Learn to Draw > Use of patterns in pattern drawing and painting

Documentary naturalism lost its raison d'etre with the development of photography. It had never in fact possessed one, artistically speaking, since it could never reproduce exactly what is seen.

Before modern art turned sharply away from the directly recognizable, objective world it had already developed something which, though not contrary to naturalism, implied a critical attitude towards it. This was the stylization of accidental form into the typical. Here a very human desire is at work: to survey and fit the surrounding world into a framework of the most generalized and simplified patterns and formulae possible; in other words the desire to see the species as an average and highly simplified form, a type, rather than as a multitude of individuals each with his own personal and different form. This desire has its parallel in other spheres: omnipotent nature is not concerned with the fate of the individual, but with the survival of the species.

Every stylization is simply the recognition of a common form behind many fortuitous related forms and the reduction of it to a geometric principle. This common form remains in the mind, making it easier to work back to its many individual variations.

Once you have realized, for example, that the profile of a bellflower can be transcribed as a parabola, the frontal view of the human head as an ellipse, the contour of a young fir tree as a triangle, it will always be easy to start from these geometric shapes and to draw individual deviations from memory. Graphic abstraction from fortuitous natural shapes has led, among other things, to two independent offshoots of the art of drawing: ornamental pattern and writing.

greek patterns showing a grid basis

Ornamental pattern, when it is fully developed, always reflects some vita' force of nature which is perpetually at work. Perhaps the author may be allowed to describe an experience which relates to one of the most widespread of ornamental motifs: the meander, which is also called "wave-pattern," and sometimes "running dog." Meander was the name of a winding river, now called the Great Menderes, in West Anatolia. The term "wave pattern" recalls the profile of overturning waves at a shore; but "running dog"?

One morning I looked out of my window onto a park covered with thick snow and saw a visitor approaching, a St. Bernard dog. Not seeing me behind the window, he ran across the snow and then lay down. Still I did not show myself, so he ran further and again lay down to wait. In the end he went away. Suddenly I saw how his tracks had made a perfect "running dog" pattern in the snow. The spiral curves each began and ended at the points where he had lain down. Then I began to understand something of the nature of this pattern: the symbol of the ever-repeated movements of a blind force perpetually running against an obstacle, like constant drops of water, the rhythm of day and night, birth and death.

a more fluid and naturalistic pattern derived from bird and plant shapes The ability to extract meaning from a representation which has been reduced to a pattern or symbol and associate it in a flash with a whole chain of thoughts and feelings is very human. Writing is the most impressive example of this. While we read, we no longer think how the individual letters arose, even though the process is known by which they developed from representations of something i,n nature to fixed symbols.

Besides the two branches of drawing which have taken on an independent existence, pattern and writing, every pictorial representation begins with a simplification, whether it aims at a naturalistic portrayal or at complete independence from the objective world. In short, it begins with a sketch.


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