Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Visual Grammar Chapter 6: Shouting Hotpots and Ghosts

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 6:   Shouting Hotpots and Ghosts

We have discovered that even though the name of an object like Noah's Ark is a singular thing, the constituent parts of what makes a visual Noah's Ark are many and plastic and always in a state of change. For instance both these images are instantly recognisable as Noah's Ark even though the boats are not the same shape (plastic) and they have different animals (constituent parts) on board. 

Even very simplest of visual objects, like a face, are plastic and made up of a wide variety of possible constituent pieces: eyes, nose, ears, hair, pony tails, freckles, moustaches and bald patches........

But behind the huge variation of shape and constituent parts are rules: The water is always under the ark, the animal are on top of the boat;  The nose is between the eyes.  In earlier chapters we looked at the interaction between plasticity of the outline of objects versus placing of marks within the boundary walls of the object.  In this chapter I am going to attempt to take these observations further and explain the dynamics of the fluid relationships.

Energised Blankness 
To understand the dynamics of visual grammar you need to understand the concept of energised blankness.  This is very simple to grasp. To show you how it works I have drawn some running mice in the centre of  a blank piece of paper

Objects energise space around them.  This energy is not equally dispersed.  The mice are looking over their backs as if they are running away from something frightening.  The blank space where the eye expects to see what is causing the mice to run away has become energised.

If Energised Blankness were to show up as orange, and unenergised were to show as blue, the paper would look like this

The space behind the wall is unenergised because the eye expects to see nothing interesting in this area.  The floor is slightly energised because the eye anticipates the mice are running on it.

When I compose a picture I remove the un-energised space and extend the energised space.  So in this case I reorganise the composition of my drawing to be something like this.  Now every part of the compositon is contributing to the narrative of the picture

Blank areas may contain nothing, but they contribute to the composition because the space vibrates with energy and expectation, it is as if the blankness is shouting at us "watch out, something is about to happen in this empty area of the paper".

If I draw a stalk of grass in this energised space we are still not satisfied, grass is not what the mice are running away from.  The sense of shouting blankness is still there, the air around the stalk of grass still contains a shouting voice that is warning us "something is about to happen in this empty area of the paper".

I could draw lots more grass.  If I do this the grass itself becomes energised because the eye begins to believe that there is something dangerous hidden in amongst the grass, perhaps a snake.  Now it is not the energised air that is shouting, it is the energised grass.

The shouting will only stop after we have put something in the space that fits the predictions of the mind; something has to have frightened the mice, it was not the grass, what can it be?  A cat will do.

Placing an object the mind expected to see in the energised hot spot stops the shouting.  Look at these four pictures again; the three pictures with the grass and energised blankness have an asymmetrical unstable spooky quality, in contrast the picture with the cat is full of movement that flows across the image in a single sweep.  The subject of the cat picture is perhaps brutal, but it is not spooky.  It is as if the cat has drained the spooky energy from the air replaced it with a new sort of energy that instead of shouting "watch out, something is about to happen in this empty area of the paper"  winks: "I am the dangerous cat that is frightening the mice"

The Eye 
Objects energise space in all sorts of ways.  Eyes are ideal interesting demonstration objects in this respect.  This is a single eye placed in the centre of a piece of paper.

If we were to make an energy diagram it would look like this.  The hot spot is where we would expect to see another eye.

If I put a blotch anywhere in the blue unenergised blankness it looks like a separate object unrelated to the existence of the eye.

But when the blotch is put in the energised area it begins to wink back "I am an (bruised?) eye"   This is because the mind wants to see an eye in the hotspot area

If we  crop out the blue unenergised blankness the image of two eyes gets even stronger

and changing the spodge for a drawing of an eye makes the image stronger again

The energised blankness has guided me to draw a pattern that has strong psychological power over the human mind.  This is how active drawing works, active drawing is about working under the guidance of the subconscious mind. 

Returning to the Dynamics of Visual Grammar
Now I want to put what we have just learnt about energised blankness into the context of visual grammar.  Here is a smiley with a missing eye, it is a spooky image.

It is spookey because the image has a hotspot of energised blankness.   It also has a number of other warm and lukewarm spots of varying intensity.  These is an energy diagram showing just some of them. 

The energy can be graded from burning hot to warm to cold.  The most intensely energised blankness create the hotspots that scream for your immediate attention.  The missing eye is the first thing you notice about the image, whilst other missing things are hardly noticed as missing at all.   The missing nose is perhaps a warm spot, but less intense than the missing eye.  Ears, hair and body are lukewarm spots; we hardly notice their absence until we look for them.

