Thursday, 24 October 2013

Visual Grammar Chapter 1 - A First Lesson in Drawing.

Links to Other Chapters in this Series

Chapter 1: A First Lesson in Drawing
Chapter 2:  Introducing the Dynamic Workspace
Chapter 3 : Words - Plastic Facts
Chapter 4 : Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness
Chapter 5: Nature's Boundaries of Well being and Selfhood

CHAPTER 1 - First Instructions about Learning to Draw  

My way of drawing is different from most people.  In my early years I did a lot of drawing from static models employed by Art Schools, however most of my training comes from speed drawing of moving figures, especially ballet dancers.  In my type of drawing I set myself the task of using static patterns onto paper to represent form, movement and spirit .  Logically this should be an impossible task, it is however achievable through the pragmatic use of visual grammar.

Visual grammar is a young science that can be approached from various angles, these include neuroscience, consciousness studies and other grammars given to us through our studies of linguistics. My understanding of visual grammar comes from reading a wide range of books on how the mind works, as I am reading I apply my private thoughts and observations about drawing to these new idea I am reading about.  This is a slow process, however my approach to drawing has changed dramatically and over the years I have developed a very individual approach to drawing and visual grammar, two subjects that are now very integrated in my mind.

My approach to drawing has been isolated and eccentric.  What my eyes have become tuned to look for in a drawing is not always the same as other peoples.  I cannot blame many people who do not altogether appreciate what my drawings are about, and likewise I think my approach to the mind and visual grammar will irritate many experts who already know so much more about this subject than I will ever do. I am however hoping that what I am about to write will stimulate people who have a genuine interest in art and the mind, whether they are academics or simply artists wanting to experiment with new viewpoints about how to capture the illusion of form, movement and spirit on paper.

What is a Drawing?
This is not a simple question to answer.  Our intuitive response might be that a drawing is "a two dimensional representation of what we see with our eyes", to my way of approaching drawing this is definitely a wrong answer.  It took me decades to realise it was a wrong answer, but once I understood this fact my success at drawing changed dramatically for the better. In this essay I am going to try to demonstrate, without jargon and scholarship, that drawings are not about making physical reproductions of what the retina receives through the lens.   I want to show you that drawings are to do with brain processes, processes that are many steps removed from the physics of the light that stimulated  the cones and rods at the back of the eye.

A reverse way to describe my intentions would be to say:  I will demonstrate how marks, built up on the blank whiteness of a sheet of paper, create the illusion of space, time and spirit through a strategy of hijacking the hidden subconscious mental grammars (we are talking of multiple grammars that sometimes conflict). As we progress with this line of investigation we will discover examples of visual grammar that mirror the grammar of linguistics; visual nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions and recursives.  I will not be trying to convince you that sight is a branch of linguistics, conversely I will be suggesting that the grammar of linguistics is not a unique invention of modern evolution. Indeed there is a wide acceptance amongst those who study the workings of the mind that grammars of many sorts pervade the way the brain gives meaning to all our senses; touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight.

Drawings are illusive incomplete fuzzy things, as are the workings of the mind on which they act.

Suppose I were to take a friend with no experience of drawing to a life drawing class.  How would they tackle the problem of making a drawing?  Quite probably they would work quite slowly, carefully tracing the undulations of the outlines of objects and the shapes of shadows on surfaces, measuring distances and angles and imitating what was in front of their eyes.  They would want the model to sit very still while they did this, and expect her never to move for long periods of time.  After a lot of practice they could perhaps become very skilled at representing what was in front of them, but they would be behaving a bit like an old fashioned camera with a very slow shutter speed.  This is a respectable way to draw, and there have been many masters who produced beautiful works of art using these sorts of techniques.  One thinks of the great nineteenth century masters like Jean Ingres, and who does not aspire to be as good at drawing as Ingres was?

 Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique
Teresa Nogarola, Countess Apponyi
Pencil on paper
Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

This way of drawing comes highly recommended in Art Schools, they even claim it is the classic approach to drawing used by the old masters (A point of view I will argue with in Chapter two). I do not use or recommend this way of drawing, especially in an age where we have cameras with super fast shutter speeds.

There are some artists who are call themselves photo-realists.  Their work is exceptional, and very often involves taking a photo before making the final work of art with pencil or paint. 

By photorealist drawing  William Shank 2011
The photo-realists are actually making maps of the light patterns that went into the lens of the eye, they are not reproducing maps of what is received on the retina and into the subconscious.  Their  way of drawing is largely passive.  They do not try to work with the mental processes of seeing.

These artists probably believe that they are making "a two dimensional representation of what we see with our eyes".  They might say "when my eye looks at a straight line I see a straight line, and what I put on the paper is a straight line".   They are wrong, they are producing a map of the raw data that passes through the lens of the eye before it reaches the retina.   The light that arrives at the lens contained a straight line, but straight line is projected through the distorting processes of refraction on to the concaved surface at the back of the eye, and becomes a curved line which is fuzzy at each end. By the time the light touches the retina has been physically changed into a curved line which is focused on the fovea and unfocused at its ends. Part of the line may even lie across the blind spot where there are no receptors to pick up the image.  Along its journey from lens to consciousness the patterns go through all sorts of distortion processes, but what we all see is a straight line that is in perfect focus for its whole length.  It is the magic of mental grammar that takes the distortion out of seeing. 

If I were a teacher I would tell my friend they have a choice; they can have a passive or active  approach to drawing.  In the former they will be learning how to reproduce what cameras are doing, if they choose the latter they must learn to engage the processes of the mind and regard the paper as a dynamic workspace that includes time and space.  When they choose the latter it is a good idea to become aware of how mental grammar works.
The Raw Data
If my friend chooses an active approach to drawing I am ready to give him my first piece of advice "you must rid yourself of the notion that you are in competition with the camera". The camera makes a mechanical record of the patterns of light that arrived through the lens of the camera, these patterns are the raw data of sight and are far removed from the patterns that arrive in our conscious minds. By the time we see an image on the virtual movie screen in our minds the raw data has already been coded, processed and modified by multiple modules of our brains, then  reassembled and re-represented to our conscious minds. What we see on that virtual movie screen is not what the retina recorded. 

The Stuff of Unconscious Thought
After the patterns of light arrived through the lens of the eye and hit the receptors on the retina, the light was converted into coded electrical pulses that were then transported along the optic nerves to the visual cortex at the back of the brain.

The coded pulses that arrive in the visual cortex are distorted fragmented information that have already been split up by the thalamus (sometimes known as the brain's relay centre), in the visual cortex the codes are reclassified and split again and dispersed to a host of specialised modules that are situated around the brain.

The specialist modules have allotted tasks such as analysing, luminesence, colour, location, movement, emotion, face and object recognition. Some of the pathways are longer and slower than others, so when the results of all this analysis is reunited with itself what started as the same information has been through other modules, some slow, some fast, and it is all out of sync.

The visual information is also integrated with other sensory information from other modalities.  For instance our vision of a strawberry is enhanced by the smell, touch and taste of strawberry. Seeing a strawberry is not a simple matter, it involves colour, shape, texture, smell and taste.  All this sensory stuff arrives in our subconscious minds as a mess, is distorted and made out of sync, added to sensory information from other modalities and then magically it comes up as singular images on our visual movie screens complete with smells and tastes and noises as if it were a single unified thing.  Well that is how we think we experience things, but we don't.  It is an illusion of how we experience things.

The Stuff of Conscious Thought
When we experience seeing a strawberry it is a unified thing; one smelling, tasting lovely red strawberry sitting in space in a bowl on the table.  These mental images, that are the stuff of conscious thought, are perhaps much more ambiguous than we believe them to be. This article, which started with a simple statement that drawing is different from photograph,y has already become bogged down with questions about how we experiance consciousness.

