Thursday, November 22, 2007

Experimental Drawing

Experimental Drawing (1980/1992)
Robert Kaupelis

Watson Guptill Publications (Art Techniques)

I'm so glad I started The Big Drawing Book Review as it has made me revisit some books which I haven't looked at for a bit - one of which is Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis.
This book is about drawing; about the experience of drawing and seeing drawings; and about the possibilities of extending our traditional concepts concerning the parameters of drawing
Robert Kaupelis
This is also a book which has been written by somebody who has knowledge and skills which come from being both a very experienced teacher and Professor of Art and an acclaimed artist - see the note about his background at the bottom of this post.

"Experimental Drawing" has the feel of being both a distillation of much learning and experimentation on the part of Kaupelis and his students and a labour of love.

This book was first published in 1980 (just prior to his retirement as Professor of Art at New York University) with a paperback edition published in 1992. Since publication, it has been used as a standard text in colleges and universities across the USA. Indeed one of the people commenting on Amazon says there are few books about drawing available which are suitable for use with university level students but that she recognised some of the exercises in this book as ones she herself did in college. Despite its age it's still in print and available via Amazon (see links below).
......the variety of work going under the name of "drawing" makes it increasingly more difficult to define the term.

......While most art teachers have continued to teach drawing according to precepts of the 19th century, the very nature of the discipline has changed and expanded. To ignore this fact is to exist with your head in the sand. If you accept the simple definition of drawing as "the making of marks with meaning" and if you will allow that there is no one way or any specific tools necessary for making marks, the work in this section (Drawing Extended) will become for you exactly what it is: a result of art history, contemporary psychology and sociology and the scientific and technological developments of man"
Robert Kaupelis Ch. 8 Drawing Extended
It's a book which is a useful textbook for teaching drawing to degree students. It is also very helpful to those with no training in drawing and those wishing to expand their knowledge and skill base beyong that available in most 'how to' books but without attending a formal course. In my view, those who will value it most will be people who want to go beyond learning about basic rendering in a realistic way and who want to learn more about the heritage of drawing and what can be learned from this and the very many different ways in which drawings can be developed.
The broad scope of the book is set out below

Creative exercises illustrated by old and modern masters including da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dürer, Degas, Picasso, de Kooning, Dine, and Rauschenberg.

Table of Contents:
Chapter One: A Few Words
Chapter Two: Some Basics—Contour, Gesture, and Modeled Drawing
Chapter Three: Organization/Structure—Making Things "Work Together"
Chapter Four: Using Light and Dark
Chapter Five: Photographs, Grids, and Projected Images
Chapter Six: Probing a Single Form-Idea
Chapter Seven: Old and Modern Masters—Appreciated and Exploited
Chapter Eight: Drawing Extended
Chapter Nine: Now to Begin...
The initial chapters deal with the basics but in a more stimulating way than many other books. The emphasis is very much on how to look, observe, understand and record. I like the emphasis on exploring the impact of materials and format on drawings - how the same image can be drawn in different ways depending on the nature of the media, supports and format used. Also how copying a drawing - but using different materials - often stimulates people to look more carefully at how artists have approached and executed their drawing. I found many similarities to the creativity exercises recommended in other books such as Bert Dodson's Drawing with Imagination.

Chapter 5 tackles aids to drawing and provides a riveting exposition of Chuck Close's mid-career work using grids and photos. The chapter contains a comment on photorealism which strikes me as being one which should be read by every artist aspiring to photo realism
Photorealists are not so much interested in duplicating the real world as they are in duplicating the real world as it appears in photographs.
Robert Kaupelis Ch. 5 Photographs, Grids and Projected Images
I found that one of the very many valuable aspects of this book is Kaupelis's detailed commentary on the very many drawings by both old and modern masters which he includes in the book. He also includes drawings done as initial thoughts or studies for paintings - such as those done by Andrew Wyeth during the process of conceiving Christina's World. There are very few books which contain and comment on quite so many drawings within the context of a book which is essentially about a book about how to develop ways of seeing and drawing skills.

It's also one of the few books I've come across which relates drawing to conceptual art.
I firmly believe that most art is born from art. You don't see a beautiful scene and then decide to become an artist in order to paint it. No, no, no! You see a painting of a beautiful scene and you are astounded at this appearance of a reality that you've looked at many times but had never seen until your complete and total identificaiton with that particular illusion. It is then that you look around and see other scenes that might become the motif for an artistic statement.
Robert Kaupelis - Ch 7. Old and Modern Masters, appreciated and explained
He sets out a process likely to be productive for people wishing to study the drawing of the Masters. He also details how such works should be represented as copies (titles, formats etc)

One very interesting aspect of this book is it was written just as people began to use technology to develop drawings. The commentary towards the end of the book is very dated (and is recognised as such) but remains an interesting insight into how artists have always explored the use of different tools to develop ways of seeing and their work.

You can read very positive reviews by other people of this book on Amazon

For me - this book is very definitely worth a five pencils rating. I've decided that it needs to take up residence on my bedside table so I can revisit it more often. I'm planning to use this book more in future to try and find ways of teasing out the ways of drawing and images which are in my head but haven't yet appeared on paper to my satisfaction.

I'm currently thinking about my plan of work for next year and have in mind to set a monthly challenge for myself - and anybody else who cares to participate - using exercises from this book. Any takers?

Robert Kaupelis was a Professor of Art and Art Education at NYU for nearly three decades - from 1956 to 1985. His paintings have won acclaim in over 50 one-man exhibitions, and he is represented in numerous permanent and private collections throughout the US - for more detail see his impressive resume. The New York Times has praised his "careful draftsmanship [and] ... balance of quiet but efficacious drawing and color." Kaupelis was cited by Herbert Livesey in The Professors as one of the outstanding teachers of art in the nation and an entire chapter in the book was devoted to his career. Kaupelis has conducted workshops from Alaska to Florida. He is also the author of Learning to Draw, published by Watson-Guptill.
Based on Watson Guptill Publications Bio supplmented by detail from other sites



  1. As an amateur I'd be very interested in taking part in a monthly project based on this book, which I've just ordered from my library having read your piece. Something like that would be great fun and very useful I can imagine.

    Best wishes
    Michael Richards

  2. I love Kaupelis' books. I would definitely participate in a monthly challenge or project. Your book review inspired me to review another Kaupelis book I love: Learning to Draw. The URL is

  3. This is my favorite book on drawing. I keep it close most of the time and it always inspires me to try out new things.


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