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October 2011

October 2011 -- Scandinavian Mythology

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Columns

  • Ask an Artist:
    Light, Drapes, and Pen Names
  • EMG News:
    Happy Birthday and other News
  • Behind the Art:
    Map of Worlds

    Features

  • Scandinavian Mythology
  • Appreciating Speculative Art Part 2: Parts and Layout of a Picture

    Fiction

  • Fiction: At the Gates of Valhalla
  • Fiction: Mother Never Spoke About the Sea
  • Fiction: To Love Loki


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  • Light, Drapes, and Pen Names
    Ask an Artist
    by Ursula Vernon

    QUESTION: I love to see light and shadows really affect the mood of drawings/paintings, and I'm wondering if you could share some tips on how to do/use those 2 effectively. -- Doris

    ANSWER: Whole books have been written on this topic, and both our space and my time are too limited to give even an good overview, so I'll just throw out a few thoughts.

    Lighting is a whole 'nother dimension of art. Most people start drawing using what's called "sculptural lighting," where everything is more or less evenly lit by a bright diffuse light. (i.e. what you use in a gallery to light up a sculpture so that everything is clear and not deeply shadowed and hard to see.) There is nothing wrong with sculptural lighting inherently -- sometimes that's exactly what you want. But if you're feeling moody and atmospheric, lighting can go a long way.

    One of my favorite wacky techniques of art is that used by Maxfield Parrish, whose genius was to make light orange and the shadows an intensely saturated blue or violet. The result is really extraordinary. Look his art up if you're not familiar with it. You can do variants of this technique with any complimentary colors -- make the light green and the shadows intense red, say -- although if you do that, it looked like Christmas, so, y'know. (Blue and orange really work the best of the lot, in my opinion, and everybody should try it at least once, if only so that you go "Damn! Parrish WAS a genius!")

    The word chiaroscuro, which for some reason never comes up in Scrabble, refers to dramatic contrast between light and shadow in art.


    "The Matchmaker" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1625, oil on canvas. Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.


    This is a great example of chiaroscuro. (And also an early example of the Gratuitous Cleavage Shot.) You get the strong light source, the brightness of her face and cleavage, and the darkness of the men. The bright outline of the center man's face defines his features without providing too much detail (and honestly, when I think chiaroscuro, which I do more often than is probably healthy, what I usually think of is the bright line defining an area of shadow.)

    The whole scene would be much less dramatic with sculptural lighting. The use of the single bright light source makes it an intimate scene, rather than one taking place outside in broad daylight.

    So, lighting! Worth trying. There are quite good artists who generally choose not to muck about with it, there are others who base their entire careers on it. Lot goin' on there.



    QUESTION: How does one know how fabric should fall/fold in drawings? -- Doris


    ANSWER: One stares at a lot of fabric. Sorry, wish there was a trick to it, but fabric is one of those things that is best done from life.

    Fortunately, it's also really easy to get a live model. A sheet or a towel draped over the arm of a chair, hanging off a shelf or a table... easy to come by. I've even used a folded paper towel tube for an elbow. Eventually you memorize some of the basic folds and drapes, in the same way that you memorize love handles and the little folds at the wrist and whatnot, and can fake it somewhat, but for fabric, life drawing is your friend.


    QUESTION: For the longest time I have been wondering about pen names for artists. I know that writers use them "all" the time, but when legal issues come up, how do you prove that it is actually you doing the work? Do you register the name somewhere? -- Jenny

    ANSWER: So far as I know, there is no central registry for pen names. But legally it doesn't really matter -- copyright is not dependent on the name on the signature. If I do a painting and sign it Jimmy-Jo-Bob-Buckley-Wadsworth III, it is still copyright Ursula Vernon. Some contracts will hash that out as "Ursula Vernon, doing business as Jimmy-Jo-Bob-Buckley-etc" or words to that effect, and if I decide to write a book under a pen name, the contract is still under my Real Name, and there is a clause inserted to the contract stating that this will be published as Jimmy-Jo-Bob-Buckley.

    Now, there's really nothing you can do to keep somebody from claiming that they're Your Pen-name Here, given the lack of ID cards for pen-names, but as many people have found, there's also no way to stop people claiming to be Your Real Name Here on-line. (There was a really gut-wrenching case awhile back with a fairly well-known author who discovered some teens were impersonating her and putting very... um... graphic material on Facebook in her name, a situation which Facebook was utterly uninterested in resolving.)

    I would honestly say that the risk of one is not substantially greater than the risk of another. Art thieves are going to crop up whether or not you use your real name or a pen name. I can't think of a case where two people started fighting over whether or not they were the Real Jimmy-Jo-Bob and it went all the way to legal proceedings -- any readers aware of such a case, please drop a line, because I'd love to know how it came out!

    Ursula Vernon
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