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Digital Art Project

Class notes from 16Jan2018 plus optional homework

Jan 16th 2018
1. I opened with something fun, Google Arts and Culture X Degrees of Separation:

Google Arts and Culture ( is a beta collection of artwork and archelogical items from museums around the world. You can search for a county, or a time and bring up all sorts of objects and art from that time, so it is excellent for history studies as well. People have made collections and other curated experiences so you can visit one particular museum, or have art history explained. Have fun with it!

The X Degrees of Separation experiment is a algorithm that uses machine learning and some AI to make connections between any two pieces of art. Select two pieces, and it will look for artwork to show how one can turn into the other. Some pairs of artwork are so similar that it only takes a picture or two, others are so different,it stretches credulity. But it is still fun.

2. We then moved into scientific illustration (specifically of insects)
Getty lesson on scientific illustration:

I used this lesson as inspiration for thinking about how artists use different techniques to show depth and perspective, but we didn’t focus on the insects as much as indicated, although we mentioned that art was a crucial part of science since there was no photography before the late 1800s.

We looked at this picture by Jan van Kessel:
This is a PDF with a picture of the artwork and some biographical information about van Kessel (who was working in the 1600s). We looked at the picture and tried to decide what appeared to be in front, and what was in back. We noticed that the insects in the back actually don’t look like they are on the same tabletop as the insects in the front, and are perhaps on a wall? How does an artist show depth and position like that? Some of the things mentioned: insects lower on the paper look like they are “in front”, the shadowing that the artist uses to show the light source, the highlights or specks of light on the insects, and the fact that the insects that are farther away are smaller in size.

3. More on shadows: not only did van Kessel shade the surface of the table underneath or to the side of the insects, he also darkened the side of the insect next to the shadow (or on the side away from the light source). This is one of the basic elements of art, or value. We covered value a few meetings ago when we tried to sort yarn skeins and pencils by their value, or the visible lightness or darkness of a color. I handed out a printout of a photo of an apple,and then a greyscale printout of the apple:

Even if we hadn’t seen the picture of the first apple (in color), we can recognize the second and third picture as apples. Why? Well, one reason is that the highlighting (the apple is lighter where the light is directly shining on it) and the shadows (it is darker where there is less or no light) gives our eyes a lot of information about the shape and roundness of this object. Combined with the stem area (again, there is a higher value - or darker color - where the stem area recedes away from the light), our brain can make a pretty good guess that this is an apple.

4. But of course, it is much easier said then done when it comes to highlighting and shading! We looked at some artwork by local artisits in the hallway to the meeting room, and looked at how some of the works had a definite flat quality instead of being dimensional and having perspective. Many of them used techniques (closer = larger/farther = smaller, less details if farther away, overlapping objects to show positionality) to show depth, but fell a bit on using highlights and shadows (value) to show a light source and give more depth to a landscape.

5. Rest of class: members worked on their iPads on projects of their choosing, but I did ask that they try and play with shadowing and highlighting. Some did the apple on their iPads, and again, working off a photo or another piece of artwork and trying to imitate is an excellent way to play with these techniques! Even printing out a photo in greyscale and color can be very educational in showing how the human eye uses shadow and highlights to give your brain a lot of information. Others played with cartoons, but still did some shadowing.

Optional homework for next time - choose any or all, up to you.

1. A worksheet playing with values:
It will probably be easier to use your colored pencils with this, but course, exploring the buttons in your iPad art apps to change value is well worth the time.

2. Play with the X Degrees of Separation and try to find two pictures that only have one picture in the middle, and another pair that needs 6 pictures to make the connection. What are some conclusions you can make about the algorithm that is finding the pictures?

3. And finally, let’s look at other artists who were doing scientific or medical illustration.

This is a collection of various types of scientific illustration from different time periods. Do some browsing, and then answer the following questions:
- Do illustrators all use the same techniques as van Kessler to show depth and perspective?
- What other kinds of illustrations did you notice?
- Are these illustrations as effective as a photo? Why or why not?

Virtual Meeting 2December2015

Learning about Leonardo DaVinci

1. Beginning his apprenticeship with Verrocchio
Apprenticeships were extremely important in Leonardo’s time, they were almost the only way an artist could learn and get the experience he needed to become a skilled artist and craftsman. Leonardo apprenticed with an artist named Verrocchio, who was also skilled in sculpture, casting bronze and other metals, and painting, of course, especially frescos, which is painting on wet plaster (and is one of the reasons we have so many pieces of artwork from this time, because it is a stable and long-lived painting technique).
The painting “The Baptism of Christ” was mainly a work by Verrocchio, but as was very common, his apprentices did much of the drawing and preparation of the painting, and even some of the actual work. Take a look at the painting:

It is the 4th page of the PDF, and you might be able to zoom in on the two little angels in the lower left hand corner. It was hard to find a good enough image online so you can see the faces clearly. Which angel do you like more? Which one seems more transfixed at what is happening in the painting (baptism of the Christ baby).

