Potential catyclism in the family: another lesson on form

In other words, here’s another chapter from Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963.

FORM II:  structural families:  objects of mass and the structure of volume

This is entirely different from skeletal forms with its intrusions of space between the parts.
    Objects that are composed of mass—a pebble or a loaf of bread—have no such skeleton and thus form a second family of object-types, called the ‘mass’ group.  Such objects are not made up of a jointed series of skeletal parts, are usually static rather than vibrant, and have a ‘lumpy’ or ‘massive’ quality—characteristics in direct contrast to the linear objects we first examined.

The continuous contour line moves without any break over and around the planes and curved surfaces of a solid form object, constantly making a progression in its exploration of surface and surface inclination.  This contour line is both imaginary and real.  As one’s eyes travel over the surface of a form, they trace ‘lines of information’ relevant to the surface under observation rather as if the tips of the fingers were exploring the form.  The continuous contour line does all this with an object of mass, entirely through drawing.  It defies solid form as these different levels of perception, sight and touch, work together.
At this stage, a complication occurs, for volume has a dual role.  Volume denotes the space occupied by solid form or mass but it also signifies defined regions of space.  Volume may refer to a solid like a pebble, or to emptiness like a hole.  There is no real contradiction here:  there are two kinds of volume that exist independently of each other or can exist side-by-side as properties of the same object.  A stone is mass volume; an egg or snail shell is space volume.  But volume, to have any discernable shape, must be defined; and this is the important function of the continuous contour line; it will define the space volume of a hole or the mass volume of a rock; and where the rock is pierced with holes, the same contour line will define both kinds of volume.

Quality and line weight modify one’s perception of the form… the heavier weight of the line and the more incisive quality of line are at the ‘front’ of the form, and the line becomes more neutral and less positive as it moves away down the form….  This difference between ‘hole’ and ‘solid’ is achieved by using linear emphasis in a way that can be stated simply as follows:  If the dominant emphases of weight and quality are introduced where the revolving line converges, an object of more solid form is perceived.  When the reverse is true, and the revolving contour-line quality is lighter and less sharp in the regions of convergence, then a hollow space form is perceived.  This proposition is consistent with the frontal dominance or recession in space discoveries made in Space I.

But the contour line, like all things perceived by human sight, suggests different things to different people.  Although it gives structural suggestion to volume, it is not always immediately apparent which volume:  that of space or mass.  Now the reinforcement to the contour line is to be found in the conventional use of light and shade. A better perception of hollow or solid form is communicated by including highlight and shadow in the contour structure.

Contour lines that are continuously exploring surface or space-volume demand exceptionally free and unforced drawing.  The whole arm, rather than just the wrist or the fingers must move, and a rhythm must be built up while drawing.  Draw holes and projections using revolving contour lines varying in quality and weight.  The surface movement of form, its holes and projections, can be expressed with the rhythmic freedom of the contour line.  Shading is used to supplement the contour line and heighten our perception of the mass or space.  Black tone (shadow) helps to suggest how deep is the hole, while highlights catching projecting surfaces help to indicate the degree of projection possessed by the mass.  Black suggests recession rather than frontal projection because we associate darkness with the depth of a hole.  In the context of a projecting form, strong white tone comes forward because we associate the projecting high point of a mass with light reflection.  This reverses the natural depth perception discussed in Space I and reveals the difficulty of postulating rules of perception, for –depending on the context—there is an ambiguity about our perception of form and space in which ‘meaning’ plays an important role.  This might be termed the factor of psychological association in perception.

Now let us be more objective and examine in detail the human ear. You will notice that its form is made up of a series of holes or hollows situated between projecting ridges.  It is this very quality of hollows and ridges that the contour line is suited to describe and with which the whole of this chapter has been concerned.  But first make a conventional drawing of the ear, in any medium you wish, to produce as accurate a representational drawing as you can with line and tone shading.  Second, make a continuous contour-line structure drawing of the same ear, showing all the surface movements, all the holes, and all the projecting ridges.  Work very objectively.  Use the line as boldly as in making the holes in the freehand shape. By the time you have finished this structure drawing it will probably resemble a contour map of a hilly ground area, rather than the drawing of an ear, such is the definition of surface movement.

Even the slenderest twig has weight and volume.  Although predominately linear or skeletal in appearance, it is, nevertheless, also an object of mass and volume, as we would see if we were to cut through it and expose a cross section.

The branching marine animal to which the queen scallop is attached is essentially skeletal, yet its limbs, too, have roundness and volume.

In short, all skeletal objects are also objects of mass and volume.  It does not work in reverse, however:  objects of mass do not automatically have a skeleton….bring out the dominant structural characteristic.

An imaginative use of both methods of structural drawing can often help reveal the dominant form of an object.  A bottle, for example, is pure volume…it helps to draw a imaginary skeletal structure around which the volume can expand….before drawing the space volume of the bottle, and imaginary skeleton composed of a central vertical line and horizontal ‘width’ lines is drawn.  This plots the shape and proportion of the volume that the contour line will then describe. 


[the next lesson here.]

[More art study here]

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