This is what happens if we add an ear and nose

The blankness where the second eye should be is still screaming at us "I am missing an eye" 

By adding a nose we have drained the energy from warmspot at the centre of the face, but the lukewarm spot for the second ear has heated up and is now shouting "I am missing an ear too"

We think we have free will when we are drawing, and indeed we do make choices, but those choices are largely guided by what is happening on the paper while the drawing is developing.  It takes will power to draw an ear before a second eye, and once we have put in one ear the paper starts to insist that we put in a second ear.  Our addition of  marks on the paper, which I have called the dynamic workspace, are sequential.  By that I mean they follow an order.  The sequences are not random, if we do not resist we will be guided by suggestions from the subconscious mind and the result will be a window into our minds.   Faced with the image above we feel emotionally compelled (but which we can resist) to add the missing eye and missing ear (in that order) to complete the picture. 

The image is still missing hair and body, but these energised spaces are not very intense and the image is no longer spooky. We could consider the image finished, or we can go on adding bits to the lukewarm areas.

One lukewarm area is where the body should be.  Any object of any shape will fill this roll of being a body (as we have mentioned in earlier chapters context trumps shape and detail)

In fact I do not even have to draw the body at all.  I can rely on the lukewarm energy to provide a sense that the head has a body below it

 and I can make my little fellow taller by making the paper longer

Conscious decision-making is a very important part of drawing and Art, however giving ourselves up to be guided by unconsciousness is also Art.  Great Artists harvest from both conscious and unconscious mindfulness, and learn how to grow both aspects of their technique together.

Within the Borders of an Object
A visual object has a physical border between itself and the outside world.  Inside those borders are the composite parts (composite parts/objects contained inside the borders of the face are eyes, nose, mouth....) There are no limits (other than size and space) to how many composite parts are put inside the borders of an object; there is no rule that disallows a face to have ten eyes and a million freckles.

The composite parts inside the borders have lives of their own and they create hotspots which become the rules controlling the patterns that make a face recognisable.  Amongst the rules for a human face are that it has two eyes with a hotspot between the eyes where the nose sits. 

Influence of Objects beyond their  Borders
The smiley is an object that is physically limited by its borders, but the object, and the composite parts inside the smiley do influence the world beyond their physical borders; for instance next to every human left eye is the ghostly image of a right eye 

There is another way that objects influence the world beyond their own physicality.  Eyes are again excellent demonstration objects to show this influence.. When the cat looks right an energised hotspot develops starts shouting "I am the something the cat is looking at"

And when the eyes moves the shouting hotspot moves too

and because we are active drawers not resisting our unconscious urges we draw a mouse to eliminate the shouting hotspot.  Then we crop the unenergised space on the left of the picture.

Unfortunately the composition still looks unsettling.  This is because we have added a new object and our new object has caused a new shouting hotpot to develop.  The space directly in front of the mouse shouting "I am running into the space in front of me".....but we have given him no space to run into!

So we extend the composition to give space in front of the mouse.

and because we do not want the mouse to be eaten we give him a hole to seek refuge in

Projected shouting hotspots are extremely common in compositions.  They are created by gaze, pointing and projected movement, such as we just witnessed when we added the mouse.  We have seen that when the energy is left unresolved they create asymmetric compositions and ghosts, and when the energy is soaked up by an object the image becomes a balanced compositions.  Management of the hotspots is an important tool in an artist's armoury.

When we see the shouting hotspot caused by the roving eyes of a cat we envisage seeing an escaping mouse even though we are physically looking at blank space.  Actually evolution has equipped us to see these unseen ghosts in our real lives.  Consider a sports person catching a ball or hunter throwing a spear at a running animal;  The sportsman has to envisage where the ball will meet his hands and the hunter must throw his a spear at a point he imagines the deer will be when it reaches its target? 

When we walk into an oncoming crowd we have to manage a path that avoids us bumping into other people.  As individuals come our way we move out of their path, and they avoid us.  If we could look down on ourselves like birds with magic hypersenistive eyes we would perhaps see ourselves choosing to take the cold spots between the shouting hotspots cast by other people, and the people coming the other way will be predicting our path and avoiding us.

Generally the space someone is walking or looking into will have the feeling of future, and the area a person has walked out of will have a feeling of the past.  Sometimes, when walking on a sandy beach, the footprints will heighten that sensation of the past.  In the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel the children walk into the woods dropping a trail of crumbs behind them, as they go deeper in the forest and get lost they finally come across a Ginger bread house.
So the energy of this picture is focused on the past, the knowing eye finds the bread crumb trail and is aware of the light the children are walking away from.  The future into which the children are venturing is dark.  This picture is unusual in that it is holding us back in the past and not beckoning us into the future
As a rule I would crop a picture in a way that gives room for the subject to walk or look into.

In the above picture the space behind the dancer's shoulders is dead, the space between her hands is shouting energy, and she is looking up giving more energy into the area just above the hands.  The figure itself is also falling forward.  Everything about the front of the figure is about things that will happen in the future
But I can crop the future from a picture and keep the past.  This composition leaves space from which the dancer has stepped.  It has the quality of having finished a performance and about to make a reverence to an unseen audience.  This picture has a quality of  past events.

This ability to have choice about how to incorporate time in a composition has implications: The artworks themselves are created sequentially, and the audience scan the images sequentially.  Suddenly we are in realms of threads of thought and consciousness, of multi parallel worlds, this is where understanding visual grammar becomes really interesting because with the knowledge comes a potential to mirror strands of conscious thought.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Beautiful Budapest 2

Beautiful Budapest 2

I have had another pleasurable week in Beautiful Budapest.  On the the Monday it rained, which pretty much killed my opportunities to draw.

But from the Tuesday onwards the weather gradually improved, and in the next four days I had plenty time to make more sketches.  I continued on a theme started during my March visit when I tried to investigate the city through its sculpture and lampposts.

In front of the the restored Eastern Railway Station is this statue that in Dec 2013 reappeared from hiding.  It represents the forgotten "iron minister" Gábor Baross (1848 – 1892) who consolidated the Hungarian railway network and was an unbending Minister of Commerce during Hungary's years of prosperity.  He must have been a remarkable man to have achieved so much for his Country in a life that only lasted 44 years

Hungary is keen to reinstate and remember these heroic figures from the cultural and economic renaissance that the country experienced during the decades before the First World War.    

The good times ended abruptly after Hungary sided with the losers of World War One.  In 1920 she was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon (1920) that required her to surrender 72% of her land which included her important mineral resources, her industrial heartlands and the sea ports in Croatia. The treaty also took away 5 of her 10 biggest cities.

The Treaty of Trianon separated three million Hungarian speakers (Magyars) from their motherland.  

In the run up to the Second World War Hungary was promised her lost territory back if they again sided with the Germans.   Hungary, whose embittered political leaders were right wing and anti-Semitic, enthusiastically entered the war and sent her Armies to fight alongside the Germans in Russia.  Initially they were successful but later her divisions were sucked into the siege of Stalingrad where they were annihilated.  In  March 1944 Hitler was worried about rumours that the dispirited Hungarians were secretly negotiating  peace terms with the allies, he ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary   This occupation has been commemorated with a new statue that was secretly commissioned by the Hungarian Government and erected overnight on the 20 July 2014

The bird is said to be the German Eagle (which is confusing to my eyes because it looks like the Hungarian Turul bird) which is swooping down on the innocent Angel Gabriel who is about to drop the orb of the Hungarian State.  In front of the monument protesters, many of them relatives of the victims of genocide that happened in the months following the German occupation, have erected a huge broken mirror (a symbol of hypocrisy)  Other relatives have come and put down thousands of little stones to remember the dead, there are pictures of lost family members, broken chairs and abandoned suitcases. The protesters point out that the anti Semitism started before the occupation and that many politicians warmly welcomed the occupying forces.

In the year of occupation, between March 1944 and the end of the war in April 1944, nearly half a million Hungarian Jews, gypsies and gays lost their lives.  The genocide began to happen in Budapest after the authorities recognised the war would end before they had enough time to transport all their intended victims to the death camps.  The prisoners  were lined up along the banks of the Danube and ordered to strip before being shot.  Their bodies fell into the river and floated away leaving their shoes and clothes as the discarded evidence of the atrocities that were taking place in the city.   The protesters directed me to the banks of the Danube where there is a more appropriate monument.

Hundreds of old shoes have been cast into bronze and fixed to the paving stones.  This monument is moving, and it remembers without blaming anyone.  Many Hungarians hid the Jews and gypsies in their attics, others behaved badly.  Until we suffer it ourselves we cannot know how we would have behaved in Budapest in 1944-5.

The ending of the Second World War did not bring Hungary's misery to a close.  Hungarian soldiers could not return home, men were kidnapped from the streets of Budapest to be taken to Russia to be used as forced labour, the persecution of the Jewish communities still went on.  In 1956 the Hungarians rebelled but the uprising was brutally squashed by the authorities with Russian assistance.  The futile attempt to end Hungary's suffering from under the yoke of communism and totalitarian government is commemorate in front of the gorgeous restored Parliament Building where the bullet holes in her walls from the fighting are proudly preserved and displayed.

Further along on the Pest side of the Danube another statue overlooks Budapest.  It is huge, monumental, Soviet and called Liberty.  She carries what looks like fern leaves over her head.

Ironically the castle like building below was once used as a prison (or so I was told by a local).

The walls of Budapest are covered with sculpture, many from a much earlier age. The sculptural quality is not always masterful, but the compositions are often beautiful.  I enjoyed drawing the entrance of St Michaels which was built in about 1720.  Mary has a gold crown on her head and the infant Jesus has a gold halo with stars.

and the painted angels inside this church are also worth looking at

As I was drawing a service of remembrance was about to begin, an old lady arrived surrounded by her family who were all smartly dressed in jet black.  I felt they were unhappy with my presence so I removed myself, a little later I returned to attend a concert of baroque music.

Outside St Michaels is the bustling street with cafe culture and boutiques.  Franciska, smiling and young, was dressed in traditional folk costume and

ushering the smartly dressed passers-by into her shop

baskets of green foliage and red geraniums were hung from the street lamps 


and more planters decorated the cafe bars 

where maids were serving drinks

to gentlemen

and tables of gossiping students

I sat at one such table sipping coffee and drawing the trees in pots

and people across the way who were chatting on benches 

 and children passing with their parents

and a  monument made of warm stone could be seen in the distance

and short stroll away I drew another religious monument with Jesus on a pillar, his head haloed with golden stars

Our tour of the statues has taken us along the bank on the Pest side of the river.  Into a district with a  huge covered market and Turkish baths, but I do not have time to show you those.  Instead I have more coffee and watch the children in another play area.  There is a Turkish child with beautiful eyes

and this little boy with wispy fair hair

A far better place to draw the children is Margaret Island which is a huge island park (2.6 km long and 500m wide) in the centre of the Danube;  I know this place well from my visit two years ago. This is one of the splendid lamp posts on the bridge to Margaret Island

In the 13th century King Béla made a vow to send his daughter, Princess Margaret, to a Dominican nunnery if God would allow him to rebuild the country devastated by the Mongols.  The Ruins are still to be seen.

Recently they have created a fountain which has perhaps a hundred spouts that are controlled remotely and linked to music.  To imagine this you have to think of a firework display with water, but better!

Here is a you tube link

I drew this little boy who was waving his hands to the music

Of course the families come here to relax

There is an Open Air Theatre, swimming pool, formally laid out gardens and a Japanese Garden.  

After a dental appointment I sat amongst the red squirrels and drew the children looking at the ducks. 

When I am alone in Budapest I always spend my evenings in the square in front of the Basilica.  There is a place where I perch on the edge of a fountain and draw the crowds of young people who visit the wine bars in the area.

The fashion is to buy a bottle of wine and carafe of water to make spritzers, like this lady has.

It is a very beautiful place to be, the air is still and the buildings around majestic.  One evening they were using the Basilica as a background for shots of a bride and groom.  I had the strong impression they were paid models and the photographs were for a magazine or marketing literature

The young people of Budapest have grown up in a post communist world.  They will have been told stories of the hardships their parents generation had to endure, a bit like the baby boomers of the sixties they have seen  an austere serious world brighten up, widen and become liberal.  The centre of Budapest is opulent, there is conspicuous money, Ferraris and Maseratis.   

I am told that there is a lot of political corruption and jobs are very hard to find (3 million unemployed).  In this way Hungarians are not like we were in the sixties, the young Hungarians I met in Budapest know to spend their money carefully and prepare themselves for the future.

Through my drawing I do sometimes get to meet the people I am drawing.  This is Timi

Timi was with four girl friends.  Like all in the crowd around them they had dressed up for the evening and were sharing spritzers and were self contained.  When I returned to Britain I emailed her a copy of this drawing and this is how she replied: 

Dear Julian,

I'm so thankful to you for creating this drawing and sending it to me. It was a pleasure to meet you and see how much you enjoy what you do. You bring a little joy to some lucky one every day and it happened to me as well.

Thank you so much,


This is not the voice of a baby boomer

In the sixties we talked up the generation gap.  We grew our hair long to define ourselves and annoy our parents and did not worry about being out of work..  I have no idea how the older Hungarians are getting along with the new generation who live in a world so completely different from what they knew when they were young.  Budapest is a place for young people who are modern and already making it in the world, it is benefiting from EU money being lavished on its lavish architecture which was itself made in a lavish era.  Budapest feels like a real place, but it is also a lavish display and pleasure garden, not a window into what is happening outside the city.

You can hire a smart centrally located apartment from my friends that will sleep up to 4 people for 3 - 400 a week .  The city is still inexpensive. This is their email address

More Links about Budapest
This is a beautiful video that shows Budapest as it best