Rhafael Aseo

Vincent Rhafael Aseo
Vincent Rhafael Aseo is an illustrator and designer based in Makati, Phillippines.

After graduating from the Asia Pacific College school of Multimedia Arts, he worked with companies like BoNa Coffee Company, Sujivana, Onyx Web Wizards, Bohemian Trading Co and Freespeech Publications, and is currently taking on freelance assignments.

Aseo works in vector illustration, creating pieces that are alternately simple and complex, colorful and almost monochromatic.

He often incorporates design elements into his illustrations, with both natural and abstract forms providing both background and foreground additions, but always with a strong primary focus and skillful path for the eye.

He uses adjoining areas of subtle gradation within his vector shapes to both suggest form and give a crisp graphic feeling to his portraits and other faces.

In addition to his website, Aseo has a blog and several other web presentations of his work. I’ve listed several below, but you will find additional pages linked from his site.


Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool

Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool
Though figure drawing classes and open studio sessions are frequently available at art schools and artist organizations in larger metropolitan areas (see my post on the Directory of Figure Drawing Sessions), it’s not always easy or convenient to find a class nearby.

In 2007 I wrote an article about online or on disc substitutes for figure drawing sessions, Poser, Pose Maniacs and Virtual Pose.

I recently appended the article to bring it up to date, and added reference to the Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool, a website that provides figure drawing reference in the way of timed photographs.

In many of the figure drawing classes and sessions I’ve attended over the years, it’s common practice to start with shorter poses (sometimes called “croquis”, from a French word meaning “sketch”), from which gestural drawings are made, capturing the movement and gesture of the pose rather than detail. From there, classes usually move to longer poses, of different lengths for different intentions in the degree of finish the artists are trying to achieve.

In an attempt to simulate this, the Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool allows you to choose a pose interval, from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. after which the page automatically replaces the photo with another pose. You can also advance or step back manually, or use a pause button to choose your own timing. You can also choose clothed or nude models, male or female, or a mix.

There is also a choice for a “class”, that starts with shorter poses, moves to longer ones and includes breaks.

Though some of the poses are a little oddball (having been supplemented lately with turn of the century cheesecake postcards), and the photos aren’t as consistent or high quality as a dedicated commercial product like Virtual Pose might provide, some of them are quite good, and Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool is free, supported by donations to help defray the cost of bandwidth.

There is also a secondary feature, an Animal Drawing Training Tool.

Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool is provided and maintained by Kim of Piexlovely, a web design firm in Portland, Oregon.

[Addendum: I’ve learned of another online artist’s pose resource — The Croquis Cafe, which serves up weekly videos of pose sessions consisting of one, two and five minute poses. You can also view the archives of previous sessions. The Croquis Cafe is provided by On Air Video, a video production company that features a line of arts and crafts instructional videos.]


Nelson Shanks (update)

Nelson Shanks
I had the pleasure on Wednesday night of attending a figure painting demonstration by Nelson Shanks at Studio Incamminati here in Philadelphia.

Shanks is a well known and highly regarded American artist and teacher, known in particular for his portraits of iconic contemporary figures.

His work has been exhibited in numerous museums and prestigious galleries, and his commissioned portraits include U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana of England, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Pope John Paul II, Luciano Pavarotti, the Chairman of the Board of the Museum of Modern and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many others.

Shanks has been a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and a visiting professor in Fine Arts at George Washington University in Washington, as well as conducting seminars at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the New York Academy of Art, and teaching at the Art Students League in new York, the National Academy of Design and the Art Institute of Chicago.

His style is academically precise and refined, but vibrates with lively color and a sense of life that artists with a similar approach sometimes lack. Not only does he communicate the personality of his subject, sometimes in quite subtle ways, Shanks’ feeling for the tactile presence of the objects surrounding his subjects often gives his portraits an undercurrent of the appeal of fine still life painting.

He studied at the Art Students League, additionally pursuing independent study with artists like John Koch. His skill and dedication earned him grants that enabled travel in Europe and study at the Accademia di Bell Arti in Florence with Pietro Annigoni.

