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The thing with lines

By: Raymund Fernandez October 18,2015 - 12:59 AM

He likes hotels. He is writing this at the Big Hotel in Cebu where lines are neatly arranged all about him. One gets the sense that the line was of great interest to the designers when they made this building, its function rooms, the walkways. Line seems to be its overlying theme.

Line is the first element of what are called the elements of form, sometimes called the elements of design: line, tonal value, color, texture, shape, space, balance, etc. Of all these, line is the first element humans learn to work with, which learning begins the first time they grasp a pencil and run its point on a surface. The circle is the first shape. Later, an up and down stroke. And still later the obvious representation of the human form.

As the child enters school, the child learns he or she can make lines into letters, which letters mean something. The child grows older. The child learns to read and write. And if he or she lives inside an environment of culture, the child learns to draw.

And of course, the child learns to draw with lines without need for much external intervention. Drawing is natural for all children until they begin to deal with the dangerous and most often defeating concept called talent. In the old days, superstitious people used to think only a few “talented” people can draw. Nowadays, people are more inclined to think anybody who needs to can learn to draw.

Like any art, drawing requires as much time and concentration as is needed to bring it to a high level of mastery. But even a moderate level of competence is already enough to make it fun. And one must be careful how one qualifies the idea of “competence” in drawing. In the old days, you had to learn to draw a portrait to be considered even moderately good. Nowadays, we are more enlightened than that.

It is not the ability to copy form which is important. What matters more is a fairly lucid understanding of how lines work. With this understanding comes the ability to produce beautiful lines.

The thing with lines is that we presume we can see it when in fact we miss it altogether just because they are so obviously everywhere. Such as when you enter the lobby of the Big Hotel where he is staying now. Something about it makes you feel good. You may not actually know why you feel good. You just do. But if you were a designer or a good artist, you would understand how keenly the lines are arranged here. The artist sees the linear logic of its architecture, its interiors, the decors, the furniture, etc., and how the lines have been so carefully designed to make people feel good.

They are studied lines.

And always the understanding of studied lines begins with the understanding of gesture. Lines are only the consequence of movement. The first lessons of gesture are easy to teach: The good teacher looks at how his students hold the pencil or pen when they draw. Often, people hold it too near the writing tip, which is usually the way one holds a pencil for writing. The good teacher tells his students to move the fingers away from the writing tip. The farther away the better, though it may take awhile before the student becomes comfortable with this new way of holding the pencil.

But not to worry, the learning of gesture starts with getting used to a more practical way of holding and working the pencil if its intended use is not to write but to draw.

And there is something about gesture that is almost universal for all the modes of making art, from drawing to painting, dance, especially music. The artist must be conscious that the whole body participates in the making of the studied line. You are used to writing the letter “o”. Now try making a big “o” on big paper or even on the wall. Your arms move full arcs and circles. Remember how the arms feel. Become more comfortable with large sweeps. Think less what the pencil is doing on the paper. It is better not to look. Close your eyes. Feel the line instead.

Remember the sense of freedom the body feels when it moves this way. It is this sense of freedom and feeling good which communicates to the viewer. Consider the complex psychology of it. Move the body. As much of it as can be moved. Drawing is all about muscle memory, just like playing music on an instrument. Is there a more beautiful sight than watching a good pianist, or guitarist, or dancer, perform? Only from  muscle memory of a movement, only from gesture does the beautiful line emerge.

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TAGS: Cebu, child, drawing

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