Leonardo painted the little angel on the far lower left hand side of the painting, and his master painted the one on the right. It is said that Verrucchio gave up painting after seeing Leonardo’s angel (so much better than his), but that can’t be confirmed. Some more information:

2. 1479 - Leonardo is almost 30 years old, and was moving ahead in his painting skills and artistry. He had been apprenticing with Verrocchio, an esteemed artist in Florence, Italy, for almost 13 years, but had, in some ways, already surpassed his master.

He was known to have said to fellow artists: “avoid repetition in favor of a mixture of various appearances, of different ages, and cotumes, also mixed with women, children, dogs, horses, buildings, fields and hills”. Do you think he followed his own advice in his painting “Adoration of the Magi?”

What else can you notice about this picture?

During Leonardo’s apprenticeship, artists were starting to play with the theory of linear perspective. When you look outside off into the distance, you will notice that things that are far away are smaller, and also start to blur and turn lighter in color. There is also the POV (Point of View) of painting: where are you standing (as the observer) in relation to the painting? Above? Straight on?

Look at the Adoration of the Magi again, what is your point of view in relationship to the Madonna in the center? How about the people in the background?

Take a look at Boticelli’s version of the Adoration of the Magi (imitation and copying other artists to make your own version was very common and not thought of as cheating or stealing):

Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Compare Boticelli’s POV with Da Vinci’s POV. Which one do you prefer? Which one seems more striking, or more emotional?

3. Leonardo’s The Last Supper - from 1895 on
This is painted on a wall in a refectory in Milan, so it is pretty difficult to see it in person (only 20 people at a time, 15 minutes only). The first l;ink is a good close-up, the second one has good information.

What emotions do you see in this painting? Leonardo once said the following:
“The good painter has essentially two things to represent : a person and that person’s state of mind. The first is easy, the second is difficult, for one has to achieve it through gestures and movement of the limbs”.

How does he use “gestures and movement of the limbs” in the Last Supper to show what each disciple is thinking and feeling? The Last Supper is when Jesus celebrates with his apostles, but also tells them that one of them (Judas) has betrayed him. Most artists chose one or of the other of these moments, but Leonardo chose to illustrate both of these moments, making for a very emotional, tumultuous painting.

4. Mona Lisa - Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocond

This is probably the most famous painting in the entire world, and Leonardo did do something very different with this painting. Most artist at this time outlined their drawings and pictures in pencil or charcoal before painting, so there would be lines emphasizing the contours and figures. Leonardo used no lines in painting the Mona Lisa, instead painted her with “light and shade”. For example, the nose is painted with gradations of light and dark that blend into one another. Take a close look at the following links, or if you have a book with a copy, look at that instead.

If you go through the gallery of pictures, it will give you some very nice closeups of the eyes and mouth.

This technique of painting with light and dark is called sfumato, and while historians don’t think Leonardo invented this technique, he certainly is one of the earliest and greatest users of it.

Another painting that shows his use of sfumato is his painting called Saint John the Baptist”.

5. We have only started to learn about Leonardo Da Vinci with this short introduction, because he was more than just an artist; he was a philosopher, inventor, sculptor, twon planner, mathematician, a true Renaissance man. I will give some more links to read and learn from at the end, but the one last art-related topic I wanted to cover was his penchant to invent and discover. Not only do we have beautiful drawings and diagrams of inventions and machines, we also have his drawings of when he explored anatomy (dissecting human corpses - illegal at the time!) and nature.

Here are some his drawings of his inventions:

And his anatomical drawings:

6. Activities for rest of meeting/homework
- - I would like to pick something mechanical from around your house that you can take apart and draw on your iPad. A pen, the inside of an old appliance, an old tape cassette, whatever you have or can find. Try to make your drawing precise like Leonardo’s drawings, with sharp lines and descriptions written in.
- - Pick a painting or drawing of Leonardo that you particularly like and imitate it on your iPad to make your own translation/version. It can be any of them - he didn’t make that many paintings for us to choose from, so all of his drawings are open for your choice as well. Make more than one imitation if you enjoy doing this, there is no limit, whatever you want to do!
- - Here are some more learning links about Leonardo, if you want to learn some more: