Peggy Macnamara ,Professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, is posting Essays on Drawing and Painting.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Relationships between birds just appeared, like rainbows.
I didn’t use a grid but began somewhere in the center with the lead bird so to speak and then related next bird and so on and so on. The drawings seemed tedious up until a certain point. I would turn a corner after a couple of days and the thing would fall into place. As I finished each piece, grids and mathematical relationships between the birds just appeared, like rainbows.
Most scientific phenomenon are also art. Check out NASA”s hubble pictures for example. So the bottom line was if I would put down the facts correctly, a decidedly clean composition would emerge. For example, after completing the sandpiper watercolor…I went into my kitchen and got a large plate and laid it on my drawing. It tied the eyes of each bird together, it created a repetitive circular motion within the flock and when I moved it around it just fit echoing the previous area. What had been a struggle got easy. I could not paint fast enough! I felt like I was working with nature rather than from nature.
What I discovered is that each flock I painted adhered to one or more of John Ruskin’s” Laws of composition: Radiation, consistency, interchange, contrast, principality, continuity, curvature, harmony and repetition.” They naturally choreograph themselves in these formations for profit. They ensure theoretical energy gains as high as forty percent and v shaped flock formations capitalize on lift generated by their flockmates. But like all great ideas it simple.
Now Ruskin used nature to illustrate his laws but always with stationary examples, like leaves that radiate etc. He also used Turner paintings to show how the laws worked. But the birds are able to compose and recompose endlessly in magnificent compositions, yet they remain fresh and best of all useful. While they choreograph themselves in a certain way to insure a profitable flight, there are many secondary benefits. It seems what is good for all is also well composed and simply beautiful. It teaches us that motivation and intention are part of art. What lies underneath sometimes determines the success of the endeavor.
Each morning I walk along the lake soaking up the majesty. Today the Canada geese were flying in huge linear flocks creating softlines etched on the sky. They appear to be writing. I’ve yet to decipher the text, but its probably something simple like “ Work together”. Thanks Arlene