- an hour north.

Having struck out on 3 consecutive flights to DC this time, (the hardest part is getting to the east coast, where the loads to Europe are easier) we decided to take an available flight to England and then pop for a short flight to Rome, which would keep us more or less on schedule. The flight from England to Rome was only $150, though the flight left from Luton Airport, which is an hour long bus ride from Heathrow, but the schedule worked out and we made the connections just fine. The flight down here on Easy Air is a true bus ride, on the most bare bones airplane I've ever encountered- no entertainment, no free drinks, the seats did not even recline! But hey, we got here, got to town and got to our friend's house in the Campo di Fiori neighborhood, and only lost one item (Marianne's scarf) in transit.

Today we are just hanging around and recovering, picking up our friends' daughter from school- I love being somewhere and doing normal things! Tomorrow we'll catch an early train down to Lecce, in the heel of the boot, for a conference I will be attending with fellow artists of the ornamental kind. Out the window we can hear the hubbub of the farmers market in the piazza, motos buzzing by, and the bits of conversation inevitably ending in "ciao! ciao ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao!"

Ahhhhh, Italia!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Recent article in Paint and Pattern magazine

A quick word of thanks to Regina Garay (she of for putting together a little piece featuring my commentary on how to turn stencils into unique hand finished pieces. Here's the link to the article and here's a little preview of one the images.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Acanthus #5- Roll me over and do it again!

All right! If you've been doing the homework, you have now drawn out a flat acanthus leaf with all of the necessary components of its design. Way to go! However, acanthus ornament is very rarely depicted as flat. ("You mean I did all this work and I'm not even going to use it?!") You will use it, but we will now modify the leaf shape to fit different purposes.

Probably the first thing most people will associate with the acanthus is the decorative foliage of a Corinthian style capital, as seen in this beautiful Beaux-Arts print from Camillo Boito's book, Gli Stili dell'Ornamento (1882). As you can see, the leaves of the capital lean out and bend over, which is the norm for a Corinthian capital. Look also at the stylization of the eyelets on this leaf; they look almost like the metal-ringed eyelets on a workboot. This is again a stylization: it would not occur in nature, but it looks clean, and it attracts the eye by creating a highlight around the dark of the eye, making a clear punctuation of the leaf's rhythm.

Top capital is from the Temple of Apollo at Didyma (present day Turkey), the bottom acanthus leaf is from the Temple of the Winds in Athens.

Below is an acanthus leaf applied to the bottom side of a modillion, or soffit bracket, from the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. Again the top is bent forward. Also look at the eyelets on this one; cut very squarely with tiny leaflets hanging down, and the deep grooving of the leaflets, a characteristic that is seen in many examples from Greece and Asia Minor.

Modillion from the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. From Hector d'Espouy's Fragments Antiques (1905)

So here's a quick run down on how to do this bending, taken from James Page's Guide for Drawing the Acanthus, (1840). I won't go into too much detail, as I think the drawings are pretty self-explanatory. 

Step one- fold over the general form of the leaf with the eyelets drawn in.

Step two- elaboration of the lobes and leaflets. Observe carefully the reversing of the curves of the lobes that are folded over. 

Step three- the leaf rendered

Corinthian Capital from the Temple of Mars Ultor. From Hector d'Espouy's Fragments Antiques (1905)

Corinthian Capital from the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. From Hector d'Espouy's Fragments Antiques (1905)
All of the examples of capitals that I have shown here are in the more "olivine" style (leaves that look like an olive tree's), another variant on the acanthus leaf which can be found in many places. Look at it carefully, and draw a section, so that you can recognize it and be ready to design with it, noting the cleaner, more linear, more geometric style by comparison to the frillier, more organic style that we have been using for the lessons. Each has its purpose, in accordance with the architecture it enhances.

Next up: Twisting the Night Away!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Acanthus Leaf #4- The Good Stuff

Ok! Whew! Hopefully if you are reading this you have gotten as far as drawing the basic structure and outline of the acanthus leaf as I have outlined in the last three posts. Give yourself a pat on the back! This is NOT a simple form! In fact, it's quite a complex form, but it is very important to understand these basics before we move on to the next step, which is where the fun starts.

So far what we've been doing is the mechanics of the leaf- it's outline, structure, and form. Next up is filling in the details; the leaf tips, the eyelets, and the profile of the leaf, leading into the shading of the form to clarify its form. Even if you are planning to finalize this design in a three-dimensional output, it is very important that you understand all the aspects of that form via drawing before you start

The profile of the leaf we have been working on thus far is fairly simple, so that we may learn the shape without dealing with too many bends and twists. Seen in profile, the leaf, as rendered below (from Page's book), would be almost flat, with a slight curve under at the bottom. In a horizontal section it appears like a bird's wings, as in the top part of the illustration here.

We had left off on the last post with an outlined leaf that had begun to be broken down into the smaller leaflet divisions. Here is a good example, again from Page, that shows the further division, which is based on the same method that was used for the larger divisions, though becoming more irregular and asymmetrical as it gets smaller and smaller. One important thing to notice is how the end of each leaflet flows into the main part of the leaf, which then flows down and into the stem channels to the base of the leaf. See how all those parallel lines converge as they descend the leaf?

One last detail I will point out is in the eyelet and the ridge that it creates. In Page's example seen here, there is a stylized rhythmic notching of the ridge that can be found in many examples from historical models. There is also a "skirt" of leaves around the large eyelet on the left side of the leaf, again something that is seen quite often in ornamental work. The skirt protrudes from the rib, catching light and emphasizing the eyelet's darkness. I will show more examples of these stylizations later, but for now perhaps you can work on your drawing of the whole leaf (if you have actually started one!) and see if you can get it close to the example

Next up: Variations on a theme

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Acanthus Leaf #3- Forming the leaf part II

Now that we've got the basic structure of the leaf and the position of the eyelets, it's time to form the lobes of the leaf. As I mentioned in the last post, the convention is for the lower lobes to overlap the one above. Here's how we do that.

Step Eight: Aligned with each of the eyelets that you drew in the last step make a circle that touches the edge of the leaf, and that has a center about parallel with the eyelet. As usual, these are only guides that will disappear in a few steps, so draw these lightly!
As you can see, I only drew one side of the leaf. That's because from this step on I will be folding the paper in half to do the other side of it, to avoid having to erase quite as much. For now, just leave it as it is here- one half only drawn in with the circles.

Step Nine: What we will be drawing here are the central veins of the lobes, which in ornamental language are usually represented by a crease in the leaf. The tip of each crease starts at the point on the perimeter of the leaf that is halfway between each of the eyes, represented here by where the horizontal dotted lines cross the outside profile. They then curve and taper downwards, where they will all flow into the gully that defines the side of the central rib of the leaf. Notice that each of the creases passes through the center point of each of the circles and passes just above the eyelet of the next lobe down.

Step Ten: We now begin to define the individual lobes of the leaf, starting at the bottom and progressing upwards. Each lobe begins at the eyelet (as we practiced on the last lesson), curves upward around the circumference of the circle, and comes to a point at the end of the crease. It then returns downwards around the outside of the circle to die under the top edge of the leaf below it. 

Step Eleven: Here I have erased the circles used as guides so that you can see more clearly the shape of the lobes

Step Eleven: By folding the paper in half vertically and tracing the design, I have duplicated the lobes onto the other side of the leaf (without going through the whole process of circles and creases.) I also erased the last bit of the crease near the tip of the lobes, an aspect that will be further explored when we talk about styles and leaf types. You should still be drawing lightly, as even now we will be erasing much of this before we are done.

The other trick you can use in the sequence of these steps is to flip the paper and trace from the other side each time  you make a new step, that way you can completely erase the step before without erasing the current drawing. This is easiest with vellum, but you can also hold regular paper up to a window or a light box so that you can see through it.

Step Twelve: Subdividing the lobes gives the acanthus leaf its individual character, and also allows us to take guesses as to where and when an example might be found historically. There are many ways of doing this, but I've attempted here to distill what is common to most of them, so that we may use it in this lesson.

First up, a note on the particular style that I'm using in this example. The curve on the left side of this illustration is what might be called an ogival arch (especially if my Illustrator skills were better!) That  is, it has two "s" curves meeting at a point in the middle. To me this is a nod to the natural form of the acanthus, which has sharp spines at the tips of its leaves, so I will use it for our lesson.

Secondly, as seen in the illustration at right, the lobes are roughly symmetrical over the axis of the central crease, so when subdividing we will arrange 3 circles to fit inside the lobe, using the perpendicular axis to the crease as the base of the triangle formed by the 3 circles (Just look at the illustration- don't try to make sense of it verbally!) As usual, these are only guides, so draw lightly!!

Here is the method seen above as applied to the lobes of the right side (we can do the same method of advancing one side and tracing it to the other side again.)

Step Thirteen: Following the same method we used for the general lobe shape, we create leaflets that follow the outlines of the three enclosed circles, noting that the notches formed between the leaflets should make a more or less perpendicular line to the central crease (see illustration two below this one)

Step Fourteen: Removed the guide circles (and replaced the center creases that I accidentally took out of the last illustration!)

Step Fifteen: Illustrating  the small eyelets separating the leaflets and how they are perpendicular to the central crease of the lobe. Also notice how the central rib of the whole leaf has been added, and how the creases and folds of the eyelets all spring from the same channels on both sides.