Shanks’ experience as a painter, his grounding in traditional art training and his experience as a teacher came together in the establishment of Studio Incamminati, an atelier style not for profit school in Philadelphia dedicated to instructing “those who are progressing”, which is the meaning of the name.

The studio was co-founded with his wife, painter Leona Shanks, and grew out of a series of workshops conducted in the late 1990’s that indicated the need for the kind of immersive and dedicated instruction in “humanist realism” this kind of atelier could provide.

Nelson Shanks’s dedication to the studio includes occasional painting demos, in which he does portrait or figure painting in sessions that attract attention and new students to the school.

The session that I attended with filled to capacity with a mix of existing students and paying visitors who, except for breaks, sat in silence, enrapt for the three hour session while shanks worked from the model. Starting with a blank toned canvas, he brought his study to the state shown in the image above, bottom, in what was probably less than two and a half hours of actual painting time.

My snapshot doesn’t do it justice, but the study includes a rich variety of color, particularly in the shadows, and a wonderful economy of brushwork. Watching someone at Shanks’ level paint is like a condensed course of instruction in itself, and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to attend a similar session.

You can get a rough idea of what his demos are like from a brief, time-compressed video on YouTube. In addition, Matthew Inness has an article about a demo at the National Arts Club in 2011, and painter William Secombe gives a description of a similar demo at the Art Student’s League from 2009.

There is also a video available on YouTube, The Portrait as Fine Art, in which Shanks briefly discusses his philosophy of painting and which includes nice close up views of some of his paintings, supplementing the limited selection and somewhat small size of the images on his website.

You can find some larger images of his work on the Art Renewal Center (and here).

In 2011 Shanks became only the second American painter for which there was a dedicated exhibition at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The show was later on display at the Russian Academy of Art in Moscow.

While in St. Petersburg, Shanks conducted workshops at the Repin Instutute. There is a video about the exhibition that gives additional brief views of some of his paintings (and offers a glimpse of the artist’s studio in Bucks County).

There are additional videos available on YouTube, with interviews and events that sometimes include scenes from painting demos. I’ve listed what other resources I could find below. There was apparently a collection of his work printed in 1996, but I can’t find much information about the book.

I admire the fact that Nelson Shanks was a staunch defender of the traditions or realist art during periods in which that was quite difficult. He continues to champion the teaching of those traditions and, through both his personal influence and through Studio Incamminati, works to bring the benefit of his experience to a new generation of artists.

See my previous post about Nelson Shanks.


Eye Candy for Today: Inness On the Delaware

On the Delaware River, George Inness
On the Delaware River, George Inness.

On Google Art Project, click in lower right of image for zoom controls.

Original is in the Brooklyn Museum.

Even in his earlier, more realist works, a master of suggestion.

See my previous post on George Inness.


The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 4th Edition

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 4th Edition
Like the 1930’s Hollywood cliché of the civilized explorers wowing the backward and worshipful natives with the “magic” of a cigarette lighter held aloft at a dramatic moment, there has long been an assignment of magic to the ability to draw and paint realistically in our culture.

This comes from the notion that the ability to draw, and the other artistic skills that are built on that foundation, is reserved for those who have somehow been endowed at birth with “talent”, a magical cigarette lighter if ever there was one.

While not wanting to take away the special reverence that those who can draw or paint sometimes receive from the majority who “can’t draw a straight line” (since I’ve found that personally enjoyable at various points in my life, particularly as a teenager), I’m a firm believer that “talent” is a tarnished concept, and drawing is a skill, like playing a musical instrument, skiing, archery, flying a plane or performing surgery, that is acquired through hard work and diligent practice.

In fact, talent, that knack that makes acquiring a particular skill appear to come more easily, can be a hinderance as much as a help. After the initial boost, it can convince those that have it to be complacent and lazy, leaving them in a turtle and hare situation in which their hardworking counterparts quickly surpass them.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is book by Betty Edwards that embodies the idea of drawing as a teachable skill. It focuses in particular on the most fundamental problem facing adults who are learning to draw — learning to see; specifically learning to see what is actually in front of them, as opposed to what their brain is telling them they recognize and should in essence draw a symbol for, e.g. an almond shape to represent an eye, which actually has a much more complex and interesting shape.

Edward’s book has been something of a phenomenon since its release in 1979. It became a bestseller and is one of the most popular drawing instruction books of all time. In it she puts forth a course of study based on exercises that encourage a shift in perception.

She bases her rationale on the assumption that there are two fundamental modes of human perception, that one of them is much better for drawing and related tasks than the other (which is better at the kind of rational linear thinking more valued in our culture), and that these modes are physically based in the two halves of our interestingly bisected brains.

Edwards puts a lot of effort into establishing the science for this, particularly in the subsequent revised editions of the book. I think the science for this idea is in question. However, the assignment of these states to physical parts of the brain, while central to her title, is to my mind unimportant to the underlying premise — that culturing a particular mode of thinking and perception is key to acquiring the skill of drawing.

Her course utilizes a series of exercises that encourage that shift, confusing the usually dominant “left brain” or rational/linear mode into submission and allowing the “right brain” to come out and play, pencil in hand.

Many of the exercises in her course were based on long proven drawing instruction techniques, such as pure contour drawing, sighting, the use of a viewfinder and drawing negative spaces instead of positive shapes; others were novel, like drawing from upside-down images; but the book as a whole was different from other drawing instruction books when it debuted in that it was obviously and overtly aimed at those are were in the “99%”, those without the magic of “talent”.

As such, I have long recommended Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain to anyone who says “I wish I could draw.”, as well as to artists who feel they need to rekindle their drawing fire, as the exercises can be particularly revealing to those who haven’t been in a dedicated course of study for some time.

Edwards has revised the book over several editions, including a fairly major revision titled The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the latest version of which is the recently released 4th edition.

In this revision she has to some extent addressed my major criticism of the book, that it stops short at teaching seeing/drawing, and misses the other half of drawing — the nuances of line, tone, rendering, edges, value and other elements that elevate drawing to an art. It’s as if you found a remarkable course on how to speak a language, but that course stops short with forming coherent phrases and neglects how to speak in a natural or convincing way.

The before and after instruction drawings of students of her course, which have always been striking and a compelling argument for the strength of the book, also have a kind of flat and bland appearance, lacking those elements that we associate with sophisticated drawing.

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 4th EditionShe has added additional master drawings to this edition of the book, and places more emphasis on qualities of rendering than in previous editions, but I still recommend supplementing the use of the book with a “phase II” study of more advanced drawing concepts and more traditional drawing texts.

In the revised edition she also reorganizes the material a bit and attempts to codify the seeing/drawing shift into more a more specific subset of concepts.

She also places more emphasis on the perceptual shift involved in drawing as a key to creativity enhancement. This is actually her central theme; the book is subtitled “A course in enhancing creativity and artistic confidence”, but I find this aspect less compelling than the more specifically drawing related content. Your milage may vary.

There is a website for the book and related materials. Unfortunately it has not seen a major update in years, has a kind of stuck in the 90’s look to it, is poorly organized and does a terrible job, if at all, of explaining the book or the concepts it embodies. The site seems focused on convincing those who have already purchased the book to buy Edward’s other titles, workbooks, workshops and a pointless “portfolio” of prepackaged drawing supplies.

There is a sample chapter, but you would do better to look at the Amazon.com “Look Inside” feature for various editions (some of which have a more extensive preview than others).

Unfortunately, I am reviewing from a pre-publication uncorrected proof, and I don’t know how well it represents the final edition of the book. If the printing is the same, I have to say that the publisher has followed the recent self-destructive tendencies of the U.S. publishing industry as a whole and gone with cheaper, thinner paper and a poorer overall production quality to squeeze a few more pennies out of each copy (other reviews I’ve seen back this up).

Regardless of the sad state of American publishing, this remains a valuable book, in several of its editions, for both non-artists and artists alike — codifying the drawing-as-seeing skills that are so fundamental, and easily overlooked, in our pursuit of the magic of drawing.

For more, see my previous post on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain