Learning to draw

No sooner I had begun to hold a pencil to learn how to write, I began doing drawings. The books that we are given at that early age I would re-draw the images onto blank paper. When the ability to read was achieved the comics appeared, Beano, Dandy, Whoopee, etc. After I had read them I would draw the cartoon characters, and with the discovery of American Marvel comics I would spend hours drawing these characters too. It was from these linear images that I learnt how to draw. I progressed quickly and would soon be drawing images of wildlife and man made objects.

I would draw the common everyday objects that were about in the household and the Royal Doulton figurines on proud display as they were in many homes of The Potteries. My parents could not keep buying the amount of drawing paper that I required, so I was given the lining paper and the back of left over rolls of wallpaper from their latest re-decorating project. My granddad constantly encouraged me to draw so he would ask me to draw many things, mostly though because of his naval past it would be ships. I would spend hours at my grand parents home drawing sailing ships, ocean liners and Second World War battleships. Unfortunately I have none of these early drawings as I threw them all away years ago.

Unknowingly at the time by drawing those linear images when I was young, I was teaching myself about proportion and the ability to see the form of an image and the detail within the form, even though I was yet to discover the usefulness of shading. My Granddad, Lawrence James Walsh, again he was the one whom led the way in advancing further my drawing skills. I remember well his persistence in getting me to attempt the drawing of portraits. Doubting myself, I would keep making excuses until I eventually gave in and started drawing faces. Initially drawing facial features was a daunting task, but I persevered and kept on practicing until I eventually mastered chiaroscuro, the Italian singular word for the gradual distribution of light into dark.

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Artwork & Portraits

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Artwork & Portraits

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - My Grandad William Sunderland
< My Grandad Lawrence James Walsh next to my Pencil Drawing of My Mother as a young girl

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - John Wayne in Pencil
< Pencil Drawing of John Wayne

Sadly my granddad passed away in 1980 at the age of only 55 years. He did not see my portrait drawing and oil painting skills come into fruition or witness my career as a signwriter, a trade that my granddad was offered an apprenticeship at the age of fourteen. In those days an apprentice was paid little money, or none at all as being taught a trade was considered the exchange of payment. When he told his mother about the job offer, “ Now you are old enough to work, we need you to bring money into the household.” So he had to decline the offer of becoming sign-writer.

Throughout the 1980s, whilst learning my trade I was always drawing and painting for my friends and colleagues but occasionally I would do something for myself that I could keep. The pencil drawing of pre-Hollywood moulded Marilyn Monroe I did for myself in 1985, the following year I did the pencil drawing of John Wayne, which was done for my Stepfather Stan. In 1989 I went self-employed and because of the last minute demands of the sign industry and working sixteen to eighteen hours per day, seven days a week; drawing for my own self-satisfaction and for my family and friends came to an end. However before the digital age arrived the many requests for painting artwork on vans, signs, trucks, trailers and stage backdrops; these combined with a very prolific career as a sign writer appeased my creative itch.

The chalk pastel picture of Virgin Mary was done for my Grandmother Doreen, Christmas 1993. The pencil drawing of the young woman from the Victorian era in the wooden oval frame was done in 1990 and the last for myself until about four years ago, when I did the chalk pastel of Audrey Hepburn, from the film Roman holiday. All the others have been done recently apart from the oil painting of Jimi Hendrix. When I started work in September 1981 with my first week wages I went to spend it in Webberley’s (still miss Webberley’s). With my artist’s brushes, oil colours and an oil painting pad (couldn’t afford a canvas) for my first attempt at oil painting I decided to paint Hendrix, maybe one day I will finish it.