The further subdivision of the lobes gets less orderly from this point on, with more asymmetry visible. Nevertheless, the tips of each leaflet and its divisions still follow an arrow-like form proceeding from the central rib and channels of the leaf. I will go deeper into style and variants on the form in the next post.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Acanthus Leaf #2- How to: Forming the leaf shape

As I said in the last post, the acanthus leaf is a mix of natural and artificial; evocative of plants in its details, but grounded by a geometric regularity expressed through its form and construction. As with any artifice, it is helpful when a form is quickly comprehensible (what draws the eye in) and then detailed to the artists' abilities (what makes us keep looking.)

So how do you make an acanthus leaf? What follows is a basic primer in the form and features of the acanthus leaf. As with any primer, this is not the only way of doing it- in fact you will find very few examples that would follow this exact pattern- but it is a solid starting point that includes all of the basic features found in more complex examples, which we will look at later.

Here's my method, adapted from a 19th century book by James Page called, (appropriately,) Guide for Drawing the Acanthus, and Every Description of Ornamental Foliage (London, 1840).  This book was directed at tradespeople who wished to learn the methods for drawing ornamental foliage that looked good and would translate to three dimensional work, which is where the majority would be found, decorating architecture, furniture, and trade goods.

For your first attempt, I would recommend working on a standard sketch or drawing paper, at least a 9"x12" pad,  something that you can erase without tearing, and see through a little if you hold it up to the light. Architectural vellum (heavy weight tracing paper) also works very well. Use a medium pencil (HB) and have a good eraser on hand. Many of the steps are there only as guides, and will be erased later. You can use a ruler for some of the steps, but always draw lightly with it, as none of the ruled lines will show when you are done.

Step one: Let's start with a vertical rectangle that is 5 inches wide by 10 inches tall (about 12.5cm by 25 cm for our metric friends). Construct a grid that is 2 units by 5 units by dividing it in half horizontally and every two inches (or 5 cm) vertically. As you will see, many of these steps will only be temporary, so draw lightly. This one, in fact, will completely disappear by the end, and is only intended to show the proportions of the overall shape of the leaf.

Step Two: [Each new step will be drawn in red]. Divide the bottom edge into 3 equal sections and LIGHTLY draw the diagonal lines that connect the center of the top with the two divisions of the bottom, as seen in the illustration.

Step Three: Starting from the outside bottom corners, draw diagonal lines that are approximately parallel to the inner diagonals, stopping at the first division of the grid from the top.

Step Four: Connect the two diagonal lines you just drew to the top center point, as seen in the illustration. Check your curve against the one I have drawn here- you can use the straight diagonal I drew on the left side as a further guide to your curve. Notice how it forms a bow shape with the curve. Again, these lines are just guides for your overall shape and will disappear before you are finished, so draw them lightly, but try to make sure they are symmetrical (you can check this by folding your paper on the vertical center line to see if they overlap when you look at them through the folded paper.)

Step Five: OK, let's get rid of some of the lines now so it doesn't become too confusing. You can erase everything except the outline of the leaf and the two vertical diagonals that define the center rib of the leaf. It should look like this;

Step Six: Now we start the more artistic part of the process- less geometry and more eyeballing. We need to divide the central diagonals into intervals that get smaller as they get towards the top. I could try to give you some kind of formula for that (6, 5, 4.5, etc.) but it's really better to just look at the model below and give it your best shot. I've drawn the dotted lines so that you can better compare the intervals between the dots, but you can just draw the dots on your own sheet- that makes it easier to adjust as you go. Notice also how the very bottom interval is a bit smaller than the one just above it, but then they each get smaller as they go upwards.

Step Seven: The dots, or "eyelets" are a very important aspect of the acanthus leaf ornament. They give it rhythm and they also allow the eye to position the leaf in space. In a dimensional ornament (stone, plaster or wood) they are the registration marks that make reference points for the planes of the leaf that come later. They are derived from the natural shape of the divisions of the lobes on the leaf, but they also have a number of artificial aspects that I will show. 

If you look right in the center of the above photo you will see what the shape comes from. It is the place where one lobe ends and the next begins. It forms this little teardrop shape that is the basis for the artificial shape seen below. 

As you can see, the eye is formed by the overlap of each lower leaf over the next leaf, which is the convention when drawing acanthus for decorative purposes. It's not a bad idea to practice drawing the shape several times until you become familiar with it. It's formed like a "b" and a "d" in pairs, with the line of the lower leaf forming the part that continues upwards, covering some of the lobe above it. 

Once you've gotten comfortable with it, you can make the mark (just the eyelet- don't fill in the lobe yet) at each of the intersections that you made in step seven. These are the first marks you've made that will not be erased in the end! 

Next up: creating the lobes and the subdivision of the leaf edges.