Consciousness is very difficult to study because it is entirely personal, and unknowable except to the individual who is experiencing consciousness.  These difficulties made studying consciousness a taboo science for most of the 20th century, because the scientists of those times thought that it was impossible to apply scientific method to the unknowable and unquantifiable personal and subjective experiences of individuals.

Over the last 40 years a new generation of scientists have used new techniques to open up consciousness to scientific scrutiny.  They have been joined in their quest to understand the mind by individuals from a wide range of disciplines; psychologists, evolutionary palaeontologists, linguists and even artists like me say we might have something to add.

Self awareness is one aspect of consciousness that has been studied from the outside, and it is discovered to be not a single thing; self aware consciousness is distributed at centres across the brain.

 Characteristic brain activities of lucid awareness
Max Planck (from the studies of lucid dreaming)

It is also obvious that conscious thought is a tiny thing when it is compared to the enormity of the stuff of the subconscious thought. It is also very unstable. When we sleep consciousness is mostly switched off, even during the day the dimmer switch is mostly switched to low, making us almost unaware of what we are seeing; for instance if you were asked what was the colour of the shirt of a man who passed you in the street, you might reply "I cannot recall". Occasionally, and only for short bursts of time during waking hours, our attention will grabbed by the sight of something really interesting, and our conscious thoughts become engaged and focused. At these moments we experience strong feelings and observe the objects that excited our interest in every small detail. But then there is an added irony.  I can explain it this way: imagine you are male and have your attention grabbed by a lovely lady in a miniskirt, your awareness of other people and objects on the periphery of your attention become even dimmer. In extreme cases he might crash the car.

Focused Attention
Focused attention distorts the world. This was well demonstrated by an experiment where a group of people were given the task of counting how many times the ball was passed by the team in white shirts.  You can try this yourself, here is the video.  You have to count the number of times the ball was passed within the group:

Most people are so focused on counting the passes that their inner mental world does not see the gorilla.  Here is a problem for the scientist studying consciousness; they can know the raw data of sight included seeing a gorilla, and they believe people who say they did not see a gorilla.  Experience is only knowable to the experiencer, but do you trust them to know what they experienced?  Did they see the gorilla in their unconscious mind and discount its presence, did they see it in their conscious mind but forget about it immediately because it was irrelevant, or did neither the conscious or unconscious mind see the gorilla. How can the scientist investigate the answer to these questions wihout sharing the unknowable experience of another individual?

Perhaps this is where Art has something to offer.  Drawing is about the inner world, and our drawings are a fuzzy window through which outsiders can see a little bit of the unknowable consciousness of other people.  But using drawings to unravel the secrets of our inner world is still a very complex task that is fraught with red herrings and dead end alleyways. 

When I am drawing I am in this state of heightened attention and alertness about the object I am trying to draw, which is one of the reasons I encourage others to draw even after they complain that they are afraid because they "cannot draw". Drawing is a bit like meditation, it heightens your awareness of the world, and by looking at your "cannot draw" efforts afterwards you will discover a lot about your inner self and how you experienced the world.

Just like the young man who was distracted by a miniskirt, the artist making a drawing focuses attention on the subject of the drawing and becomes unaware of what is happening in the periphery of their focus. This is very easy to demonstrate with drawing: Whilst on holiday in Tuscany I drew this Meadow Brown butterfly feeding on lavender, then I took a photograph of the scene I had just been drawing. See how my entire concentration was taken up by the object, a butterfly on a lavender stem, and notice how what was happening in the background has become left out from the drawing. 

The photograph represents the raw data and the drawing represents, to a limited extent, what was going on in my inner mind when I was drawing the butterfly. We think the images in our head are complete, mulitcoloured and moving, like the images created by a camera, but as has just demonstrated this maybe an illusion. Perhaps it is more like the light in the fridge; when we open the fridge door the light is always on, even though the fridge light is switched off most of the day. Every time we check the fridge we see that the light is on. When I was drawing the shape of the butterfly on a lavender stem the background became very dim, maybe I am hardly aware of the colour of teh butterfly when I I thinking about its shape, but if ask myself about the colour it is there switched on and if a bumble bee had arrived the movement sensors in my eyes would have asked me to look at what was happening behind the butterfly, which is also switched on. Everything we look at with our conscious minds is always switched on in every detail; the colour, movement, smell and texture, but as soon as our attention is focused on one aspect, say the shape of the stem, the dimmer is switched back on. But just like when we open the fridge door the fridge light is on, we never see the light being switched on and off as we open the door.  The illusion is that the light in the fridge is always on..

But it is possible to induce situations where we can see the light in the fridge going on and off.  Here is another demo for you to try: 

Place your face a few inches from the screen and focus your attention on the Smiley.  After about ten seconds the fish will simply turn off, becoming the same as pattern as the background. 

Drawings often mirror the experience of sight.  Speaking for myself, as someone who draws from life without the aid of photographs, I find that my drawings are modified stereotypes.  The looking part of drawing is almost all concerned with noticing differences from the familiar stereotype, and making the drawing is a process of recreating a stereotype with modifications. Let me explain using this image I made of two skaters:

The first stroke were the broad arch shape of the girls back with a ball of chalk for the position of the head (which I knew from previous observation was round with a slightly pointed chin).  I also added a line of colour for the position of the outstretched arm which ran into the arm of the male figure, then I added the skates which I guessed from deduction would be flat to the surface of the ice.  By this point I had no memory of the position of the man, I only remember he is bigger than the girl, so all this part was added using rhythm and deduction.  After this the information from the raw data of sight was almost nothing; 99% of the information in this drawing was gleaned from my memory banks about what humans look like.  So this complex drawing, which is very individual, was created from with a few novel observations and a lot of information from my memory banks; such things as the man has two arms, two eyes looking towards his partner, guesses about how the man's weight was distributed and guesses about how his leg might have been raised.  But the picture looks like Yuko Kavaguchi and Robyn ------ dancing on ice

 Active and Passive Drawing : Active and Passive Sight
At the beginning of this article I explained how it is possible to draw in a passive way.  I used the example of how an artist may construct a drawing from a long winded process of looking closely and repeatedly at a static model (or even a photograph), and repeated matching, referencing and re-measuring the shapes of lines and shadows against the shapes they could see on the unmoving model.  

I have also demonstrated what I call active drawing, where a drawing was started using fragments of novel information from the raw data of sight which was supplements by a lot of information from memory banks.  In truth both methods use visual grammar, but as we will see in Chapter two, with active drawing the visual grammar is much more in your face. 

I would suggest that sight is more akin to active drawing than passive drawing.  At any one time our conscious minds are much too small to focus on much information, so with active sight we recognise things in terms of stereotypes with modifications. Active drawing is really mimicking the seeing process of active sight.  This is well demonstrated by cartoons which are Active drawings.

This is a well known character: Salvador Dali.  If I were a cartoonist how would I draw this character for the first time?

I think I would do exactly the same as when I drew the skater.  I would look at the differences between Salvador Dali's head and a stereotype of a head I hold in my memory.  I would notice perhaps three key features; his strange moustache, the dark greased down hair  and the long face with a square jaw.  Other features, like his eyes, ears, mouth would perhaps be added from my memory banks without re-referencing to the subject.

This is how the drawing is constructed

A stereotype face drawn quickly from memory

 plus key features - square jaw, funny moustache and greased down dark hair)

make a recognisable individual called Salvadore Dali. 