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - My Recent Work

An introduction to The Renaissance

Making a three dimensional representation of the human form, whether from marble, wood or metal etc, was believed to be an easier option than attempting to produce a three-dimensional realistic image onto a two-dimensional flat surface; a problem that painters struggled to overcome for thousands of years. Since humans started cave painting, the manner of the hieroglyphic and two-dimensional pictogram symbolism was the means to convey a message. The Egyptians mastered skills that enabled them to make objects of astonishing complexity and beauty. But for painting on a flat surface, so both frontal and profile impressions of the human form could be represented, the easier two-dimensional approach of twisted perspective was used. The importance of the human form to the ancient Greeks, inspired them to sculpt magnificent three-dimensional statues while the regarded lesser skill of painting remained linear and two dimensional. It was not until the massive surge of creative energy that swept through Italy where a sequence of events changed and revolutionised Art

Giotto (1267-1337)

Drawing from life and breaking free from the pictorial tradition of medieval paintings during the Gothic and Byzantine period Giotto conveyed the illusion of a three-dimensional space as seen by the eye called foreshortening. He also was the founder of chiaroscuro, the use of light and shadows that gave the caricatures roundness and depth on a flat surface. For the first time in paintings facial features of people showing inner human emotions and their sorrows could be seen.

Brunelleschi (1377-1446)

An architect, designer and engineer he is recognised as the founder of Renaissance architecture and of mathematical linear perspective. Brunelleschi discovered the rules of perspective that had been forgotten and ignored for a thousand years after studying the construction methods of ancient Greece and Rome. Further developing the use of perspective he set to work on re-building an architectural aesthetic Italy. It was not long before Brunelleschi and other artists used these same rules of perspective in paintings to give the illusion of depth and three-dimensional realism on a flat surface.

Masaccio (1401-1428)

After studying and further developing the work of Giotto and Brunelleschi, Masaccio with his skilful painting techniques imitated nature and painted lifelike human images that had not been done before. Even though his life and career was short, he had a huge influence on the development of art in the early Italian Renaissance period.

Leonardo De Vinci (1452-1519)

Regarded primarily as a painter but also an inventor, engineer and architect. It was his insatiable thirst for knowledge that compelled him to explore many subjects including geology, anatomy, geometry, science and mathematics. It was the interest in such subjects that influenced his output of art. De Vinci like others before him in his work he used mathematics but his reasons went deeper as he believed all life forms are in alliance and are connected by the mathematical rules of nature. From modern science his theory has been proven to be correct with the discovery of DNA

Antithesis between Leonardo De Vinci and Michelangelo

In his paintings De Vinci invented a technique that allowed the gradual blending of colours so they melt together leaving no hard edges, lines or borders; typical characteristics of Renaissance Art. This method of painting he called Sfumato (vanishing like smoke) softened the edges and disguised the lines giving a misty and blurred effect that Michelangelo abhorred. Their contrasting conceptualisations on how a painting should de done can easily be compared when looking at the use of high relief, the clarity of the colours and the sharpness of the edges in Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, to the softer and subdued colouring of The Virgin with St.Anne and baby Jesus by De Vinci. In addition De Vinci: studied the physical matter of nature and related the human anatomy with the animal kingdom and earthly substance. In the art of Michelangelo he focused on the development of the soul within the body so the messages in his art are spiritual, incorporeal and metaphysical.

Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Painting was now regarded, and in the words written by Leonardo De Vinci, a more noble art than sculpture. Michelangelo’s quest was to prove them all wrong and if he were able to work on commissions of his own choice the only finished painting probably would have been the Doni Tondo. Though to the benefit and the development of art he was forced to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling. Using his imagination and powerful drawing abilities, knowledge of the human anatomy and sculptural skills, he invented new standards of three-dimensional plasticity that gives the illusion of constant movement of the flattened image on a surface. For all those who go to see The Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last judgment they are watching stories of the bible told with moving images three hundred and fifty years before cinematography was invented.

