Draw Like Lichtenstein: Colour and Perspective
The distant, blue hills...
I have always been fascinated by the paintings of landscape artists like John Constable and JMW Turner, their ability to capture exactly the mood and appearance of the English countryside with strokes of colour alongside more sombre shades for the shadows. As a sometime artist, I made my own foray into landscapes. I tried and tried and tried - and the majority of my efforts made superb bin fodder. Acres of wasted paper and gallons of paint later, I decided to “do a David Hockney” and create landscapes with modern technology, that is, computer drawing software. In doing so, I also knocked upon the doors of the ancients.
Ancient and Modern
At a time when geometrical perspective in art was unfolding, the artists of the Renaissance like Hans Memling, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, added colour to their bag of tricks. They noticed that green hills appeared blue as they receded into the distance. Further away again, the hills appeared purple. Today, we know that this colour distortion is caused by the gravitational pull of the curved surface of the earth acting upon light waves, which normally travel in straight lines. Alas, I don’t have the talent of David Hockney or any Renaissance painter. The picture above is supposed to be a landscape with fields in the foreground and hills in the distance, but it could just as easily have been made by a child playing around with splodges of colour – yes, those are clouds in the sky. It needed a more subtle and ethereal touch. So, I dug deeper into my collection of notes and experiments.
I wanted to add a dynamic and mysterious air to my countryside scene, to give it the feeling that the scene and its colours are but temporary, that it could all vanish in an instant because of a minor atmospheric change. There are artistic effects available from computer painting software, impressionistic, crayon, watercolour, etc, but the effects of these upon my drawing were so crude and comical, that I returned to my electronic drawing easel. After a lengthy head-scratching, I decided that the key to the situation was to reorganise my colours. For centuries, artists have experimented with colour, making it from pigments and mixing two or more colours to make another colour. By the Renaissance, artists had established the “material” primaries; red, blue and yellow, colours that cannot be created by mixing but must be obtained from irreducible materials, for example, blue azurite, red earth or ochre, and yellow saffron. Mixing blue and yellow pigment, however, can make colours like green. In later centuries, artists began to make “optical” colours by placing slabs or dots of colour alongside of one another. When the viewer runs his eye over the image, he gains an impression of a third colour created by the mixing. Now, I turned for help to the techniques of artist, Roy Lichtenstein.
In a previous feature, I described how Lichtenstein used line hatchings at 60 degrees to the horizontal and running in a positive direction, in many of his paintings and posters. Pop artists like Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol drew the references for their works of art from manufactured, everyday objects. However, in the latter decades of his life, Lichtenstein did create extraordinary and subtle landscapes, with references to Chinese art, by using clever arrays of his signary “Ben Day” dots. In order to improve my own landscape, I decided to work instead with the line hatchings, moving from Lichtenstein’s monochrome and transforming them into lines of colour, using the computer drawing techniques I described in my earlier feature. First, I began work on the sky, transforming the solid blue mass into a frame of blue diagonals against a pink-tinted background. A single array of lines was not dense enough so I simply grouped the array of lines, copied and pasted it onto the drawing board, and slotted the new array into the blank area of the original array to form a double array. I placed my original clouds on the new background and, voila, their less-defined edges gave them the almost fluffy appearance of real clouds.
Next, I got to work on the hills. Though masses of earth are definitely solid, faraway hills often have a vapid, hazy appearance and this is the effect that I wanted to capture. Using the outline of my original hills as a template, I made a frame of dark-blue lines. However, a double array was not strong enough to represent the solidity of the hills, so I quadrupled the number of lines, giving the hills double the solidity of the sky. I did exactly the same thing with the purple hill, except that instead of making all of the lines purple, I laid a red array over the blue one. This was because I wanted the hill to appear connected to the blue mass underneath, with the new colour rendering it more vapid and far away. With the hills in place, I started work on the foreground.
Sunlight and Shade
Now, I could really have fun, my aim being to capture the dappled appearance of meadowlands of grass and growing cereal on a sunny day. I laid down a single array of blue lines against a pale yellow background, so that it took on a greenish tinge. Using the shapes I created for the original image as templates, I made patches of green and yellow colour with double and quadruple line arrays. I placed the darkest and densest array underneath the mountain to the left, to add to its sense of distance. I placed the lighter arrays the right bank of mountain, and the lightest arrays under the centre bank of mountain and into the foreground. This heightened the coulisse or stage-setting effect that landscape artists often aim for, ie, darker at the sides and light in the centre.
One effect of this technique is that, even with all of the arrays laid down, the earlier array of blue lines still peeps through the arrays of yellow and green. This adds variation to the foreground while at the same time, keeping the different areas connected. This connection is important. To achieve it, keep lines the same width and running in the same direction, throughout the picture. Also, keep the number of colours used to a minimum.
The Final Touch
I was pleased with the finished image (top drawing), but felt I could push the computer drawing technique a step further. I returned to what I had been trying to achieve earlier, that is, using special effects in computer painting software to achieve a more organic image. Eventually, I ran the crayon effect over the image, and staggered at the results; the pearly clouds over misty hills and dappled foreground. It is no masterpiece; I have much to learn yet and I am humbled at the genius that was Roy Lichtenstein, an artist who understood that the “solid” world we see is actually made of matter in various states. No doubt influenced by the theories of scientists like Albert Einstein, he had the ability to reduce his surroundings to a series of strokes, polka dots and hatchings. I’ve studied the work of Lichtenstein for many years but still feel I am only just beginning to learn.
Art and Illusion by Ernest Gombrich, Phaidon
Lichtenstein Posters by Jurgen Doring and Claude von der Osten, Prestel Publishing Ltd, London, Munich and New York