I was careful to mention that this cartoon is a first attempt.  This is for a reason. I have many memory banks; one is called "stereotype man's face" and another yet to come into existance is "unique features of Salvatore Dali's face". By the time I have finished my cartoon of Salvadore Dali the memory bank of unique features of SD has come into existance.  When I come to make my next drawing I can look at more interesting features of SD which can be amalgamated with the already learnt information.  One thing I might notice second time round is that his hair was not greasy it was just short cropped, I might modify my undertanding of the shape of his funny moustache, and notice how his ears stick out a bit.  
How about sight on that virtual movie screen of the mind -  we think the images on this virtual screen are constructed entirely from the raw data that arrives through the lens of the eye, but this is probably wrong.  It is far more likely that the image is 99% constructed of stereotypes with little bits of differences notices.

For instance whilst taking a walk in the Spring you might half notice white dots in the hedgerows, the subconscious mind match these to memories of snowdrops seen in past years. In the time between the raw data being picked up by receptors on the retina, and the time it arrives in the conscious mind, the data has been worked on, subverted and amalgamated with images of familiar objects already stored in the memory banks of the mind. The image we see on the virtual movie screen inside our heads are familiar because they are drawn from both the raw data and memory data.  When we walked along the hedgerow did we see snowdrops or memories of snowdrops from past years?

We are inclined to believe that what we are seeing is mostly gleaned from the raw data, but looking at drawings, and the grammar of drawing (chapter two), it becomes very obvious that this is not the case.  It also makes physiological sense for the brain to rely mostly on stored stereotypes because the brain is the most energy hungry organ of human body.  It is calculated to be about 2% of our body weight but consume 25% of our energy intake.  There is a theory that our brains gathered weight after our branch of the ape family graduated from a mostly vegetarian diet into eating high calorie meat-eaters, and this allowed our brains to grow in size.  The size of our brain are already stretching our physiology to the limits of what is possible.  One way to keep the brain from expanding is to save energy by not looking at the detail of something that has already been matched to stored memories and recognised, especially when the object is non threatening and not food?

Our inner vision always picks out the unusual and disregards the familiar.  This is how active drawing works too.

Visual Grammar Chapter 2 -Introducing the Dynamic Workspace

Links to Other Chapters in this Series

Chapter 1: A First Lesson in Drawing
Chapter 2:  Introducing the Dynamic Workspace
Chapter 3 : Words - Plastic Facts
Chapter 4 : Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness
Chapter 5: Nature's Boundaries of Well being and Selfhood

CHAPTER TWO : Introducing The Dynamic Workspace

It often comes as a surprise for people to learn that sight obeys grammatic rules. I first came across visual grammar when I read a book by Prof. Donald Hoffman called Visual Intelligence (publ. 2000). In his book Prof. Hoffman lists 35 rules, and he has since put up some amusing demonstrations on his website. I think Prof Hoffman has made some profound insights about visual grammar, however his academic approach is very different from mine.

My viewpoint does not come from academic sources, it comes through my pragmatic experience of speed drawing, which in the first chapter I called "active drawing".  I chose the word "active" because it best describes the dynamic relationship between the mark making that goes on whilst a drawing is being constructed and the visual grammar of sight which determines the success of the drawing.  A skilled Active Drawer learns how to place the marks that can be easily read by the visual grammar of the subconscious mind.  In this chapter I will give you simplified demonstrations of these interactions at work.  This chapter is a preamble for further chapters where I will examine how the paper becomes a dynamic workspace which hosts space, time and emotion, and patterns that work together to make visual nouns, adjectives, verbs, conjunctives and recursives.

All drawings start with a blank piece of paper, at this point the paper is inactive and represents a sort of nothingness.   

Here is nothingness

As soon as you place your first mark on the paper it becomes reactive, which is why from now on I will refer to the paper as being a "dynamic workspace".  Active drawers place themselves in the driving seat, how they decide to place the next mark will determine the character of the first mark.  Let me demonstrate: suppose the first mark is a spot.  As long as there are no other marks it winks  "I am just a spot on a piece of paper

Placing the second mark will sometimes add meaning to the first mark, and provide a locus for future marks. In this case the second mark transforms the first mark into the pupil of an eye.  The spot is now winking back  "I am an eye pupil"

If the second mark had been different it might have winked something different; in this second example the spot has started to wink "I am the centre of a  flower".

Or second mark may not react in any meaningful way with the first mark - in which case the spot still winks "I am a spot" and is perhaps also saying "I am a spot which is part of an abstract pattern".

Is this grammar?  I am not sure.  But at least this very simple demonstration illustrates that when you put marks on paper you create a "dynamic workspace".  Marks react with each other.

The importance of Winking

In the first chapter I wrote that Passive Drawing is about tracing the outlines of objects and copying the tones and shapes of shaded areas.  It is about accurately reproducing maps of the light that enters the lens of the eye.  The perfect passive drawing would look like a photograph.  Active drawing is quite different, it is not about reproducing the raw data of sight (the light that would have been recorded by a camera lens).  Active drawers are less interested in the raw data, instead they concentrate on looking out for when winking happens, cherish those moments, and learning how to control and enhance the winking that they see happening.

So let's look at how we can control the winking. I am going to show you how a mark changes as it moves round a picture.  Here is a smiley which is pattern that strongly winks "I am a happy face".

  "I am a happy face"

If I add a random splodge, and it lands outside the boundary of the face,  the new mark says nothing much.  It looks like a bit of dirt or something. 

 "I am a happy face and there is a bit of dirt on the paper"

The bit of dirt is annoying, even distracting, but after a bit you sort of forget it is there.  The "I am a Happy Face"  dominates the splodge of dirt out of existence.  Even when the splodge is inside the boundary of the Smiley it does not always say much, but it is more disruptive.

 "I am a happy face and there is a bit of dirt ?? (or something??) under my eye"

But if you put the same dirty splodge in the centre of the Smiley something quite dramatic happens.  Even though the splodge looks un-nose like,  it still winks "I am a Nose"  

 "I am a Smiley with a nose"

It is as if the mind has decided that any mark in this position will be seen as a nose.  For instance if I put a flower in this same position it winks "I am a funny flower nose"

"I am a Smiley with a  funny flower nose"

 and there are other areas where the splodge starts to wink.

"I am a Smiley with my tongue out"

This series of images provides a number of clues about what might be going on in our subconscious mind.

The Missing Nose

An important starting question is to ask is why do we so easily accept the Smiley without a nose?  The mind clearly expects a nose to be in the gap between the eyes and the mouth, and whatever you put in that gap becomes a nose.  Given this high expectation why do designers not put the missing nose there?  Is it that we simply do not notice that the Smiley is missing a nose?

I can only surmise that when we look at a traditional Smiley all our attention is drawn and fixed on the eyes, the big curved mouth and boundaries of the face.  These ultra strong features demand our full undivided and focused attention, and tell us strongly that this is a Smiling happy face.  Would adding a nose make it be a more smiling face?  I think not.

These questions and sorts of experiences are common for active drawers.   When we are constructing a drawing we are placing strategic marks on the paper and interacting with our subconscious mind in the dynamic workspace.

In this drawing I made at Wiseman's Bridge last summer you can see places in the drawing where whole sections of information are left out.   

Would this drawing be stronger if I filled the area between the little girl's face and her father's face?  Do you miss having this extra information? How about the absence of the man's legs?  Does that bother you?

Why did I leave this information out?  Was it an artistic decision? The answer is that whilst making the drawing I was focusing my attention on what I was seeing, and I was drawing what I was seeing.  It was not an artistic decision.  I was not seeing the man's shirt, just like I was not seeing the lavender behind the butterfly or the gorilla crossing the video screen (video chapter 1).

Active drawing is mostly done very fast, and the artist is concentration on putting down as much as possible before the scene changes. In the above drawing the narrative was about the engagement between the eyes of the father on his little girl who is the main subject of this image.  I was not drawing the father's shirt or legs because I never saw them.  You may think how skilled is that - but ask yourself this; when you last drew a Smiley were you tempted to add a nose?  If not then you were behaving just like I was when I made the above drawing.  A Smiley is an Active drawing made on a dynamic workspace.  When you draw a Smiley all your attention is taken up by the subject and you do not think about adding a nose because you do not see it is missing.

As we delve deeper we will discover the white patches in drawings are extremely complicated spaces, and without them we would not see movement or time.

Location, Location, Location

Estate agents are fond of telling us that buying a property for investment is about location, location, location.  A beautiful spacious house in the wrong place is worth peanuts compared to the value of a single bedroom flat in Mayfair.  We might say something similar about mark placing on dynamic workspaces; the success of the mark is more determined by location than how beautifully it is drawn.  This is really easy to show; let me take two marks, one looks like a nose and the other like a splodge of dirt.  If the splodge is in the position where a nose should be it winks "I am a nose" very strongly, and if the nose is in the wrong place it  does not wink "I am a nose" at all.  All that careful observation about what a nose looks like it completely wasted!
The splodge shape is a nose, the nose shape is a nothing 

A beautiful house in Mayfair is worth more than a single flat in Mayfair, the same applies to drawings of noses; a beautifully drawn nose in the correct location worth more than a splodge in the correct location.

This new element, lets call it "beautifully drawn" adds a new quality to our Smiley which was until now was a one horse trick.  The standard Smiley is the World's best loved emoticon that is used by men and women of all ages and races to express pure happiness at the end of e-mail sentences, in this context the lack of  individuality and identity was a virtue.  The addition of a "beautifully drawn" nose with a broad bridge has added a strong "identity" to the emoticon. which makes it now unsuitable for use by people with narrow noses. The new element brings uniqueness and was created through a type functionality called "plasticity", ironically the emoticon gains a new side and loses its functionality. **


Artist do not usually talk much about plasticity, but it is one of the buzz words of modern biology and neuroscience. Biologist will tell you that Nature builds plasticity into everything it creates, including the way the brain works.  We are looking at Active Drawing, which is built on a dynamic relationship between Art and the inner workings of the mind, so it is only to be expected that we should find plasticity in the visual grammar we use when drawing.

We have already discovered that the mind is rigid and unbending in it's rules about the location of where a nose can be on the human face, but when it comes to the shape of the nose the mind gives us  as much freedom as we want.  Any size, shape or colour will do. 

In fact the minds plasticity towards shape permits all the elements of the Smiley face to be changed, as long as the basic rules about location are not broken.  So it is permissible to change the shapes of the mouth, eyes and outline of the Smiley.  These are all variants of the Smiley pattern.

Is this Grammar?

I am not a linguist so I cannot answer this question authoritatively, but I can see lots of commonality between the system I am describing and the way sentences are constructed using simple linguistic grammar. For instance if we take a simple sentence like "The Cat sat on the Mat" and mess with the location of a word in the sentence, then we get a meaningless sentence  "The sat on the Cat Mat".

However provided you stick with the location rules you can change the words in the sentence however you want.  The words are allowed plasticity, so you can change cat to lion or dog and the sentence still makes sense. "The Lion sat on the Mat"

Another interesting thing is that we can use linguistic grammar to express ideas that we never expect to happen in the real world; The Chair sat on the Mat.  This is very similar to the way we can use location on patterns to make pictures tell us stories which do not make sense in the real, like the Smiley with a flower instead of a nose.

Adding More Information

There is one more commonality between the grammar of Smiley faces and linguistic grammar; Having created a structurally correct sentence or image we can go on adding more information provided the added information is put into the correct location.   So we can add hair, eyebrows, ears, moustaches and bowtie.

And we have a picture with a really strong personality.

Add the same pieces in the wrong locations they have no  meaning and they obliterate the original message of the image.

Likewise we can add more words to a simple sentence The sentence started as "The Cat sat on the Rug" and with additional words becomes a longer sentence with more useful information "The Blue Cat and Old Dog Sat on the Rug".

If we disobey grammatic location rules the words lose their meaning and obliterate the original message of the sentence, as in "The Cat Old sat Dog on Blue the Rug"   I cannot help but be struck by the similarities in the way the two systems work.

This chapter has looked at the structural rules governing a very simple pattern.  In many ways the conclusions are banal and obvious.  It is difficult for me to convey how much difference understanding this stuff has made to my approach to making a drawing.  The discovery that location is more important than content was revelatory and whilst drawing I am always keenly aware of these understandings.  Speed drawings are always created under time pressure, and the decisions about how to maximise the value from each successive stroke have to be instantaneous.  In this context knowing that a well placed splodge has more value to the message of the drawing than a carefully described and beautifully drawn outline that is slightly misplaced, make these decisions more fluid.

In the drawing below the fingers are just rods, and at least I got the right number, but to have attempted to draw hands that were anatomically correct would have distracted my attention from the location relationships between the hands and the rest of the it was a good decision not to try to draw beautiful hands.

It is possible that with more skill I could have done both, but at my level of skill this was as good as I could manage

The distorted Dynamic Workspace

We have looked at some of the simple stuff.  This may give a wrong impression, the Dynamic Workspace has simple rules, but it has many layers of other activities that are going on simultaneous in our subconscious minds.  In the drawing above the locations of the hands have been distorted by these other layers, and it will take many more chapters to explain and demonstrate this weird world of visual grammar. 

Best wishes


** Whilst writing this piece I realised that there is another reason about why there is no nose on the Smiley.  It is not  hard and fast rule, but generally speaking those parts of the body which we cannot move, like our ears and noses, cannot be used by our minds for expression.  Our minds are always trying to talk with other minds, and it does this through body language.  Every movable feature available, especially the eyes and soft features around the mouth are used for communication of our feelings and intentions. We also use our hands, posture and how we cock our heads.  The immovable and unchangeable features cannot used for expression, thus our noses and ears are God given, immutable.

Our immutable noses, sitting right in amongst of the most moveable and expressive part of our faces, become objects of identity and individuality par excellence, which is why they are so useful for caricaturists.  The Smiley is supposed to be raceless, sexless and ageless, so it makes sense not to include it as part of the icon for universal happiness.  I add this point as a footnote because it is not really the subject of this chapter.

Honoré Daumier - Count Antoine Maurice Apollinaire d Argout

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Narberth Food Fair

Narberth Food Fair
We live a few miles from a pretty Welsh market town called Narberth.  The town is built on the side of a gently sloping hill,.  At the bottom of the Hill is the ruins of a medieval castle and at the top end a car park.  The High Street, which is lined with perhaps 50 small shops, runs between the Castle and Car Park. 

As you can imagine a small town like this has a strong sense of community. One of the most popular events is a Food Fair which is held in the car park in last week of September  When the weather is fine, as happened this year, large crowds gather to look at the stalls and enjoy the popular music played by local bands.  The organisers have an area where parents can leave their children to play and be entertained whilst they spend time looking round the tents all laden with food.

I am not interested in cooking, but my wife is, and it was the most lovely day with gentle sunshine and no wind.  Whilst Mami looked round that tent I found myself on bench where I could watch and draw the crowds and  children being entertained.

There was a captivating beautiful girl who moved amongst the crowds dressed as Carmen Miranda.

and a man on stilts with large knives for juggling and frightening the children, but the children were not frightened.

and a girl with a bowler hat and antenna who was showing the children how to spin plates on the end of a stick. Which the children learnt quickly how to do

 and other children had hoola hoops

and spinning tops that they could throw in the air

to my side were a couple with a very young baby

and an old lady with and ice cream and a dog

Sitting in the sunshine watching everything going on around me was a lovely way to spend the after noon.