Raphael (1483-1520)

When Michelangelo was working away in the Sistine Chapel also working in the Vatican was Raphael. Three people had keys to the Sistine Chapel, The Pope, Michelangelo and the architect Bramante a close associate of Raphael’s. Raphael, a pupil of Perugino, (1446-1523) quickly absorbed the methods of others into his own personal and harmonious style. After getting a sneaky preview of the unfinished ceiling most artists would have been defeated when confronted with the powerful creative force of Michelangelo, but not Raphael, he arose to the challenge and commenced work on his own commission of frescoes. Michelangelo usually unperturbed by the efforts of his contemporaries got him self worked up to the point of accusing Raphael of plagiarism. His accusation could be justified when one sees the tapestry cartoons done by Raphael, which are now in the Victoria & Albert museum. Then again the artists of the past and their own contemporaries influence all artists. Michelangelo was influenced by the work of all the above even his rival Leonardo De Vinci. It is when an artist does not imitate the work of others, but combines these inspirations with ideas of their own, is when a new style of art begins that then in turn inspire others. Raphael’s balanced compositions and transitional smoothness of the colours painted with a delicacy and calmness, resulted in paintings of absolute beauty that inspired artists for generations after his short life ended.

The difference between Florentine style Venetian art

The Florentines worked extensively on preparation of the drawings. It was not until they were entirely satisfied with the setting out was a brush dipped in paint. On the other hand the Venetian artists less time was spent on the setting out as they were far more eager to start painting, and then they painted slowly putting in as much fine detail as possible.

Giovanni Bellini 1430-1516

Bellini was a Venetian artist who was of the same age group as the Florentine Ghirlandaio (with whom Michelangelo served his apprenticeship under) and Perugino. Bellini’s early works were done in the quick drying method of tempera. Later in his career he used slow drying oil paints. Using oils he painted colour rich hues and tints with intricate detailed shading all done with a mellowness that unites the picture. Examine the painting called the San Zaccaria alterpiece also called Madonna with saints done in 1505. His masterful use of oil colours to paint the fictive architecture and the marble, also the detail in the painting of the mosaic inside the perspective created alcove, makes it remarkable to know all this is done on a flat surface: It is like looking into a reality that one can be part of or believe in. Such levels of mastery did the artists of the Renaissance rise up to, to spread the messages of God the supreme creator. Bellini ran a very busy workshop with other painters to assist him and trained apprentices. Titian was one of Bellini’s trainees.

Titian (1488-1576)

There is an uncertainty with the actual year Titian was born. The above date is the common estimate, as other sources date his birth earlier making him nearly one hundred when he died. There is a surety though that his long life and career allowed him to experiment with new developments and able to drastically change not only his own style but also change the course of portrait painting, of which he is most famous for. It was not only Titian’s skill in achieving a gratifying likeness of the sitter that made him in demand, but also down to the fact that as soon as his brush touched the canvas, the paint became alive, thus immortalising the sitter: The viewer of the picture is not looking at the painting, but the person that Titan painted is looking at the viewer. The paintings done by Titian had immense influence on Rubens and another Dutch master whose reputation of the greatest portrait painter of all time as yet remains unchallenged, Rembrandt.

On closed and open form in paintings

Linear and closed shapes in Renaissance Art and how this differs from the later non-linear and the open painterly style of Baroque art will now be briefly explained. As already mentioned Renaissance painters drew the outlines first and then painted inside these lines; thus the eye can follow the closed line of the various forms that constitute the composition. Baroque art however, there are no closed lines or continuous loops that the eyes can follow. In a Renaissance painting, the forms that constitute the finished work can be separated. In Baroque art there is a unity of all the forms, which makes them inseparable. The School of Athens by Raphael, even though the figures are part of the background by tracing the lines around the figures they can be separated from the background. A painting by Rembrandt, the Anatomy lesson of Doctor Tulp; the figures are coming out of the background and cannot be separated from it as there is no outline that encloses them. The foreground and background and all the forms that make up the picture are open and seamlessly merge together.

Robert E. Stevenson – The Signwriter

Traditional Signwriting for Heritage, Commercial & Vintage Projects