Okay. So onto Nielsen. I was asked by two people in the comments section how I studied artists. I come at it from a couple of different angles:
- how they learned. I scout out bios to find out what sort of schooling they had.
- who influenced them. No point reinventing the wheel.
- composition. Do they have rules they always follow? Maxfield Parrish's adherence to Dynamic Symmetry was fascinating.
- palette. What colors do they tend to use? I learned an amazing amount about mixing colors when I studied Waterhouse. I had no idea I could use that much blue and red-brown together in one composition.
- technique. Sometimes, like Sargent, they leave behind journals and students who describe their process for us. This is like gold.
- overall feel. Romantic, like Waterhouse? Aggressive, like Van Gogh? Dark, like Sargent?
Anyway, onto Nielsen. If you follow the link above, it'll take you to a pretty good bio page. I prefer this page for examples of his work, because it's a bunch of them in one place. So, I gave myself over to reading and looking for awhile, and this is what I got to:
- His work is highly stylized, after the manner of Japanese prints
- They are for the most part flat, using colors and patterns to give them depth rather than any particular sense of foreshortening or recession
- His figures are elongated and androgynous, pale and idealized
- He uses color to attract attention, like the warm red in these three primarily cool images.
- Aside from red, his colors tend to be muted -- dusky pinks, gray-greens, sea-foam blues.
- Compositionally, he uses a lot of vertical elements, especially parallel elements, and he breaks them up with arches. Curiously, I was noticing a lot of the exact same curve in his work (do you see the curve in each of these three examples?), and then I read that he made frequent use of the "Hiroshige wave." Well, that took me a bit more research, but I found that Ando Hiroshige was a prominent Japanese artist. One of his most famous images (one that I realized I had seen before) was one of a wave:
- Finally, Nielsen did a lot of images where most of the compositional interest was in the lower third of the painting. His skies and upper thirds are fascinating examples of compositional support systems, active backgrounds to support the subject.
Anyway, by this point I was dying to have a go at some sketches, so I got out my new sketchbook (and yes, I will also be giving this one away to a blog subscriber, once it's full). Since I began last year's projects by illustrating a scene from one of my novels-in-progress, I thought it would be fitting this year to illustrate a scene from my current novel-in-progress, Still Wolf Watching.
So the first thing I did was tackle the long, high composition with the subject down at the bottom. My first effort was sort of satisfactory, but to me, it looks like a cheesy calendar image. It might be different once I did it full size (this little sketch is only 4 inches tall or so), but I was missing that stylized pizazz.
I can't believe I just used the word "pizazz."
Anyway, so I decided I needed to work on my wolf, both poses and anatomy. Next page was wolf sketches, stylizing and cleaning up and making edgier.
And then my second effort was supposed to be a grand culmination of what I had learned from the first sketch and the wolf sketches, but I think I still like the first one best. Maybe put my stylized wolf in the first one. Hmm. See how I'm using the Hiroshige wave in the shape of the wolf's back? I'm sooo proud of myself. Still, these aren't the amazing creatures (the sketches, not the wolves) I was hoping for. I'll see what you all think and maybe try my hand at more sketches next Sunday, using more of what I've learned.